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Rust & Relics Continues with Thorn Fall

| Posted in My Ebooks |

8

Last year, I published Torrent, the first novel in my Rust & Relics contemporary fantasy series, and now the second book is ready to go. Thorn Fall is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords (Apple coming soon).

Thorn-Fall Cover Rust and Relics Book 2Blurb: 

Delia never thought her love of adventure and artifact hunting would lead her to discover such oddities as man-slaying monsters, magical swords, and elves on motorcycles. Oh, and there’s also the Ancient Spartan warrior who’s been stranded in the present—he’s offering to work as her bodyguard in exchange for English lessons. 

She’s barely wrapped her mind around these strange new developments when another monster arrives, this time in Sedona, Arizona. The tourist town is known for its majestic rock formations, “healing vortexes,” and ruins left by the Sinagua, a native people who mysteriously disappeared hundreds of years ago. Monsters are a more recent development. This one is leaving death and destruction in its wake, and Delia and her friends are the only ones who know what’s going on. They’re also the only ones with a weapon that can harm the creature—if they can find it. 

To add to their problems, a centuries-old evil has been reawakened, one that threatens to deliver the people of Sedona to the same fate as the Sinagua. And Delia and her friends along with them.

First Chapter Preview:

Apparently, the insurance commercials were wrong. I had parked under a streetlight and hadn’t left any valuables out in plain sight, but there were still six suspicious guys leaning on the car when I walked out of the grocery store. True, Temi’s sleek silver Jaguar did invite one to touch it, but there was a little too much admiration in the group’s eyes as they chatted, pointed, and fondled the car.

I shouldn’t have left the top down, but I had only been running in for five minutes. One guy leaned in, eyeing the steering column, while a second one kept stroking the door. He looked like he wanted to hop in and make love to the car.

I paused at the edge of the sidewalk in front of the store entrance, canvas grocery bags dangling from my wrists. It was after nine on a Sunday night, so of course, there was nobody else around in the parking lot. Should I risk going over there or head back inside to see if someone would walk out with me? Not that the pimply-faced checkout kid with glasses would scare these guys away…

I checked the key fob for an alarm button. Yes, it had one. I slipped my phone into the pocket of my jeans, too, in case I needed to call someone in a hurry. They looked like college kids rather than hardened car thieves, and this was the tourist town of Prescott, not South Phoenix. Besides, I had helped kill a man-slaying monster less than two weeks ago. I could handle some punks in a parking lot, right?

“This never happens when I drive Zelda,” I muttered, naming Simon’s decades old VW Vanagon as I headed for the car. I wished I had my bullwhip, but I reserved that for off-road adventures to dig sites and old mining tunnels, where it was feasible that I might need to wrap a stalactite and swing myself across a chasm. Granted that didn’t happen often, but it happened even less in the Safeway. I did have a collapsible multitool in a sheath on my belt. Maybe they would be alarmed by the way it clacked as I flicked my wrist and extended the pliers.

One of the kids noticed me. He elbowed his buddies, and they quieted down. Unfortunately, they didn’t leave. They lounged against the side of the car as if it were theirs. One sat on the trunk. I wondered if that happened often and if Temi had to polish off butt prints.

“What’s up, guys?” I asked, staying casual. No need to be sarcastic and get their hackles up. Cool and friendly, that was me. I moved around the one making the butt prints and tossed the groceries into the back seat, in part so my hands would be free, and in part so they would know it was my car, or at least the car I was taking care of while Temi was off learning sword fighting techniques from elves—yes, my life had grown strange of late.

“This your ride?” one asked as he scratched his balls. Three inches of his tightie whities were on display. He gave me a long look over while he was adjusting himself.

I didn’t know if he was getting excited or trying to decide if I looked like someone who could afford a Jag. Given the ripped knee in my jeans, the frayed hem of my hoodie, and the toe hole in my sneakers, it was probably the latter. Most of these kids were dressed better than I was. They probably had parents paying for their tuition and board.

“I’m taking care of it for a friend.” I veered toward the driver seat, the key fob in hand, my thumb on the red alarm button.

One of the kids slipped around the front of the car and got there first, leaning his hip against the door. “How about you take us for a ride?”

“I don’t think you’d fit.” Technically, the Jag had a back seat, but I had ridden in it and would be the first to point out that anyone over four feet tall would find it a tight ride.

“Oh, we can fit.” The guy held out a hand. He had a scruffy goatee with beads tied into it. Not the scariest look, but the number of kids was making me nervous. “Why don’t you give me the keys, and I’ll show you?”

“Sorry, my friend specifically said no picking up boys and going joyriding.” Actually Temi had been too worried about going off with Jakatra and Eleriss to say much about the car, but I figured she would agree with the sentiment.

Two of the guys climbed over the side and into the back, and a third went for the passenger seat. I sighed. I should have called the police from the door to the store. I backed away, figuring I’d have to do that.

“Going somewhere?” Bead Beard pushed away from the door, his eyes on the keys in my hand.

