Monday, March 31, 2014

Indie Publishing Heartaches

Being an Indie publisher has what I like to call 'intriguing' aspects to deal with.  As an Indie, I not only write the book, but I also, publish the book.  We've heard a lot about the marketing aspect but I want to step back a little in the process.  There is more than just writing and publishing the book.

EDITS.  This is a major, MAJOR concern.  So many Indie publishers seems to sweep this aspect under the carpet.  A properly published book that is acceptable to the reading community is one that has been properly edited.  By properly edited, I mean, a manuscript that has been gone over for not only punctuation, spelling and grammar errors, but also, concept, plot and cleanup polishing.  What are those last three?

  1. Concept.  Have an editor go through the manuscript to make sure that the concept - idea - is fully realized and presented.
  2. Plot. The editor will make sure that all threads within the manuscript are resolved or at least explained so the reader is satisfied when the book ends.
  3. Cleanup. An editor doing this will make sure that superfluous words like "that," "as if," "said," and other heavily repeated words are corrected.  Example?  The wind carried a scent as if bacon had fried. There is no "as if" -- The wind carried a bacon scent. Also, that person will make sure the sentence structure varies for the reader.
Editing can be by the author but a professional, a paid professional, should do a final pass of edits.  You mom, your teacher, your best friend can do edits, but always use a paid professional for the last edits to get a really clean and professional look to your manuscript.

FORMAT. You must make sure that the book is properly formatted. Don't use a lot of fancy fonts.  Keep it simple and clean.  I purchased a book and the author had taken the liberty to use a "funky" font to give the appearance of Elf-like writing.  At first, I liked it but as I continued to struggle to read the strange font, I found myself getting eye strain and headaches.  The author had an email address to use for contact.  I contacted and informed the author that a simpler font would be highly appreciated. I didn't ask for a refund of the book but did receive a personal copy of the newly released version in what appears to be a Times font.  

When you get the proof of the book or ebook - go through EVERY page and make sure that each page is formatted correctly and meets what you expect to be the standard of your readers.  Remember, what they see reflects on you, the author.

BOOK COVER.  This is the first impression you have to grab the reader.  A poorly designed book cover can the death of the book for sales.  Think about it. What FIRST attracts you to a book?  You can't tell me it is the words inside.  It is the cover.  Then it is the back (or inside flap) blurb about the book.  And finally, the first few pages of the story.  So, if the cover is bland, most readers will skip over best written book without any hesitation.  I do graphics and have designed 'some' of my book covers.  But I find the better covers are usually those done by a professional.  Book cover designers can be hired for anywhere from $50 to several hundred dollars.  I personally know of three cover designers I would use who charge a very fair price for their work, most of the time the price is UNDER $100.  You don't serve $1000 a plate dinners on recycled paper plates and drink champagne from plastic cups.  So don't cheat yourself with a poorly designed book cover.

BACK PAGE.  This is the 2nd most important aspect of getting the reader to purchase your novel.  Again, the best story written can be overlooked simply because of poor word choices on the back page blurb.  If you've spent the money to get your novel professionally edited, paid for a superb book cover - don't blow it with a trite paragraph on the back of the book.

NOW you're ready to publish your book by yourself.  I wish you good luck.  Another question is - How's your marketing skills?   Well written, extreme editing, fantastic cover and a clever back page blurb will help in the sale but now you need to hustle it and that is part of marketing... another day's topic.

Until next I ramble on...

Monday, March 24, 2014


Exactly how does one go about organizing things?  People have more than once raised an eyebrow at my filing system - uh, prior to actually filing.

I stack.

In my office, back in a corner, I had a small table where I put stuff that had to be filed at some point in time when I got around to it.  In all fairness, not all of it was to be filed.  I'm a programmer and some of the stuff was printouts of code before a modification was entered.  So, it was like a backup copy if something went wrong with the new version.

But, there was also the other stuff, things that really did need to get filed - copy of letters, documents, and other -- what I considered nonsense crap -- items that needed to be saved for some obscure reason.

At first it was just a small pile, then it got taller.  Finally, there were two piles.  Over the next year, it became three files.  Hey! I didn't say I was a filer.  In fact, that table now had a total of 4 (FOUR) piles of stuff that had to be filed and the stacks were pushing the 15 inches or better for height.

