Wednesday, March 31, 2010

eBook Experiment - Uploaded to Kindle

I uploaded the book to Kindle today. They say it takes 48 hours to process, so it should appear on Friday sometime in early evening.

I spend much of the rest of the evening downloading the reader app, Stanza, to my iPod Touch. And then struggling with it to get it to download books from Smashwords. It's one of those things where you inch forward and then inch forward again. I still haven't got there. It's really really annoying.

Tomorrow is April Fools Day, and considering the Gremlin issues I'm having today, I think I might just lay low and not even post. See ya Friday.

Edit: I started over and had success! I now have ePub versions of a couple of Smashwords books on my Touch!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

eBook Experiment - First Book Sold!

Loooonnnnggg day at work today.

But I still managed to get the website updated. Not well, but it's serviceable. at least has links to here, to the book, so reprints of some of my stories, and to the cats.

In the meantime, The Whore of Freedom has had nine downloads of the free sample, and sold one copy. Whoo hoo!

Tomorrow we work on Kindle.

Monday, March 29, 2010

eBook Experiment - And It's Published!

At least, it's published on Smashwords. It will take a bit before they've vetted it for their premium catalog and I have not yet finished getting it ready for Kindle. However, it's up!

It's is priced at $1.99 (which, imho, is what fiction ebooks ought to be) and Smashwords offers a sample - a full half of the book. You can read online in text or html, or download one of several formats, including mobi and ePub.

The Whore of Freedom at Smashwords (Click to read the pitch, see the cover, and read or download a sample in the format you prefer - of half the darn book! Free!)

And yes, immediately upon publishing I found a typo and an awkward phrasing in chapter two. Gah! I'll have to unpublish and republish when it get the Kindle version ready. (Also I thought of a couple of long tail keywords to include in their tags.)

For new visitors:
Here's the post with the eBook Experiment Goals.

iPad and Smashwords, Oh My!

I can't find an official announcement, but apparently Smashwords just signed an agreement with Apple to provide books for the iBookstore. (YES!) I believe there is a deadline for getting into the catalog at launch. So....

I think I've got all the pieces in place for Smashwords, so I may well delay prepping for Kindle for a day or two, so I can pull it together and put the book up on Smashwords tonight.

Stay Tuned.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

eBook Experiment - Feeling Charged Up

I did many things today. I finished editing and converting the files - though I have one or two tweaks in the front matter I want to do. I also created a pdf for the Copyright office, though so far I have only registered myself as an author and not registered the book yet.

I also reviewed the beginning of The Man Who Did Too Much, and was very pleased. (And I saw how to fix those couple of remaining rough spots.) Further, I had a couple of ideas for one of those sequences I have to revamp. It's going to be fun getting back to that story.


I've had a few ideas in further experiments in ebook publishing, if this first one goes decently. I have picked out another book that may or may not be ready sooner than the sequel to Whore of Freedom. (This one is Fantasy, borderline YA, and is 130,000 words. Does it need editing? Or is it really more than one book?)

Anyway, the main task I have ahead of me, other than uploading the files, is upating my website. And I've even got a start on that. I may be far enough ahead of schedule to go live on publication Tuesday. (The question is then how long the approval process takes.)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

eBook Experiment - Here's the Pitch (Feedback Welcome)

Okay here it is, the cover image, and the second version of the catalog copy. I believe Smashwords has a limit of 600 characters for their catalog copy, so this is at the absolute limit. (I do have some words I can cut, but if I need to put more info in, I'll likely have to take other info out.)

The cover image is the size it would be on the Amazon website. (Although it will be clickable to see a larger version.)

* * *

New Acteron is on the verge of rebellion, and so is Mary Alwyn, the upstanding wife of a local revolutionary. She was born wild, and when she meets a charming nobleman, she doesn't hesitate to fall in bed with him.

But when she betrays her lover's trust for the revolution, her husband holds her up as a hero, calling her the Whore of Freedom. If Mary's ever going to live down the first part of that name, she's going to have to live up to the second. She sets out to be a spy, as brazen and bold as the reputation that precedes her. But she'll never be free until she returns to face her past.

* * *

So.... the goal is to intrigue people, but also to help them see if it's something they wouldn't like as well as something they would. This falls between genres and so I would expect people to be a little uncertain (but I'm pricing it at $1.99 to make it easier to take a gamble).

Any feedback is welcome, either in the comments, or you can email my "secretary" Maude at maudecat at (Oh and if you'd like to see the first fifty pages or so and let me know if it matches up to what you expected, Maudie would be happy to send that along too as a PDF.)

eBook Experiment - Writing the Pitch

Finished the editing, but I did some tricky rewrites in the next to last chapter, so I think I need to let it cool and go over that part one more time on Sunday.

I also started sketching out the catalog copy, and my alpha reader got back to me. She hit me over the head with a hammer and told me I left out a key point. (But...but...but, I was trying to avoid spoilers. NOTE TO SELF - hiding your light under a barrel does not keep the reader in suspense. It just keeps them from seeing the good stuff.)

