May 28, 2018

Self-Publishing Expert Needed


My novel group has made it to the halfway point of our sixth-month time frame, and the first member has finished their first draft. I had been hoping that I would be the first one to pen The End, but I haven’t been keeping up a fast pace like I had originally expected. Instead, I’m a little under halfway done. Even though publishing is a business, the act of writing is still a creative endeavor, and I’ve learned that nothing good comes from trying to force it.

Regardless of the progress—or lack thereof—for my current work-in-progress, I offered to do a workshop on self-publishing for any of the members of our writing group who would be interested. I’m not the only one in our group who has self-published, but so far, I’m the most prolific. And since I’ve successfully gotten books onto Amazon and even sold a bunch, I feel like I’m qualified to give a lecture on the business of self-publishing.

I immediately dove in and put together some notes and made slides on what I would want to cover. However, I quickly came to the realization that I couldn’t cover everything, and a lot of people attending the workshop would know little to nothing about indie publishing. Heck, right now, most of us are in the drafting phase of our novels.

Another local writing group held a similar event recently, and although I didn’t attend, I was able to dig up an outline of the material that was covered. After reading just the first few paragraphs, which included gems like you have to purchase an ISBN which are only available on the Bowker website (just get a free one through Createspace) and start saving money now for a print run (with print-on-demand, there’s no upfront cost), I tossed it aside and declared I could do better.

I’m not entirely sure what the scope of my workshop will be. At first, I thought I would cover everything. But as I’ve come up with more and more items that should be included, I’ve had to narrow the focus a bit. Especially for someone new to publishing, the nuanced details on formatting an ebook might be best saved for a later date. Same with the elements of effective cover design and what should be included on an author website. But there are a lot of things that I don’t want to cut, including marketing and producing a paperback, which I won’t be able to go over in great detail.

Since I also considered traditionally publishing and spent some time querying agents and publishers, some of the writers have asked that I talk about both forms of publishing. I would love to do that and come off as a knowledgeable bad-ass, but then my little workshop would morph from a couple hours to an entire day or even a series. And since I have kids and writing stuff to do, I’m not willing to take on that big of a time commitment. Not yet. Unless I get paid...

The workshop hasn’t happened yet, but I’m flattered to be hailed as a publishing expert, even if it’s just in my local writing club. I do feel like I already have a lot of expertise to offer, although I haven’t reached ‘quit your day-job’ status.

As soon as I have all the materials ready, I’ll make sure to share them all on here. I also have a number of other resources which you can find here.

May 21, 2018

Writing as a Parent



Being a parent is really hard. Last week, I got a call from my son’s school. The nurse informed me that he was sick, and she needed me to come pick him up. However, I had an important meeting in an hour with his teachers. Unable to find anyone to watch him, we tried doing the meeting as a conference call. While I was steam cleaning the sofa (why couldn’t he aim at a bucket, or at least a blanket that could be thrown in the wash?), I get the call from his teachers, ready to discuss my son’s progress in kindergarten.

Ultimately, we had to reschedule, going back and forth for an entire day, trying to find a time when everyone involved was available. We were able to make an appointment later that week, so that was nice. But now my daughter has caught what my son had, so most of my Saturday was spent keeping her company while she watched The Magic School Bus.

People without kids are usually appalled by my tales of parenthood (my best friend says my stories are the best form of birth control), but if you have kids, you’re probably nodding and thinking, Yep, that’s parenting.

Originally, I was going to title this post “Writing with Children,” but that sounds a little ambiguous. Does she have children or are there kids writing with her? To be clear, this post is aimed at those who find themselves responsible for another living human 24/7.

In my writing group, most of the members either don’t have kids or their children are grown and out of the house. Only a few of us have kids under 18. I’m not sure if this is the case because fewer parents write, or because fewer parents have the time to participate in a writing group. I’m thinking it’s probably the former since a lot of people drop their hobbies as soon as the first baby is born.

Something that I think is kind of unique is that only the writers with school-aged children are able to write at home. A lot of people find themselves distracted by cleaning and chores that need to get done, and aren’t able to block out the needs of their household while trying to write. Similar to how Ray Bradbury cranked out the first draft of Fahrenheit 451 on a rental typewriter in a library basement, parents who want to write have to ignore everything going on around them in order to get words on a page. Someone who is already busy with kids, carpools, playdates, work, and chores has to be dedicated to crafting their novel if they ever hope to finish.

