Homework for Writers

What is homework for writers? It’s when you need to learn something new, and instead of going the easy route by asking writer friends for answers, you do the research yourself. It’s okay to ask for advice and input but don’t expect to learn everything there is to know.

Homework for Writers

Where Should You Start?
Listserves can be a great source of information. Join your professional writing organizations, set your posts for daily digests, and scan the topics. Any time something pops up that you might use one day, copy and paste the information into a file. Then when the time comes, you’ll have a rich source of data that you can mine.

Blogs, podcasts, and webinars are another great source. So are your group’s newsletters, writing workshops and conference classes. Collect all the data and file it for when you need it. I’ve done this with just about every marketing topic I’ve ever needed to address.

Launching a New Venture
So now you are ready to get started self-publishing or putting your indie book into print or applying for a BookBub deal or trying an Amazon ad. Scour through your information on the topic and eliminate any links or material that’s outdated. See what applies to your situation. Then organize your tasks step-by-step. This gives you control and is more manageable than facing the entire job, which can be overwhelming. Once you’re ready, you need to ignore the fear of failure that might be holding you back and take a leap into the unknown.

Examples
On the loops, I’ve been reading about authors who get wide distribution for their audiobooks via Findaway Voices. I have corresponded with a few of them regarding the switch from exclusive to non-exclusive on ACX. That’s the first step to do if you’ve paid up front. As instructed, I also downloaded the audio chapters for each of my four audiobooks.

Next, I went onto the Findaway site and wrote down their requirements. Figuring my books would work, I requested the change from ACX support and am waiting for this to go through. Then I’ll do the upload to Findaway. At that point, lots of new promotional opportunities will open. I have notes on these also. My goal is to gain new listeners and hopefully get into the library market with my audiobooks. It’s all a big gamble, but then, what isn’t in this business?

I am also approaching my first sale with trepidation. Now that all of my mystery backlist titles are on board, I can start doing price promotions. But the idea seems overwhelming. You have to set a date, book ads around that date, notify the vendors, create memes and ads. It’s a lot to do, not to mention social media blasts to get the word out.

The only way I can approach this adventure is to be supremely organized. Again, I’ve studied my files, reviewed blogs on the topic, asked other authors how they’ve done it, and then wrote a step-by-step guide on what to do. I rechecked links on ad sites that might have gone defunct since I started my files and picked the best places based on what other authors have mentioned.

And that’s how we take the next step forward. We listen. We research a topic. We verify links and search out new ones. And we move forward. There’s no magic bullet for what you want to do. You have to collect the data and organize it to suit your needs. It’s part of the business of being a writer. Do. Your. Homework.

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Share with us one of your goals that will be a new experience or that you’ve managed to accomplish on your own.

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A Writer’s Job is Never Done

Authors have all sorts of administrative tasks, from answering emails, to fielding workshop requests, to creating book ads, to keeping up with social media and writing blogs. These behind-the-scenes duties can keep us busy from morning to night.

A Writers's Job is Never Done

When I’m in a creative phase, the writing comes first. But right now, I am taking a moratorium from writing to get these other jobs done. Yesterday, I spent the morning updating all the buy links on my website. This was necessary since I’ve added my full-length Bad Hair Day mysteries to Ingram. Readers should be able to order the entire set in print at their local indie bookstore. The paperback editions are also available at Barnes and Noble, but they have to be ordered online because they’re coming from another distributor.

Meanwhile, I finished the final proofing for my first futuristic romance trilogy that required substantial editing. I’d written these traditionally published books years ago and needed to bring them up to my current standards. These will need new covers and reformatting. Hiring a cover designer is next on my agenda. If I have to help search for images, that could take hours. At least I already have a concept in mind for each series. I’ve also asked ACX for my audiobooks to go non-exclusive so I can put them “wide” in terms of distribution. Once I get the rights cleared, I’ll kick this project into gear.

Price promotions and box sets are on the horizon also, but these will involve a learning curve. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while but had to get all my books uploaded first.

