I finished the proofread on Chosen of Azara yesterday, and the formatting is (so far; knock on wood) going well. Yesterday afternoon and evening and this morning I got done what it took me a week to do last time. It helps that I have my stylesheet and templates already set up - I'm using the same stylesheet for each book so that my books will have a consistent look and feel to them - and that I decided not to try wrestling with constructing the entire ebook by hand (see "command-line programs are not my friend" under this post). Last time, I wrote out a general workflow, which is making this easier, but this time I'm making sure to write down all the tips, tricks, and shortcuts that will make the formatting go even faster on future books. Not making any promises, but I anticipate Chosen of Azara going live on Amazon by early next week, with other stores to follow as I get those formats done.
In the meantime, if you're anxious to get a peek at Chosen of Azara, or want to read some before you decide if you want to buy it, you can read a sample here on my site. It consists of the first scene or two from each of the three sections of the book (instead of just the first 10-20% which is what you get when you download the free sample from ebook stores), with spoilery bits removed. Check it out, and meet Juzeva, Sevry and Lucie!
I'll make an official announcement when Chosen of Azara becomes available for purchase, and will add buy links as they go live. Stay tuned!
Last week I had the opportunity to speak to three wonderful artists who I found on deviantArt.com about commissioning cover art for Daughter of the Wildings. I was very pleasantly surprised with what I was able to afford, with the end result being that not only am I able to get custom cover art for the Daughter of the Wildings series, I can also get a better cover than the one I made myself for Chosen of Azara! I'm not going to go into which artist/s I ended up commissioning (that'll be revealed when I post the covers) or why (that's between me and them, except it was a very difficult decision and a lot of it came down to the looks I wanted for the different projects and the needs of my budget) or how much I'm paying (that's confidential), but I will say that based on my interactions with them so far, I would absolutely recommend any of the three to other writers who are looking for cover artists.
Go take a look:
Design by Katt
Also, some authors I read have some new stuff out. The fabulous Camille LaGuire, whose Mick and Casey westerns I really enjoy, is posting a new serial, The Case of the Misplaced Baronness. This one is set in her roughly "silent-movie era" alternate universe and features the indomitable Lady Pauline Anne Marie Tritt-Woolsey Beethingham Smythe, Baroness of Beethingham, aka "Plink." There's something of a Jeeves-and-Woosterish vibe to this, so if you're a Jeeves and Wooster fan (which I am), you'll enjoy this.
And Forged in Blood, Part 1, the first part of Book 6 of the Emperor's Edge series by Lindsay Buroker is out. I've really been enjoying this series, and could hardly wait for this book (and can hardly wait for part 2, due out later this summer). Each book is partly in the point of view of a different member of the Emperor's Edge team, and in this last book (or pair of books) we finally get inside the head of Sicarius, the inscrutable yet sexy assassin. And it's a very interesting place to be, indeed. I'm an incurable end-peeker (it's harder to peek at the end with e-books, which I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but I still manage it if I really can't stand the suspense) and it looks like this one ends with a doozy of a cliffhanger. Just makes the anticipation of the last book all the more sweet! I've also enjoyed the Encrypted/Decrypted duology set in the same world as the Emperor's Edge books.
Finally, I want to mention The Norothian Cycle, by M. Edward McNally, yet another amazing independent author. I read the first book, The Sable City, not long ago, and went through it like a box of chocolates. Highly recommended, and I can't wait to read the rest of the series - after I finish Forged in Blood 1 and some Read and Review books for my Goodreads group. Since I started exploring books by independent writers a little more than a year and a half ago (about the time I was considering taking the leap into self-publishing myself), my to-read list, as evidenced by the number of samples on my Kindle, has been growing at an alarming rate. So many fresh voices and exciting books, so little time!
One more thing: Here's a shout-out to this week's Paranormal, Fantasy, Dystopia, and Romance Writers and Reviewers group featured author, Donna Hawk! I will be hosting Donna next week as part of her blog tour with Saskia Book Tours, and I'm looking forward to it very much.