I’ve been writing for three years now, from when my daughter was a squirmy baby to my son attending kindergarten. My first novel was written with a baby on my lap during the toddler's naptime and after everyone had gone to bed at night. My second and fourth were crafted during preschool and in the evenings. I drafted my third and fifth during NaNoWriMo. As the kids have gotten older, it’s been easier to squeeze in writing sessions. I frequently find myself working on book stuff while my daughter eats lunch, while the kids play together somewhat nicely, and during lazy weekend mornings.

As a writer/parent, I wanted to share a few things which have made my indie author journey more bearable.

Backup Your Work


This is insanely important. Generally, I try to backup my work to my external hard drive after each writing session. I was really glad I did when my daughter snagged a spray bottle and ‘cleaned’ my laptop before I could get it away from her.

RIP laptop

Get someone else to take the kids


During the summer, having both kids home all day every day is really hard and absolutely kills any productivity. But I found that having a mommy’s helper (basically a younger babysitter to entertain/distract the kids while mom tries to get stuff done) over a few hours each week so I could work on book stuff really helped.

Do NaNoWriMo


This tip may sound ridiculous for someone who’s already too busy to remember what day of the week it is, but hear me out. Yes, the official goal is to write 50k words in 30 days while also hosting Thanksgiving and having your in-laws crash at your place for a week, but that’s not the part of this annual competition I’m focusing on. NaNoWriMo really is a community which encourages people to get together with other writers, network, write, do word sprints, etc. And it’s only a month, so if you can’t dedicate the time to participating in a writing group, you can still meet local writers—and you won’t be asked to critique anyone else's work, which is a whole other time sink.

Don’t drink while editing


Just trust me on this one.

Give yourself some grace


You have a lot going on. Sometimes you won’t have any time in a week to write. Sometimes you’ll let a few chores slide to finish that chapter. Sometimes you just need to write a story just for yourself. But only write because you love to write. You’re already a superhero—so if you need to set your novel aside while focusing on your family, that’s okay.


May 14, 2018

Branding


I'm sure some authors are already aware of the insanity surrounding Faleena Hopkins and her claim to the word “cocky.” The whole debacle has brought the entire idea of branding to the forefront of my mind, so I thought I’d tackle it in today’s post.

Faleena Hopkins is an indie author who writes romance novels. She has a series about the “Cocker®️ brothers” called “The Cocky®️ Series,” in which each book has the word “cocky®️” in the title. Building her brand around this series, she registered a trademark for the word “cocky®️” in relation to romance novels.

I have no qualms about establishing a brand and protection your intellectual property. However, Miss Hopkins has threatened lawsuits against other authors who’ve used the word “cocky®️” in their romance works, even if they were published before her first cocky®️ novel.

Not one to believe internet gossip (or any rumors, really), I wanted to verify the facts. I was able to pull up the trademark through the US Patent office and see that the word “cocky” was indeed protected in the space of romance novels.

Other authors have shared schemes on how to get back at Miss Hopkins for her poor attitude as well as her threats against fellow writers. Part of me really wants to write up and release a sci-fi short story with “cocky®️” in the title. However, I’m not going to expend a bunch of time and energy on a joke.


Ok, maybe a little effort.

But I don’t want to focus on petty revenge or immature retaliation. I’d like to focus on brand. The idea behind branding is that when customers see an item for sale, they’ll recognize which company produced it by the colors, fonts, style, etc. of the packaging. The minimalist style of store-brand canned veggies communicates that they’re more affordable. Earth-tone colors used for bottles of baby shampoo let consumers know that the product is organic or environmentally conscientious.

The majority of an author’s brand is represented through their books’ covers. This can be things like similar fonts, art style, layout, color palette, etc. among all of their books. Generally, the publisher has full control of book covers, so indie authors get full control of the branding of their covers, or lack thereof.

An excellent example of well-branded book covers would be all the novels by A. G. Riddle. The titles are all in the same font, his name has another consistent font and is always white and placed at the bottom, and the art is well-done photo-manipulation with limited colors. Furthermore, each series has specific branding with matching layouts.


Since lots of books are sold online, authors can also use their web presence to build their brand. Making a website and social media accounts somehow cohesive might sound challenging at first, but there are definitely a few simple things that can tie them all together. One thing I do is use the same profile picture for all of my social media. I’ve also picked a color palette for my website and reuse the colors where I can (i.e. I use the deep purple from here for my Twitter theme color). For images I post, I try to use similar backgrounds, subject matter, and filters, adding my website on the bottom.

What it really comes down to in developing an author brand is deciding how you want to represent yourself and building up from there. For myself, that means I want to let people know that I’m fun, serious about writing, and firmly planted in the sci-fi genre.