Now for the interesting aspect of my life.  My boss came in and asked if I had a copy of XYZ letter that we'd sent out to ABC company.  I told her I was sure I had it.  I walked over to the file cabinet which was by my table of "2-B filed" items.  With a quick glance back at her, I asked, about when was that, do you remember?  She said about 7 months ago.  I examined my stacks of files and started down one particular stack.

Her immediate response was: You've got to be kidding. Bob! It will take you the rest of the afternoon to find that..."  I pulled out the letter and handed it to her.  She was flabbergasted but took the letter, made a copy and gave it back to me.  I carefully re-filed it back into the stack.  That was several years ago.  By the way, when I left that company, about a week before I did, I asked my boss what the policy was on files.  She informed me that they would probably just dump my files so as not to confuse my replacement.  I told her I could handle that and over the next few days, shoved the trash bins full of shredded files.  I also was the courteous guy who dusted out the file cabinet that never really got used.

Right now I'm looking at my desk.  At first look, it appears to be very chaotic and a total disarray. Yet, I know where everything is. Every time I attempt to organize - basically, I lose everything and don't know where to find it.

Even my hard drive on my computer is what appears to be nothing but absolute chaos.  Still, within the chaos, there is peace and harmony.  I have this urge, this desire to organize but yet I don't know how to go about it.  For me - I'm retired now - stacks are my friends and a naming system for files on my computer have worked for me for so long, I'm not sure I could really do a straight and narrow file system.

Why am I worried?  For one of the strangest reasons of all.  A buddy of mine passed away a couple of years ago.  He was borderline hoarder and squirreled things away.  His wife decided to just dump it all and let the chips fall where they may.  My wife and I talked her into a day of going through things.  I found bags of stuff he'd bought - still in the bags with the sales slips and price tags attached.  I questioned just how many circular saws one man needed -- as I bought two and got one free from his wife -- to add to my 2 circular saws.  Hmm?  But I digress.

I think he, like me, in his own little way, had a system of knowing where things were.  Therein lies the problem.

If something were to happen to me, would my wife consider most of the stuff in my office area a lot of junk?  Would she go through it to really evaluate.  Or would my kids just figure it is a lot of dad's junk and they can finally get rid of it?

I've got a notebook with detailed information about my accounts online with passwords and how or what to do in the event of my demise.  I'm an author.  I get royalty payments.  Even when I'm gone, I will continue to receive royalty payments for my heirs.  They need to know where that money is and how to get their hands on it. LOL.

Organized?  Not really but sort of.

Until next I ramble on...

Monday, March 17, 2014

Snow - The New Four Letter Word.

For the most part, every time I peeked out the window beside my desk for the last 4 months, all I saw was snow.  Usually it was coming down but sometimes it wasn't, instead it was blowing across the drifts. I'm not going to say we had a lot of snow but let's put it into perspective.  I have a raised garden bed - 8" high - and the snow was level.  Actually I have a 36 inch fence around it and only about the top 12 inches of the fence was visible.  Yes, that's right, the snow in my back yard was over 2 foot deep!  If it weren't for the fence and a couple of tomato cages out there - you wouldn't have known there was a garden bed under the snow. Or the fact that it was raised was a moot point.

Nonetheless, the other day I had to go into town and the sun was shining and the snow was melting.  I'd call that a real treat.  Anyway, as I drove along I started to notice that only the new snow was white.  The old snow was black.  Actually, the more I surveyed the scenery, the clearer my vision became.  I decided to take a picture and see how it came out.  As I tried to find the perfect locale for the shot I began to notice even more aspects of the snow I hadn't seen before.  Yes, it was white, it was black, but it was also shades of blue with shifting shades of gray and then I noticed glints of color - red, green, yellow, gold, and silver.  I finally took a picture of what I would like to call the perfect snow pile.  It was ragged with black flecks but also covered with the purist white new fallen snow and it had those shifting sparks of color.

I entered it into a contest so at the present time I can't share it with you, but I really loved the way it came out.  Of course, I had to come up with a snappy title to capture the moment.  After a lot of serious thought, I finally came up "Black and White in Color."  Maybe it will win.  One can hope.