What I realized is that the pitch has to explain the title. I've got some phrases, but I probably won't have it ready until tomorrow. I'll post the second version here for feedback tomorrow or Sunday.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

eBook Experiment - Redo Yesterday's Ponderings

More editing today and tomorrow. I hope to be copyrighting tomorrow night, but we'll see.

In the meantime, a lesson from yesterday: don't write long spontaneous blog posts when you are full of creative energy. They come out a fuzzy rambling blur.

Here is a small piece of what I meant to say yesterday.

As a mystery writer I am stymied by the fact that I like to write long multi-book series. I mean, yeah, that's what mystery writers do, but when you're trying to break in, the standard advice is to only write the first in the series and market that while working on a different series to follow up with.

Because, you know, you aren't going to sell the first book you try to market, or even the second or third. And there is no point to writing a follow up to a book you don't sell.

Which is frustrating as heck. Because when I develop characters for a series, I am committed to those characters for life. Further, when I write one book, I would really like to devote more time to the next book while it's still hot in my head. But time is at a premium, and your best marketing strategy is to keep writing things you can market, so you can follow up one good submission with another. And as I said, sequels don't count. (Usually.)

Furthermore, if you self-publish something, that kills it for traditional publishing. So if you are serious about a series, you have to save it for that long term traditional marketing process.

However, the very fact that electronic self-publishing has become a viable alternative means that you have a back up plan. If you go ahead and write that second book while it's hot, you aren't completely wasting your time if you never sell the first. If you still love this series later, then you can always self-publish.

If you always have a back up plan - if you know for sure you aren't wasting your time completely - then you have more motivation, and it's easier to keep going and write more and better. And just maybe you can write both sequels and new first books as well. Cover all your bases.

I'll take up the other half of what I was trying to say later. I really do think that the above psychology is a factor strong enough to drive some interesting changes in the industry. (Although the more things change, the more they stay the same.)

eBook Experiment - Still Editing

Still editing away. I think I got one rewrite sequence done but I'll have to look at it again later to be sure. I think I only have one more bit that will need more than editing, and I hope to get through the rest tomorrow.

I still have some stuff to fix on the cover, and hope to do that and the catalog copy by the weekend.

In the meantime I've been looking through my trunk stories, and I have found a few others that got good responses when I was marketing them, but they weren't really the direction I wanted to take my career. I have also rediscovered a few old series and ideas I never wrote because they didn't fit the market. (Some of them might actually fit the market now. Others are just for fun.)

And it's got me to thinking why this is appealing (aside from the obvious). When you are writing, you are taking a huge leap of faith. The truth is, if you're like me, you write a whole lot of things with the understanding that most of them won't "hit". Not because they aren't good enough, but because you're finding your voice, and you're finding your niche, and in the end, your niche is going to be chosen partly by luck.

And somewhere in the back of your mind is the idea that after you've established yourself with whatever turns out to be your Main Thing, you'll be able to do something with those little things. Maybe a small publisher will take them or maybe you'll self-publish them as a "curiosity." In other words, you do a huge amount of work up front so that you can do something else later that will support you eventually going back to the stuff you did up front.

But it's really hard to keep up your best work on a gamble that will be so long delayed. Several years for the stuff that DOES make it, longer for your little oddball favorites. It's even harder when you love series fiction and each of those oddball books really represent a series that you never wrote.

The attraction of Kindle publishing for me right now is that it's a chance to reverse this pattern. To let the little experiments get out there and start supporting the later work. It's like short story publication - you get some minor payoff to your efforts earlier. Delay saps your energy. This gives it back. It makes you work harder when you've got something to show for it.

Anyway, the more people I meet who are doing something similar, the more interesting I think this experiment is going to be.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

eBook Experiment - More Editing and Romance Tropes

Progress report: I am a little behind in the editing, but I left in a lot of buffer time. I also registered for Smashwords.

In the meantime....

There was a debate on a Romance blog today about whether there was a double-standard in Romance fiction for women's behavior. Men were supposed to be rogues and women pure, and the discussion about it was lively. Many felt they could not identify with a woman who was 'bad' and others would like to see more naughty women as long as they were at least sympathetic and preferably morals in matters other than sex. Others argued the biological imperative of fidelity.

I think the whole thing is just a matter of why genre exists. The more specific a category is, the more specific the audience expects the message to be. And even though the same audience may like a different message in a different kind of book, when they pick up a category romance, it's because they feel like a story with that particular message. If they wanted a different message, they'd go to a different type of book.

Which is why we have sub-genres. Most of the time a strong woman story, or a story about redemption or finding oneself, will be considered "women's fiction" rather than straight romance. Many commenters on the blog post also commented that that was why they liked Paranormal fiction and Romantic Suspense - because very often they would get a different flavor from those.

The question comes back to how do you help your readers find the experience they are looking for?

I don't think there is any doubt at all that my book is not about a chaste and pure woman. The title makes that clear enough, and the cover looks more like women's fiction than category romance. Still, I will be curious to see how it goes.

eBook Experiment - Editing

Today I did get some editing done. And I'm setting the thing up for reformating as I go - eliminating page breaks, putting in markers to make certain conversions easier.

