October 16, 2017

How to Write a Book Review (featuring Dracula)


Writing a review for a book is quite possibly the biggest thing readers can do to help their favorite authors. However, reviews like:
★★★★★
THIS BOOK WAS AMAXING!!!1!
and
☆☆☆☆
Don't waste your time. This book was trash.
don't really help anyone. In fact, most people ignore these reviews, relying only on the ones with some real meat to them. Ready to write better reviews? Then keep reading.

A high-quality review consists of three parts:

1. The summary


In a paragraph or two, summarize the premise of the book. This isn't like writing the back blurb (which other authors can attest is painfully difficult). Just give a set up of what happens in the beginning of the book without trying to make it sound overly exciting or sales-y. Also, make sure to avoid spoilers. Here's my example for Dracula:

Dracula begins by following Jonathon Harker, a solicitor who is visiting Count Dracula in Transylvania on business. However, Dracula is a vampire and has no intentions of letting Jonathon leave the crumbling castle. 
In England, the lovely young lady, Lucy, falls ill. She becomes quite pale, begins sleepwalking, and has two peculiar puncture marks on her neck. When the doctor can't figure out what has befallen her, he calls on his mentor, Van Helsing, who might have an idea what ails the young woman. Of course, Van Helsing recognizes what's going on—she's fallen victim to Count Dracula.

The summary serves two purposes. First, it gives potential readers a better idea of what the book is actually about. Second, it proves you actually read the damn thing. By demonstrating that you know the plot, you're giving the subjective part of your review more authority.

2. Your opinion on what was good, and what was not so good


After the brief summary, it's time to get into what you thought about the book. I try to pick one to three things I liked and then disliked about the book—the balance of like vs dislike being reflected in my overall star rating. This is the time to be specific. If you fell in love with the protagonist, explain exactly why you thought that character was amazing. If you found the book utterly boring, point out the pacing issues. I'll continue my example with my thoughts on Dracula:

To modern readers who are familiar with vampire lore, a lot of the foreshadowing may seem painfully obvious or hilariously cliché, but Bram Stoker's Dracula is a classic for good reason. The story is masterfully suspenseful with a satisfying amount of action and gore. These elements have prevailed through the test of time.
However, the book is still heavily steeped in its contemporary Victorian virtues. Women are supposed to be chaste and innocent (good), but when they transition to vampiric, they become seductive and physically voluptuous (evil).

3. Recommended readers


To close any review, recommend the book to people who may enjoy it. Even if a particular book wasn't your cup of tea, there's probably someone out there who would love to read it. I tend to focus on fans of particular genres or tropes. Feel free to mention other books which are similar or authors with complementary styles.

If you're a fan of classic horror or vampire lore, you will love Dracula.

A final note: A review is just as much a reflection of you as a person as it is of the book. Readers frequently rely on reviews before deciding whether to purchase an item, and a terrible review can deter them from reading something from a new author. If you really feel like you need to rate a book as 1 or 2 stars, give specific reasons of why that book fell flat—those flaws could be no big deal to other readers looking for their next novel.

October 10, 2017

Today is Release Day for Quality DNA


After completing The End of Refuge, I was hooked on writing and couldn't stop. I was perusing r/WritingPrompts one day and found a post which inspired my next project.
In the not too distant future, every person born has their DNA added to a global database. Nine months after a one night stand, your child is born—and the father's DNA doesn't match anything on file.
I loved the idea of a ‘Global DNA Database’ and wanted to expand on that. I started building a future setting with strict laws on procreation, then I developed characters to live in that world.

Fertility is a huge part of being a woman, and Quality DNA follows three women with radically different views on maternity. Annette is single, but won't let her relationship status get in the way of becoming a mother. Jamie resents her wife, viewing her as more of an obstacle than a partner. Irene thought she had accepted her infertility a long time ago, but recent events dredge up old feelings.

Probably my favorite part of crafting Quality DNA was fleshing out the antagonist and his motivation.
He will do anything to make the perfect human.
I hope everyone loves reading Quality DNA just as much as I enjoyed working on it! For a limited time—October 11-17th—the Kindle version is on sale for only 99¢. It's also available in hardcover and paperback, or you can purchase a signed copy from my store.


Thank you to everyone who has been so supportive of me and my writing. You're the ones who have made my dream of becoming a successful author come true.

If you haven't already, make sure to sign up for my newsletter to keep up to date on my writing.

October 2, 2017

What Every Writer Should Do Before Self-Publishing


When it comes to publishing, writing the book is the easy part. I'm not trivializing the work involved in writing a book—it's hard—but once you're ready to unleash your manuscript into the world, there are a number of things you can do to ensure success.

I recently came across a story of an aspiring author who jumped too quickly into self-publishing her novel and marveled at the train wreck which resulted. As I'm gearing up for the release of my second novel, it's clear to me that this woman skipped a lot of steps to ensure a successful launch into her writing career. So I thought I'd share a list of things aspiring authors should do before hitting publish on their own. These tips are focused more on preparing you the person to be a successful author and less about getting your manuscript ready for publication.

Now, this isn't an exhaustive list, and some writers may succeed even though they skip a few. But if you're still unpublished and unproven, read on!

Write an Amazing Book


Sounds so simple, right? I can't tell you how many times I've read about writers being so happy about just finished a draft that they immediately turned around and published it even though they didn't think the book was all that good. And you're asking people to pay money for it?!

