A Fall/Winter Reading Challenge!

To celebrate fall and anticipate winter — great seasons for reading — I am issuing a friendly challenge to readers who are up for a “big read.”

You can acquire all four books of the Herbert West Series for free in exchange for thoughtful comments about the series.

Accept the challenge with a comment to this post, and then follow this link and enter the secret codes at checkout. They will cease to work at midnight on October 1st, so act now!

Book 1, The Friendship of Mortals  QP85L

Book 2, Islands of the Gulf Volume 1, The Journey  CA25C

Book 3, Islands of the Gulf Volume 2, The Treasure  ZY56H

Book 4, Hunting the Phoenix  BQ87N

You will be undertaking to read upward of half a million words, which will take time, but I hope to see comments on Goodreads, Smashwords or your blogs by the vernal equinox — Friday, March 20th, 2015.

 

The Herbert West Series_final.

 

Winding Down and Gearing Up

The garden is definitely in an end-of-summer state. Yesterday I picked almost all the tomatoes and “decomissioned” all but two of the ten plants. This was a stellar summer for tomatoes — nice and warm — and I somehow got the soil mix for their pots just right. I used mushroom manure instead of steer manure. I seem to recall that mushroom manure (“I didn’t know mushrooms did that”) has a higher pH. Maybe that was it, or maybe mixing in the stuff quite generously did the trick.

Perfect Tomatoes!

Perfect Tomatoes!

 

Despite 22 mm. (nearly an inch) of rain a couple of weeks ago, the soil is really dry. The wretched Norway maples are dropping leaves by the bushel — ugly, khaki-coloured leaves that give the garden a slovenly air. Raking them up perked things up instantly.

The dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ continues to put forth blooms and buds. I top-dressed it with the mushroom manure soil mix and slow-release fertilizer back in June. And the potted delphiniums are starting their second flush of bloom — much better than the first one. Together they add some freshness to the tired scene.

Dahlia 'Bishop of Llandaff'

Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’

Delphinium and Dahlia

Delphinium and Dahlia

Gardening is never done. I always have a list of Things to Do and little projects to work on. This fall I’ll be starting on something I think of as the Boulevard Project. There is a 12-foot wide stretch of scruffy lawn between the front part of my place and the sidewalk. Technically, this belongs to the municipality, and nothing must be planted on it except grass and municipal trees (flowering cherries on our street). But of course weeds creep in. A stretch of boulevard next to mine boasts a huge crop of what I think of as “leathery dandelions” although they are really something called hairy cat’s-ear (Hypochaeris radicata). “Weed” is definitely the word for them. They send puffballs of seeds all over the place, and it’s becoming a struggle to hoick out plants that have come up in my scruffy grass.

I’ve decided there is nothing particularly attractive about stretch of scruffy grass and ugly weeds, so I’m going to introduce some tough (and yes, weedy) plants to provide something besides yellow and puffballs to the scene. I have grown from seed a couple of plants of chicory (Cichorium intybus), which has gorgeous sky-blue dandelion-shaped flowers. Once established, the plants can be cut short to encourage them to bloom close to the ground. Blue dandelions! I’ll pair them up with beach peas (Lathyrus japonicus), which look like sweet peas in shades of pink (and some whites), but are a lot tougher. Sadly, they are scentless, but look good with the blue chicory flowers.

All of this may come to naught, like many garden plans. Weeds, when grown on purpose, sometimes become temperamental and die, as if to prove that they will not be manipulated.

Self-Publishing Expenses Gone Wild!

Audrey Driscoll:

Excellent advice, both in this post and comments. Writers, don’t go into debt to publish; that will turn your creative act into a burden and a worry. As to marketing, spend your energy on writing another good book. And another. Once you hit critical mass, the books market each other. (Or so I hope).

Originally posted on chrismcmullen:

Editing Cloud

SELF-PUBLISHING EXPENSES

One of the major benefits of self-publishing is that you can do it (virtually) for FREE.

And, if you set a reasonable list price, the royalty rates are very high.

So with high royalties and minimal costs, if you can stimulate any sales at all, you should easily make something.

There is very little risk.

However, the number of authors who are investing big $$$ in self-publishing and who are losing big $$$ because their self-publishing expenses greatly outweigh their profits is staggering.

