Category Archives: Random Book-related Misc

Posts about books, reading, and publishing that don’t fit in another category.

Packing for #NASFiC #amwriting

If you’re in the US, I hope you’re enjoying your favorite form of patriotic whatnot. For me, today is the deep breath before the madness. Tomorrow, I’m leaving for Puerto Rico to participate in NASFiC, the North American Science Fiction Convention. This is the convention held in the US when WorldCon isn’t. This year, WorldCon is in Helsinki, so we get NASFiC.

I’ve never been to PR before, and I’m pretty sure I’m not going to know anyone there. This is both exciting and terrifying, as I’ve never gone to con where I knew no one. There will be one person with whom I have a passing acquaintance, but that’s it, so far as I’m aware. Everyone I know who would ordinarily go prefers to drive to big sales cons, not fly to small conference-y cons.

I’m hoping it’ll be fun. But also, I’m a cynic, so I know it’ll be awful. At least the weather is predicted to be pleasant, and the hotel is supposed to be nice. As a bonus, like Hawaii, it’s tropical and a chance of pace without requiring foreign currency, which means no currency exchange fees. Yay!

I’ll be participating on several panels about writing, alongside people with more experience than myself. Which doesn’t intimidate me in the slightest. Not a jot. Nope. Really. No vending for me at this show, as I have to fly there and am not hauling multiple copies of 16 titles on a plane. (16!)

And when I get back, I’ll have two days to finish Ragbrai training before shipping my bike to Iowa. Then I’ll have another few days to slave away in the word mines before leaving for that bike madness. From then, it’s an almost nonstop dash to the end of August.

In writing news, ICYMI, the second installment of Darkside Seattle is a thing. Street Doc was a story about an asshole. Fixer is a story about a woman who gets shit done. The Greatest Sin #5: A Curse of Memories releases next Tuesday, July 11. The ebook is currently in pre-order for 99 cents. It’ll go up to regular price of $4.99 on the 12th, so snap that up if you’re at all interested. The entire The Greatest Sin series is also available on iTunes, Kobo, and a smattering of other sites if you prefer those platforms.

I’ve started working on Spirit Knights 5 with a plan to have it ready next March. Darkside Seattle: Mechanic is tentatively scheduled for a December release. And finally, I have no less than 3 super-secret projects in the works. Three!

Happy 4th of July. ūüôā

#My5: Inspiration, or Weird Associations #amwriting

One question most of us penmonkey types get asked often is how we come up with these wacky story ideas, what inspires us, and what exactly is a “heckbiscuit”? That last one might just be me, but the point still stands. Many folks just want to know what makes artist brains do art. KM Alexander, a delightful gentleman who writes disturbing things, asked me to participate in a celebration of this question and its various answers, called My5. As such, I present five things that have inspired my stories. Specifically, the Maze Beset trilogy of superhero novels.

1. The X-Men. Back in college, which happened so long ago cellphones hadn’t been invented yet, I read X-Men titles. I wound up in enforced proximity to these comics often and picked them up to pass the time that otherwise would been blank boredom. Prior to college, I had been exposed to the X-Men cartoon, so when I had the choice of several different comics, I picked up the X-Men ones.

My favorite X-Man is Nightcrawler. Because duh.

On the whole, the movies have been kind of disappointing, but they came out too late to blunt my interest in the characters.

This is the basis for the humanity of the supers in the series. They have lives and families, and the story isn’t really about the superpowers. The powers are just the cool guns and tech they use.

2. The Heroes TV Show, Season 1. Never mind the later parts where it got really weird. The¬†initial season showed supers in a way I hadn’t personally seen before. Superhero as everyday person with a bizarre power and no spandex really appealed to me on many levels. I know comics have been exploring this idea for a long time, but aside from X-Men, I never got into comics much. I like lots of words and not many pictures. This show happened during a segment of my life when I had time to watch TV, and it hit a lot of buttons for me. I looked at that and Hmmed and muttered a lot.

