CROSSING THE FINISH LINE

A new writer has in mind one goal: getting published. Often they don’t think beyond that goal post. But once they get The Call, everything changes. I think it’s Fear of Success that keeps some folks from submitting because they don’t want to face what comes next. They will have to get a publicity photo, reserve a domain name, set up a website and blog. They’ll want to think about joining social networks and decide what to do to launch their debut book.

As a newly published author, you’ll also have to determine a reasonable date for your next deadline if book number two isn’t done yet.  Figure out how many pages per day you can write.  How much time do you need to complete the word count? Allow for vacations, sick days, unexpected crises, and additional work on book one. Thought you were finished with that project? Think again. Figure in two weeks for revisions and copy edits and another week for page proofs. Add an extra week if you want to do a final read through. That’s an added month tacked onto your deadline for the next book.  Working on book one will interrupt your train of thought, and you’ll have extra deadlines to meet.

These days authors are often asked to submit marketing plans, art sheets, blurbs, endorsements, and back cover copy. Since when have we been trained in advertising and marketing? Writers not only have to take workshops on writing, but we must learn the principles of promotion. It’s probably hardest to write what the book is about in two paragraphs or less. For the blurb, you have to distill the story essence into a one-liner like a movie teaser. These things also take up your time.

Do you want to schedule a blog tour? You have to research which would be the best sites, garner invitations,  announce the dates on your social networks, and write the blogs or interviews. More time gone out the window. Feeling frantic yet? Oh, and don’t forget printed materials. Once you have your book cover JPEG, you can design bookmarks, brochures, and/or postcards. Having a contest to add readers to your mailing list? Make up the rules, determine the prizes, post announcements, and keep track of entries.

Amidst this flurry of activity, you must stick to your daily writing schedule in order to complete book number two on time. This may necessitate retreating into your writer’s cave for days on end, only emerging to eat and perform other necessary tasks such as paying attention to your loved ones, dealing with household emergencies, and doing the laundry. Did anyone say this job would be easy? And yet it’s what we love to do. Despite the siren call of the Web, it’s still about writing the story, telling the tale that’s in your heart, and spending time with your characters.

Just make sure to allow yourself enough time with reasonable deadlines.

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SETTING THE SCENE

Have you ever written your characters into a hole? I did this recently and had to pause in my writing schedule to figure out a way to salvage the situation. Jennifer and Paz, the only passengers on a private jet in my story, are     attacked midair by the villains who set off an electromagnetic pulse grenade. The blast disables the plane’s electronics and the aircraft plummets toward Earth. The pilots have been shot, and Paz is supposed to save the day.  

Since he has knowledge of advanced technology, I figured he’d use Jen’s diamond earrings for their inherent crystal properties and power the airplane.

Problem #1: When I researched diamonds, I read they can conduct electricity but they do not produce it (correct me if I’m wrong here). If anything, it might be quartz that has more undiscovered properties.         

Problem #2: Even if he finds a power source, isn’t the wiring on the aircraft fried from the EM pulse? (Research topic: non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse weapons)

Problem #3: In the opening chapter, he shows up naked. O-kay, you’ll have to read the story to learn the particulars, but this means he has no futuristic gizmos on his person to help him out.

Solution #1: Allow him to keep his personal comm unit that looks like a wrist watch in chapter one even if his clothes have been ripped off by….sorry, spoiler alert.  That info is classified for now.  Anyway, he uses the comm unit as a power source and the diamonds as a wireless transmitter to power the engines.

Problem #4: Hero successfully lands aircraft. (Research source: Star Trek: The Starfleet Survival Guide). But where do they land? (Research topic: The Pacific Ring of Fire and the Izu Islands)

Problem #5: The villain has a fortress complex on this island. Is it Mediterranean in style? That’s illogical since we’re in Asian territory. Have the villains brought in native materials from their homeland and built it from scratch? Or maybe they took over an estate from a previous occupant.

I recall a couple of James Bond films with confrontations on islands. (Research James Bond). These are The Man with the Golden Gun and You Only Live Twice. Or maybe the estate should be Japanese since our heroes originated their journey in Tokyo. (Research topic: Asian castle fortress estates). I discover Himeji Castle. (Research: Construction, Maps, Interiors).  Very cool place.            

Yes! I can land my people, describe the island, get them inside the villain’s lair. Next up: They hitch a ride on a Chinese junk to escape the island. Uh oh, more research required. And although I can now have my hero land the airplane, I’d better look up what the basic controls on a private jet are called. A visit to http://science.howstuffworks.com/ is on order plus a look at the reference books on my office shelves.

