Saturday, May 24, 2014

Fun Facts

This past week I attended a free webinar on how to create a press kit. Now, it wasn't exactly free. As Robert A. Heinlein said, "TANSTAAFL!" (There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.) What these "free" webinars want to do is sell you something, but one of the ways they do that is to give you enough information so your reaction is "This guy really knows his stuff! I need to get the whole thing!" The whole thing being the latest book, online course, or whatever else it is they're promoting.

In the case of this one, there really was good information, but it was purposefully given at a speed impossible to take notes at, and there was no ability to get the presentation slides or examples as a download. So it was no surprise when the last ten or fifteen minutes was devoted to selling the full-blown version of how to create a press kit. Plus videos. Plus templates. But wait, there's more! Okay, they didn't use that exact phrase, but I definitely heard Billy Mays in my head.


One of the things they said you should include was Five Fun Facts about yourself. This is for interviewers who want to spice up the conversation about your book, which they probably haven't read anyway.

I've often thought that I'd make a terrible contestant on Jeopardy, not only because of the amount of stuff I don't know, or even because I'd probably freeze up in front of an audience, but because I'd be a total failure at that little interview they do with each contestant at the first break. My life has been pretty normal. Boring, actually. I haven't climbed Mount Everest or hitchhiked through the Australian Outback, or played Romeo in a high school play. Yes, I said Romeo, because playing Juliet wouldn't be interesting enough without something else happening, like Romeo stepping on the skirt of your costume and leaving you in dishabille in front of all your teachers.

No, I don't have any cute or embarrassing stories. Not that I'd want to share.

But there are some things that most of the people I know now don't know about me. For instance, I took nine years of clarinet lessons and played in the school band. One year in junior high (it wasn't middle school then), I was even solo clarinet. That means I was the best in the band and played all the clarinet solos. I'd gotten to take private music lessons and practiced very hard. I liked playing the clarinet and felt a big sense of accomplishment when I learned Mozart's Clarinet Concerto. I liked it so much, I told my clarinet teacher that I was thinking of becoming a professional musician.

His response? It's too hard, especially for a girl.

The exact same teacher encouraged my brother, who did become a professional musician. I quit playing clarinet before graduation from high school.

That wasn't the first time I'd been told I couldn't do something because I was a girl. It certainly wasn't the last time. I clearly remember one summer evening when my brother was heading off to the ball field at the nearby elementary school. I wanted to go, too, if not to play, then to watch. When I asked my father if I could go (we ALWAYS asked permission for things like that back then), he said NO. When I asked my father why my brother--who is three years younger than I am--could go, and I couldn't, his response was, "He's a boy."

I got a similar response in college. Now, I'm smart. I was always a brain in high school, got pretty much straight As, was put into special advanced classes, and was attending college on a National Merit Scholarship. I'm not bragging, I just think you need to know that to understand what comes next. I had no idea what I wanted to be after college. I took a bunch of classes in different fields, but I had to declare a major eventually. Having a talent for science and math, at one point I wondered if I should major in chemistry, so I made an appointment with an advisor in the chemistry department to talk about it. What I wanted was for him to sell me on majoring in chemistry. (Yeah, I didn't get the whole academic thing then.) At the least, I was looking for an enthusiasm about the field that would inspire me to explore that option further. When I explained that to the professor after getting a very unenthusiastic discussion, he said, "Well, you can always get married."

I suppose you can guess that was the end of that conversation. And any idea of majoring in chemistry.

I sometimes wonder how my life might have been different if someone had encouraged me to follow one of my off-the-wall career choices. Off-the-wall because they weren't things like teacher or secretary or nurse. Back then, roles and occupations were very much determined by your sex. Things have changed a lot, but not quite enough. While discrimination based on gender is now illegal, it still happens. They just use another reason as to why you didn't get the job or the promotion or the interview or whatever else it was they gave to some man. (Or someone younger, as you learn once you get past a certain age.)

So I guess that playing the clarinet didn't turn out to be such a Fun Fact after all, did it?

I'd better think some more on what I can put on that list.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Memorial Weekend Sale!

As we approach the unofficial start to summer, let me help you with your summer reading selections.




From Thursday, May 22 through Monday, May 26, Murder at the Museum , the first in my series of Lacy Griffiths Mystery Shorts will be FREE on Amazon. If you haven't had a chance to read it, go download it now.









If you enjoy Murder at the Museum, the second in the series, Murder at Stella Mann, is only 99 cents. Follow Lacy as she solves her second case.








And Faith, Hope, and Murder, the first novel in my Community of Faith mysteries, has been reduced on all platforms to $2.99. Grab a copy of the ebook from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, the iBookstore, or Smashwords while it's at this new, lower price.

If you're a reader who prefers paperbacks to ebooks, the trade paperback of Faith, Hope, and Murder will soon be available for the reduced price of $9.99.




Happy Reading!


