Monday, August 29, 2016

Exercise in Futility

Can't get an agent or editor to offer for your book? Thinking of Indie publishing?

Think long and hard and then rethink again.

I've been on a journey to Indie publish my middle grade novel, Evolution Revolution:Simple Machines. There six planned books in the series. (Originally it was 4.) My agent loved it- and shopped it around. But there were no takers. So while she and I are working on other novels (mg historical fiction, contemporary mg sci fi, etc.), I decided to Indie publish Evolution Revolution.

To quote Marissa Tomei from My Cousin Vinny: (close your eyes, Mom):

"Oh my god, what a fucking nightmare!"

Indie publishing is not for the fainthearted. It will test the patience and intestinal fortitude of even the most stalwart author. This is what I've learned:

1. When outfits like CreateSpace and Smashwords tell you "It's easy! It's simple!" Don't believe them. Not a word. Here's why: when you see those words about how easy it is, those lies were written by marketing people. They have no idea if it's easy, hard, or psychosis-inducing. They're paid to write anything that makes the product look good.
2. You have 'customer service'! - which means you have to wait for service. Okay, one business day for a reply to their emails. Sounds good? But when they answer, it's the same gobbledy-gook that's on their website (which means you won't understand it until the fourth time you ask the question). But what about the "Call us! We're here 24/7!" Well, maybe, but you have to wait for them to call you. They don't list a phone number (it's super secret and you probably have to be 007 to get it), so that means you're glued to your phone having to wait. Suppose you have to work? Sleep? Take care of kids? Have surgery? Go to the bathroom? You have no idea when they're going to call and you know it's going to be at the worst possible time.
3. Step by step instructions! They're perfect! IF you have a computer science and engineering degree, a graphics design background, and insane knowledge of coding. Pages and pages and pages... and you still don't know what the hell they're talking about. (I've been to that hell...)
4. We have design services! Yep, for a hefty price. Everything costs- design, cover, etc. So don't expect anything for free (except the marketing guides which are ABC. You can get more detailed info scouting around the net.
5. Oh yes, you must be a tax professional to understand all the ramifications. I have a CPA, I'll let him tell me what to do because I won't know, and I doubt the IRS even knows.
6. It takes hours to do all the author profile, short and long synopses, upload the cover (good luck with that one!), fill in a thousand blanks. (But they do have a service, starting at $400). And write everything down because if you don't finish, you lose all that input then have to spend hours more re-entering it.
7. Are you having fun yet? There's more. They ask you questions that include math (# of text pages times .0002475 or some such number to determine how big your book will be, but without illustrations, so then you have to us formula.... Yep. It's a horror story. I'd rather sit through college pre-Calc again.
8. You do know that stores like Barnes and Noble and indies don't really want to carry Indie pubbed novels, right? Sure, they'll do some- but probably not yours. You have to figure out how to get sales some other way.
9. There's still a stigma- and not without good reason. Yes, I've seen traditionally pubbed novels with some goofs that should have gotten picked up by the proofreader, but it's a very small amount. Some of the Indie pubbed novels give me heart palpitations they are sooo bad that the stigma is not wholly unjustified. Don't be one of these people. Hey, I hate proofing and revising a thousand times just as much as anybody; but I do it. Your final product has to be as close to divine as you can get. If you put out crap, you hurt the rest of us who are trying to do a professional job.
10. I don't know if this is true, by I figure by the time I learn all this stuff for book two, they're going to change the programs and I'll have to learn it all over again. (You can expect a new rant when that happens.) Technology changes so fast.

I just want to write. But sometimes to make your dreams come true, you have to do dirty, nasty, cringe-worthy tasks. But my book is worth it.

I'll be checking in-- *checks for stomach ache medication, tissues for crying, shoulder to cry on.


Monday, August 22, 2016

Between the Covers...

Most people outside the publishing biz don't realize that authors generally don't get a say in their covers. And sometimes if a cover is beta tested and gets a meh response, the publisher will change the cover. That happened with Sirenz. Here's the original cover:

It seems that it looked too evil (sorry Hades, guess your bad rep isn't bad enough), and people couldn't understand that the heel was the 'i' in Sirenz. I didn't think it was that difficult a concept, but apparently it was.  So the cover was changed to this:

Booksellers were less than thrilled, which made it hard to find the book in stock. (It generally wasn't. Alms for the poor....)