This is where the basic idea of the novels came from. Genetics, conspiracies, modern day action, and all that.

3. Marvel Super Heroes RPG (MSH). Technically, this happened first. I¬†started playing D&D in high school, which turned out to be a gateway drug for Shadowrun, Vampire: The Masquerade, and MSH.¬†That’s right. D&D is, in fact, a gateway drug. For other RPGs.

MSH is ridiculously silly. I once used random chargen to create a character made entirely of strawberry jell-o. I’m not saying it was a good character or I ever played it, but random chargen gave it to me. Another time, it gave me a character with two forms. One was stupid and the other was smart. Ah, MSH, you’re adorable. Because of you, I have a lot more d10s than I need for anything else, ever.

But this is where the idea of random, bizarre superpowers entered my head, which is the foundation on which the trilogy sits.

4. Mutants & Masterminds RPG. Like MSH, M&M provided an opportunity to be a superhero, only this time with less silly rules. Before starting the novels, I started an M&M game on the Myth-Weavers RPG bulletin board site. The game, now in its sixth year and still chugging along with two of the original players, began with exactly the same premise as the novels.

More importantly, I present a quote from the character generation section, specifically the (Alternate) Form power:

Swarm: Your ‚Äúbody‚ÄĚ is actually thousands of other tiny creatures: insects, worms, even little robots.

It’s not hard to see where the idea of a person being made up of a swarm of tiny dragons came from. Thanks, Green Ronin Publishing!

5. Friends. (Sorry, no pictures!) A staggering number of my ideas come from chatting with friends. I say “What if…” and then we ramble on tangents via chat or in person until the idea is awesome. In this particular case, the two players mentioned in #4 are friends who’ve been playing the characters of Jayce and Liam for all of those six years. I shamelessly yoinked their characters (more or less with permission) and used them. Bobby came from having an NPC of that name who interacted with their characters and became a real person for having done so.

Those are my five. Check out these other #My5 posts for more ramblings on inspiration: KM Alexander, Michael Ripplinger, Laurie Tom, Eric Lange

The Agonizing Process of Titling Stories #amwriting #writingtips

For most books, I have little trouble with titles. By the time it’s gone through revisions, I have a solid enough grounding to spitball some ideas and mush words together. Sometimes, I start writing with a title already in mind, as with the Spirit Knight series after book 1.

For short stories, that’s a whole different ball of wax. I hate coming up with short story titles. There’s no functional difference between titling a novel and something shorter, but¬†I still view it in a similar fashion as this:

Nope. Nopity nope nope with a side of nope and some nopesauce on top.

Ah, the stuff of nightmares. Here’s what I do to come up with titles when they don’t spring forth.

  1. Look for words or phrases that pop up often, aside from common words. This is where Girls Can’t Be Knights came from.
  2. Use the main character’s name, title, or job as either the whole title or part of it. This is the source of Al-Kabar¬†and Street Doc.
  3. Make a list of words similar to the one I use for writing the blurb. Smoosh them together until you find something cool. This is where the titles from The Greatest Sin come from.
  4. Get frustrated when none of the above work and spitball stupid titles with friends until something accidentally fits or is close. This is how I wound up with Dragons In Pieces and the rest of that trilogy.

The title is important for a book because it’s one of the elements on the cover. As such, it needs to contribute to the ability of the cover to sell the story.

See? It kinda helps. You want to read this, at least partly because of the title. Really, you do. Trust me. I’m super trustworthy.

With a short story or other piece not intended to stand on its own–because it’ll appear in an anthology, ezine, or similar venue–the title isn’t as important. In that case, the title is more about differentiating stories by the same author and giving some context to the story. The title isn’t going to appear on a cover, and it’s not going to sell anything on its own. In reality, we could probably all just number our short stories and achieve the same effect.