Saturday, May 17, 2014

Of Authors and Publishers and Books


As I get closer to the publication of "Deliver Us From Evil", the second in my Community of Faith mysteries, I've started to pay attention to things most writers--and almost all readers--never notice. Unless they're done wrong.

I've spent time on Joel Friedlander's blog both looking at his monthly cover design winners and reading his advice about book formatting. Book formatting is setting things up that control the appearance of the inside of the book. It's also called interior book design. (Thus his blog name of The Book Designer.) It includes such things as font "face", i.e. Times New Roman or Arial or Courier, and font size. Do you use the same font for chapter titles as the text or a different one? If two different fonts, are they complimentary? Do chapters always start on a right-facing page or can they start on a left-facing page? Is there a graphic at the beginning of each chapter or between section breaks? See, I told you you never noticed most of this.

Unless the font size is too small or too big. Or the chapter heading font looks really out of place over the text. Or a title isn't centered.

Now, this doesn't matter very much for ebooks. One of the nice things about ebooks is that the reader largely controls the appearance. They pick the font they like and can choose to make the print bigger or smaller than it is the first time they open an ebook. They can even choose whether to read black text on a white background or white text on a black background or whatever the text color is on a sepia background. If they can't do these things, readers get annoyed. You'll know what I mean if you've ever downloaded a book where the font was so small it was impossible to read, and it didn't matter how many times you pressed that big A, it never got any bigger. That happens less now, but in early days not all publishers got it, and they tried to make ebooks exactly like print books.

But in print books, the appearance is more important, and, if you're self-publishing, you want the book to look as professional as if it were published by one of the Big Five in New York. One of the ways indie publishers decide on the kind of look they want for their novel is to choose what Chris Baty in "No Plot, No Problem" calls a "reference novel". In other words, you look through the books on your bookshelf, pick one whose appearance looks "right" or "good" to you, and try to match that. It's a subjective judgment, so I can't specify what "right" or "good" means.

Right now, I'm keeping an eye out for my reference novel. I'm currently reading "Safe From Harm" by Stephanie Jaye Evans. I really liked the first book in this series, "Faithful Unto Death", because it's the same kind of realistic Christian fiction I'm writing. I was curious as to what fonts had been used in the interior design of this book, so I flipped to the copyright page. I've previously noticed that sometimes the publisher will specify the font on either the copyright page or, if it's a unique or custom font, on a page at the back of the book. Berkley Prime Crime didn't do either of those.

But, as I scanned down the copyright page, ending the paragraph about "This is a work of fiction..." etc., was this interesting statement:
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
I'd never noticed that before. Does Berkley have a multitude of uncontrollable authors? When I was a programmer, it was common to refer to managing programmers as equivalent to herding cats. Programmers are notoriously independent and rebellious. But authors are usually cooperative people. After all, they change their books all the time to satisfy their agent or their publisher.

I was reminded of a blog entry posted not so long ago by Donald Maass, a formerly well-respected and still powerful New York literary agent, which was extremely disparaging of authors. In one memorable line, he compared writers to cattle who had to be culled from the herd. Needless to say, this caused quite an uproar in the writing community. Was there any connection?

I wondered when Berkley had found it necessary to add that disclaimer. I knew I had a copy of "Through a Glass, Deadly", written by my friend Sheila Connolly (writing as Sarah Atwell) as a work-for-hire for Berkley back in 2008, long before self-publishing took off. Not only did it have the same sentence about control of the author, it also had this additional disclaimer:
The recipes contained in this book are to be followed exactly as written. The publisher is not responsible for your specific health or allergy needs that may require medical supervision.
Huh. Cozy mysteries often have recipes in the back. Fans like them. (Although I've never quite understood that. I don't actually cook very often. And I'm pretty sure male authors don't have to include recipes in the back of their books.) So, does Berkley have a test kitchen where they try out every recipe in one of their books to make sure it isn't poisonous? Or disgusting? What happens if a reader (now the readers have to be controlled) adds a seasoning or other ingredient that isn't in the recipe in the book? Will the Berkley Recipe Enforcement Team appear on the reader's doorstep and whisk the book out of their possession, along with a pot of stew?

The disclaimers probably have less to do with the book people at Berkley and everything to do with the number of lawyers they, or their parent corporation Penguin, employ. Lawyers tend to get carried away when there's any possibility of a lawsuit. That's why book contracts, which probably shouldn't be longer than three pages, are now these voluminous tomes that are impossible for a layperson to understand.

I usually try to end my blog posts with some pithy conclusion, but I'm not sure I have one here. That should have been obvious by the title of this post. I still haven't found my reference novel and I'm not sure what "Deliver Us From Evil" will finally look like in print. But I am fascinated by all these details, so, at least for now, you'll have to put up with my rambling.