According to my online banking stuff, my first payout from Amazon, for February sales, is pending. It isn't a lot - we're talking a large (not extra-large) pizza with pepperoni, green peppers, and extra cheese. Maybe black olives. (Although everything I make for the time being is going straight into the cover art fund for the Daughter of the Wildings series, not for pizza.) But it's money that I earned with my writing! Which is seriously cool. It's something that for a long time I thought would never happen. I knew that conventional publishing just wasn't something I wanted to deal with, so I figured I would just never be a professional writer. But now, thanks to Amazon and Kindle and ebooks and print-on-demand and serious (not vanity) self-publishing, I am a pro :-D
I won't be getting another payout for a few months, at least - you have to accumulate a minimum amount in your account both at Amazon and at Smashwords. But that's ok. I know I'm just a little baby self-pubbing author just starting out, and I'm in it for the long term, with a two-year starter plan.
But I'm still getting a real kick out of this first payday :-D
Camp NaNo report, Day 23:
My word counter was being wonky, and I'm taking my total from the Camp NaNo Official Word Counter today, so I'm not sure exactly how many words I wrote yesterday and today. But right now I'm at 23,347/30,000 words.
Finally, here's a shoutout to this week's featured author at the Paranormal, Fantasy, Dystopia, and Romance Writers and Reviewers group, Jennifer Howard!
Yesterday at The Passive Voice blog, Passive Guy posted a question from a reader who wants to start writing and self-publishing but is overwhelmed by all the information and has no idea where to start or how to go about this. Passive Guy invited commenters to leave their own tips and advice, and here's what I posted. Since I've toyed with the idea of doing a post on the very same subject, I decided to recycle this very fine (if I do say so myself :D) run-down on how to go about becoming an independent author.
* * *
I just took the leap in February, and even though I’m still just a little baby self-publisher, I love it and feel confident that this is something that will give me a lot of satisfaction in life.
Here’s my list:
1. Write a book. Write what you love, what makes you happy, what you feel driven to write. Don’t worry about writing what will sell, because no one knows that. Also, if you want to make a career of this, you can’t do it with just one book, so be working on ideas for more books.
2. Make the book as good as you can get it. Work on your own revising/editing skills. (Many resources online.) Have some acquaintances who are avid readers read it, or join a critique group (can also be found online). If you have the money, or can arrange a barter or something, find a *good* professional editor. Do what you have to do to make the book as error-free as possible.
3. If you’re broke, have some html know-how or don’t mind learning, and don’t mind doing things yourself, get a guide on how to do the ebook formatting yourself. You can find suggestions on Lindsay Buroker’s and David Gaughran’s blogs. [Specifically, The eBook Design and Development Guide by Paul Salvette and Guido Henckel's blog post series Take Pride In Your eBook Formatting] If you aren’t quite so broke, or don’t want to do it yourself, research ebook formatters. There are a number of them, many with reasonable rates. You can find links on the Kindle boards.
4. For a low-cost cover, license some stock art from a site like Dreamstime, and learn how to do the lettering in an image-editing program. See The Book Designer for good and less-good examples. If you can spend a little more, use a cover designer. You can also find links to this on the Kindle boards.
5. Set up your accounts at the different outlets – Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo are the big ones (Apple too, but you have to have a Mac computer to go to them directly). Check out their individual submission/upload requirements, and follow these carefully. I go direct through Amazon, and use Smashwords for all the others, just to keep it simple.
6. Be VERY VERY CAREFUL ***NOT*** to pay for expensive packages containing services you don’t need or could do yourself. You should be able to pick and choose what services you want/need on an individual basis without getting locked in to a bunch of stuff you don’t need. Also be careful if any service you want to use asks you to sign agreements involving percentages or copyright or exclusivity (KDP Select asks you to make books you enroll in that program exclusive for 90 days, which is as far as any author should be willing to go exclusive, and not everyone even feels comfortable with that). In short, be careful not to get ripped off or trapped in a bad deal.
*I did the complete do-it-yourself route, and published my first book for under $100, including $35 to register the copyright in the U.S., expanded distribution fee and proof copy from CreateSpace, licensed stock art, and small gifts for my test readers.
7. Once your book is up for sale, be patient – it will not take off overnight, or even over a few months – and get going on the next book.