Self-Edit


Once you've written a book, one of the biggest skills you'll need is editing your own work. Learn to read your manuscript critically looking for plot holes, missing character development, and inconsistencies. Brush up on your grammar and really make your book shine. Yes, you will want a professional editor to go over your manuscript, but we're not there yet. Becuase you want to do the next item first:

Let Someone Read Your Manuscript


This is surprisingly hard, especially for your first manuscript. It's startling how much of yourself goes into writing a piece of fiction, so when friends and family ask to read it, it feels like ripping open your chest and exposing your heart. However, feedback is absolutely critical in crafting the best story possible. As the writer, you're just too close to your work to see all of the flaws, and that's where having other people read your book comes in.


Use Criticism Well


Part of the reason letting other people read your work is so hard is because they very likely might say something negative. Criticism is a good thing—it tells you where you can make your novel stronger. Just because someone says something isn't working in your book doesn't mean you personally are a failure and your manuscript deserves to go straight in the trash. On the other hand, don't disregard every word of critique you get. Use readers feedback to change your novel for the better.

Understand the Industry


You're about to enter the strange world of publishing. Educate yourself on what exactly you're getting into.

Learn About Traditional Publishing


Publishing has changed a lot over time, and even more so in recent years with the prevalence of eReaders and affordability of digital printing. But even now, it takes a team to turn a rough manuscript into a sellable book and this is a process which traditional publishers have perfected over time.

There are a lot of misconceptions about publishing floating around, so it's important to inform yourself about the process of how a book gets to the shelves at your local bookstore and how publishers acquire the books they sell.

When deciding to self-publish, you alone will be doing all the work of a publishing house (or hiring others to help).

Query Your Manuscript


Get your feet wet in the traditional publishing scene. Write a query letter for your manuscript and send it to a few literary agents and/or publishers. There are multiple reasons for doing this, even if you're confident that self-publishing is the best option for your writing career.

First, it's a chance to try and sell yourself and your manuscript. Writing a query letter is difficult, but guess what, so is writing the blurb for your novel. Both serve a similar purpose: convincing someone to take a shot on your book. The second reason is that literary agents and publishers have a good idea on what books sell. If you can get them interested in your novel, then you know your book has a good chance of becoming successful.


Learn About Self-Publishing


When you decide to self-publish, you are essentially starting up a business. You'll be in charge of all the details involved in publishing from cover design to marketing. There won't be a publishing house behind you taking care of details or keeping track of your schedule. It's all on you.

Since all the decisions rest on your shoulders, you'll want to make the best decisions for yourself, your career, and your novel. Will you only publish an ebook, paperback, or both? How often will you update your author website? Where should you advertise your books?


Network


Once you've learned all the basics of publishing, it's time to go out there and meet some likeminded people.


Join a Writer's Forum


There are a bunch of writing and self-publishing forums on the internet. Check a bunch of them out and find a community to join. You want to find a group of people who have done this before where you all can share experiences and ask questions. Sometimes even the simplest task can trip you up (like first line indents for ebooks—this one took me an embarrassing amount of time to get right) or you'll want to ask for opinions from people with experience.


Set up (and Use) Social Media


I've actually made quite a few writing friends through social media. Social media also provides a platform for you to interact with your (future) readers and fans. It's also great for spreading the news about your upcoming book. Marketing your books can get expensive fast, but social media can get your face out there with only a small time investment.


September 25, 2017

How to: Book Cover Coloring Pages


Okay, here's my totally awesome new marketing idea:

Coloring pages.

Yes, I'm a child at heart. I've drooled over all of the beautiful adult coloring books at the bookstore, but have avoided buying them because I just don't have the time (that's not entirely true—I made an exception for a signed copy of The Oatmeals's 404 Not Found).

Since I write gritty science fiction, there probably isn't a whole lot of overlap between my audience and coloring enthusiasts, but I figured sharing this cool idea would help a few of you out there. I imagine middle grade, young adult, fantasy, and paranormal books would lend to some awesome coloring pages.

When I first endeavored on the whole publishing adventure, I did a lot of research. One evening of watching every YouTube video I could find on self-publishing led me to video with a click-bate style title along the lines of "Make Money RIGHT NOW on Createspace with *LiTeRaLLy* NO Effort!!1!" One of the vlogger's (terrible) ideas was an adult coloring book using travel photos. By slapping on a filter, the images looked kind of like a coloring page. Just put together a collection of 20 images, sling it onto Amazon, and watch the big bucks roll in.

If you're a competent artist, then converting a cover image into a coloring page will be a piece of cake. I am not quite that confident in my drawing abilities, so I decided to turn to technology. I found two methods which produced a bit of success. If you don't have a copy of Photoshop, I'm sure they would both work in Gimp as well.

The first method uses two layers containing the image. When you invert the top layer, apply a blur, and set the blending mode to color burn, all of the edges become black lines. Here's the video explaining it in detail. Unfortunately, this method didn't work too well for my covers.

This second method is a little easier. Apply the "photocopy" filter. This method worked surprisingly well and is nice and quick. Here's the video for this method if you'd like to see it in action.

I ended up using the photocopy method for the artwork on both of my covers. The image on The End of Refuge has a lot of texture which I decided to manually remove using the brush tool. Once I had an image I was happy with, I added back the title and byline, using a thick stroke to make them stand out. Then I just added an outline and centered each on a letter sized document and I was done!


You might ask how I came to this idea in the first place. Well, my son is in kindergarten and needed to draw a picture of his family, I figured there'd be some cool family portrait coloring pages on the internet, and down the rabbit hole I fell.

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