And editing. In one case, adding an introductory paragraph where a transition went wonky.

A lot of writers hate to read their own work. I never have that problem. Well, not much. There are things I wrote when I was a young writer trying to be literary that I eventually destroyed. These were stories where I loved the idea.

Most of the time I write stories where I love the characters, and I always want to spend more time with my characters, even if they are trapped in terrible prose and nonsensical situations. When they're trapped in bad writing, it's like a rescue mission. I've got to go an get them out!

So I love re-reading my stuff, even when it's bad. And this is a problem because sometimes I'll wander off and keep reading all night, and forget to edit. (That's why I let myself read this weekend, to get it out of my system.)

And here is a little clip from early on in the story. Mary is facing down a troop of soldiers - led by the handsome officer she'd met the night before - in the doorway of her house, stalling them while others get away....

And all the time it was going through Mary's head: if you were going to be unfaithful, did it really matter if you did it instantly? How many meetings was appropriate before you actually succumbed? Wasn't it always inappropriate? Shades of her childhood came back to her, when Mrs. Cress would marvel at how "she didn't even hesitate!" whenever Mary had jumped into a mud puddle. And Mary could never understand how thinking about it first could make a crime less serious.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The African Queen will be out on DVD!

A pause in the writing stuff for a brief moment of freak out excitement.....


I know it has been sort of available in a cheezy no-region Chinese edition for years, but now it will be out at last, in an honest to goodness real Region 1 full edition. With, like, chapters and everything. Yes yes yes!

I have pre-ordered MY copy.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

eBook Experiment - Sequels

I ended up swapping some of my tasks. I started reading the sequel this weekend, rather than doing my editing. And again, I couldn't stop reading, although this one is far from ready. I will not be able to set a publication date for it that I can put in this book right at the start.

But I do see that I not only have one sequel, but two. The second book, called Test of Freedom, is much longer than the first. And the first third of it can easily be a story unto itself, and it is kinda sketchy in parts. The second part is kind of a mess, and might work better if it were to stand alone.

This is very cool, because the very best possible promotion for a book is another book. That's what you need when you're marketing via something like Kindle or any other "bookstore" - you want to take up shelf space to be noticed. And a trilogy is always better than a duology.

If I do nothing else with this experiment, getting three books up in a series over this coming year would be a great way to accelerate the test. It should not affect my schedule on my mystery writing, but it will affect my short story writing.

The cool thing about this is that if the project doesn't fly, it's okay, because I wanted to get these stories out there. But if it does fly, I have at least one more story I'd like to write in this series, and I have another possible series set in a different stagey, pulpy world that I don't want to put into traditional publishing, so I've just never written it.

(That one could potentially be the same world 150 years later, or it could be a world with some fantasy element, like maybe zombies. I'm not a big zombies fan, but the characters need to be fighting something simplistically monstrous, although I'd rather it not be horror. We'll see if I ever get to it.)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Silly Insane Me (Re The Cover)

I have not gone back to look at the typography on the cover in a while, so I forgot that I actually did find my perfect sanserif font! What you see in that image is not Birch. It's Helvetica Neue, Condensed.

(If this doesn't matter to you, you probably shouldn't even consider designing your own cover. If it does matter to you... you're typography geek. You should probably get a life or something.)

eBook Experiment - the First Version of the Cover

I mentioned earlier some of my practical thoughts about covers and genre. Now I'm down to thinking personally about my book, and I wanted a cover that accurately depicted the character and themes.

And as I mentioned earlier I am working at this point with no budget, so I decided to go with something from the public domain, something classic that would suggest an historical time period, even though this novel doesn't take place in real history.

My first thought was to look for something like Liberty Leading the People. The problem is that my heroine, Mary, is a loner who wouldn't be caught dead actually leading people. She's more a do-it-yourselfer. (And besides it's not the right period - a little late.)

So I thought about a more romance-oriented cover. Something that depicts Mary's soul, a free spirit. So I went for George Romney, who painted lots and lots of pictures of Lady Hamilton as a Bacchante. A free spirited maenad type.

The problem with this is two things. One is that the woman looks too happy. This is what is in Mary's soul, but it's not her. Mary was that girl once, but she was orphaned and raised by well-intentioned puritans. As she describes it around mid-book, they stuck her in a box and locked it. And the events at the beginning of the story undid the catch on the box, and out popped Mary "all on springs." There is something fierce and practical about Mary too. She is a hard working peasant woman, raised by puritans, after all.

And then there is the issue of that picture with the title The Whore of Freedom. It makes her seem like a party girl. So, I went for another period artist, George Stubbs.

Ah ha! There's the attitude. Bold peasant woman looking you right in the eye. I think this un-whore-like woman, in conjunction with the title, makes for an interesting cover.

Of course, there was still the problem of all the guys climbing around on the hay pile, but it's amazing what you can do with the Photoshop Rubberstamp tool.