As you have gathered by now, I research as I go along. I just do enough to be able to formulate my synopsis but the details wait for the scene itself. Then I have to stop, study the materials I’ve collected, visualize the setting, and write.

Oh, and this is for a paranormal romance, so don’t ever say we fiction writers make everything up. I just might have to challenge you to a duel.

So please tell us, what do YOU do when you’ve written your characters into a hole?

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BEGINNINGS

I hate beginnings. Some authors love starting a new book, but not me. It’s painstakingly difficult for me to write the first few chapters. Why? Because I don’t know my characters yet. Sure, I’ve done character development sheets on them, but they don’t really come to life until they’re on stage. Then I have to describe their physical mannerisms, type of dress, speech foibles, etc. Once they’ve made an appearance or two, the story flows much easier. I don’t have to stop to figure out how to describe them. The story takes over. But getting through those initial pages is tough. This is where the Doubt Demons show up. Will I be able to write this entire book? Do I have enough conflicts to keep the story going? Am I writing crap? And deep down, there’s always the question: Have I lost my touch? Yet invariably, the book gets finished. My heart is satisfied. And we move on to the next story. I am in writing nirvana during the second half of a book when the story flows and my fingers fly over the keyboard. But the first five pages? The first chapter? The first appearances of each character and the first setting details? Ugh. Only by being disciplined and forcing myself to do my daily writing quota do we get past this awkward stage. Is it crap? Yes. Can it be fixed later? Yes. What’s important is to get the words on paper. You can’t fix what you don’t have, but oh, how glorious it is when this stage is passed. Compare it to a baby who starts out crawling, then learns to stand, and then can walk. Soon he’s running around the house driving his parents ragged. So let’s swat those Doubt Demons away, practice Bic-Hok (Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard) and pound out those pages.

A DREAM COME TRUE

CIRCLE OF LIGHT, my seventh manuscript, became the first novel I sold. It began as a dream, wherein I was at my job as a clinical nurse specialist. The dream unfolded in much the same manner as the excerpt on my website. My dream ended at the same place, but I couldn’t let it go. I had to finish the story! I wrote the whole thing, and that’s my first book that sold. CIRCLE OF LIGHT became number one in a trilogy and went on to win the HOLT Medallion Award in the paranormal category. The story has ancient prophecies, mysterious glowstones, a magical Blood Crystal that foretells the future, and a transcendent healing power inspired by love. It also has villains: the evil Souks, a slaver race; the nasty Horthas with their stun whips; the Twyggs with their grasping branches, a traitor in the central government; and mercenaries who hire their services as assassins. It’s an exciting story. No wonder I felt compelled to finish it.

CIRCLE OF LIGHT, originally published by Dorchester when I was writing as Nancy Cane, is now available in digital and trade paperback formats. And lest you think it’s all purely made up, I used a National Geographic article on volcanoes for the scenes on Taurus, a volcanic planet. I used my Star Wars and Star Trek sourcebooks and technical manuals for inspiration in terms of ships and weaponry. The capital city of Bimordus Two is a biome, a self-contained ecosystem. I cut out articles about these habitats at the time, and they’re probably still in my files. So research took many forms for this futuristic romance. And because it’s at heart a romance novel, woven throughout the exciting adventure is the developing love story of Sarina and Teir.

Attorney Sarina Bretton is kidnapped from Earth to become the legendary Great Healer, thus saving the galaxy from a dreadful plague. To activate her power, she must marry Lord Cam’brii, a stiff politician. Instead, she falls in love with the spaceship captain transporting her to the wedding.

Captain Teir Reylock is drawn to the feisty woman he’s escorting to the capital city, but he must fulfill his duty. He doesn’t count on being assigned as her bodyguard once they arrive. Now not only must he protect Sarina from the Coalition’s enemies, but also he must guard her from his heart.

Digital edition available from Belgrave House

Circle of Light                       Belgrave House

Trade Paperback edition available from iUniverse

Circle of Light

PUBLISHING TRENDS: ANGELS

A recent article (http://tinyurl.com/yghvnku) implies Angels are the next great thing in publishing. After vampires and werewolves come zombies, but zombies play better as evil beings. Hence the next bad boy hero: an angel who’s done something so bad he gets kicked out of heaven. What could be more appealing as a romantic hero than a man with a sullied reputation who seeks redemption? He’s dangerous, driven, and supernatural. Only the power of our heroine’s love can save him. Consider this theme as another variation on the Beauty and the Beast archetype. The alpha hero rules again, only this time he’s bigger than life, bad, and yet yearning for a second chance. Get ready: A new flood of fallen angel stories are about to descend into our literary arms.

angel
angel

The Fallen Angel can also be a villain, like in the Cotten Stone thrillers by Joe Moore and Lynn Sholes. (http://www.cottenstone.com) More fallen angels will be showing up in theaters and books as the trend takes off.

