SEQUELS: CHARACTER GRIDS

For the first time in my publishing career, I’m creating a character grid to keep track of my characters. I’m doing this three-quarters of the way through book number two in the series because it’s essential for what comes next.

It wasn’t necessary for my earlier Bad Hair Day mysteries because those stories all featured Marla Shore, hairdresser and amateur sleuth. We, the reader, viewed everything through her eyes.

But the paranormal romance series I’m working on now features warriors from the stars who join forces with a special group of Earth women to prevent a coming cataclysm. Each book involves a different warrior and his destined mate. Book One sets the story into play and creates the world building elements. By Book Two, my characters have scattered and each one has a specific job to accomplish. When all the guys come together at the end of this story, I have to know what each of them has been doing.                                                                  

Have I confused you yet? It’s complicated, especially when you add my two villains into the mix. How are they reacting to the heroes, and what countermeasures are they taking? Figuring out this grid is giving me a headache, even though I have most of these details in my notes.

For those of you who write series with spinoff characters, what methods do you use to keep track of each character’s movements?

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TEDIOUS TASKS FOR WRITERS

Are there times when you feel brain dead or too tired to think straight? Never fear, you can still accomplish something by doing a mindless task. Here’s a list of boring jobs to do when you want to be productive without much mental effort.

  • Organize your Internet Bookmarks or Favorites
  • Verify that the links are still valid on your Favorites list
  • Verify that the links are still valid on your website
  • Update mailing lists and remove bounces and unsubscribes
  • Transfer files from floppies (if you still have them) onto your hard drive
  • Back up your files to other media
  • Clean out and sort files on computer and in office drawers
  • Erase old messages you don’t need to retain in Email folders
  • File papers in your To Be Filed stack
  • Do research for your next scene
  • Convert your old version word processing files into latest version on your computer
  • Search for and eliminate duplicate photos and files
  • Write blogs like this one

What else would you add?

CONTEST WINNER

Congratulations to Karin Tillotson from Sharpsville, PA for winning my MAY MADNESS CONTEST. Since Karin is a newsletter subscriber, she has also won the bonus prize. 

The winner is selected using a random integer generator at http://www.random.org/integers/

We had 91 entries.  Thanks to all who responded! 

Keep watch here or on my CONTEST website page for the July book launch contest to celebrate the debut of Silver Serenade.

REFERENCE BOOKS

Who said books were outdated? A home library can be a boon for writers even with the advantages of the Internet. For example, I needed to know the difference between a Chinese junk and a sampan for my current WIP. My characters have to go from an island off the coast of Japan all the way to Taiwan. They hire a boat from a small fishing village. Which type of vessel would be appropriate? Here’s what I found.                                               Chinese Junk

First I looked online at Wikipedia on these sites:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Junk_(ship)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sampan

From these articles, I learned a sampan is a flat bottomed boat used for fishing or transportation in inland waters like lakes and rivers. It’s propelled by poles, oars, or an outboard motor. Sampans are still used in rural areas in Southeast Asia. They may have a shelter on board and be used as living quarters.

On the other hand, a junk is an oceangoing vessel with several sails. War junks and merchant junks were common in the past. With their longer range and multiple uses, this type of ship suits my purpose. I have only to watch videos of Horatio Hornblower to get a feel for the claustrophobic interior.

Suppose my characters walk the deck. What do I call the different parts of the ship? Here I checked my home library and found the following books:

SHIP: The Epic Story of Maritime Adventure by Brian Lavery, Dorling Kindersley ,2004.

The Visual Dictionary of Ships and Sailing, Eyewitness Visual Dictionaries, Dorling Kindersley, 1991.

I love these visual dictionaries. You can find almost anything. We have several of them on our shelves and they’re wonderful references.