As for the rest, as I mentioned before, I knew I needed a very prominent title. For that I needed a bold and condensed font. I would have preferred a sans-serif font, but Birch really gave me what I wanted in weight and size. It looks pretty good, I think. (Later edit - silly me, I DID find that perfect sanserif font - it's Helvetica Neue Condensed.)

(Note to amateur typographers: Do get the right font. Don't just stretch your fonts to make them taller or fatter. They will look whacky. The cross strokes really do have to have a thickness that is in the right proportion to the uprights. Also, if you don't know know what leading is, don't try this at home at all.)

Yellow is visible, and I think works with the prevailing blue-green. The drop shadow is the dark brown color from the hay, and it makes the yellow stand out, especially at smaller sizes. But unfortunately like all thin details, it looks different at different levels of zoom. If I offset it more it would look better at small sizes, but awful at full size, so this is my compromise. The author name is not as big, but big enough to see even at the smallest version of the thumbnail.

I also added a blurb in the same dark brown as the drop shadow. While this won't be readable in a thumbnail, it is a style element that common in this kind of book cover, so it "looks right." It is readable if people click on it.

Here is a half-size image of the beta version of the cover. The smaller one is the size that Amazon commonly displays Kindle covers. (Note, the drop shadow would probably look better in the littler one in real life - I was in a hurry so I did not export the little one from the original, but rather just shrank the other one down.)

eBook Experiment - Titles - The Good, The Bad, and The Spammy

Sometimes a book just wants a certain title. This one wanted a title that I really wasn't sure about, but it did really fit the book. It's the title of a book within the story, and a label that the unfortunate heroine gets applied to her. It's kinda thematic and all that.

And I find it odd that I haven't had any negative response to it. (So far. Not that many people have seen it, yet.)

The title is The Whore of Freedom.

It's a provocative title, and that's a good thing. You want a title people might take a double-look at. And since the book wants that title and all that, I can't think of a better one.

Most of the arguments that I can come up with against it comes down to "it's provocative." And I have to think, hey, I'm the Daring Novelist not the Ninny Novelist.

There is one practical argument against it - it contains a word that could get caught in spam filters. Even though I don't intend to promote it by email, pretty much any promotion online is going to be affected by spam filters and word blacklists.

Luckily we promote books by author name as well as by title. In particular, the website associated with a book can be the author name or a title. So it becomes especially important for me to decide whether to use a pseudonym or not. I think I've pretty much decided to publish under my own name. It keeps things simple.

The other potential downside of the provocative title is that it doesn't really give a good picture of the story by itself. And that's where the cover comes in - and why a good cover is important even in an ebook. Later tonight I will post the beta version of the cover I came up with, with some commentary as to why I chose it.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The eBook Publishing Experiment Goals

For the new visitors, this blog is for progress reports on ongoing writing projects - "novel dares" mostly. I report every day to keep me honest. For the next couple of weeks, though, I'll be taking time out from writing to do something different. I'm going to self-publish an ebook. (More info on my reasons why here and why not here.) This is for fun, and is not to be confused with my efforts at "real" publication.

I am a marketing geek, and I really enjoy this sort of thing. So sue me. (Wait. Don't sue me until after I establish an LLC first....)

Overall goal: to post the book on Kindle and Smashwords by April 4, 2010.

Broken down into tasks:

1. Read, edit and format ms. (By March 21)
2. Get feedback on the cover, and do what's necessary. (By March 20 - fixes by March 28)
3. Read the sequel (yeah, there is a rough draft of a sequel) and judge how soon it could be edited and ready so I can put a "coming soon" notice in the back of the first book. (Mar 22-24)
4. Copyright Registration (March 25)
5. Catalog Copy - test with my writer's group and here. (March 25-28)
6. Get my author website updated. (March 25- April 3)
7. Upload - go live. (April 4)

Some of these tasks will be simple, or even involve waiting around for responses, so I will probably also start in on the next Dare, which will be reading and idea generation.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

On The Subject of Book Covers

The eBook Publishing Experiment Continues....

Book covers are big subject. There are a whole lot of things that go into a cover, from the art, the design, the typography, the spine and the back cover. Embossing. Gloss and paper type.

eBook "covers" however have simpler criteria. They are just a single image - no spine, no back - and they are generally displayed in small thumbnails. The customer can click on the cover to get a better look, but usually they've made the decision as to whether it looks interesting based on the thumbnail.

I've been studying the covers of ebook bestsellers, and I notice they seem to have very prominent typography. When the image is shrunk down to a tiny thumbnail, you can still read the title and usually the author name too. You probably can't make out the illustration, but the design looks good even so.

So that is goal one - good clear typography designed for thumbnail viewing.

From there other elements help send signals about genre and flavor. A thriller will usually use the illustration as a secondary graphic element. Category romances will have a full cover illustration heavily featuring one or both of the major characters, which gives a hint of whether it's "hot" or "chaste" or paranormal or contemporary. (Certain publishers use a specific layout for each of the specialized lines - but those are a whole different marketing approach, so I'm ignoring those, mostly.) However, as romances cross over into other genres, they take on elements of those other genres' cover style. Which leaves me a little leeway.