Sadly, no one seems to think that’s acceptable. “Story A4.3” Probably wouldn’t work for a fantasy or romance title anyway, so this may be for the best.

To find some exemplar short story titles, I mined a few award nomination lists and ezines, trying not to select famous ones on purpose.

Selkie Stories Are for Losers
If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love
A Green Silk Dress and a Wedding-Death
Today, I am Paul
Ten Half-Pennies
The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family
Jackalope Wives

As you can see, there’s a lot of variance, which means you can do whatever you want. Ideally, a story title will offer some insight into the story by providing a piece of context the reader might not otherwise grasp in a nod to the theme.¬†If that’s too daunting a task, smoosh words that fit the theme together until something makes you happy. That’s kind of what writing is like anyway.

Working the Table: Getting Started as an #Indie at Conventions

Someone asked me recently how much money it really costs to get ready to work your first convention. What’s a good level of investment to plan on fielding for that first show? They asked me because I do this a fair amount, and have even co-authored a book on the subject.

Shameless self-promotion works! Sometimes.

I gave an off-the-cuff estimate of $200-300, then started thinking about the real answer. What’s the minimum needed to work a table, and what’s the minimum needed to be successful working a table?

The minimum expenses:

  1. Books. It’s challenging to sell books that you don’t have on hand.
  2. The table fee.
  3. Transportation costs–gas, parking, airfare, etc.
  4. Food.
  5. At least one pen–for signing your books.
  6. Something to hold cash and some bills to make change with.

These six¬†things are the absolute minimum. At many shows, you’ll be given a table with skirting and sign attached to the front with your name in block letters. You can get by with this if you’re on a tight budget. New vendors manage with this all the time. This minimalist option lets you squeak by on little more than the cost of your books. Your setup and teardown time will be short, and you’ll have little to transport.

To really succeed, you’ll need to invest a bit more:

  1. Some sort of promotional handout–bookmarks and business cards are always winners. An informal poll of other authors reveals these two are the best bang for the buck in promotion. This type of thing is cheaper per piece when you buy in bulk, so get as many as you can afford at once.
  2. A way to accept credit cards–I use and recommend Square, which requires either a data connection or internet on the device you attach it to.
  3. A reseller permit, which requires¬†a business license in your state. This allows you to buy copies of your own books without having to pay sales tax for that transaction. (Obviously, if your state doesn’t assess sales tax, you don’t need this, but you’ll still need the business license).
  4. Some sort of large promotional graphic thing with your name and/or your series name. Many authors and artists get a retractable banner to put behind their chair and a second banner for the front of the table. Other options include a table banner of 1.5-3 feet in height, a backdrop with a frame, a custom printed table cloth, and a banner with a stand. You can find a wide variety of sizes and shapes.
  5. A trade show tablecloth like this one. This isn’t necessary, but it makes your display look more professional.
  6. Book stands like these or these. I highly recommend these two types as cheap, reliable, inconspicuous, stable, and easy to both use and store.
  7. Some method of transporting your stuff between the table and your vehicle. I use one of these, but it’s overkill if you only have a few titles. A foldup handcart like this one or this one is a good starting option, depending on how you store your books.
  8. A plastic bin or similar container to hold pens, bookmarks/cards, book stands, and other whatnot.

Keep in mind that the more you add to your display, the longer setup and teardown will take. At most shows, I have a complex display with ~40 titles that takes 45-60 minutes for both setup and teardown, and it takes me, on average, three trips to my car. By contrast, the minimalist with 1-3 titles needs 5-10 minutes, and an average indie with 3-5 titles will need about half an hour.

In total, aside from the table fee and transportation, a good, solid start needs about $400 for books, banners, bookmarks, and odds & ends. If you can catch sales for banners and similar items, you can keep the costs lower. The good news is that many of these items won’t need to be repurchased for every show, so your costs come down to books, table fees, bookmark/card replacement, and transportation for subsequent shows.

Good luck, and don’t forget to order your books well in advance!