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As you can see, these are full-time tasks. Once they are completed, I can move on to new works. Or maybe by then, this virus will be gone and I’ll want to enjoy life and being a grandma. Who knows? At the moment, we have to take things day-by-day.

Thankfully, as a writer, this doesn’t mean much in the way of adjustment. Our normal routine is to stay home in front of the computer. Since we are in forced isolation, we can get even more done if we focus on our work and not the daily news. So batten down your hatches. Make a list of all these nagging tasks you’ve been meaning to do as a writer. And get to work! Use this time to your advantage. What will be the first item on your list?

Story Dream – The Jewel in the Eye

Story dreams can inspire writers to write entire books. These can be vivid tales that we don’t want to let go when we wake up. We have to continue the story to its fitting end.

Mine are usually in the scifi/fantasy genre, although on occasion I’ll have one in the mystery or suspense arena. Circle of Light, my first published book and winner of the HOLT Medallion Award, began with a dream. It was so exciting that I didn’t want the dream to end. I had to finish it, and I did. This led to two more books in my Light-Years series. Scenes in Silver Serenade also were inspired in this way.

Dreamer Fantasy

Now there’s this one. It could easily be adapted to my Drift Lords series, which still needs the final three installments. I left it as a trilogy but with more to come. My attention turned to mysteries, but obviously this genre is still on my mind. So here is the dream. Let me know if you’d want the story to continue.

Enter the Dream

I watched this dream as though it was a movie. I am in it and yet I am not. A man is strapped to a table and about to be stabbed through the heart with a dagger. He is inside a temple where he’d attempted to steal/recover an ancient relic. The temple’s keepers have captured this Indiana Jones-type hero. He figures he’s a goner, but at the last minute, someone stays his assassin’s arm.

This person says he’ll save the hero but only under one condition. The hero must marry his daughter. Heck, why not? the hero thinks. He can figure a way out of it later. He agrees, and the rescuer asks for his word. Our hero has a stalwart reputation for integrity. He offers his promise to comply.

His rescuers whisk him aboard the savior’s ship. Before he can think of a way to escape his pledge of honor, the wedding commences. He stands beside the presiding authority at the far end of a gallery filled with seated guests. While presenting an outwardly calm appearance, he wonders why the father must force a man to wed his daughter. The woman must be truly ugly. As though to confirm his theory, she appears in her bridal gown fully veiled. He can’t see through the thick gauze. The veil remains on during the ceremony until its conclusion when he is told he may kiss the bride.

Wedding Couple

This is the moment of truth. He steels himself to face her and not betray his emotion.  But as the slender woman raises her veil, his mouth gapes in astonishment. She is the most beautiful creature he’s ever seen! She has long wavy blond hair and features that could have been carved by angels. He kisses her soft lips and is smitten by her beauty.

Blond Woman

They stride down the aisle to booming applause. What’s the catch? Does she turn into a werewolf at night? Is she a vampire who will use him as her next victim? Or is this beauty itself a glamour spell, and she’s hideous in her true form?

After the wedding feast, they retire to their cabin. The girl is shy about disrobing. Maybe she has horrible scarring from some childhood event. But no, her skin is smooth as silk and her body as desirable as his ultimate dreams.

She seems ashamed of an insignificant birthmark and claims it is the mark of a demon’s spawn. According to her people’s legends, at the age of thirty, she’ll turn into a monster that devours its young. Her parent’s story reinforces this belief. Her mother was said to have been visited by the devil because her husband was away at war when she allegedly conceived. The baby’s birthmark confirmed the superstitions.

Yet the heroine doesn’t fully believe this tale. She’s heard rumors of a ship in the harbor around the time the conception would have taken place. Could it be her mother knew of a secret exit from the castle and she’d met with a man from this vessel? How else could she have gotten pregnant when she’d been barren in the ten years she had been married? Had she been the one to spread rumors about a demon conception to allay suspicion about her infidelity?