The same thing happened with Blonde OPS. This is the first cover (which I hated but mom said if you can't say anything nice...)

It looked too much like Brittany Spears advertising a better known author's books... Plus I thought it didn't do the book justice; our girl was more edgy, less 'Legally Blonde' -ish. The one thing I did like about it was the architecture in the background- very Italian.

So it changed to this:

The Vespa is a factor in the story (cool car chase through Rome, but read it because I won't tell you any more). Although originally the Vespa was neon green, it was easier to change the text than the photo. And with the red shoes, it felt like a 'karmic 'connection' to Sirenz.

Which brings me to Evolution Revolution: Simple Machines. I gave my illustrator, Cathy Thole-Daniels, free rein. She was the artist, she obviously had an eye for design; it was best I didn't get in her way. This is the rough draft:

Jack, the squirrel in the center, is the main character (and he is quite the character). The other animals play a decent part in the novel too which is why she put them on there. I wasn't thrilled with the font for the title because I thought it was not in keeping with the 'scientific' aspects of the book (you'll have to read it, no spoilers!). She went back to the drawing board, and after talking with her artists' critique group (I didn't know they had them too!), this is the revised cover draft:

Still, I didn't like the title font (hint: 'simple machines'), it looked too forestry. Another revision, and this came up:

She focused more on Jack and the other characters slid off center to the sides. Plus, you can see the details of the wheel (which is important in the story). Next was color. At first there was a lot of green (forest, woods?) so I asked for a complimentary color- like orange and red and yellow because it's autumn when the book takes place, She felt the next version looked too red; "like he's in Hell."

And with the tweaks, here is the final cover:

It's more muted than the previous one (which was deleted), Jack is highlighted just a bit more, the title and text are easier to read, and it captures what I didn't know I wanted. That's the value of a professional artist. If you're thinking of Indie publishing, don't scrimp on the cover art, it will show. Nothing worse than a tacky, cheap, or obviously home-made cover. Every time I look at this cover, knowing that this is the book of my heart (I wrote it over 10 years ago), I'm left breathless. It's also reaffirming when people see the cover and gush over it. I have no doubt it will help the book become a success (and feed both author and illustrator, so bear that in mind).

The next in the series, Evolution Revolution: Simple Plans will be out next year. I had planned on December, but this is a difficult learning process; it's not simply uploading your text into a program. It's going to take a while to become proficient. My agent started this one, but the agency no longer handles Indie published works, so I'm on my own for the rest of the series. I'm still writing and submitting other books to my agent and am ever hopeful that a traditional publisher will pick one up because man, this is a lot of work, stress, expense, and time. (And frustration, but that's another blog post).)

So stay tuned for the launch. Jack and I will be appearing at signing venues like the Collingswood Book Festival, the NJ School Librarians conference, and other events.


Thursday, August 18, 2016

The War in the Woods!

Protect your nests! Save your trees!

That's the rallying call of Jack, a common gray squirrel. Taught by a human friend how to use simple machines, he's leading the charge of animal versus human for ownership of the wood. Introducing my middle grade adventure novel,

Beautifully illustrated by Cathy Thole-Daniels, it's 60 pages, the first in a series, and will be available in both soft cover and ebook. Based on the third grade science curriculum, it incorporates STEM  principles: Science (biology, evolution), Technology (motorize RC car), Engineering (simple machines like the wheel and wedge).

This has been the book of my heart, over 10 years in the making. (So if you'd like to help me publicize it, I'd love it!). The book will officially launch Sept 30th.


Monday, August 15, 2016

Reduce, Reuse.... Just Recycle It.

Ask anyone who knows me well, especially my family, I'm all about recycling. I nag my mother to do more of it, I lecture my sons about what their world will be like if we all don't take better care of our earth and resources, and I remind everyone where the recycle bucket is.

I believe in recycling--and for more than cans and paper. When I was a greenie, just starting out on the publishing journey, a well-known agent at a conference said that if an agent didn't like a story, that's it, it was dead. 


A beloved child of my imagination? That I'd nurtured and developed and cried and sweated over to bring to maturity, to be buried and forgotten forever??

A bunch of us just looked at each other in horror. Any story we'd written had a good basis, Or we wouldn't have written it.