Might not work for everyone, but that’s how I’m doing it.
* * *
There's lots of other good advice in the post at The Passive Voice, so go check it out if publishing your writing is something you're thinking of doing.
Today's Camp NaNo output:
1517 words Total: 5234/30,000 words.
Have I mentioned how much fun this series, Daughter of the Wildings, is to write? Aside from the issue of it not wanting to let me plan more than a few scenes or chapters in advance, which is completely different from how I usually write. The setting and the characters are so much fun, and I'm finding myself leaving places where I can write short stories and novellas later on to fill in some gaps. The world needs more second-world fantasy (that is, fantasy set in a world completely unconnected to ours) in a wild west type of setting.
Anyway. I realized I haven't written anything about Urdaisunia lately. It's published, it's out there, and I've moved on to other projects. But I haven't forgotten about it. There's a story behind the writing of Urdaisunia, and here it is.
A long time ago, I wrote my first novel. Like a good little writer, I then found an agent in the Writers Marketplace book at the library, and bundled my novel off to an agent who represented fantasy writers. Then I started my next novel.
There were two seeds for this second novel. One was an image that came into my mind, of a peasant woman, destitute and desperate, facing down three men on horseback who were holding swords over her head. Then one of the men, obviously in charge of the other two, orders them, in a language she doesn't understand, to not kill her.
The other seed was my fascination at the time (well, I still have it) with very ancient civilizations and cultures. Not the Romans and Greeks, those whippersnappers, but even more ancient. And not the Egyptians, because that's been done. I wanted really, really ancient, and something that you didn't see stuff about all the time. Sumeria fit the bill. I read up about the technology and culture developed by the Sumerians, and their literature and mythology, and began developing a world based on that. You can find more details about the Sumerian influences on Urdaisunia in this post. Then I plopped that peasant woman and the three warriors down in that world, and came up with the idea of an ancient, proud civilization in decline and conquered by newcomers, and the gods of that civilization all in an uproar about what to do about it.
I started writing that novel and was having loads of fun with it. In the meantime, I got a response from the literary agency I had contacted, a very nice rejection that made me feel like maybe I would hit the target with the next book. Also in the meantime, though, the word "marketability" had entered my awareness. Whether through reading Writer's Digest magazine, or something in the letter from the agency, or both, I don't remember. But at that point, I realized that I was not only going to have to write something good, I was also going to have to write something that an agent would find marketable and that the agent would be able to convince an editor at a publishing company was marketable.
And then I froze up. I had no idea what someone else was going to think was marketable - I still don't. I don't know if anyone does. All I knew was that I had never seen anything like the novel I was writing on the fantasy shelves at bookstores (pre-Medieval, non-European setting, no wizards and magic, all these gods running around doing their soap opera thing), which said to me that books like that were not considered marketable. I mean, I couldn't be the only person who ever thought of writing something like that.
So I tried to change the story. I stuck some wizard and magic stuff (beyond the small amount that came organically) into the story and tried to make the whole thing with the gods a little less weird, and just tried to make the whole structure of the novel more like that of the fantasy novels I was reading at the time. The more I tried to make the novel "marketable," the bigger mess it turned into, and finally I just gave up - both on the novel and on the idea of trying to get published, since it was now apparent to me that I didn't have a clue about how to write the kinds of things that agents and publishers would want.
This was in about 1991. Fast forward to, oh, 2005, 2006, or so. Those characters - the peasant-rebel woman, the hapless prince, the scheming gods, wouldn't leave me alone. So I dug into my old story files and hauled out my old printouts, gave the first few chapters a quick edit, and started posting them on my old fiction website, with the intent of writing and posting the rest of it one chapter at a time.
How did that work out? About as well as you'd expect it to. I had a mishmash of the different old versions I'd tried writing, plot threads that went nowhere, and no clue how I wanted it to work out at the end. So I chucked the whole idea again.
But those darn characters STILL wouldn't leave me alone. So in, hmm, early 2010, on a creative high after completing my first National Novel Writing Month challenge, I hauled out all my old notes and files and printouts, plopped whatever was salvagable into a Liquid Story Binder project, and patchworked together a complete manuscript from usable old bits and newly-written material. It felt really good to finally reach The End on the novel I'd started nearly twenty years earlier.