The heroine means to discover if she is another man’s child. If the hero helps her with this goal, she will aid him in finding the coveted Jewel of the Eye. He needs this treasure’s power to right a terrible wrong that was done years ago. And so their quest begins. It turns out that the Jewel in the Eye is the hero’s new bride. She has a power….

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So what do you think? Write the story or let it go? Have you ever been inspired by a dream?

 

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Adding Front and Back Material to Your Book

Today we’re discussing adding front and back material to your soon-to-be self-published book. This is one of the advantages of indie publishing. You can add whatever bonus materials you want. In terms of Front Matter, less is better. You’ll want readers to access the first chapter as quickly as possible for the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon. So what should you include? Here are some options:

Front Material may include:

Cast of Characters
Copyright Page
Dedication
Family Tree
Map of Setting
Story Blurb with Review Quotes
Table of Contents

If you have a lot of characters, a cast of characters might be useful to the reader. Or it might discourage them from reading the book if they think it’ll be hard to keep track. I’ve had feedback both ways from fans.

The copyright page contains the book title, author, year of copyright, publisher imprint, statements about fair usage and permissions, ISBN numbers, and a Library of Congress number. Some of these are optional and some are not. We’ll discuss these choices more in another post.

Maps are always popular as are family trees. These could be offered in the back of the book rather than up front to save space. Same for the Dedication. A Table of Contents is critical for a nonfiction work. For a fiction work, this will be added when you upload your mobi or epub file to the different distributors.

Back Material may include:

About the Author + Social Media Links
Acknowledgments
Author’s Note
Book Club Discussion Guide
Call to Action for Newsletter and/or Reviews
Character Timelines
Excerpt of Sequel
Glossary
More Books by [Author] with Buy Link
World Building Details

After your story ends, you’ll have the chance to add bonus materials, such as a list of your books in series order, an excerpt of the sequel, reader discussion questions, research notes and more. Here you can put a Call to Action for your newsletter and/or reviews. Regarding buy links, keep in mind that certain vendors don’t like you to mention other sites. You’ll be safe if you use the book page on your website. Otherwise, you’ll have to change the buy link for each distributor.

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General Formatting Notes

My personal preference for e-books is to format my work in Times New Roman 12 pt. font, 1 inch margins, indent first line 0.33 inches, Widow/Orphan off, single spacing. I put a page break at the end of each chapter. The first paragraph of each chapter or after a space break is flush left. Your formatting source might advise something different. You can also upload your Word file to one of the third-party aggregators like Draft2Digital and they’ll do the conversions for you. More on this option another time. Next we’ll discuss Buying and Assigning ISBN numbers.

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Previous Posts on this Topic

Preparing Your Book for Self-Publishing

Why Self-Publish Your Book

 

Musings During the Virus

Being safe at home isn’t a hardship for a writer. We are used to long hours with our story characters as company. Many of us, during normal times, wish for more time to write our novels. However, now that we have this opportunity, it’s difficult for us to concentrate on a story in a fictional world that no longer exists.

Fortunately, I still have ten backlist titles to get online for your reading pleasure. Four of them are my former Five Star mysteries, books ten through thirteen in my Bad Hair Day series. The other six are earlier romances. My very first book, Circle of Light, features a plague that sweeps the galaxy. It’s very appropriate to today’s situation, but I want to get the whole Light-Years trilogy ready to go before hiring a cover artist. Here are the original covers from Dorchester. I’m working on book two right now. Yes, I wrote as Nancy Cane in those days.

Circle of Light by Nancy J. Cohen   Moonlight Rhapsody  

These books, being my earliest, require heavy self-editing to bring them up to my current standards. I am, in a way, grateful for this time to work on these books. It helps me escape the reality of what’s going on outside. And when fear threatens to steal my ambition, I tell myself that these stories help other people to escape the world we’re in together.