So You Want To Be A Beta Reader #books #indie #amwriting

Authors need beta readers. Most of us can’t afford to pay anyone for this service. As a result, we wind up getting friends, family, and/or colleagues to do it for us. But what is beta reading? What does a beta reader do? Why do we need them?

A beta reader is a person who reads the first or second draft of a novel to give critique feedback for how to revise it. Fact-checking is also welcome, especially when the work involves real history, science, or a profession the reader is involved in.

A beta reader is not a person who checks grammar, spelling, or other mechanical issues unless asked to. Most authors do appreciate the catching of typos or repeated mistakes, but it’s not the point of beta reading because many parts may wind up being rewritten.

Authors need this for the same reason any artist needs this: we’re too close to the work to see the problems. Plot points, characters, and setting bits can be much less awesome on the page than in our heads. Someone outside our brains needs to tell us so the work becomes a better version of itself.

What is critique feedback?

Critique and criticism are not the same thing. The two words are considered synonyms, but they have different meanings in the writing world. In general, the intent is the difference.

Criticism is the kind of stuff you find in negative reviews, where readers complain about bad writing, not understanding the plot, or characters who lack believability. Those who offer it generally have no investment in the writer and don’t care if they improve or not. They may or may not have ill intent, just as they may or may not be petty or cruel. Regardless of intent, criticism is rarely helpful because it doesn’t offer actual insights for improvement. Or, if it does, the degree of negativity overrides any value the recipient might get from it.

Critique, on the other hand, is about finding the problems and engaging with them. It comes from a position of wanting to help. Good critique points out positive points as well as negative. This specific difference is what makes critique valuable. If you only hear that plot point C is bad, you may not realize that plot point D is excellent, and your revisions may change both to produce something lesser on the whole.

Thus, a good beta reader does the following:

  1. Gives an overall opinion.
  2. Points out the best parts.
  3. Points out the worst parts.
  4. Avoids making it personal–this is about the writing, not the writer.
  5. Keeps their own ego out of it.

Beta readers should ask questions and tag sections that don’t work with an explanation of why (“I don’t know why” is completely valid). If you have ideas for how to fix problems, present them as opinion, not The Best/Only Way. Tag sections that work well. If you can, have a conversation with the writer to help them understand what went wrong.

Above all, don’t go into a beta reading with the expectation of loving or hating the project. If you have a predetermined opinion of the writing, you won’t notice anything that fails to conform to your expectations. And remember, you’re one of the first people to see the work! It might change a little or a lot after your feedback is taken into account.

Single on VDay #BikerChicks #Romance #MC

…And happy about it.

Valentine’s Day has always been a day I’ve looked at with the intent to do something nice for someone else. In my youth, I thought that meant buying a card and signing it. Later, I thought it meant spending extra time to prepare a special meal. Now, I’m pretty sure it means to get my mom some flowers while she still copes with the loss of my dad.

Do I care in the slightest that I haven’t got a special someone of some sort? Nope. Not a jot. Am I happy for you if you do? Yep. Does it bother me to see pictures of engagement rings, elaborate romantic gestures, or remembrances about how many years other people have been together? Nope. It does bother me a smidge when I see people gushing over romantic movies that I don’t think actually are. A bit. A trifle. But taste is what it is, and I’m not chuffed that other folks like stuff I don’t.

Am I kind of a hippie? Maybe.

I would like to take a moment of your time to pimp a charity anthology a friend of mine cares deeply about. It’s erotica romance, something I read from time to time when the story interests me. So if that’s not your bag or you happen to be a minor, I hope you have a pleasant day and find a way to spread a little love and/or happiness today. And stay tuned for an announcement about Ghost Is the New Normal next week!

Biker Chicks 3 is the third in a series of anthologies for which the profits go to BACA–Bikers Against Child Abuse. I’m happy to provide support to that notable group.