Of course, when I took that picture I thought it was the last snow of the season and so looked forward to the idea of seeing my yard again and the potential of green.  I was wrong.


Yes, we had a snow storm and I was once more pummeled with a flaky layer of 8+ inches of snow.  My son came over to plow the drive.  He was amazed.  He'd plowed some drives for others who lived about 5 miles north of me.  He had measured their snow - it was only 6 inches deep.  He assumed my driveway was the same and was surprised by how much snow I really had.  Yes, he got out and measured the snow.

My wife watched him plow the snow, shoving it in front of the RV.  She lamented at how high the drift was in front of the RV with "Just look, the snow is above the bottom of the window on the RV. We'll never be able to drive it out any time soon."

I smiled.  Trust me, I said. If we decide to go traveling, I will have that 5+ foot drift shoveled out so I can drive the RV on a trip.  We had a drift in front of the RV a couple of years ago and we were headed down to TX for Mardi Gras and yes, I shoveled it out of the way so I could get the RV on the road.

Still, I believe that SNOW has the most popular new dirty FOUR LETTER word used - replacing the F-bomb word.

Here it is - mid-month and yes, that four letter word is creeping into the weather forecast for next week.  Who would think that we'd have SNOW near the end of the March.  Oh wait, is the weatherman playing a trick on us for April 1st -- you know, April Fool's Day?  Shame on him, if he is.

SNOW!  A four letter word that anyone can say and not get their mouth soaped but can definitely bring a frown to a face.

Until next I ramble on...

Monday, March 10, 2014

Creating False Realities

Writers create worlds. They imagine something and then weave the words, placing the girders and framework together as the structure of the story for the reader.

"Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH" is more popularly known as "The Secret of NIMH" which is an excellent example of how a writer creates a world. Take a field mouse, give her a family and let them live in a cinder block as a home.  Add drama as the home may be destroyed by a farmer plowing the field where the block is located.  Add more drama by including rats in a laboratory of an institute.

The reader buys into the first theory and the writer, by artfully weaving the construct of the words, lulls the reader deeper into the story.

Consider the book "Jurassic Park" written by Michael Crichton. He took the concept of blood extraction from a mosquito trapped in amber and wrapped a world around and within it.  Using that idea, he created an industry of cloning. The next step was to take the clones and create an amusement park.

As a writer I enjoy taking tidbits of truth and finding ways to weave fiction around it creating false realities.  Let me give you an example of how that was done with the novel "Ancient Blood: The Amazon" co-written with my buddy, Jack Franklin.

Fact: Illegal deforestation of the Amazon jungle reveals geoglyphs - raised mounds of earth.
Fact: Francisco de Orellana, a conquistador, discovered the Amazon River.
Fact: Gaspar de Carvajal was the Dominican priest to record the trip
Fact: Francisco and Gaspar seemed to have started in the Peruvian area and worked toward the Atlantic and the mouth of the Amazon.
Fact: Two Greek Amazon women, Areto and Iphito, daughters of Hippolyta, disappeared from history.
Fact: ayahuasca is a hallucinogenic concoction of the Amazon tribes
Fact: The natives of Brazil wear very little, including an item called "uluri" for the females.
Fact: Today many native Brazilians are Catholic and very superstitious. Many still cling to their native beliefs
Fact: New tribes of natives are discovered quite often.

There are other facts that we've included in the series to be revealed later.

Using those facts, we added the possibility of discovering a tribe of white women who use gold arrows.  By doing so, we were able to include the old legends of Brazil's past - the City of Z, El Dorado, etc.

Now we add a twist.  Vampires.  A new species based on the original Bram Stoker model.  We created a vampire conquistador who decides to hide in the jungles of the Amazon.  He doesn't sparkle and he is not a vegetarian or particularly enjoying non-human blood.

Toss in a super business - UWF or United World Federation located in Singapore. This company is owned and run by Giovanni Rossi.  He dabbles in many things including exploration.  He brings in one of his best archeologist: Ana Carvalho.

Create a team for her and then send them to the Amazon to research this new found tribe.