Yeah, well maybe the execution, the plot, the characters, the voice were all wrong.

Thus, the recycling bin.

And that's where I'm putting my beloved new adult sci fi, Lethal Dose. My agent tried to sell it, there seemed to be some interest, I made revisions (a lot), and I waited.

"New Adult sci fi market isn't there."

"Editor has left the imprint."

"Doesn't fit in."


I love the premise too much to let it go. I've gotten so much feedback on it and it sits in my head, taking permanent room. So, for NaNoWriMo, again I will be re-writing this book of my heart. My head is already churning with ideas and my agent has said okay, let's see what you do. My revisions:

1- Turn this into a young adult. It's a much bigger market and will give me more opportunities to submit.

2- Flip main characters Dalen and Adara- she becomes the lead (let's face it, more females read than males) and Dalen the chaser.

3- Re-imagine 80% of the plot. Some things have to change because of the above and because of what I removed (love scenes), but some need to remain because it supports the premise.

I'll be working on an outline and submit that to my agent. Hopefully we can smooth it out so it has a better chance of being accepted.

It's hard work washing out used cans and bottles, cutting up cardboard, tying up newspapers. But it's the prep that has to be done to yield results. There's too much value to just toss something away, and it goes against my Germanic thriftiness. It's the same with my writing; there's still value in this novel an I can't simply discard it.

While ideas for revisions simmer, I'll be working on the release of my middle grade, Evolution Revolution: Simple Machines. (Cover reveal Thursday!!!!)


Monday, August 8, 2016

How Do You Support An Author?

"I like them on Facebook."
"I follow them on Twitter."

This is not enough.

Authors are struggling to make it. The sheer numbers of books being published makes it almost impossible for any author who isn't JK Rowling or Stephen King to get noticed. We're here! We matter!

How can you help?

Easy, peasey... and it won't cost you anything more than time.

1. Yes, like/follow/interact with them on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. (I think I missed a few). They like to hear from people who enjoy their books and unlike Kanye West, we don't disappear. Plus, by interacting with us, you make us visible to more people who might want to give our books a try. And who knows, you might just strike up a great friendship (but don't stalk, that's creepy and not the objective).

2. Even if you don't read our books, check them off on Goodreads as "To Be Read" (unless you've already read them). With growing numbers of people doing this, it gets us more notice. Kind of like that whole "6 Degrees of Separation" with someone connected to someone, connected to someone (makes me wonder if I have a connection with Anne Rice, Stephen King, Tom Brady, Michael Phelps, and other famous people who might read/mention my books....)

3. Leave a review! You don't have to love or even like our books, we understand (better than the cast of Suicide Squad who're pushing to have negative reviews pulled) that what we write isn't for everyone. Hey, I've shelved about 10 books this year already because I didn't like them. All we ask is that you fairly state why the book didn't meet your expectations; don't get personal, no foul language because that makes it personal, and don't b.s. (we can tell when you haven't read the book because all the details are wrong). An honest review, even if not stellar, helps people understand our books.

4. Want the book but have no money? Check it out at your local library. They've bought a legal copy so you get to read the book for free, the author gets a royalty so they can eat and make more books, and EVERYONE is happy.

5. Don't patronize pirate sites. There is absolutely NO JUSTIFICATION for going to these illegal, thieving, low-down, corrupt, immoral, amoral, scum-of-the-earth sites. If you want the book but can't afford it, see above- LIBRARIES. By going to pirate sites, you cheat the author. Then we'll have to give up writing because we're not making any money, publishers see this and won't offer more contracts, so we have to get jobs at Starbucks. Do you want that on your conscience that because you can cheat us and did, that you have destroyed a career, a dream, a LIFE?? Think about it (because Karma certainly will...) If you go there, we can't be friends.

6. Recommend us! Sitting at the beach with gal pals? Hanging at a friend's BBQ? Sitting next to a person on the train who's reading something similar? Please! mention our books. Like I said, we're struggling. We need help. Famous authors (see above and you know the rest) don't need you to gush about them; everybody already knows their names and publishers spend millions on ad campaigns. Mid-list authors get a few pages of 'suggestions' on how to promote our book from an over-worked publicist (if we're lucky).