“Yeah, I forgot the avocados for my guac. I’ll be back in a minute.” With the police…

He lunged for my hand. I jumped to the side, grabbing his wrist. With one hand, I twisted his arm into a chicken wing behind his back at the same time as I clamped onto his opposite shoulder from behind, so he couldn’t reach me to try anything else. With his fingers almost scratching the back of his neck, he gasped in pain, giving no sign of fighting back. I jammed my heel into the back of his knee to drop him to the ground and keep his shaggy head from blocking my view of the others. Not surprisingly, they were rising out of their seats and getting ready to help their buddy.

“What the hell is that?” one asked, pausing with his foot on the top of the car door. He pointed, not at me, but at something behind me.

I almost looked back, but figured they were trying to distract me so they could jump me more easily. Not that they needed to resort to tricks when they outnumbered me six to one.

A shadow moved at the corner of my vision. I jumped back, letting the first guy go, afraid I had a new problem to worry about. But the man who stepped up beside me was familiar. Well, actually he was quite strange, but I had seen him before. Alektryon. The Spartan I had met and exchanged words with back in that cave. The dark eyes, shoulder-length wavy brown hair, and handsome face weren’t all that strange, but the crimson cloak and tunic weren’t what the tourists here usually wore, especially since that tunic was just shy of revealing his utter lack of tightie whities. But maybe his bare, muscular arms and legs would convince the would-be car thieves to take a hike. Or, if not the muscles, then the short sword belted at his waist. He’d also had a spear and a shield the last time I had seen him, but he must have left them wherever he was camping. I couldn’t imagine someone stolen from 480 BCE navigating a hotel check-in, so assumed he was staying out in the woods somewhere.

“Hello, Alektryon,” I said. Too bad he couldn’t understand a word of English; at least he hadn’t two weeks ago when last I had seen him.

He tilted his chin at the guys around the car, guys who hadn’t stopped gaping at him yet, and said a single word. Too bad I didn’t know what it was. Our earlier communication had all been done via a drawing app on Simon’s tablet, where I’d done my best to remember how to read and write Ancient Greek. If I spent some time with him, I was sure my brain would put the dots together and I’d learn to understand the spoken language, too, but I wasn’t there yet.

“If you’re offering to remove these thugs from my car, I accept,” I said, speaking in modern Greek. Maybe his brain would connect the dots more quickly than mine. I also didn’t particularly want said thugs to understand what I was saying.

“Hey, man,” the guy with his foot on the door said, “Halloween was last week.”

The others sniggered, apparently over their surprise. Unfortunately, they didn’t appear inclined to scamper away. The one I had chicken-winged was standing back and shaking his arm, but the others had hopped out of the car to face us.

Alektryon strode toward them, his face cold and hard.

He touched his sword, and a surge of panic went through me. Outside of war, people hadn’t killed each other willy nilly in Ancient Greece, but for all I knew, he would regard these guys as conquering Persians, intent on pillaging the countryside and raping the helots.

“Don’t kill anyone,” I blurted.

One of the bigger guys strode out to meet Alektryon, grinning and throwing a fist. The boys on either side of him rushed in to help. I debated between jumping in to distract some of them and jumping back and calling the cops. I had already spent time in the Prescott police station and, thanks to Simon’s notorious blog coverage of the monster attacks, wasn’t sure how fondly the local authorities would regard me. I also had no idea how to explain a Spartan warrior in the Safeway parking lot.

Alektryon blocked the first guy’s punch, lunged in, and caught him by the shirt. He hurled the big kid over his shoulder with enough momentum to send him rolling across the pavement to land in front of my feet. The second man fell to an elbow to the solar plexus, curling up in a wheezing, gasping ball in front of the car. The third managed to grab that waving crimson cloak, but he should have been grabbing for a more vital target. Alektryon lowered his head and smashed into him, gripping his shirt and leg and hoisting him into the air, the muscles bunching in his powerful thighs. He flung this opponent away, too, and whirled, fingers curled, clearly ready for more attackers.

By this time, the car thieves were done. Those who hadn’t jumped into the fight ran for the street, and those who had attacked scrambled to their feet as soon as they were able. The one who had taken the blow to the solar plexus was clutching his chest and looking like he needed an inhaler. He stumbled toward the store entrance instead of after the others. I had a feeling the cops might show up even though I hadn’t called them, and someone running around with a sword might be hard to explain, even if he hadn’t drawn it. He must have known good old-fashioned wrestling moves would be sufficient for these non-Persians.

“Thanks for the help,” I said after the brutes had all disappeared, still speaking in Greek. I jerked a thumb at the car. “Need a ride somewhere?”

Alektryon gazed at me. There wasn’t a speck of pride or triumph in his eyes over the fight. He wore the same forlorn, almost haunted expression that he’d had in the cave. He said something succinct, and I probably would have guessed the gist even if I hadn’t recognized the verb for talk.

“You want to talk? I do too. Just not here.” I jangled the keys, realized that probably wouldn’t mean anything to him, and pointed to the car again.

He considered the vehicle for a moment, then climbed over the door and onto the passenger seat. His first time getting in a car, apparently. I was glad he didn’t have the spear with him; I’d hate to explain punctured leather to Temi when she got back. Whenever that would be. It had been a week since she had disappeared with our strange elves.