Maybe I should mention that there is also a secret society within the Church.  I don't want to reveal everything but the name of the group is TAU or The Order of The High Priest Uriel.

Now we added some romance, a little sex, great details about life in the Brazilian Amazon jungle and released book 1 in a planned series of at least five books.

If you read a book that I've written, you will find that I take actual facts and weave my tale around them and do it well enough that you have difficulty deciding which is fact and which is fiction.  For me, when I read, I love it when an author does that.  I did that for "2012: Timeline Apocalypse" which is a tale based on the supposed "end-of-time" Mayan calendar and takes place in the ruins of Palenque.  By the way, it is still a good read today even though the ending didn't really happen.  My novel "Three Steps: The Journeys of Ayrold" also weaves real facts and locales together with fiction. That particular novel takes place in Washington, DC, Sherwood, OH and Ireland.

I also do that with many of my short stories.  One story I created for a Civil War anthology, I stumbled on a little tidbit about the moon.  I used that fact and spun my tale around it.  I even went to the extent to tie it to an actual battle.

In a current work, I needed an island.  I found one and used it in my rough draft. While doing my research to make sure it would ring accurate I discovered many flaws in my tale.  Suggestions by others was to make it a fake island.  I couldn't, it just didn't ring true to me.  With some extreme and intensive research I was able to make the story work with a minimum of rewriting.

When you, as an author, write a story -- Do you use real facts and then weave a fake reality around them?

Until next I ramble on...

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Daily Affirmation

My friend, Elyse Salpeter, posted a great comment on Facebook.  It was an affirmation.  It was a pep talk.  It was well-needed for not only me, but so many others. It read:

Just a little pep-talk for myself and other writers still "trying to make it work." First, please remember this: YOU ARE AMAZING for writing books, and finishing them and the work & $$ you invested getting them ready for publication. Do you have any idea how hard this is? We've written not 1, or 2 but 4, 5 & 6 novels. You should be so proud of this accomplishment, but I think we get mired in the fact that we are now immersed in the social media aspect of marketing and selling. This other aspect seems exquisitely set to diminish our amazing accomplishments. So I implore you, for even a single moment today, please forget that your success is not linked to sales, but linked to how amazing you are for your perseverance, your dedication to your craft, and that you will be leaving your mark on the world. You are all superstars. 

Years ago, on Saturday Night Live, one of the staff, Al Franken, created a wonderful character: Stuart Smalley who was very quick to let the audience know that was NOT a licensed therapist but, instead, relied upon the credibility of his own experiences as a non-professional.  He would normally close his segment of the show with "I'm good enough. I'm smart enough. And, doggone it, people like me!"  I loved that part of the show because I'd repeat it with him.  What a wonderful mantra.

As writers, we are constantly bombarded with 'critiques' of our writing.  Yes, we ask for them and for some strange reason, we are constantly shown the 'wrong' or 'bad' of our work — but never, ever the good parts. Those segments of sheer excellence that makes the story memorable.

We gaze at our sales records and consider ourselves failures.  Our royalty check comes in and it barely covers the cost of decent cup of coffee, or maybe, just maybe, it is enough to treat the spouse to a night on the town with dinner and a movie.

I was busy writing, fixing and editing short stories and novels.  My eyes had the equivalent of horse blinders. It was a constant write, write, write.  Finally one day somebody said "You should create a web page and put your content out there for others to read and purchase."  Hmm?  At first my mind rejected the idea because, well, I wasn't really published.  At least I didn't think so.  The request continued to niggle at my mind and on a lark, I decided to update my web page and list my stuff.

I was shocked!

I was published.  Published all over the place and some of them I'd totally forgotten about.  I tried to reconnect with all the links but some had been lost or phased out.  It was then I truly realized that I was a published author with several books out - either with my name alone or shared.

So, what I'm telling you is simple.  Stand back and look at what you've accomplished.  You have written many stories and/or novels.  Maybe you've even had some of them published.  Don't short-change yourself.  As Ms. Salpeter says - don't get hung up on the marketing and selling.

Again, you are an amazing person.  You are a superstar.  Say it with me —

I'm good enough. I'm smart enough. And, doggone it, people like me!

Until next I ramble on...