There was just one problem, though. It was awful. Between my execrable "high fantasy" narrative style from when I first started writing, and the "let's just get this over with" brain dumps in the new stuff, and the random bits of deleted characters and subplots still lying around, it was a huge mess. I figured that one day I would tackle it and make something out of it, but I had no idea how.
And then I discovered Holly Lisle's How To Revise Your Novel online course. It sounded good, and I was gearing up to dive into the world of self-publishing and wanted to get the editorial skills to be able to make my books as good as I could, so I signed up. The project I chose to do the course with was that thrice-abandoned mess, Urdaisunia. I figured if the method taught in the course could make something readable out of that thing, then it could work on any book.
The course has five months worth of lessons, but it took me longer than that to get all the way through all the work. It was hard - just reading my rough draft made my eyeballs bleed at times, and I had to dig down really deep to find the really cool story that lay buried far beneath the surface. But I did it, I tore that thing apart, pulled out and dusted off what was good and got rid of the bad, and put it all back together again. When I finally finished the first revision, I sent my vastly improved story out to some friends who bravely agreed to test-read it for me, did another big revision based on their feedback and some more ideas I'd had about the story, and then, when all that was done, realized I had a novel I was proud of.
And, well, the rest is history. I did the final edits, formatted it, and now that story I abandoned long ago as being a hopeless cause is now out there, on Amazon and in paperback and everything (in theory, you can even go to your favorite bricks&mortar bookstore and special-order it). It's an incredible feeling.
And Rashali and Eruz and all those bickering gods are much, much happier with me now.
After three days, I've got 3,173 words written on the Tale of Haveshi Yellowcrow, the prequel to the other story I wrote and also based on an old abandoned idea. A few more days should finish it.
For a long time, I never thought of myself as much of a short-story writer. I had maybe a handful of short stories to go with the fifteen or so novellas and novels I'd written. I just figured that short stories weren't a form that I naturally thought in, or that I was comfortable with.
But now, in about three weeks or so, I'll have written five short stories, two of them from ideas I abandoned a long time ago because I wasn't sure how to spin them out into novel-length. Which just goes to show a few things:
1. Don't define yourself by what you think you can or can't do, or what you think you're naturally suited for. You just might surprise yourself, especially if you try.
2. In the new world of publishing (as Dean Wesley Smith calls it), the length of what we write doesn't have to be defined by the needs of the publishing industry. The size of an ebook isn't subject to the same cost-effectiveness considerations that paper books are (the bigger the book, the more expensive it is to print and the more space it takes up, while with a book that's too small, readers aren't willing to pay enough to cover the production expenses), and print-on-demand allows for printing one or two at a time of odd lengths of books (though there are limits to how short and maybe how long POD books can be, as a practical matter). Ideas that once seemed impossible to write to a marketable length can now be dug up from the depths of the hard drive or the file cabinet, dusted off, and given life in the length that's right for them.
So instead of calling myself a short-story writer or a novel writer, I'm a writer of my ideas, and I write them as short or as long as they need to be.
In other news, if you're on Goodreads, come say howdy at my Goodreads author profile.
Pre-camp challenge, days -11 and -10. 655 words yesterday, and 1161 words today. Evil conspiracies, a fight, and some serious smooching. :D Why I love writing.
This project might not even get to novella length; it might end up in the neighborhood of very long short story. But this story has been waiting a long time to get told, so I don't think it minds how long or short it is. And there are no length requirements in self-publishing as there are in conventional publishing. Stories can be as short or long as they need to be. An awkward length no longer needs to be a reason for a story to not get written and published, and stories no longer need to be cut down or padded out to meet some arbitrary length guideline.
This is a good thing.
I set myself a challenge last night to write three flash fictions* and a novella before Camp NaNoWriMo starts on April 1. It seems like kind of a lot, considering that I'm also deeply into the revision process with Chosen of Azara and planning my Camp project, Book 3 of Daughter of the Wildings. But Dean Wesley Smith, one of my indie writing gurus, encourages writers to produce new words each day, to stay in practice and improve their skills, and to have more stuff to release. I figure he knows what he's talking about and he's got a point, so I'm doing it. Having smaller things to release in between the big novels will keep my writing and book-production skills sharp and getting sharper, and it can only raise my visibility.