The first time anyone asked me about my brand was when Kathy Meis with Bublish.com was helping me set up my website and social media before the launch of The End of Refuge. It wasn’t really something I had considered. I figured that my brand was just the book I had written, and plastering the cover everywhere would be sufficient.

But after thinking about it, I realized that I wasn’t going to publish just one book. Instead of overhauling all of my online presence with the release of each book, I needed to focus on selling myself. That epiphany sent me straight to completely reworking my website. Before, it looked pretty, well…


I still think it looks lovely. A subtle gray damask background, a beautiful script header font, punches of deep magenta, fluffy posts consisting mostly of life updates, and absolutely no images.

It’s absolutely perfect for an aspiring writer of Victorian romance, but I was about to publish a dystopian novel set in a bomb shelter. I replaced the damask with a star-scape which says science, picked a new color palette that was attention-grabbing and fun, experimented with using images, and stuck to simple, readable fonts.

Similarly, I’ve made the choice to go with book covers which have moody images, saturated colors, black backgrounds, and light-colored text. My name is always in the same font. The backs of the paperback covers are all the same layout with a blurb, my bio, the same picture of me, and my publishing logo with my website.

Overall, I’ve built a pretty strong brand, and I never felt the need to stake my claim and protect some part with a trademark. Both the cover and text of a novel are already covered by copyright, which seems like enough. I’m not saying I would never register a trademark—if I came up with an insanely popular character like Harry Potter®️, I would consider reserving their name.

The ultimate goal of my brand is to help people recognize my work before they even read the byline, and when they pick up my books, they’ll know they’re in for an exciting and thrilling sci-fi story.

May 7, 2018

Book Review: Immersed by Jenetta Penner


Immersed by Jenetta Penner
Immersed by Jenetta Penner
My rating: ★★★★☆

Following right after the end of Configured, Avlyn finds herself in New Philadelphia. But instead of attaining freedom, she has become a prisoner of the president, Warren. A team of people will help her train her skill of immersing into computer systems, with the plans of using her in the future as an ultimate weapon.

She doesn’t trust any of the people around her, so when Elore attacks New Philadelphia, she uses the chaos to escape unnoticed. Now she has several factions after her, all of them wanting to control her ability.

This book is filled with fast-paced action and cool technology. When the characters aren’t fighting in the real world, they’re exploring the limits of the computer world. There was also a bit of a love triangle, which was fun to watch unfold.

I’m not a huge fan of main characters who are ‘the chosen one’ and have the best and most powerful superhuman skills, but I had already read Configured and knew that Avlyn’s ability would be featured in the second installation of the series.

Immersed gives a much wider view of the Configured world, and I enjoyed exploring it with Avelyn. If you like young-adult dystopian novels, you will definitely want to check out the entire Configured series.



I have a bit of a rant about one of the tropes in this book, but I didn’t want to get it mixed in with the review. So even though I’ve given Immersed a good rating, I still want to call out this common character attribute which seems to have made me irrationally angry.

Avlyn has an annoyingly strict moral code. In any instance of danger, she has to save all the people. Whenever there is an attack, she needs to personally run out and warn everyone. If someone is lagging behind, she will drag them along to safety. There is no consideration for the greater good, Her ability uniquely qualifies her to end the war, which means that putting herself in danger also jeopardizes the future of humanity. But instead of seeking an end to the fighting, she must rescue the closest person who is experiencing any sort of threat.

The whole black-and-white view of what’s right vs wrong is a very childlike view of the world. When you ask a child, “If your mom was really sick and you had no money, would you steal the medicine that would save her life?” they will respond with, “No, because stealing is wrong.”

I know that some adults also cling to this simplistic view of morality, but my argument is that this character trait can be counterproductive to telling a story.

There are plenty of detective novels where the stubborn main character must always do the right thing, but in this case, their do-good-ness commonly interferes with their personal life, constantly driving them away from friends and family and inviting harm to themselves. But in stories for young adults, plucky teenagers who always do the right thing don’t have negative consequences when they run back into the fray to save some little kid. Their desire to do good is always successful and won’t result in personal injury.

Why does this particular character trait bother me so much? By ‘always doing the right thing,’ the main character has lost all agency. The reader already knows what the character will do in each new situation because the character’s strict morality dictates all of their actions. This robs the protagonist of ever having to make any meaningful choices or hard decisions—you know, the things that make characters interesting.

To give Immersed some credit, even though Avlyn’s actions are formulaically predictable, the characters around her are able to point out the flaws in her thinking. However, they also tend to cave to her desires—but at least they’re aware!

A lot of writers struggle with making their characters too reactionary and failing to give them tough decisions. I believe that strong traits which take away a character’s ability to make a meaningful choice are just as detrimental to the story.

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