I slid in and started the car. Alektryon watched me, his face so bleak that it tugged at my heart. Now that I had more time to look him over, I noticed the smudges of dirt and pitch on his cloak, the weary look in his eyes, and the beard stubble on his jaw. He had been clean-shaven before. Yes, he must have been living in the woods, probably hunting for his meals too. And trying to figure out what to make of the bizarre new world he found himself in.

“Simon has the tablet—the thing we were using to talk last time,” I said as I drove through the touristy downtown area. “I need to pick him up, but then we can go back to our campsite and figure out how to communicate again.”

Back in that cave, Alektryon hadn’t been surprised when he had seen Jakatra’s pointed ears, and I wanted to know why. He had also warned me not to trust the elves, something that had been in my mind often, especially since Temi had gone off with them and hadn’t been heard from since.

There was zero traffic in town, so it was only a couple of minutes before I was pulling into the community college driveway. I steered to the back, to the parking lot in front of the machine shop, where I had dropped off Simon earlier. While I had been picking out the necessities—hamburger meat, hot dogs, and peanut butter—I had been trying not to worry too much about how much trouble Simon might be getting himself into. He had promised me that he had made friends with a teacher and that the chemicals and who knew what else he was picking up were being lawfully given to him by someone who was a fan of his website and wanted to help him fight monsters. For some odd reason, I had struggled to believe him.

“Wait here, please.” I held up a hand to Alektryon and hopped out, hoping there weren’t more would-be Jag thieves hiding behind the metal sculptures in the grass beside the lot. The machine shop lacked windows, so I couldn’t tell if anyone was still inside; at least a light was on over the door. A nearby sign proclaimed the college had the best gun-smithing program in the nation. Too bad guns didn’t work on the monsters, at least not the one we had dealt with.

I knocked, then pulled out my phone to text Simon.

The door opened first, and a cloud of sweet smoke wafted out, wreathing the light. I gawked into the hazy, poorly lit gloom inside, surprised at the scent, in part because I had never known Simon to consume anything more toxic than Mountain Dew, and in part because a giant shop filled with machinery that could cut off digits—or limbs—seemed a particularly stupid place to get high. At least I didn’t hear any saws or see any welding torches.

Simon walked out, carrying a pressurized oxygen tank under one arm and a crate full of metal scraps in his hands. A couple of sealed tubs and tubes balanced on top of the crate. He didn’t look stoned—his brown eyes were bright, and he smiled cogently at me when he said, “Hi, Delia.” But I wasn’t sure that meant much.

“Exactly what kind of teacher is this who’s supplying you with…” I waved at his booty. It looked more like junk than anything that could be turned into monster-fighting gear.

Someone inside coughed, then came to the door, carrying a gallon jug drowning in Mr. Yuk stickers. “You forgot your benzene, bro,” the guy said, elongating the last word to epic proportions.

Benzene? I hadn’t looked at the college catalogue, but they had to be offering more than gun-smithing in there.

“Thanks, Simon,” Simon said.

I squinted suspiciously—maybe he was stoned—until Simon caught my look and said, “We have the same name. He’s a T.A. Can you get that jug? Oh, and the iron bar leaning against the wall there. I’ll put all this stuff in the front and sit in the back.”

“You can put it in the trunk.” If I had known our grocery-shopping trip would include picking up poisonous and possibly caustic liquids, I would have made him bring the van. I gingerly grasped the jug from the T.A., a twenty-year-old kid with dreads Bob Marley would have approved of, gave him a nod, and wondered when I had started thinking of college-age people as kids. It had been less than a year since I graduated. “The front seat is taken.”

Simon stopped and stared at Alektryon, who was gazing at the scene blandly. He couldn’t possibly know what was going on, but I felt sheepish, and a little guilty, anyway. I didn’t know why; it wasn’t as if I had done something wrong. Maybe it was just that he was a few years older than I was, and he had an authoritative military aura about him, like he might have been someone used to giving orders once. And enforcing the rules. Not that marijuana had been illegal in Ancient Greece—I was pretty sure it had been used to dress wounds or something like that.

“I thought you were just picking up burgers and hot dogs,” Simon said.

“Burgers, hot dogs, ancient Spartan warriors, you know how hard it is to stick to the list.” I glanced at the T.A., realizing Alektryon would be hard to explain in that outfit, but the door was already thudding shut. Doubtlessly, the kid had papers, or maybe metal-smithing projects, to get back to grading.

Simon headed for the trunk while keeping a wary eye on Alektryon. “Is he coming back with us?”

“I think so. He wants to talk. I thought you’d have your tablet handy.”

“It’s back at camp. You can talk while I start working on my projects.” Simon rubbed his hands together like an evil overlord contemplating world domination.

“Am I going to approve of any of these projects?” I wedged the jug between the crate and a bag of tire chains, hoping there was no way it could slip free and roll around in the trunk.

“You might like the upgraded version of a Maglite laser I’m going to make. And the thermic lance is going to rock. Oh, did you get the polystyrene cups I asked for?”

“Yes.”

“Are you sure they’re polystyrene?”

“Yes, and you can thank the dollar store for that. It’s hard to find that stuff anymore.” I eyed the benzene, and a few memories from chemistry class came together in my mind. “Simon… you’re not planning to make napalm, are you?”