In addition to those considerations, I have my own budget to consider. Literary and mainstream covers often use classic (public domain) art for the illustration elements in a cover. While eventually I might pay for my own cover illustration, I have decided that for my novel I need a suggestion of historical period, as well as a good human figure, so I will probably use something from George Stubbs or George Romney for the illustration part of the cover.

This will help give the flavor of being a little mainstream/literary while still being solidly in the romance category. And I'll certainly go with the large typography of the overall "commercial" category. I'll go into the issues of each element more later.

Now, about that title....

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Genre's New World Order

I really think we're at the beginning of a very interesting period for literature and other media. Right now, genres are slipping and blending, and coming up with wonderful new genres.

I think thing that really struck me about this was when I was watching "24" the other day. I don't watch it on broadcast any more. I usually set up my laptop in the kitchen when I'm cooking, and watch it on Hulu in a more leisurely way.

My mother came in the other day and watched a few minutes and wanted to know what was going on. So I paused the show and explained who was decieving who, and who was sleeping with who, and who was in grave peril.... and it struck me:

The TV show "24" is a soap opera with guns and bombs.

My interest in the show had been waning until I thought of that. And now I find it fun again, in spite of the worsening idiot-potting.

Whether it's paranormal romances or zombie detectives, or literary culinary fiction - genre is bending and blending these days. And this is possible partly because marketing is changing. The power is more and more in the reader's hands. Thanks to the internet, it is easier for people to find what they are looking for, no matter how strange and unique it might be.

But with every opportunity is a challenge: if it's new, it's harder to get across to the audience just what it is. The cover, the title, and the book description all have a lot to convey. With an established genre, it's easy. Publishers have long used particular styles for particular kinds of books.

When you've crossed genres, though, you have to find ways to suggest not only the big idea of what it is, but also the smaller elements of taste. If you see a horror cover, you know what you're going to get. If you see a cozy mystery cover you know what you're going to get. But what should you expect from something that seems like a cross between horror and a cozy?

My book is primarily a romance, but it isn't a category romance. Once upon a time it might be considered a pot-boiler with humor. The themes are women's literary and mainstream, but the plot and settings are fast and sketchy like pulp fiction. The humorous style and the romantic story is chicklit-ish, but the story events tend toward sprawling and adventurous.

With something like this, the cover, title and book description has to say what it is without triggering expectations of what it isn't.

(You know. Just like with any book.)

Setting the Baseline on the eBook Publishing Experiment

"I'm nobody, who are you?
Are you nobody too?" - Emily Dickenson

J. A. Konrath is highly successful at self-publishing on Kindle - but he has so much going for him, and he does so many different things to give his sales a boost, how do you know what is working and what is accident? And how do we know if any of this would work at all for the average joe?

So the main thing I want to do with this eBook/Kindle Publishing Experiment Dare is to help establish a baseline. What is the result of the minimum professional effort? What can a book do on its own? And then later on, I can try out various marketing efforts to see what difference they make.

When I say "minimum" effort, I mean professional work, but without anything outside the book -- no reputation, no platform, no immediate marketing plan to credit or blame for success.

I figure you need at least:

  1. A good book, well edited, properly formatted and converted.
  2. A professional cover.
  3. Professional catalog copy.

That's all you need to get into the Kindle store and Smashwords (which gets you into a whole lot of other venues). From there, Amazon and Smashwords both have internal systems to help readers find the books, but you do have to optimize the book and cover and copy to make use of that. So that's another task that has to be done up front.

And, of course, I will do more marketing later, so I have to build a foundation for that into the book too. For instance, I need to decide on things like whether to use a pseudonym, and what website or contact info to include in the author notes, and whether or not I'm going to publish the sequel and put that info in the book as well.

Of course, the marketing I do later will be much like the marketing you might do for a book published with a traditional publisher. And in that sense it should be a good learning experience for my writing career overall.

Tomorrow, I'll discuss covers and titles.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Why Not Traditional Publishing?

Someone asked this question in the comment section of my post about my upcoming Kindle Publishing Experiment. "Why not use traditional publishing?"

It's an important question, but it's the wrong question. Asking that is like asking someone who went and got some Chinese dumplings for lunch why they didn't get a delicious panini instead. I am not (I repeat I AM NOT) forgoing traditional publishing.

You should never do something, especially something as difficult as publishing, because something else isn't working out for you. You should do it for its own sake.

Self-publishing is for people who want to be a publisher. It's for people who desperately want to do marketing and editing and layout and design and copywriting and bookkeeping. That's a separate profession from being a writer. If you want to be a writer, you need to find a publisher who is at least as good at their job as you are at yours (and preferably better).

This upcoming publishing dare is an experiment. I'm doing it for it's own sake. I am not willing to sacrifice any of my other writing to this experiment. And because I don't have time to write anything new, I would have put it off -- until I remembered that I already had a novel that actually was tailor made for this.

For those who are interested in some of the pros and cons of self-publishing, you might look at this post on J. A. Konrath's blog "Whoa, There eBook Writer!" Konrath is highly successful at self-publishing, but he got there through traditional publishing.