So, anyway, how's the challenge going? Good so far. Last night I wrote flash fiction #1, "The Midnight's Brilliance," which clocks in at 1,524 words, and today I wrote "A Familiar Face," short and sweet at 828 words. I've got one more planned, which I'll write tomorrow. Then I'll take a day or two to de-suckify (yes that's a word, I'm a writer and I used it so that means it's a word) all three and then post them here on the site for a while. Eventually they'll go into another collection, but in the meantime they'll be here for free and you can get a peek into how my mind works when I'm writing on a weird prompt in a hurry.
In the meantime, I anticipate finishing Stage 1 of the Chosen of Azara revision next week, and hope to have Stage 2 done by the end of March. I use a four-stage revision process, which I've adapted (or am still adapting, it kind of evolves as I go) from Holly Lisle's How To Revise Your Novel course (which, I'm telling you, if you write and want to publish your writing, either independently or with a publisher, is the best $250--for a 22-week course--you can ever spend). Stage 1 is assessing what I have right now, identifying the problems with the story; Stage 2 is planning the revision based on my notes from Stage 1, Stage 3 is actually marking up the changes in the manuscript, and Stage 4 is typing it all in. This process saves me a lot of revision passes, and gets me a lot deeper into the novel problems with plot, structure, conflict, character development, world-building, etc., than anything else I've tried. Anyway, still hoping for a May release of Chosen, but not ready to make any promises yet.
Now to go do some planning for Book 3 and the Estelend novella. Onward!
*If you're not familiar with the idea behind flash fiction, basically it's very short stories written quickly with a minimum of planning. Just like it sounds.
My proof copy of the paperback edition of Urdaisunia came today. It's beautiful! Once I give it a good looking over and approve it, it should hopefully become available very soon. It's a trade-size paperback, and will be priced at $10.99 (U.S.). I'll update the Amazon buy link once it's available.
In other news: I'm still waiting for Urdaisunia to make its way through the Smashwords sales channels to the Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, and Sony online stores. I'll add buy links as it goes live on those sites.
In the meantime, Chapter 3 of Urdaisunia is now posted for your free sampling enjoyment. I'll continue to post 2-3 chapters a week, with three chapters available at a time, for sampling and free serial-style reading.
I'm working on a short story collection which will include "The Peach Tree" and "You Can't Take It With You," along with a previously-unpublished story, "A Cure For Nel," which is set in the same world as my forthcoming novel Chosen of Azara. (Completely different story and characters, though.) I'm going to experiment with putting this collection in Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing Select program, which will allow me to offer it for free five days out of a ninety-day period, and will also make it available in the Kindle Prime lending library. The downside is that the work has to be exclusive to Amazon while it's enrolled in the KDP Select program, which means that "The Peach Tree" and "You Can't Take It With You" will have to come down from this site. If you want to read them free online, you've got a few more days before they disappear. After that, I'll announce when the collection will be available for free from Amazon, and when it isn't free it'll be only $0.99.
But, you say, I don't have a Kindle! Never fear: here are a couple of different solutions. One is that you can download the free Kindle reading app for your computer, tablet, or smartphone (Android or Apple) and read through that. The other is, my ebooks are free of DRM, meaning that you can buy them from Amazon and use free Calibre ebook management software to easily convert them to your preferred format (epub for most other e-readers).
I'm curious to see if the KDP Select program offers any advantages as far as promotion and visibility are concerned. So I'll keep this collection in the program for a couple of 90-day cycles and see how it works. After that I'll decide whether to keep it in the program or make the stories non-exclusive again.
And in other news, The Lost Book of Anggird is out to the test-readers, and Chosen of Azara is undergoing a quality-check revision pass. It's already been pretty well worked-over, and I had it posted on my old website for a long time. I'm not finding too many problems, but it could still use a little work to bring it up to a more professional level. I'm not planning on sending it out to test-readers, and will hopefully have it ready to release in May or June.