He grinned at me, his shaggy black hair flopping into his eyes.

“Are you serious? Arizona is in the middle of a twenty-year drought, you know. The rangers don’t even like people building fires at the campsites.”

“I’m not going to burn the trees, just any monsters that show up.”

“When you fling fire around, other things tend to burn. How do you know fire will even work? Bullets and arrows didn’t, and our buddies said human weapons wouldn’t hurt the monsters.” The jibtab, that was what the elves had called the creature, and they had promised more were on the way. “Hence the whole adventure to find the glowing sword.” I glanced at the door again, making sure nobody had opened it again. Even a stoned guy might remember this kind of craziness.

“Yeah, but you can’t trust them. We don’t know anything about them or what their agenda is. I refuse to believe that Temi’s the only one who will be able to fight them until I personally see one walk away after a nuke lands on its head.”

I stared at the trunk, his words birthing a new horror within me. “You’re not making plans to build nuclear weapons are you?”

“Don’t be silly; you can’t get uranium from the community college. Or the dollar store. I’m just planning to try some non-projectile methods of fighting.”

I glanced at Alektryon. He was gazing toward the woods behind the metal sculptures this time. That made me twitchier than if he had been frowning at us. There hadn’t been anything in the news about monster-related deaths in the last two weeks—we were actually following the Internet feeds this time around—but that didn’t mean a new creature couldn’t have appeared.

My phone blasted Pour Some Sugar on Me, and I jumped. Temi’s name flashed on the screen.

“Temi,” I blurted into the phone. “You’re alive!” Either that, or someone had found her phone lying in the forest and was randomly calling her contacts. My gut clenched at the thought, especially when nobody answered right away.

“Yeah,” her voice finally came over the phone. “My battery’s almost dead, and I’m up on Senator Highway past Goldwater Lake. Can you pick me up?” She sounded wearier than an ER doctor after a twenty-four-hour shift.

“Yes, of course.” I eyed the small car, again wishing we had opted for the van. “I hope you have lots of stories to share.”

“Some, yeah. But all I want now is something to drink and a bed.”

The line died before I could answer. I didn’t know if it was a reflection of how she felt about the conversation or if her battery had died.

“Is she all right?” Simon asked, genuine concern in his eyes. I wondered if he would be that concerned if I had been missing for a week. I kept telling him Temi was out of his league, but he refused to believe it.

“I think so. But she wants a ride. And a bed. Maybe we should upgrade to a hotel for the night.” I grimaced at the expense—November’s student loan payment had been sucked out of my account at the beginning of the month, leaving me barely treading water, as usual.

“A hotel?” Simon whipped out his own phone. “If my lady wants a hotel, I shall arrange fine accommodations for her.”

I watched in some bemusement as he arranged “fine accommodations” at the Motel 6. Thanks to his frugal streak, he didn’t have my pile of debt, but getting him to spring for something extravagant was next to impossible. “You don’t think your lady—” I made air quotes around the words, “—would like something classier than the Motel 6?”

He frowned at me. “Like what? The Econo Lodge?”

“Never mind. I—”

My phone bleeped, and a text message from Temi popped up. The reception is too spotty for calls. But needed to let you know. They said there’s another jibtab here.

“What is it?” Simon asked.

“You better start on your napalm right away.”

~

Grab the rest of the story at AmazonBarnes & NobleKobo, and Smashwords (Apple coming soon).

Should You Price Your Ebooks Differently in Different Countries?

| Posted in Book Marketing |

18

I was listening to Mark Lefebvre (Director of Self Publishing/Author Relations at Kobo) chat with the gang on the Self Publishing Roundtable the other day (link: Horror Writing And Selling More Books On Kobo), and one of the things that Mark mentioned is that you can choose different prices for your ebooks for the different countries where they’ll sell.

You’ve doubtlessly noticed this in your dashboard before (not just at Kobo, but at Amazon and Barnes & Noble as well), but have you ever done anything besides let the computer choose the price based on the exchange rate? I usually pick my own price, just so it will end in a 5 or a 9, a typical number, but I’ve rarely thought about pricing a book significantly higher in another country. (I’ve gone lower in countries such as India where the average book price is much less than it is in the U.S, but not higher.) Mark pointed out that in some countries, readers are used to paying more than in the U.S., so a Canadian or Australian reader might not bat an eye if your USD $4.99 ebook is $5.99 or $6.99 there.

I haven’t gone in and bumped up the prices of any of my ebooks in those countries, as I tend to be a fan of fairness whenever possible, but it’s interesting to think that my policy may be causing me to leave money on the table. It’s interesting to think, too, that a reader might be less likely to trust that a cheaper ebook will be a high quality ebook, because they’re used to paying $10 and up to read books in their country. (Lower prices and reader perceptions get debated a lot when it comes to 99-cent ebooks on Amazon, so I won’t get into that further here.)

The $9.99/70% Ceiling

One other thing that Mark mentioned on the show is that Kobo doesn’t have the $9.99 limit that Amazon imposes for authors who want to earn the 70% cut on ebook sales. Even if your ebook would sell wonderfully at $12.99 in Australia, for example, there’s little point in pricing it that high, since you’ll receive a lower sales percentage than you would selling it at $9.99. But on Kobo, you can go ahead and list your ebook at that higher price point, if you wish.