Part of the purpose of my experiment will be to set a baseline - to try to separate out the process from other factors, like the fame of the author. (More about that tonight.)

Problem Solving

Are your characters persistent in the face of obstacles? Are they as good at problem solving as a pudgy Japanese Scotch Fold cat named Maru?

Going after a goal is what makes your characters interesting.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Madness and Self-Publication

About ten years ago, I got my life back from the Kerfuffle Monster (otherwise known as the Day Job and Other Life Issues). That beast had pretty much shut down my writing for over a year, and I had finally battled my way back from the abyss. I got back my time, and sanity.

I needed to get my good habits back, though. I needed to throw myself into something, but since my skills were rusty, I also needed to shut down my inner critic. I needed to do something fun, with full permission to fail.

So I started my first novel dare. I was going to write a "trashy romance" in two months. It would be just an experiment and pure fun - something that broke some rules. And not big exciting rules, but a quiet rule; I was going to write something that concentrated on the drama of the story, and which contained none of the elaborate "world building" I'd been trained to do by my SF writer friends. This story would be set in a simple, sketchy world that was almost like a theatrical backdrop.

Which meant, of course, that it would be unpublishable. It wasn't historical, and it wasn't fantasy, and it wasn't realistic. And me being me, it was also not in the least bit trashy. Sigh.

But there was something magical about it, and everyone who read it was enthusiastic about it. Still, other than trotting it out and doing a little rewriting on it, I just left it in a drawer.

However, I have two drives in my life. One is writing, the other is entrepreneurship. I come from a long line of entrepreneurs, and I often hear the internet business sirens call. I expect to start self-publishing ebooks one day, probably reprints of short fiction for free as a promotional thing. Or at least so I thought.

The thing is, there are two rules of entrepreneurship: The key one, the most important one is: Start Now. The other is: Experiment (i.e. fail a lot before you succeed).

What, oh what, do I have in my arsenal that I could possibly experiment with? I need to save my mysteries for the "legit" publishing world. One day I will self-publish that not-trashy romance, but it really isn't something I should do before I have a good reputation, should I? But maybe I could publish it under a pseudonym!

So I pulled out the book and took a gander at the opening page, and kept reading. And reading. I couldn't stop. So... I'm thinking I may even put my real name on it.

This week I will be defining the task ahead of me. I will need not only to proof and edit the manuscript properly, but have a professional looking cover, and good catalog copy, and register the copyright and do layout and figure out what website to send readers to in the author note a the end.

By the end of this week, I will have set my goals and time line.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Day 55 - 2095 Words THE END (of the dare, anyway)

I still have a lot of clean up to do, but I think it's time to stick a fork in this dare. I filled the manuscript with notes. I'll be getting back to it officially in May, but I may take it up before then in small spurts. (In particular I may pick out a weekend or so for each of the three sections that need some work to do exploratory writing and brainstorming.)

Tomorrow I will unveil my next Dare, which has changed a bit in the past month. I will be doing a Kindle Publishing Experiment Dare.

Over the next five days I'll be posting my ponderings about the nature and goals and tasks, and on Friday, I'll post the official time line for the dare (which I expect to last about a month).

Running Total: 60204 Words.

60204 / 70000 words. 86% done!

Day 54 - 1000 Words Exactly

My goal right now is not just to rack up word counts, but to log all of my ideas, options and intentions as thoroughly as I can.

You set a novel aside is so you can forget details and come at it fresh.... so if there are important details, they need to be written down somewhere, or you will either NOT forget the novel sufficiently, or you will lose something important.

So I did spend a lot more energy logging information today. I found three larger sections that still need some real exploratory writing before they will shape up properly, but the rest of the story just has small gaps.

Running Total: 59109 Words.

59109 / 70000 words. 84% done!

In Today's Pages: Karla witnesses a shooting, but loses her wits and her cellphone.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Day 53 - 1076 Words

I read through a lot more, and did some editing, so I probably wrote more words than that. The progress in the title is just the net gain.

But I still didn't do as much as I really should have. I think I'm getting tired. I'm really going to try to hit 60k tomorrow, though.

Running Total: 58109 Words.

58109 / 70000 words. 83% done!

In Today's Pages: Too many different things across the second half of the story.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Day 52 - 1865 Words

I continued the read through, but I'm at the point where I have a lot more gaps, so I have been making good notes in the manuscript for later. I do feel good about the flow, and I think this story is stronger than I had originally imagined. It will also, however, take a lot of work in some areas on the rewrite. Especially in secondary characters, and maybe loosening up the tone.

I hope to finish strong this weekend, since I am coming up on gaps where I have some fresh and exciting ideas. We'll see.

Running Total: 57033 Words.

57033 / 70000 words. 81% done!

In Today's Pages: Mostly little bits and pieces, and Karla takes a ride.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Day 51 - 1743 Words

And that was actually a net gain, since I read through the first 100 pages, and did some editing. I am very pleased with those first 100 pages. I have some work to do on Chapter two, and probably some plumping up, but I am quite delighted.

Running Total: 55168 Words.

55168 / 70000 words. 79% done!