Picture Credits:
http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=76585&picture=charles-dickens-at-writing-desk

Saturday, May 10, 2014

A Day in the Life of an Indie Author


This morning I woke up thinking, "Maybe I shouldn't wrap the photo around to the back of the print cover." I got up out of bed and started pulling books off one of the bookshelves in my bedroom, turning them over to see what the back looked like. I'm sure it's because I spent five hours yesterday working in Gimp, a free open source graphics program, that I'm learning how to use by trying my hand at designing my own covers.

This isn't the first time I've done something like this. Once I decided to self-publish, I started looking a book covers differently. When I go into a bookstore or browse on Amazon, I ask myself whether I like or don't like a cover--unless I immediately go "Ooooo" because I love it. I ask myself specifically what I like and don't like. Can I read both the title and the author's name? What font did they use and would it be appropriate for one of my books? I might start out reading the back cover copy to see if I'm interested in reading the book, but I'm soon taking note of how the teaser was written and who gave the book review quotes. Oh, and what font did they use for those?

I spent another two or three hours working on the day's lesson for a class I'm taking on compiling in Scrivener with the incomparable Gwen Hernandez. Compiling is what Scrivener calls converting your manuscript to a proof copy, submission copy, Word document, ebook, or paperback novel. Now, I did this for Faith, Hope, and Murder last year, but it took a lot of hours and I'm sure there's lots I still don't know. Since I'm soon going to be publishing the sequel, taking this class seemed like a good idea. Except, after I spent the time working on the lesson, I learned there was an additional one hour video to watch.

Then there was Facebook and email time. Some of this is fun, but a lot of it is keeping up with industry news, learning if there have been changes at any of the retailers where I've published my book, connecting for promotional purposes.

It was 8:00 PM when I realized I hadn't had any dinner yet. Did you notice there wasn't any writing in that day? Me, too.

One of the first things I do each day is to make a list of what I want to accomplish as I drink my coffee and peruse email or the news or my lessons. I have a notebook next to my computer to do this. Most times each day gets a fresh page. Then, throughout the day, as I discover little tidbits I've learned or additional items that I should put on a list soon, I'll jot them down on the bottom of the page.

Two days ago I made my morning list. It has 12 things on it. That day, I accomplished four. Since that left eight more plus a repeat of "Scrivener lesson," I didn't make a new list yesterday. I did one more thing, the Gimp tutorial and experimentation. Usually "Write X" or "Revisions" is number one on my list each day, but Gimp had been on my list for over a week without doing anything, so I bumped that up for one day.

Margie Lawson, in her Defeat Self-Defeating Behaviors class, says you should only write down four goals each day. Two are what she calls "winner" goals, things you absolutely must accomplish. The other two are "superstar" goals, things you'd like to accomplish, but aren't sure if you'll be able to get to. If you do manage to do one or both of them, you're a superstar.

There are also distractions. While looking at my list notebook to write this blog, I saw one of those notes I made yesterday. That one was about a font that was recommended for a print book. Now, I've been on the hunt-through-the-notebook-for-something-I-wrote-down quest many times, so I detoured to store this somewhere on my computer where I'd be sure to find it. (Hah!) That led me to typing a few sentences not only in Georgia (the font I wrote down), but Garamond (which I used for my first print book) and Times New Roman (the old standby). I was lucky I stopped at three.

Then I went to bitly to get my short link to something in this post and found a big warning banner on the site saying information might have been compromised with instructions to change your password and API key immediately.

This stuff happens every day.

I'm sure all indie author lists read like mine. If you're an "authorpreneur", you wear many hats. You're not only the writer, you're the editor, the cover designer, the book formatter, the advertising department. Yes, you can hire professionals to do some of those tasks, but you're still involved.

Take my adventure into cover design. Last year I hired a cover designer. That meant researching what cover designers were out there, reviewing covers they'd done, contacting several whose work I liked to find out pricing and availability, communicating my ideas on the cover, reviewing multiple drafts until we were both satisfied, following up at every step. Now, I could just use the same designer for my new cover. I might still do that if I can't get the hang of creating my own cover so it looks professional. But I'd still have a lot of those steps for a new book.

The list doesn't only include author tasks. I've learned that, if I don't write something down so it's in front of me, I'm liable to forget to do it and have no clean underwear. So "do the laundry" and "walk" will often be on my daily list. "Clean office" has been on it for a week. I'll get to that someday.

And the best days? When I'm deep into writing or revisions, when I'm seeing my story unfold as I type it, when I manage to come up with a description that's fresh and vivid, when I see that I've sold another book or two, confirming that I'm a real author even if I'm not on the bestseller list. There's still time for that.

I love being an indie author. Yesterday, even though I didn't do any writing, was fun. I love learning new things, experimenting to see the results of "what happens if I do this?". I feel like every day is summer vacation. I'm doing what I want to do, whether it's writing blurbs or putting up promotional posts on Facebook or filling out my spreadsheet with monthly sales information or, yes, writing. I can't think of a better way to spend my time.

Photo Credit:
Image courtesy of cuteimage / FreeDigitalPhotos.net