And so you can escape, too, whether it’s through books, TV shows, audiobooks or movies. If you’ve never listened to an audiobook, now is the time. It can be soothing to hear someone read you a story. I especially like the way a good narrator does the different character voices. Or maybe you prefer doing jigsaw puzzles or have craft projects you’ve always wanted to do.

It’s important to connect with friends and relatives via phone or online chats so you talk to someone each day. This will help you feel less isolated.

God bless each one of you. I am grateful for your support and friendship which means everything to me. I’m not too inspired to write blogs these days, so you may not hear from me for a while unless I decide to republish some of my earlier posts. You can always follow me on my other social media channels until then. Or let me know what you’d like me to discuss here and I’ll do my best to comply.

Let us all get through this safely. Eventually, things will get better. Our world has seen plagues before, and we have the best scientists researching in their labs. Please stay home and be well. Feel free to offer your suggestions for keeping sane in the comments section.

If you want a free copy of Permed to Death audiobook with a 30-Day Audible trial, go here:
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Booklover’s Bench monthly book giveaway starts tomorrow. Click Here to enter April 1-18. 

NOTE: My writing workshop on “Self-Publishing Made Simple” scheduled for April 25 at 2:00 pm at the Alvin Sherman Library at NSU may be moved online. Keep watch here or on the original site for more details: https://nova.libcal.com/event/6616179 

Knickknacks Reveal Character

You can learn a lot about your story characters from the knickknacks in their house. Consider this topic when enhancing characterization in fiction writing.

Knickknacks Reveal Character

As we are attempting to declutter our shelves, I’m wondering why I collected so many souvenir drinking glasses, paperweights, candles and rocks. Yes, rocks. There’s also my wonky pen collection, a box full of troll dolls that I am loathe to give away, and letter openers. What do these things say about my personality? You tell me.

  trolls2

What can they say about your main character? Perhaps your heroine presents a tough exterior but has a collection of hair ornaments. Or your bookish hero hides a fascination with antique hunting knives. Maybe a sidekick is a cat fan and has decorated her house with cat-themed throw pillows and handmade ceramics depicting cats. For inspiration, check out those unsolicited catalogs you get in the mail.

hair ornament   ceramic cats

Be specific about what type of reading material your character keeps around. Does the heroine read steamy romances but pretends to disdain romance? Does your hero stick to instructional manuals because fiction isn’t real? What if the woman he’s interested in collects unicorn figurines? Will there be a clash in their interests? How about the pages of the magazines or books? Are the corners folded in, the spines bent, or is there a bookmark inside?

What secret longing do these objects represent? How about art? What does your heroine hang on her walls? Does your hero prefer sports memorabilia or does he have an interest in wall clocks? Maybe he hasn’t an eye for design and mismatches colors, while your heroine reads interior design magazines and believes everything should be coordinated.

pens   

It’s fascinating to view the items inside another person’s house. You can see what they enjoy collecting and learn more about them. It also gives you an idea what to get them for a gift. So next time you visit a friend or relative, take a stroll around and see what’s inside their curio cabinet, adorning their walls, or standing poised on a bookshelf.

Even owning nothing of a personal nature makes a statement in itself. Have fun delving into the intricacies of your protagonists’ hobbies so you can describe the collection through their eyes. It will give an added dimension to your story.

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Benefits of Writers Conferences

Now is the time to consider which writing conferences you’ll be attending next year. You want to pay the registration fee before the early bird discount evaporates. With so many conferences out there, how do you choose which ones to attend?

It depends upon your goals. Here are some opportunities offered at writers’ conferences. Which ones apply to you?