Who decides these trends? Is it based on reader demand? Popular movies? Do editors decide what’s coming next? Or do authors take up the slack and start submitting a slew of stories with this theme? They will now, once the pronouncement about the Next Best Thing in Publishing makes the rounds. If you were tired of vampires before, prepare for an onslaught of angels. But wait….they don’t all have to feature dark heroes. We can have comedic ones who are sent to Earth with a mission. Well-meaning guardian angels. Angels who have screwed up but are good at heart, who’ve been returned to life to make up for their mistakes. Better reserve that pair of wings for Halloween already.

What’s next? I’m waiting for a surge of mythological super beings. You know, the ancient gods from Greek, Roman, and Norse legends. My paranormal romance series is based on Norse mythology. Any publishers out there listening?

Today it’s vampires. Tomorrow, it’s angels. What’s next?

Do YOU believe in angels? If so, which kind: Guardian, Fallen, or the Heavenly halo type?

BOOK TRAILERS

I’ve just posted my first book trailer on YouTube. Watch it there at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNcSYlRHAY4
OR click the Book Trailer tab above.

This has been an educational experience for me. Linnea Sinclair, multi-talented author of sci fi romance, put the video together. She’s done some of her own and they’re fabulous.

First Linnea had me look on http://www.123rf.com and on http://www.istockphoto.com for images to match my characters. This was fun but incredibly time consuming. You have to register for an account, then create a Lightbox. Each time you find an image you like, add it to your Lightbox. When you’ve selected the photos you want to purchase, you have to decide which size you want. I bought the medium sized images at istockphoto and the print sized images at 123rf.com.

Then we came up with 10 short lines of text. Linnea matched the text to the images to see if I liked the pictures. I changed some of them, and she substituted them in. Now we had an action sequence. I let my technically proficient friend do the music since I’m not at all talented in that area. Linnea altered some of the hair colors and backgrounds as well to suit my story and put the whole thing together. Many thanks!  This takes a lot of work but it’s so exciting when finished.

Next, I uploaded the trailer to YouTube. This meant creating a new account, filling in my profile info, then uploading the video. YouTube gives you links so you can direct link to their site or embed the video. Since I didn’t want to mess with HTML code, I added the direct link to my website and blog. Now I’m trying to figure out how to get my name to show up in the search feature on YouTube. Clearly, I still have a learning curve to go. I also have to find where else to upload the video besides my publisher’s website.  Suggestions?

Find links to Linnea’s book trailers on her website: http://www.linneasinclair.com

A WRITER’S THANKS

What does a writer have to be thankful for in these days of shrinking lists, cut print runs, lower advances, and fewer markets? If we stop to think about it, I’m sure we can come up with several items. So here’s my list. I am grateful for:

  • My fans, first and foremost. I write stories to please you, to sweep you into my worlds, to offer you an escape from daily toil. Your feedback gives me the encouragement to keep writing despite the highs and lows of the publishing business. Your feedback shows me what you respond to in my writing and my blogs. Your feedback lifts my spirits.
  • My writing talent. I am grateful that I have been gifted with storytelling ability, that I can lose myself in imaginary worlds, and envision scenes in my head with people I’ve created. The drive to write cannot be taught. Writing craft can be learned, but the urge that makes a writer pick up a pen or sit at a keyboard comes from the heart.
  • A love of reading fiction. I can look at printed words on the page and soar into the zone where a story unfolds. It’s such a glorious feeling that I feel bad for people who read non-fiction and don’t understand what they’re missing. Not everyone has this ability. Consider it a gift, too.
  • The publishers who have accepted my work so that I could share my stories with you. So thanks to Dorchester, Kensington, and The Wild Rose Press. SILVER SERENADE will be my fifteenth published book.
  • My husband whose support has allowed me to pursue this career. He helps with the errands, often with the cooking, and this frees my time to write. He drives me to signings and other events. He listens to me whine. I realize not all spouses are this supportive or generous, and I am grateful for our 33 years together.
  • My kids who give out my bookmarks to their co-workers.

What are you, my fellow writers, grateful for today?