This would mostly apply to authors publishing non-fiction, since readers are accustomed to paying more for that, but it could also apply to those of you putting together boxed sets. I have one for my first three Emperor’s Edge books, but I’ve never seriously considered putting together a set for the whole series, because I wouldn’t want to sell over $20 worth of books for a mere $9.99. I may have to rethink that and put together that boxed set for Kobo users (and perhaps sell it on my own website as well).

But that’s a bit of a diversion. As far as pricing ebooks differently in different countries, what do you think? Is it something you’re doing? Something you’d consider? Something you don’t want to do? Let us know in the comments!

Launching Multiple Books at Once: Pros & Cons

| Posted in Book Marketing |

27

If you’ve hung out on the indie forums or listened to the various self-publishing podcasts, you might have heard of new authors finding success with variations of Liliana Hart’s “5 down and 1 in the hole” technique (summed up on Hugh Howey’s blog):

The idea is this: Annual releases are too slow to build on one another. And not just in the repetition of getting eyeballs on your works, but in how online recommendation algorithms work. Liliana suggests publishing 5 works all at once. Same day. And she thinks you should have another work sitting there ready to go a month later. While these works are gaining steam, write the next work, which if you write and edit in two months, will hit a month after the “hole” work.

I haven’t tried anything like this yet (I’m horrible at holding stories back — I haven’t even tried preorders, because I like to get a book out there to readers as soon as it’s ready), but because I’m fairly prolific, I’ve definitely seen how much easier it is to gain momentum (sales and readers) when you’re publishing regularly with a series. When I was publishing my Emperor’s Edge books, I tended to get new novels out about every six months, and even though I’m not writing more books in that series (there might be some spinoffs down the road) and the sales aren’t what they once were, those books still account for the majority of my income.

If I had it all to do over again, would I have held back and released the first few Emperor’s Edge books at all once? Probably not, but I’ll tell you what: I am planning to release the first three novels in my pen name project within a couple weeks of each other (and maybe a novella to boot).

Why?

I’m not planning to announce the pen name, at least not at first (if it fails miserably and gets straight 1-star reviews, I would like the privilege of being able to sweep it under the carpet!), so I’ll be starting from scratch. Not only that, but it’s in a cross-genre niche, which is going to make it tough for advertising (people who like X may hate the idea of Y mixed in and lots of people who like Y wouldn’t touch X with a 10-foot-pole).

In other words, I think it’s going to be hard to gain traction.

So my plan is to make the first book permafree, right off the bat. And, going on the assumption that there’s not much point of having a free book out if there aren’t follow-ups for people to buy, I’ll launch the second at $3.99 shortly thereafter. I’m also planning to take this opportunity to check out KDP Select/Kindle Unlimited (since nobody’s waiting for these books, I don’t need to worry about upsetting Kobo, iPad, Nook, etc. readers). I want to put a third book (which can be read as a stand-alone) into KDP Select at $3.99 to see how that goes. The novella may or may not go into KDP Select too. I want to see how the borrows work for me and maybe try the countdown deals and such.

Now that I’ve blathered about my stuff, I would love to share my thoughts on the pros and cons of following this multi-book launch strategy. I would also love to hear your thoughts!

Pros of Launching 3+ Books in a Series at Once

  • Possibility to gain traction and reach a “tipping point” more quickly — In case you didn’t guess, Liliana Hart and her technique are on people’s radar because she gained momentum and sold piles of books that way. From Hugh’s post: “Lila Ashe, Jessie Evans, Cristin Harber, and Marquita Valentine, are just a few who have used the 5 down, 1 in the hole release schedule. These are authors who just got their start and are already making full-time wages from their writing. Does that mean anyone who does this will have success? Absolutely not. You’ve got to have great stories, catchy blurbs, professional covers, quality editing, and the right metadata. But you are sunk without these things however you publish. Having them should be a given.”
  • Utilize the power of free or permafree right out of the gates — Having a single book out there and making it free can work, insofar as building an audience goes (make sure to encourage newsletter signups!). In a niche I watch, I saw a book with a hideous cover and a so-so blurb skyrocket up to the Amazon Top 100 during its first week out, thanks to the fact that Book 1 had been free and out there for a couple of years, gathering hundreds of reviews and who knows how many reads. But why wait to make money? If you publish a number of titles at once, you can make one free, plug/advertise it anywhere you can, and hope people will be dying to read the following one.
  • Ability to more fully flesh out the world/characters before going live — Some people do a lot of pre-planning before jumping into a series, but if you’re like me, you might just do a quick outline and then get going. Sometimes little character quirks and interesting details might be worked in during the editing or as the series goes on. If you wait to release the series, you can go back and do major world/character changes to Book 1 if you think up something cool and new as you’re working on 3. By writing the first three or more books before launching, you have the leeway to go back and tinker.