In Today's Pages: Lots of stuff.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Chapter Strategies - Chapter Titles

This book isn't going to be complete before the end of the dare, but one of the other measures of "completeness" for me is chaptering. When I'm writing the first draft, I jump around, try different pacing, and I don't always know how much will go into any gaps I have in the narrative. So I often don't number the chapters yet. I'll just write in "Chapter Break" if there is a spot that seems especially right for one, and let the rest run free.

So one of the goals for this dare is to set the chapter strategy of the book. At the moment I'm not sure what the chapter styling will be: Short and snappy? Long and graceful? How much will I use cliff hangers and how much the natural breaks in the story.

And the biggie: Will I use titled chapters?

I admit it. I really love titled chapters. I don't actually use them that much, but they are like a touch of chopped ginger in a stir-fry. Done with the proper touch (usually light) they act as teaser and tone setter to the story.

Teasers can actually work better than a cliffhanger for bringing the reader back to the book. Why? Because cliffhangers are designed to prevent the reader from even putting the book down. But that's silly because readers often must put the book down. They don't want to be forced to read on, they want to be lured. Most readers, when they come to the end of a chapter, will glance at the next chapter to whet their appetite for the next session. I think that, in some ways, the beginning of the next chapter can be more important to a "page turner" than the end of the previous. (And, of course, the most important thing is what's in between - nothing builds anticipation better than having already experienced some great stuff in what you've already read.)

Ahem, back to chapter titles: The problem with them is that not only can they feel a bit gimmicky, but they are also a lot of work. You can't just throw in a title here and there on chapters that really call for them. If you use chapter titles, you have to put them on all of them, and you have to be just as clever on the boring chapters as you are on the cool chapters. (Of course, you shouldn't have any boring chapters.)

This book, I think, was made for chapter titles. There is a certain high adventure undercurrent, plus the comedy, that just suits it. So I'm going to be trying them out, anyway. I can always remove them later.

Day 50 - 1685 Words

And I probably cut about a thousand words from yesterday's misbegotten progress. Plus I've got a lot of scribbles yet to type in. So in spite of the no sleep and a day's work, I got a lot done.

At this point I can see I will still have a lot of work to do on this story but I am very pleased at how this ending is coming together. The ending sequence is what makes a book feel whole, and also gives you something to hang anything else on.

Running Total: 53425 Words.

53425 / 70000 words. 76% done!

In Today's Pages: Karla tells all again. And gets to go all Dirty Harry too. Sort of.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Midnight Madness - When the Muse Comes to Getcha!

So I wake up in the middle of the night with the sudden understanding of why writing that "detective reveals all" scene went SO SLOW yesterday.

It's all wrong.

Not factually - that's just fine - but those smaller revelations are an emotional bombshell. This is no snappy "it was Colonel Mustard in the Library with the Candlestick" kind of thing. For certain characters, it changes everything. It creates a moral justice vacuum. And it totally steals the thunder of the last clever little twist I had for the end. The characters are just not going to be in the mood for it.

So I ended up tossing and turning for a long time, but I think I have the answer. This revelation has to come before the villain is vanquished, when emotions and anger are high, and when there is time for the characters to make choices.

But that's the key here. You have to allow your characters choices, especially at the end. You can make that choice really tough - but the tougher it is, the more you have to let them deal with it. It can be tempting to clean things up and take things out of their hands, but you can't.

And now after four hours sleep, I'm wide awake, and I need to sleep before going to work.

Such is the price of art.

Day 49 - 1585 Words

A lot of sleep really did help with the migraine. I did realize, though, that the stuff I was writing was also slow going, and though it was fun, it was also slow going today. The problem was that I jumped ahead to the unraveling of the mystery, so I could make sure things were consistent.

Tomorrow I have a day at work, but it should not be too tough, so I hope to get good progress anyway. I had lots of fun ideas today, and moving on with the action scenes should help.

Running Total: 51740 Words.

51740 / 70000 words. 74% done!

In Today's Pages: Karla tells all. Rosie confronts George.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Writing Wisdom: Getting Things Right

Elisabeth Spann Craig, of Mystery Writing is Murder, had a post today about freaking out when you find mistakes in your writing.

Today I took a daytrip down to Zingerman's Deli (Food Geek Central of the Universe), with a friend of mine who is an artist. She started out as a potter, and she had an interesting take on how to deal with things that don't come out the way you expect. You see, pottery NEVER comes out the way you expect. You make it, put it in the kiln... and something else comes out.

She said that the biggest thing she learned in grad school was that you shouldn't just take your "failures" out of the kiln and smash them. You take them out, put them on a shelf in your house, and live with them for several months. Then you get to choose which ones to keep and which to smash.

Now, here's the thing. As writers we may think that's what we're doing when we put a manuscript aside for a while, but we aren't. When you put a manuscript on a shelf or in a drawer, you're not living with it. You're avoiding it, trying to forget it. And that's fine, but it doesn't do for us what the shelf does for the potter.

What we need to do is put it on a shelf in our heads - actually think about it. Learn to be zen and accept that maybe you didn't get what you intended or wanted, but is there value in what you got? Is this really actually bad, or is it just awkward and in need of some polishing? Or does it need a companion piece to come out right?