Here are some more recommendations, although I have older versions:

The Dorling Kindersley Visual Encyclopedia, Dorling Kindersley, 1995

The Visual Dictionary of Everyday Things, Eyewitness Visual Dictionaries, Dorling Kindersley , 1991

Ultimate Visual Dictionary, Dorling Kindersley, 1994

What’s What: A Visual Glossary of the Physical World, Reginald Bragonier, Jr. And David Fisher, Ballantine, 1981

Descriptionary: A Thematic Dictionary, Marc McCutcheon, Ballantine, 1992.

Illustrated Reverse Dictionary, Reader’s Digest Association, 1997.

Sometimes as writers doing research, we uncover obscure, fun details to add to our stories. Look what I found when I put Japanese Fishing Boat into an online search function: A Japanese trawler was sunk by a giant jellyfish. Cool, I can use this info in my story. These creatures are real and can weigh up to 400 pounds. Read more about it here:

http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2009/11/02/enormous-jellyfish-sink-japanese-fishing-boat

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/6483758/Japanese-fishing-trawler-sunk-by-giant-jellyfish.html

 So while many things can be looked up on the Internet, sometimes a real book is just what you need to meet your research requirements. With the digital age upon us, don’t toss these tree killers–or whatever activists are calling them these days–into the bonfire just yet. Regard them instead as treasures of knowledge.

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PIRACY

Piracy is becoming an increasing concern among published authors. I am not referring to folks like Captain Jack Sparrow here. I mean Internet pirates, shady characters who offer unauthorized downloads of our books for free. Why does this hurt us authors? We’re not paid any royalties, for one thing. Secondly, those downloads don’t count towards our sales figures. When our sales figures stay flat, the publisher is less likely to buy our next book. Your favorite series might be discontinued. Thus no one wins. And it hurts to see a new release, or even a book that hasn’t yet come out in digital format, being offered this way to any Joe who wants a free ride.      

So what’s an author to do? Until publishers start using their clout to oppose these sites, all we can accomplish is to file a protest and request that the book be removed. Most of these sites originate outside the U.S. where they don’t respect our copyright laws. But at least authors are sharing these sites now so we are becoming more aware of them. Here is a yahoo group about the topic: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/AuthorsAgainstE-BookTheft/

They offer the following statement to use when requesting your work be removed:

“The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.”

It takes time from our daily writing schedules to police the Internet, looking for illegal copies of our books. What can you, the reader, do to help? Report to us if you see our book listed at an unauthorized site. Don’t be tempted into buying it for a cheap price or downloading it for free. Get the book at the library instead. Think of it this way: Would you want to labor for a year on a project only to see it given away for free? Do you feel authors should be compensated fairly for their work? It’s bad enough when our books are so deeply discounted that we’re lucky to make a dollar per  book. Usually, it’s less. That’s why authors keep their day jobs. Ultimately, readers will pay because there will be fewer choices on the bookshelves for your reading pleasure.

BREATHING LIFE INTO YOUR BACKLIST

It’s hard work to breathe life into your backlist but well worth the effort. Fans who get hooked on your latest title will search the bookstore shelves for everything else you’ve written. Hoping to catch new fans with my upcoming futuristic romance, SILVER SERENADE, I’ve begun the process of updating the offering of my very first three published books. These futuristics ended up as a threesome that I now call the Light-Years Trilogy. Belgrave House is converting them to digital media so people with eBook readers will be able to download them onto their Kindles, Sony Readers, Nooks, and more. Originally published in mass market by Dorchester, these titles are currently available online in trade paperback format at iUniverse.com. You’ll have to look for me under the name Nancy Cane. That’s my alter ego for my earlier titles.

It may seem like an easy transition, but I have spent hours reading through CIRCLE OF LIGHT, book one in the trilogy. Not only am I proof-reading for conversion errors, but I’m tightening the prose and adding a Glossary. So my ebook fans will get a new and improved version plus an added bonus!