Cons of Launching 3+ Books in a Series at Once

  • If the first book bombs, you may have wasted a lot of time working on a series that’s never going to take off — We all like to think we’re brilliant and that everyone will love all of our books, but the truth is that some series do better than others and it can hard to tell in advance which ones will be winners. When you’re publishing your first novel, in particular, it’s tough to be sure if you’re ready. Sometimes the feedback on that first novel can be eye-opening (or slit-your-wrists depressing). Either way, it’ll probably be a learning experience.
  • You don’t get to make any money for books that aren’t published yet — If you’re prolific, have a good day job, or have another series that’s already earning you an income, this might not be a big deal, but every month you sit on a title that’s ready to go is a month that title isn’t making you any money. Will the hold-and-release strategy end up making you more than if you’d put the books out as they were ready? Maybe so, but it’s a gamble, and if you’re not prolific and it’s going to take you years to get all those books ready to go… well, who knows if Amazon’s algorithms will work the same way in a year or two?
  • By the time you get feedback on the first book, you’ve already published several more — Even though you might have more solid characters and worlds built up since you waited until you’d written a few books before finalizing and releasing any of them, publishing the first X novels in a series at once means that you can’t take reviews/feedback you get on Book 1 and make changes to the following books. What if you did something awful to a character that people hated so much it made them put down the book (and the series)? Or what if you focused on a character that didn’t turn out to be nearly as popular as some side character? This kind of thing might matter less in romance, where you’re presumably focusing on different heroes and heroines in every book, but in an epic fantasy series? You may very well want to take an unplanned path in the road, based on early feedback.

All right, that’s all I have to say on this subject until I actually try it out (October, I’m hoping!). Do you have any related thoughts or experiences? Please let us know in the comments.

After 20 Novels, What Does Your Editing Process Look Like?

| Posted in Editing, Writing |

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When I write about my self-publishing journey here, I usually stick more to publishing strategies and marketing topics, but a couple of people have asked me editing questions lately. As I close in on twenty novels (between my name and the new pen name, I should hit that number this Christmas, for my four-year self-publishing anniversary) and almost as many short stories and novellas, I guess it’s fair to say that I’ve developed a system.

My first novel (the first novel that I finished anyway), The Emperor’s Edge, took about seven years from conception to publication (and that didn’t even include looking for an agent/publisher, since I went straight to self-publishing!). Granted, there were years where I didn’t touch it at all in there, but I was definitely finding my way as a writer. I ran it through the SFF Online Writing Workshop twice, several years apart, before “getting serious” and deciding I not only wanted to be a writer, but I wanted it to be the full-time job (yes, quite ambitious for someone who had yet to publish anything). My second novel, Encrypted, also went through the workshop. I wrote that one a little more quickly and had it polished and ready to go in just under a year.

These days, it usually takes me a month to write a first draft (though I’ve done it in as little as two weeks) for a standard-length novel (80-100K). The beastly 220K+ word Republic took two months.

My first round of edits might take about a week for something that involves fact-checking and doing some research (I don’t usually spend a lot of time on either when I’m writing the first draft, because I don’t like to break the flow) or only three days for a simple story that’s set in a made-up world and doesn’t involve much of that.

After I’ve gone over the manuscript once, I send it off to beta readers, who will point out everything from typos to logic errors to confusing action sequences. I’ll usually start working on something else while I’m waiting for them to send the manuscript back. Once it returns, I’ll address their comments again and then either go over the whole story one more time (depending on the degree of the changes I made) or just go over the particular scenes where I made significant changes.

After that, the manuscript is off to my editor, Shelley Holloway, who will check for grammar issues, typos, and anything else confusing that my beta readers might not have pointed out. Again, I’m usually working on something else while she has my manuscript — gotta keep things going if you want to do this full time!

When Shelley is done, she’ll send the manuscript back, and I’ll run through and accept/reject changes and fix any issues she pointed out. We’ll usually go back and forth a couple of times before it’s ready to be turned into an ebook. Once Shelley gets started, it’s usually only about a week or maybe a week and a few days for us to do all of this (she’s doing the heavy lifting at this point). She has numerous clients, though, so I’ll have to book her in advance (sometimes hard when you write quickly) or just accept that there will be a bit of a wait before she can get started. (Again, this is why I always have something else ready to start on.)

The whole process, from Word 1 to finished novel, usually takes a couple of months now, with the slowing-down points being the times when the manuscript is off with beta readers or with my editor (or when I haven’t gotten an order for cover art in early enough, so I’m waiting on that). With one novel (Balanced on the Blade’s Edge), I wrote, edited, and published it in 30 days, but that was more of a bucket-list thing than the norm. Even if I can work that quickly, other people (beta readers, editors, cover artists) have lives (and other clients).

So, there’s an overview, but here are the answers to some more writing/editing-specific questions I’ve received:

A book in a month? A rough draft in two weeks? Don’t you think the quality of the writing suffers if you’re going that fast?

When I first heard about people writing 10,000 words (or more) a day, I thought the same thing, but I also realized that when I was writing my usual 2- to 3,000 words a day (1,000 before this became the day job) that it honestly didn’t take me that long to get those words down and that a big chunk of my day was spent screwing around online or around the house. I knew I could accomplish more and I actually started to feel a little guilty about not getting more done.