And before you smash those words against the wall, be sure you know what is actually wrong with them, what is right, and what to do in future.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


I crashed today. I think it's a migraine, though, because I haven't been able to see well all day. So.... Tylenol and sleep for me.

I did about 500 words, but I'm not up to the record keeping and math necessary to post the progress, so I'll fold it into tomorrow's totals.

Day 48 - 2797 Words - Action is Easy

Action scenes are easy to draft, because you can put it all in. Those moments when you're not sure which option to take - odds are your character isn't sure either. Write that uncertainty in. Your character can have all of your ideas.

This can also give you suspense moments as your character struggles with one problem after another, barely inching closer to her goal. You get natural description moments, as your character's senses are heightened, and she looks around for options.

(Yes, you will have to edit later. There is such a thing as dragging things out too much.)

Running Total: 50155 Words.

50155 / 70000 words. 72% done!

In Today's Pages: Karla becomes much more familiar with the back seat of an 1989 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser than she ever wanted to be.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Skipping and Jumping

The whole story is now vibrant in my head. The only thing holding me up is gridlock among the bits that want to be written. I've got scribbles of details and sentences written all over the place so I don't lose them.

The process is accelerating, so I do expect to have the story complete by the end of the dare, and only the boring parts will be missing. Which can be good. If you set aside the novel with the boring parts missing, later on you won't remember what you wanted to put them in for in the first place.

That's why I'm a great believer in skipping around when writing. Write what's interesting, and the rest will take care of itself.

Day 47 - 1111 Words

I actually got more than that done, but a lot of it is in little snippets as I work out more details. I also discovered a possible timing problem - although I think I can work it out. I want to try to get my action/climax kind of nailed down to see if it matters or not before I change other things.

Now I am very very tired. Must go to bed. I would like to hit above 50k tomorrow. Let's see what happens.

Running Total: 47358 Words.

47358 / 70000 words. 68% done!

In Today's Pages: Karla decides that Tommy Lee Jones knows what he's doing, even if she doesn't.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Day 46 - 1508 Words

I wanted to get more done, but I got a ton of plot work done today. I worked out all the remaining questions (mostly). I should be able to move forward pretty quickly, and even if the draft will be choppy and full of holes, I expect a complete story by the Ides of March.

Running Total: 46247 Words.

46247 / 70000 words. 66% done!

In Today's Pages: George identifies himself. Gwen hides. Karla's in a spot.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Day 45 - 1198 Words

Back in the saddle again. I worked on my ending scene. Not as good as I envisioned it yet, but I think I will have to write the whole thing before I can see clearly all that it is wrapping up.

And tomorrow I sort of start Spring Break. (I have a couple of short work days scattered in there.)

Running Total: 44739 Words.

44739 / 70000 words. 64% done!

In Today's Pages: Karla hears zither music. George misleads the Shrink without realizing it.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Heat Is On

The heat's back on, though the house is still cold. Tomorrow is the last full day of work before the end of the dare. So we're getting ready to sprint.

Today, I did not get any plot holes filled in, but I came up with perfect, killer last page/scene. I was just thinking about technique - about reflecting the opening image in the ending image - when I realized that I would also have an opportunity to give the audience a very clear picture of where the characters stand. Which is important because they don't know where they stand at the end in terms of certain personal matters - which is the arc for the series.

I will probably talk about the specific problems I have with the multi-book character arcs. If I can figure out how to talk about it without spoilers.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Arrrg! No heat!

Our furnace broke. It's too cold to type, and my hands and arms ache, and the smoke from our fireplace, though mild, is aggravating my eyes.

So even though I had hoped to at least get to 44k today, I will instead be calling a hiatus for today and tomorrow. (Tomorrow is one of my long, late days at the day job, and I don't expect to get good sleep tonight.)

I will be working on plotting. I have a few scene sequences and vague plot bits to work out yet, and maybe I can get myself ahead with that.

To make up for it, I think I will add a "clean up" period to the week after the Dare ends.

Day 44 - 1323 Words and Character Layers

"They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself."
– Andy Warhol

Yesterday and today I did more rewrite work on existing material, as well as another outline. I still have fuzzy vague parts toward the end, but I'm definitely getting somewhere.

I am extremely pleased with my new opening. Perhaps excessively pleased. My alpha reader, who did not like the first version at all, likes it this time. I finally figured out that George can't be introduced inside his own point of view.

On the outside he has this very thin veneer of James Bond. The serious Daniel Craig version of James Bond. And deep inside his true soul is Roger Moore as The Saint. But in between, just barely covered by the Bond veneer, is John McClane (Bruce Willis in Die Hard). Once you've seen the cool exterior, it's fine to see the out-of-his-depth cowboy pedaling as fast as he can. But since he's barely aware of the veneer, it doesn't work introducing him the other way around.

Running Total: 43541 Words.

43541 / 70000 words. 62% done!

In Today's Pages: George is not feeling at all like any of the above mentioned action stars, but more like Bill Murray.