THE E-BOOK CRAZE

The rise of the Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, and the iPhone have fueled a revolution in publishing. More and more readers want to download their books in electronic formats. This brings up several issues for writers. First is the fear that ebooks will replace print books, and brick-and-mortar stores will become a thing of the past. How many people buy music CDs these days? Even libraries are involved in digital lending. About 5400 public libraries today offer e-books and digitally downloaded audio books. NetLibrary, a provider of e-books to libraries, has seen circulation rise 21% this year. I’m not saying books will disappear altogether; they’ll just change format. This affects income for writers since ebooks may sell at a lower price point than print editions. It involves issues of piracy as well as reversion of rights clauses.

E-rights are very important in publishing contracts these days, even for traditionally published authors. Many regular publishers are jumping on the bandwagon and putting out electronic versions of their print published works. Then there are ebook only publishers. Harlequin started Carina Press, a purely e-book venture. Those of us in the writing community have known about Samhain, The Wild Rose Press, Loose ID, and many other ebook pubs, for several years. But herein lies another problem: publisher recognition.

According to the standards of professional writing organizations, some of these publishers do not meet their criteria and are therefore not approved, meaning their authors are not eligible for published author status. This has been a growing point of contention among authors and a thorny issue. The well known ebook pubs have a selective policy and editors scour through manuscripts just like a traditional pub. Editing services are included so an author goes through a similar process as for a print pub. But certain qualifications demanded by professional organizations render these authors little better than self-pubs in status. For example, one writing org requires for recognition that a publisher pays an advance of at least $1000. This lets out many of the ebook pubs who offer no advance, just a royalty rate. Others may offer a small token advance . Some e-book publishers will offer the book as a POD (print-on-demand) as well, either simultaneously with electronic publication or later after certain sales quotas are met. But the profession organizations also demand that an approved publisher must have a print run and distribution of 1000 copies or more of each title they produce. This model doesn’t work for POD presses. How this will play out in the industry remains to be seen. Eventually, the professional writing organizations may have to rethink their definitions of acceptable publishers in lieu of the e-book explosion.

Royalty rates are another problem. For books that don’t have to be printed and stockpiled in warehouses, authors should be able to earn a higher royalty rate. For this reason, authors should carefully compare ebook publishing houses and e-rights clauses to know their options.

Some of these books may appear on bookstore shelves, but for the most part, readers have to order them online. Writers have to step up their Internet promotion and learn how to deal with booksellers who won’t work with ebooks or POD. But one thing is sure: writers who want to get their work in front of as many readers as possible will want their novel available in as a downloadable ebook.

Read more about this topic here:

E-Reads

Libraries article

NY Times articles

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SELF-PUBLISHING

Self-publishing is rising in popularity these days. It used to be that books vetted by agents and accepted by editors went through quality control measures. In other words, the writing was up to professional standards and the story had a special zing to it that made an editor take notice. But if any Joe can publish, how is a reader to distinguish between what’s classy and what’s crap?

I have no problem with self-publishing under certain circumstances. For example, someone wants to publish their memoirs to share with her family. Or perhaps an expert in a subject wants to publish a nonfiction book to sell on the speaking circuit. I’ve considered going this route for a book my father wrote concerning his hitchhiking adventures in 1939. Thus in some circles, self-publishing is acceptable. Even legitimately published fiction authors may find themselves suddenly orphaned without an editor, or their line closes, or their option book isn’t renewed. They may view self-publishing as a viable option after a series of rejections by the major pub houses. In this case, their writing will be polished enough that quality won’t be lost.

In fact, why not bypass a publisher altogether when you can convert your own files and submit them electronically for publication as an e-book or POD (print-on-demand)? Maybe this will be the wave of the future, especially if print books go the way of the music CD. Then who needs a publishing house or an agent? Well, I’ll tell you. Authors who want the distribution and support of a royalty-paying publisher. Readers who want quality control so they don’t pick up a book by Joe Schmoe who has no clue how to write. Booksellers who need to be able to return unsold books to the publisher. Change is in the wind, but writers still need traditional publishers if they want to make some money at this career. They still need agents to help them find a publisher for their work. And publishers still need authors, for who else will write the stories of tomorrow?

These publishers may produce ebook or POD formats, but their editors still scour through manuscripts looking for polished work and a unique voice. In other words, they are selective. Self-publishing skirts this process, dissolves the barriers, and lets anyone have a voice. For experienced writers, this isn’t a problem. Their work will still be up to professional standards. But how is a reader to tell the difference between their book and the enthusiastic aspiring author who has no clue about pacing, characterization, and plot? Herein lies the danger of self-publishing, that bad books will flood the marketplace and turn off readers. And if it’s one thing all writers want, it is for readership to increase, not diminish.