Hoping to attract interest to the digital version, I’ve posted a new blurb and excerpt on my website as well as on iUniverse. And this doesn’t even count the numerous other places where my books are listed. I still have to do books two and three, but I feel it’s worth the effort. I’m very excited about the potential to bring these titles to a new audience.

If you have the rights back to your earlier works, now is a great time to exploit them. With digital formats, self-publishing, and print on demand, you can breathe new life into your backlist. A whole new generation of readers is out there, just waiting to discover your fabulous stories.

PLANNING A PROMO CAMPAIGN

How soon should you begin publicizing your new release? As soon as you sign the contract. But what if you only have a short lead time? In four months, my new book will launch. Am I prepared to announce it to the world? Not totally. There’s a lot of work to do first.

In this digital age, most of my promotion will be online. But with the choices of what to do being so overwhelming, how can you choose which are the best? Don’t be like me: I take a look at what other authors are doing and hit the panic button. Where will I find the time to do all that? Then I remember the advice from workshops I’ve attended: focus on a few targets and spend your energy there.

Where should you start? Consider breaking down your campaign into manageable parts and tackle one at a time. Decide on a countdown. What’s the most important item to start working on now? Get a calendar and mark out your dates. Here are some items for your list:

BLOG TOUR: Besides keeping up with your own blog, look for popular bloggers with a focus on your genre, inquire about a guest blog opening the month of your release date, and fix a schedule for a visit. Your host may want you to offer a giveaway, so decide upon the book or item you’re donating. An ebook download or bookstore gift card are alternates to a signed print book and will save you postage. Once your tour schedule is arranged, publicize it on all your sites.

BONUS FEATURES: Add bonus features on your website related to your story so readers who like the world you’ve created can read more about the characters, immerse themselves in the world building details, consult a glossary, or get a taste of sequels to come.

BOOK TRAILER: Have you uploaded your trailer to all the possible sites?

CHAT ROOMS: Find the chat rooms for your genre, decide which ones to target, and garner an invite.

CONTESTS: Plan contests leading up to your release date and celebrating the book’s debut. What prize will you offer? Consider a bonus item for people who leave blog comments or for your newsletter subscribers. Publicize on sites beyond your own.

INTERVIEW: Interview yourself about the new book and offer it as a guest blog, post it on your website as a bonus feature, or consider recording it as a podcast.

SOCIAL NETWORKS: If you already have friends on Facebook, should you start a fan page? Are you taking advantage of all these sites have to offer? On Goodreads, for example, you can now offer giveaways. Spend a day at a time on each site to make the most of them. Some examples: Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Shelfari, LinkedIn, Filedby, Authors Den, and more. Or pick one day a week and that’s your day to put aside writing and spend it on promotion.

READER FORUMS: Visit discussion groups in your genre and begin participating several months ahead of your release date. Avoid blatant self-promotion unless it’s a group just for that purpose. Look on the social networks for these discussion groups as a way to get started. Your publisher may also have a listserve for this purpose.

VIRTUAL BOOKSIGNINGS: Okay, I’m not quite sure what this is but I’ve read about it. I believe you sign up with a bookstore online, like an indie, and show up for a virtual event. This concept requires more research on my part.

It’s a lot easier to write this list than to do it. As with any overwhelming project, it will be more attainable if you break it down into manageable tasks. This means focusing on one item at a time.

My first goal is to design my contests for the next four months, decide on the prizes, and load up the info onto my sites. Then I’ll send out an email newsletter announcing the contest to my fans along with other news I want to share. But wait…this may bring people to my website. I already hope to gain more readers from eBook followers when Silver Serenade comes out from The Wild Rose Press. Have I updated the books list on my website with the ISBNs and such for my titles which are available in eBook format? Not yet.  Better get cracking.  Onward and upward!

THE ACCIDENTAL READER

In this dawning digital age, when people download books onto ebook readers like the Kindle or Nook, how will an author get noticed? It’s hard enough already with so many books on the shelves, but what happens when your book no longer appears in brick-and-mortar stores? I’ve received many letters from fans saying my book cover caught their eye in the library or my catchy title snagged their attention in the bookstore. Am I going to lose those accidental readers when my books can only be ordered online?