  • Further your skills by attending craft workshops
  • Get updates on industry news and business issues
  • Learn the latest marketing tips
  • Increase your knowledge of social media
  • Pitch your work to editors/agents
  • Learn about alternate paths to publishing
  • Discover innovative marketing techniques
  • Meet fans
  • Meet other authors
  • Meet librarians
  • Meet influencers in the writing community
  • Get feedback on your work if manuscript critiques are offered
  • Enter a writing contest sponsored by the conference organizers
  • Get a new headshot if a photographer will be on-site taking appointments
  • Participate in an audio or video segment if available
  • Present a workshop or participate on a panel

You don’t want to be stuck in classrooms all day. Most of the benefit at a conference comes from the people you meet. Editors and agents aside, meeting other authors should be one of your prime goals. You can learn so much from each other. Industry personnel, such as bloggers, booksellers and reviewers can be another target to approach. And if it’s a fan conference, by all means target your readers. Chat up everyone you meet in line waiting for meals, sitting next to you in a classroom or at the lunch table. This is not the time to be shy. Choose a table for breakfast or lunch with strangers so you can meet new people. Be gracious, professional, and interested in others. And don’t forget to exchange business cards. Always ask permission before adding anyone to your mailing list.

Some conferences have a hospitality room where you can hang out, drink coffee, and meet other attendees. Frequent this place and come prepared with bookmarks, postcards and swag. Present a friendly face and start a conversation, not so much about your books but perhaps about the conference city, your favorite subgenre, or what you’ve learned so far.

Don’t know what to say? How about, “Is this your first time at XYZ Conference?” Or, “What do you write?” Here’s another: “What sessions have you attended? Did you learn anything new?” And if you’re talking to fans, “What do you like to read? Who are some of your favorite authors?” And remember, writers are readers, too.

So get out there and schmooze. You’ll make new friends, meet readers, and gain lifelong fans. You’ll get the scoop on the publishing biz and learn new techniques to promote your work. Be eager to learn. Be open to new relationships. Be yourself and relax, and you’ll have a great time.

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My favorite mystery writers conference is SleuthFest. Register now at http://sleuthfest.com/

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The Editing Process

Editing a manuscript is a critical stage in the writing process. In an earlier post, I discussed the Five Stages of Writing. Currently, I’m in the editing or revisions phase with one book and the production phase of another. This often happens, because finishing the first draft of a book doesn’t mean you’re done. It’s only the start of more work.

The Editing Process

After my draft is complete, I begin an intense round of line editing. This means reading the printed pages word-by-word through the manuscript to tighten sentence structure, catch repetitions, fill in emotional reactions, add dialogue tags and more. Here is an example of what one page looks like from Easter Hair Hunt, #16 in The Bad Hair Day Mysteries.

I scribble changes on the printed page, then go back to the computer and make the fixes. Like this:

Easter Edits

Then I read through it again. Note one paragraph here has the same word, “staff”, three times. In the second round, I changed the middle one to “employee” entrance. This means another session at the computer and another printout.

Easter Page

I read it again and keep doing this process until each page is as perfect as I can make it. For revision tips, see my previous post here.

The next step is to send it to my freelance editor. She’ll return the file with remarks using Track Changes in Word. Here comes another round of corrections and one more read-through to make sure all is smooth and I didn’t miss anything. For traditionally published authors, they’ll get edits from their developmental editor and their copy editor.

Next round? For indie authors, that’s beta readers. These are ordinary readers like you who read the book the way they would any story. But they’re looking for flaws, misspellings, info dumps, inconsistencies, or anything that would give them pause. Their input is invaluable, and they always find new things for me to modify.

Is the book done yet? Nope. From here it goes to my formatter. Once she converts the file, I have to read through it again to look for conversion errors. This is akin to the advance reading copy that traditionally published authors receive. It’s the last chance for a final proofread.

This is why the editing process can take so long. I set myself a goal of 10 pages a day. For a 300 page manuscript, that’s 30 days with no time off. Sometimes after several rounds and numerous changes during one day, I still can’t finish those ten pages. I get too close to the material and have to put it aside until the next morning.

So please be patient, dear readers, if it takes longer for me to produce a book. I want it to be as perfect as possible by the time it reaches your hands. Or at least, the hands of my early reviewers. That’s a whole other topic.