7. While not for everyone, if you like an author and want to help, ask them if you can do something to publicize their books. Some authors are blessed enough to have 'street teams' which is one or more fans who help get the word out about their fave authors. (Bueller? Beuller? If you're interested, you know where to reach me...) This can be anything from talking about them, featuring them on a FB page or blog, finding out events where the author could apply to appear, to organizing a signing. There is so much work to making a book a success; if you only knew. It's not all 'show up and sign a gazillion books, garnering a lot of money.


Monday, August 1, 2016

The Process of Painting- Or Writing

So I took a little break from writing to paint the master bathroom, only as I slapped the paint on, I realized that painting and writing are very much alike.

To paint a room/write a book you have to follow the same steps:

1. Set Up The Space.
For the room that's being painted, that means remove furniture, pictures, and other stuff. If you can't remove a piece of furniture, push it into the middle of the room and cover. Vacuum the dust bunnies.

Before you write, you need a designated space. Whether it's the kitchen table, a nook in the basement, or a private office, you need to have a table, all your supplies nearby (laptop, pencils, paper, reference books, etc.) and a comfy chair. Tea and cat optional.

2. Do The Prep Work Before You Start.
In the room, that means sand the walls, spackle holes, caulk gaps around windows and molding.

For the writer, that means Research! Outline!

3. Use The Right Tools.
A cheap paint roller won't give a smooth finish, bargain paint won't last, and using a 1" brush to paint a wall will take forever. Using plastic 'drop cloths' is not smart because paint doesn't dry on plastic so you'll probably step into the drips and track it all over the place anyway. Use a canvas cloth to catch the drips.

When you're a dedicated author, don't use a free word processing program just because it's free, it has to offer the features you need. A paperback thesaurus will give you more information than the one in a word processing program. Cheap pens skip and you'll need a ton of them so get a better grade.

4. Consult The Pros 
You're not an expert on paint; that's okay. That's why there are friendly people at the paint store who can answer questions, point you to what works for your project. Pick their brains. Read a How-To book (Is there a 'Painting for Dummies' book? Always good for learning the basics.)

Just because you wrote poetry or newspaper articles or even have been published, expert advice should always be welcome. Going into a new genre? Get informed. Writer's Digest, a class, a conference worshop- all great venues for sharpening your skills. But just like some schmo in Home Depot, beware of those who hold themselves out to be experts--and aren't. (I've gotten bad advice from people who think they knew more about paint than me.)

5. The First Effort Is Just That- The First
Usually walls should be primed then painted, but with the new paints, it's primer and paint in one so it saves you a step. But don't make the mistake of thinking you'll get away with one coat. Guaranteed there will be 'holes' in the coverage (they're called holidays by pros). Just accept that you'll need a second coat.

Writing is the same. Don't ever think that you write it and you're done. Nuh uh, no way Jose, are you crazy? Unlike painting a room where two coats will work, writing will require multiple reviews, revisions, and rewrites. You'll get a room painted sooner than you'll have a polished manuscript.

6. Stop and Fix the BIG Problems 
You're painting when suddenly you notice that there's a dent in the wall that you somehow missed.  Maybe the color looks way different than you thought and you don't like it, but you're halfway done. The paint isn't going on smoothly. You could keep on painting, but it will be obvious there's a problem. STOP. There's no sense completing the job with such a major flaw. Fix it now before the whole thing gets out of hand, even if it means starting over.

Your plot dead ends. No one like your characters. You're telling, not showing. There could be any number of problems- all you know is that it's not working. Unless you're doing NaNoWriMo, STOP. No sense completing the book with a major flaw. It's easier at this point to analyze the problem, make notes on how to fix it, then fix it.

7. Add The Final Touches 
Now that your room is freshly painted, it's time to add those things that add punch: new pillows, brightly colored drapes, interesting textures on bed, floor, walls. These are the details that add pop.

In a manuscript, the final touches are the title, specific details on setting, character quirks, showing not telling, matching your tenses, substituting action verbs for passive ones. It's the little things like these that give your story a wow factor.

If you think you can't paint a room but you can write a novel, or can paint a room but can't write a novel, you're wrong. You can do both because they follow the same process.

Time to go back to writing; I'm in the middle of prep work for this new project-outlining so I know where the story is going and I can control it. Maybe next week I'll paint the bedroom.

Stay tuned-

(the color of my name above is almost the same color I've done the bathroom- 'young pumpkin')