Internet marketing will become even more important in this new age. But participating in guest blogs, chat rooms, review sites, social networks, listserves, and discussion groups can leave no time for anything else…like writing the next book. Commenting on sites of interest, hosting guest bloggers, posting online book reviews, and interviewing other authors are some other ways to gain recognition. Myriads of possibilities exist, limited by time and energy.

As a reader, I like to browse through bookstores. It’s a pleasure we’ve taken for granted. Now you have to read excerpts online or examine the virtual book cover. Will this give you the same thrill as holding a book in your hand? Do you care? How can we, as authors in the digital age, attract new readers without spending hours at the computer after we’ve already spent the day there writing? Because we can’t rely anymore on the accidental reader who spots our book on a shelf made out of real wood.

GETTING AN AGENT

One of the popular questions every author is asked is “How do you get an agent?” Here are some tips to start your journey.

Complete your manuscript in the proper format.

Be prepared to suggest possible markets to an agent. Also have two or three bestselling authors to compare your work to in terms of genre and tone.

Where do you find an agent? Attend writers’ conferences with editor/agent appointments. Study the Guide to Literary Agents by Writer’s Digest Books.  Check out the online resources below. Note the acknowledgments in books by your favorite authors. Or enter writing contests where editors and agents are the final judges. When deciding which agents to query, make sure they represent the genre you write and that they take on new authors. Be sure to check their submission criteria.

http://www.querytracker.net

www.aar-online.org

www.agentresearch.com

www.sfwa.org/Beware

www.writers-free-reference.com/agents

www.anotherealm.com/prededitors

www.absolutewrite.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=22

www.publishersmarketplace.com

www.agentquery.com

 Write a snappy query letter introducing yourself, giving the word count and category for your book, your writing credits, and a few sentences about your story. Include a hot premise or marketing hook that makes your story stand out. This letter should be no longer than one page.
If you hear nothing for months, send a follow-up letter or email to ask if she received your letter. Be courteous and respectful of an agent’s time. If you receive a rejection letter with detailed suggestions for your work, write a thank you note.

Always include an SASE in your correspondence.

Never pay an agent any fees.

Once an agent has read your work and you are seriously considering retaining him if he makes an offer, here are some questions to ask.

How many clients does the agency represent?

How many clients do you handle personally?

How long have you been an agent?

Are you a member of AAR?

What is your particular area of interest?

How many new authors have you sold in the past year?

What is your average response time for reading a proposal? A completed manuscript?

When is the best time to call you? Do you prefer email?

Who answers the phone: you, a receptionist, or a machine?

How long does it take for you to return a phone call?

How do you feel about multiple submissions?

How long do you wait after sending an editor a manuscript before following up?

Do you contact your clients to update them on the status of their projects, or do they have to contact you?

How many rejections would it take on a manuscript before you stop marketing it?

Do you handle foreign sales? Film/TV?

Do you offer a written or verbal contract?

What percentage do you charge? (Most agents charge a standard 15% commission)

What happens if you die or are disabled?

Do you deposit money received into an escrow account for clients?

How soon do you pay clients after receiving a royalty check?

How do you keep track of submissions?

What do you expect from your clients?

Remember, an author-agent relationship is a two-way street. Just as you want to hire the ideal agent, the agent wants to land the ideal client. Be courteous, professional, and savvy about the industry, and hopefully you’ll acquire the agent of your dreams.

Amazon vs MacMillan

From The Author’s Guild:

Macmillan’s current fight with Amazon over e-book business models is a necessary one for the industry. The stakes are high, particularly for Macmillan authors. In a squabble over e-books, Amazon quickly and pre-emptively escalated matters by removing the buy buttons from all Macmillan titles (with some exceptions for scholarly and educational books), in all editions, including all physical book editions. Thousands of authors and titles are affected; hardest and most unfairly hit are authors with new books published by Macmillan that are in their prime sales period.