Unfortunately, no matter how many passes we make through a book, including our editors and beta readers, some errors will slip by. It’s only diligent readers who can point them out to us. If you see them, please communicate in a kindly manner directly to the author via private email. Depending on our publishing status, we may or may not be able to fix these mistakes. Your eye for detail will be appreciated as long as you understand that most of us really do try our best.

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Do you get annoyed by occasional typos in the books you read, or do you accept them as inevitable and keep reading? Feel free to leave a comment below.

 

Editing Conundrum

I have begun line editing Easter Hair Hunt. The problem is that I can’t get past the first page. I keep redoing the opening paragraphs of my manuscript. So I need your help. Let me know which rendition you think is best.

Coming Soon

Number One

“I don’t see Blinky anywhere, do you?” Marla asked. She and her best friend stood on the rear terrace of Tremayne Manor, a historic mansion privately owned but open to the public for special events and guided tours.

“Blinky seems to have disappeared,” Tally replied. “Where were you supposed to meet after the Easter egg hunt?” She rocked the stroller holding her nineteen-month old son, Luke, who sat happily playing with a squeaky toy. Marla had figured the duo needed an outing, so she’d invited Tally to join her. After her husband’s death, Tally was struggling to raise Luke on her own.

Number Two

“I don’t see Blinky anywhere, do you?” Marla asked. She stood on the rear terrace of Tremayne Manor along with her best friend. The historic mansion was privately owned but opened to the public for special events and guided tours.

Number Three

“I don’t see Blinky anywhere, do you?” Marla asked. She stood alongside her best friend on the rear terrace of Tremayne Manor, a historic mansion privately owned but open to the public for special events and guided tours.

Another Question

Should I add last names for Marla and Tally? This would speak to new readers, not fans of the series who are familiar with the characters.

Which choice do you like best? Any changes to the second paragraph? This is why line editing can take me so long. I get hung up on one section and can’t move past until it’s as perfect as I can make it.

 

The Book is Done – Long Live the Book

I have finished the first draft of EASTER HAIR HUNT, #16 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries!

Easter Hair Hunt

Yay, the work is done! Or is it? Yes, the creative part is over, the agony and anticipation of facing a blank page every day and wondering if the words will come. It’s a great relief to type THE END, knowing you’ve reached your word count and have completed the story. But your labor is far from finished.

The first thing I suggest doing next is to revise the synopsis. Inevitably the story has gone in a new direction since you wrote the first version. Now you’ll need to bring this tool up to date. Patch in the new information and polish it so the story reads seamlessly from start to finish.

Why is this important? You may need a synopsis as a sales tool. Your publisher may require one. You might need a synopsis, short or long, to enter your book in a writing contest. Or your marketing department may need it for their purposes.

At the same time, you can start working on your story blurb. If you’re with a small publisher, they may ask you to come up with the cover copy. If you are an indie author, you’ll have to create the book descriptions on your own. Even if you hire one of the services available for this purpose, they most likely will require a synopsis as well. If you’ve gotten a head-start on the blurb, these folks can use it as a jumping off point. You’ll want a one-liner tag line, a few sentences for a log line, then a short one-paragraph description and a longer one of two to three paragraphs. Remember to maintain the tone of your story in the blurb.

Several rounds of editing and revisions will follow. I need some distance from a story before I can begin line editing, so I may work on something else until I’m ready. If you’re writing a series, this is a good time to do research or jot notes for the next story. Or work on a marketing plan for your book. Then it’s time for line edits, read-throughs for consistency and to catch repetitions, editorial revisions, and beta readers. A final polish will always find more to fix. So there’s a lot more work before your baby is ready to face the world.

In the meantime, celebrate your achievement. You’ve finished a book. Savor the satisfaction and give your creative mind a break. Enjoy your well-earned glass of champagne, specialty coffee, or raspberry lemonade. You deserve a treat. Indulge yourself and relax with some fun activities. When you’re ready to return to the story, your muse will let you know.

Writers, what do you do after finishing the first draft of your novel?

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