So I started to use timers to make myself stay off the internet for chunks of time and to do nothing but write during those slots (I’ve heard of other authors having a dedicated writing computer that isn’t connected to the internet). I realized that if I had everything outlined ahead of time, I too, could have 10,000-word days. That isn’t the norm necessarily, but now I feel pretty lazy if I’m working on a new draft and don’t get at least 5,000 down.

All of this equates to finishing rough drafts in less than a month. Is there any difference in my writing if I type 2,000 words a day versus typing 10,000 words a day? Not at all. It’s simply a matter of spending less of my day goofing off. If anything, I’ve learned that my first drafts tend to be more cohesive and need less editing when I finish them in a few weeks. Writing quickly lets me stay “in the flow” of the story. It’s closer to the way you would actually tell a story, if you were sharing it with a friend, closer to real time, if you will.

Back when it took me much longer, I would spend a lot of time rereading scenes and trying to remember what happened in the opening chapters. This way, the entire story is solid in my head the whole time I’m writing, and there are less gaffs to fix later.

You don’t seem to spend much time on the editing process. I usually have to rewrite X number of times. What’s the secret?

I did some major rewriting of the endings for both The Emperor’s Edge and Encrypted. Hating the original ending is one of the reasons EE took so long to finish (I abandoned it for a few years because I didn’t like the ending and wasn’t sure how to fix it.)

The secret… outlining. I was more of a pantser (writing by the seat of my pants) early on, and I often wrote my characters into situations that I didn’t know how to get them out of. I would get stuck and sometimes lose interest and end up abandoning the manuscript altogether.

I don’t do extensive outlines now, but I always summarize the basic story (a small paragraph per chapter) before I start writing. I’ll often deviate from that outline, but I always know how the story will end, and that lets me more easily find a way to that point.

In the morning, I’ll also do more detailed outlines of scenes I’m going to work on that day, especially if I’m trying to hit 10k words. Those might include some snatches of dialogue, things that wouldn’t tend to be in my overall outline.

Having that roadmap in place let’s me get the story down more quickly when it’s time to write. I already know what’s happening next, so I’m not staring at the screen and trying to figure things out.

Since, before even getting started, I’ve already found my way around potential pitfalls, I don’t usually run into a problem where I have to do a major rewrite when I’m editing. I’m usually tightening up sentences and fixing little issues, but not cutting chapters or changing an ending. (Early on, I was much more likely to have to cut scenes, but I find that rare now.)

I’ll also add here that I’m sure a lot of improvements in efficiency are just a matter of having written numerous novels. I remember how I used to dwell on every sentence when I was sharing chapters on that workshop. Maybe I should use a better verb here. Could this be cut? Is this too much of a run-on sentence? Eventually you internalize the rules and don’t think at all about sentence construction; you’re just telling the story and not letting the words get in the way. I think you tend to second-guess yourself less on the story itself too.

I’ve been told you should put a rough draft away for a while before jumping into editing, but you start right in? Do you think you lose any perspective that way?

I’ve heard that, too, and I used to do it, but I’ve found that when I take a big break (maybe because I got caught up in a new project) that I have a little trouble getting back into the manuscript. I won’t have the story as solidly in my head anymore. Also, because I write a first draft straight through without editing, I’ll often have some things in mind that I know I need to go back and address. I want to get to those before I forget about them.

That said, there’s inevitably a break between my first and second round of edits, since that’s when the beta readers have the manuscript.

When you’re writing your first draft, do you edit as you go?

Almost never. For me, writing the first draft is about getting the story down and that’s it. A rare exception is if I thought of something I wanted to add to the scene I was working on the day before. If so, I might back up to the top of the page and work that in before getting started. But I never go back and tinker majorly with previously written scenes.

I usually suggest that other people don’t either, even new writers. Especially new writers. After you’ve finished the story, you may find that you end up cutting a scene or rewriting your opening chapter, in which case you were just wasting time if you tinkered with it a lot early on. New writers, in particular, tend to find that they started the story a chapter (or maybe chapters) earlier than they needed to, and that their “inciting incident” needs to be moved forward a lot to hook the reader.

Do you have a revisions checklist or do you just wing it? (submitted by )

No checklist. I just read through from start to finish and fix what needs fixing.

I will sometimes have a couple of notes to keep in mind as I go through the manuscript. For example, in Rust & Relics 1, I established that Simon, one of the main characters, has trouble speaking to one of the other characters (because she’s a hottie and he’s in luuuurve). I have a note here, reminding myself to add a few more instances of him fumbling his sentences, because that’s something I forgot about a little as I was writing the first draft of Book 2.

How do you detach yourself from the story to edit, especially considering you usually go into the novels right after finishing it? (submitted by )

How do I step back and look objectively at it? This may just be a personality thing, but I’m rarely so close to a story that I think it’s awesome and fail to see flaws — I feel like I can be fairly analytical from the get-go. I’m also a super picky reader myself (I’m one of those people who got into writing in part because I struggled to find stories that I enjoyed reading), so I’m sensitive to whether a scene is dragging, characters are flat, or there’s not enough conflict to keep things interesting.