Yet if Macmillan prevails, the eventual payoff for its authors (and all authors, if a successful result ripples through the industry) is likely to be significant and lasting.

For those of you who may have missed it, here’s the story so far:

Last Thursday, Macmillan CEO John Sargent informed Amazon that beginning in March, it would offer Amazon access to a full range of e-book titles only if Amazon were willing to sell books on an “agency” model that would pay Amazon 30% of e-book proceeds and allow Macmillan to set its own retail price for e-books. (Currently, Amazon buys e-books as a reseller at a discount of 50% off the retail list price and sells at the price it chooses.) Macmillan’s price under its agency model, in many cases, would be higher than the $9.99 ceiling that Amazon has been seeking to impose on the industry.

If Amazon didn’t find the agency model acceptable, Sargent said Macmillan would expand its “windowing” of e-book editions. “Windowing” is the practice of waiting until a particular edition of a new book has been on the market for a while before making cheaper editions available. Publishers have for decades waited until the hardcover sales window has closed before opening the sales window on paperback editions, for example. This helps protect the sales channels for hardcover books. Windowing e-books is similarly believed to help protect a publisher’s sales channels for physical books. The risk with windowing is that some owners of e-book devices are angered that low-priced e-book editions aren’t available as soon as books are released in hardcover form.

This was a bold move by Macmillan. Amazon has a well-deserved reputation for playing hardball. When it doesn’t get its way with publishers, Amazon tends to start removing “buy buttons” from the publisher’s titles. It’s a harsh tactic, by which Amazon uses its dominance of online bookselling to punish publishers who fail to fall in line with Amazon’s business plans. Collateral damage in these scuffles, of course, are authors and readers. Authors lose their access to millions of readers who shop at Amazon; readers find some of their favorite authors’ works unavailable. Generally, the ending is not a good one for the publisher or its authors — Amazon’s hold on the industry, controlling an estimated 75% of online trade book print sales in the U.S., is too strong for a publisher to withstand. The publisher caves, and yet more industry revenues are diverted to Amazon. This isn’t good for those who care about books. Without a healthy ecosystem in publishing, one in which authors and publishers are fairly compensated for their work, the quality and variety of books available to readers will inevitably suffer.

Macmillan’s move is timely because, at the moment, the e-book market is still far smaller than the physical book market, but the e-book market is growing quickly. The longer Macmillan waited, the more difficult the transition.

Amazon didn’t wait for March, when Macmillan’s new policy is slated to go into effect; it decided to hit Macmillan immediately and comprehensively, removing the buy buttons for nearly all Macmillan titles, in all editions. This is a direct attempt to use its clout in the physical book industry to enforce its business model in the e-book industry. In some ways, it was an unusual exercise of power for Amazon. The company has used the tactic of turning off buy buttons on several occasions before, but, with major publishers it’s usually selective, and doesn’t turn out the lights on nearly all titles. That treatment is reserved for smaller publishers. (Authors receive no advance warning of Amazon’s treatment of their titles, nor can they do anything about it.)

Amazon, it appears, overreached. Macmillan was a bit too big a foe, and Amazon’s bullying tactics were a bit too blatant. (For a flavor of media reaction, see this story in Fast Company.)

Sunday evening, Amazon announced that it would have to “capitulate” to Macmillan, “because Macmillan has a monopoly over its own titles.” (By this definition, nearly every company exercises a monopoly over its products.) We’re all still waiting for that capitulation: Macmillan’s books still weren’t available on Amazon on Monday evening.

If Macmillan does indeed prevail, the economics of authorship in the digital age are likely to improve considerably. We may go through some rough stretches to get there, however.

You’ll be hearing more from us on this matter soon.

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For More information, go to http://tiny.cc/Oxglk