BIKER CHICKS is full of sexy stories about women who ride, whether they be lone wolves or part of a gang. Some of the best authors in MC romance along with some new names and faces to the genre tell us how these strong women find the sexual satisfaction and romance we all long for, for one of the best causes.

Authors in this Anthology include…

Susan Child
MariaLisa deMora
A.J. Downey
Emma Lee
Vera Quinn
K. Renee
Bibi Rizer
G.M. Scherbert
Erin Trejo

The Dreaded Blurb #amwriting #writingtips

Most indie authors hate writing the sales copy for their books. Alas, we have to do it anyway. Part of being an indie means taking a DIY approach to publishing. Traditional publishing houses have a staff of people who take a basic list of facts from the book and churn out sales copy. Indies do the same, only at lower speed.

There are authors¬†who like writing blurbs. I’ve met a few. Every bunch has its weirdoes, and all of us creative types are already weird to begin with. I’m not one of these individuals. I hate doing it.

What is a blurb? It’s a bit of text designed to make you want to buy a book. Authors spend hours poring over 3-10 sentences to tweak them for maximum impact without giving away the story while remaining true to said story. We take classes on this, float them with our fellow sufferers, and think hard about hitting things. Then we give up, barf the stuff out because we have to, and move on.

At this point, I’ve written or helped write blurbs for 20+¬†different books, stories, and anthologies. Some are great. Others are… I’m just not going back and fixing them, okay? I have other things to do and blurbs suck.

Why do we hate them?

  1. I’m a fiction writer, Jim. Not a copywriter.
  2. I just spent 3-9 months writing and revising this book, and now you want it condensed into a snappy few paragraphs? *rage-filled bellow*
  3. “Buy this book, it’s awesome.” doesn’t work. Damn you, reader. Damn you.

Some tips to help you get your blurb going:

  1. Make a list of all the words that might apply to your book’s theme, plot, and characters. Include nouns (proper or not), adjectives, and verbs.
  2. If your book has more than one main character, pick the most important one or two. If you pick two, be aware most readers will expect a romantic plot or subplot involving them, unless you make it clear that won’t happen. Mention they’re siblings, bitter enemies, or whatever.
  3. Avoid the verb “to be”. In fiction writing, you generally avoid this verb anyway, right? (Hint: you should. Only use it when there’s no better verb¬†to express something.) This verb is nothing more than an equal sign. Your blurb needs action words loaded with meaning.
  4. If you write for an age category that isn’t adults, the main character needs their age stated. Such as, “Sixteen-year-old Claire wants her father back.” If, instead, you write for adults, do not include¬†the age of your protagonist. Likewise, if you write about non-human beings, age is irrelevant.
  5. Go to Amazon and browse to the appropriate subcategory for your book. Read some blurbs. Get the feel for how they sound and look.
  6. Read this: http://graemeshimmin.com/writing-a-logline-for-a-novel/
  7. Use the logline from Step 6 and your word list as a starting point. Barf up a couple of paragraphs. Try to hit about 200 words. Anywhere between 100 and 400 is fine, but 200 is a good length.¬†Avoid giving away spoilers, twists, or the plot. Don’t¬†summarize. Instead, set the stage. Who is the protagonist? What are the stakes of their journey? What’s super-cool about that journey? What kind of book is it (mention the fantasy kingdom, the dragons, the space station, the backwoods resort, or whatever to give readers an extra clue about the genre)? Anything that happens in the first 3-4 chapters is fair game, but don’t bring up stuff from later in the book.
  8. As with all writing, let someone else read it. Preferably, ask veteran indie authors to read it and offer suggestions.
  9. Revise it 1-500000 times.
  10. Yay! You’re done!

Even though this is a short piece of work, I recommend setting aside an entire day to get to Step 8. Writing a blurb is like writing poetry, in that every word has to be deliberate and packed with meaning. It also needs to sell the book, which is hard work when you normally write fiction. Take your time and get feedback, even after you’ve been doing it for a while.