I've also started writing Book 2 (as yet untitled) of Daughter of the Wildings. For months now, Silas and Lainie have been jumping up and down, waving their arms at me and going, "Hey, did you forget about us?" So it's good to finally be paying attention to them again. Like the first book, Beneath the Canyons, this one is kind of scary because I have a vague idea of what it's all about and where it'll end up but not nearly as many details as I would feel comfortable with to fill out a whole novel. I'm hoping that like with the first book, it'll all come to me as I write. It's a fun setting to write in, and Silas's voice is also a lot of fun. I read the draft of Beneath the Canyons last weekend for the first time since I wrote it a year and a half ago, and I had forgotten how very cool it is.
Thanks to digital self-publishing and print-on-demand, this is a tremendously exciting time to be a writer, and it's a dream come true for me to be able to share my stories with other people on my own terms without having to wait for anyone else's approval. I hope you'll join me on the adventure, and enjoy reading my stories as much as I enjoy writing them!
I knew that getting Urdaisunia formatted and ready for release would be a learning curve. It ended up taking two weeks. But I've learned a few things that will hopefully cut that time down to two days with the next time. Other things, however, remain a mystery.
What I've learned:
1. Command line programs are not my friend. This was what brought me down to crashing defeat in my attempt to completely build an e-book by hand. The very last step is to compress all the different files into a zip file, using a command line zip program because there's one tiny little line of code in its own file that has to go in first and end up at the very top of the zipped file. I followed the instructions exactly, but I just couldn't get that bugger to go in right. I'd run the program, compress my files, run it through the epub validator, and keep coming back with just that one little error. And that one error, that one little 20-byte file, made the ebook unusable. Otherwise it was perfect. *sigh* So I backed up and used the very beautifully-written html and css that I came out of the process with, and learned my next lesson:
2. CSS is my friend, and I can do it. I'd been trying to learn CSS for years and could never quite grasp it, but for some reason the way it's laid out in The eBook Design and Development Guide by Paul Salvette clicked for me. Following the instructions in the guide (and applying the principles to adjust a few things, like my smallcaps, that weren't working right) I ended up with html/CSS files that converted beautifully when I did find conversion methods that worked for me. I'm proud of the formatting in my ebooks, and I hope it leads to a more pleasant reading experience for the readers. Even if the novel isn't great, at least the formatting is wonderful.
3. Also from the eBook Design and Development Guide: Regular expressions are awesome. These are things you can do in a text editor like Notepad++ to do fiddly tedious little things like strip extra blank lines and spaces from a file, wrap the correct html tags around paragraphs or sentences, and cool stuff like that.
4. The CreateSpace Word templates are crazy-making, The formatted one came with weird sections and headers that didn't fit with my novel and that I couldn't figure out how to get rid of. The un-formatted one ate my dropcaps. Finally (after an equally frustrating foray into LibreOffice [see below]), I just set up my own pages using the margin guidelines on CreateSpace, and that worked fine.
5. LibreOffice has many advantages over Word, but its developers hate page numbers. Setting up different page numbers for different sections and getting the right numbers in the right place is much easier in Word. (Or maybe that's because Word's instructions are better-written.) (Note that I'm using Word 2003. Can't speak for later versions.)
6. Typing out small caps for each different version is a pain. Do it once on the source file before doing anything else.
7. Smashwords' Meatgrinder converter actually does a really nice job of converting your .doc into various ebook formats if you follow the Style Guide exactly. I'd heard lots of complaints about the Smashwords conversions, but I'm very pleased with how mine turned out.
And some things that may remain mysteries forever:
1. Why did Sigil make my epub come out with a humongozoidal cover image? Seriously. I looked in the previewers, and got a friend to look at it on her Kobo, and you could only see like the top left quarter of the image. Running the conversion through Calibre resulted in a correctly-sized cover image.
2. Why do the makers of LibreOffice hate page numbers? And who writes their instructions? Seriously, that isn't something that should be so hard.
So there's two weeks' worth of lessons that should reduce the formatting, conversion, and publishing time on my next book to two days.
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