Does that mean everyone is going to love my stories, and that they’re perfect? Of course not. Sometimes I recognize flaws that I’m not sure how to fix; sometimes flaws get past me. I just hope the stories are good enough to entertain. (I’m still surprised and delighted when I get fan mail from people who really enjoy the books.)

If you start thinking of your novel as the creation of some sublime piece of art that’s supposed to wow critics and become a part of the Zeitgeist, then you’re probably setting yourself up for a frustrating experience, one in which you revise and revise and maybe never finish. You’ve probably heard the saying, “Perfect is the enemy of good” or “Perfect is the enemy of done.” Definitely true with writing novels.

Any tips for story stuff (versus grammar)? (submitted by )

There are lots of books on writing that cover story construction, and those authors are much better teachers than I am, so I don’t know that I have a lot to say here, except that when I’m writing/editing, I try to…

  • Give the characters quirks that make them seem like real people
  • Give the characters compelling problems that they have to overcome
  • Advance the story (have the protagonists working toward resolving conflict) with each scene
  • Up the stakes (make life more difficult for the heroes) whenever possible
  • Add some interesting/unique elements to the world to make it fun to explore
  • Leave out the “boring” parts, insomuch as you can recognize them (if you start skimming while you’re re-reading that’s a sure sign that there’s not enough conflict going on in the scene to keep the story compelling)
  • Work setting tidbits in unobtrusively, i.e. into the action or even dialogue
  • Make sure most of the conflict ties into the overall plot and isn’t just there Oregon-Trail style to perk up a slow scene (Mary has dysentery! Oh, but she recovers, and it turns out it didn’t matter at all.)

What software do you use for writing and editing?

I write in Scrivener. I’m sure I don’t use 90% of the features, but I love that all of my chapters and scenes are labeled and on display over in the menu, so it’s easy to jump around in the story if I need to. I wrote my first two novels in Word, with everything in one big file, and I can’t even imagine doing that now. Ick.

That said, editors and beta readers usually have Word, so I’ll compile the Scrivener document into a Word file before sending it out to people and usually do my final edits in that program.

How many words do you write an hour? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?

It will vary, depending on what I’m working on. Straight-up action scenes tend to come out most quickly for me. With scenes that are heavy on character interaction and dialogue, that will take longer. Dialogue is my favorite thing to write, and I’m more likely to pause and think about how I want a character to say something there. But when I’m plugging along and know what happens next, 2,000 words an hour is fairly common.

An hour is about the maximum that I’ll sit in the chair without a break. When I’m finding it hard to get going, I’ll set a timer and do 30-minute spurts.

I recently set a new words-in-a-day record, though I don’t know if I should count it since it was on a new novella for the pen name project and I haven’t been back to it since that initial burst, but I hit 13,000 words. (And no, I can’t imagine doing the entire 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo in a day).

I wish I could sit and write for hours, but I have carpel tunnel syndrome, repetitive stress injuries, or X other health issue that makes it hard…

Been there, done that. I was a wreck at 25 and had so many things wrong with me I was wondering if I would live to see 30. Even the computer stuff was hard because my hands hurt so much. Most of The Emperor’s Edge was written with voice recognition software.

More than ten years later… I rarely get sick and not much bothers me. I’ve done 10,000 words while sitting on the couch with my laptop. Ergonomics? Not a bad idea, but I don’t usually bother. Treadmill desk? Are you kidding me? (I do get exercise via hiking and playing tennis, but you won’t catch me doing many things that aren’t a fun break from writing.)

For me, Step 1 was identifying food allergies (gluten and dairy). Step 2 was cutting way back on sugar and things that metabolize into sugar in the body (carbs, essentially). Step 3 was realizing the low-fat diet advice was oh-so-flawed and adding healthy fats into my diet.

Recommended reading: Grain Brain, Why We Get Fat, The Big Fat Surprise.

I can’t promise that the right dietary change will fix all of everyone’s ailments, but it has made an amazing difference for me.

All right, this post has gone on and on, and wandered off topic more than once. There’s a novel waiting to be edited, so I’ll stop here. Any questions? Comments? Please leave a note below!

Creating, Publishing, and Marketing a Multi-Author Bundle

| Posted in Walks with Lindsay |

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After a three-month hiatus, I’m back with a new walking podcast. There were quite a few things I could have talked about, since I’ve published a couple of new novels this summer (and I do babble about my new pen name project a little at the beginning), but I decided to focus on my experiences with the Nine By Night Urban Fantasy Bundle.

I wasn’t one of the ones who did most of the work when it came to creating and publishing the bundle, but I tried to share some useful observations that might help someone else thinking of starting a multi-author collection. And of course I talked about what we did when it came to launching and promoting the bundle. It’s been in the Top 250 or so at Amazon, making it as high as 95, pretty much since the beginning. I’m sure it’ll eventually drop down, but we’ve been having a good run!

Download

For those who will ask, no, there’s no transcript (I don’t make any money for doing these little shows, and I don’t particularly want to spend any to put them out either), unless a very dedicated listener wants to tackle the task. William Stadler did that for the “Creating Engaging Characters That Turn Readers into Fans” episode, and it was greatly appreciated. I can’t promise to make you famous if you do a transcript, but I’ll at least post the link to your site. :)