HOW MUCH DOES SELF-PUBLISHING COST?

It can cost next to nothing:

  • Zero set-up fees at print-on-demand indie publishing companies like CreateSpace.
  • Zero set-up fees at most major e-book publishing services like Kindle Direct Publishing, Nook, and Kobo.
  • Minimal cost to order one or more printed proofs for paperback books.

If it costs you next to nothing, you don’t…

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Priming the Brain Pump: Research for Fiction Writing

So I’m finally going to write another novel. (I figure I have three more books in me). This one will be a sequel to the Herbert West Series. The main character is Herbert West’s granddaughter. The setting is Egypt, specifically Luxor and the Valley of Kings, in the 1960s. Which means I need to do some research.

There is a vast difference between a piece of fiction whose subject is a place and its history and one that uses a place or a time as a setting. Historical fiction explores and extrapolates real events and people. My book will not be about the political or social situation in Egypt in the 1960s; the story will unfold against the background of the archaeological sites near Luxor. It must of necessity unfold in the 1960s because the main character was born in the early 1940s.

It’s a given that writing historical fiction requires intensive and extensive research, but all writers are obligated to get their backgrounds and settings right. Many mystery and romance novels feature occupations, professions or crafts. Amateur detectives who are veterinarians, potters or chefs abound. The main character of my Herbert West series worked part-time as a mortician while in medical school (in the 1910s). Getting the details of that situation right required considerable research, as will my new project.

So how will I go about doing research for the new book?

The first and most important thing is to load up my brain with stuff about Egypt and Egyptology — the landscape, the climate, the texture of the grit underfoot as one walks in the Valley of Kings, the smells and sounds of dawn, midday, sunset, evening and night. The language of archaeology, the types of people encountered in the bureaucracy of antiquities and at sites being excavated. I’m doing this by reading — a great deal of reading. Accounts of travel, contemporary and historical, descriptions of archaeological discoveries, even the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Once I’ve absorbed this material, some of it will colour my writing in the correct hues and shades. I will be able to speak with authority as my plot unreels.

The best thing, of course, would be to go there, to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. The brain-loading process would then be direct and personal. But I can’t do that right now, so must be content with vicarious experiences. Reading about travel is much simpler than doing it. I can benefit from others’ distilled experiences and impressions without having to spend time, energy and money on the mechanics of travel and tourism. A great by-product of all the reading is that in the process I get ideas for scenes and plot details.

This kind of research is different from fact-checking, which is important but relatively easy, now that we have Wikipedia and other online information troves. Would my main character travel from Cairo to Luxor by train? Exactly when did the Six-Day War start? What was the political situation in Egypt at the time? I need to know these and many other things so as to avoid embarrassing blunders, but I can track down such facts when I need them. The background reading must be done first, to prime the pump, as it were.

I read somewhere that research for fiction writing is like an iceberg — only about one tenth of it should make an actual appearance in the story. Just because I gather a raft of interesting facts doesn’t mean I have to weave them into the plot. It isn’t like writing an essay in school, where you have to show all the stuff you’ve learned. The writer’s business is the fictional story and the characters playing it out.

Finally, I have to say that this feels weird. So far, I’ve written all my books off-line, beavering away in my subterranean writing room on a computer without an internet connection. Writing a blog post about writing a book is doing things backwards. On the other hand, having committed myself here, I had better just go and deliver. The plan is to have a first draft by spring.

300+ Global Ebook Outlets? It’s As Easy As One-Two-FREE!

Audrey Driscoll:

Sounds like the world’s our Oyster… Get uploading, fellow indies!

Originally posted on Ebook Bargains UK Blog:

Go Global In 2014

We all know the ebook market is going global. But for most indie authors it seems we’re still partying like it’s 2009. Many of us are still exclusive with one store, or in so few other outlets that we may as well be.

Meanwhile that international ebook market just keeps getting bigger and bigger.

So just how many global ebook stores can we indie authors get our ebooks into without taking out a second mortgage and busting a blood vessel?

How does over 300 sound?

 ~

 Amazon has eleven Kindle sites, but readers in Ireland, Belgium, Monaco, St. Marino, Switzerland, Austria and New Zealand can buy from neighbouring Kindle stores without surcharges, as can South Africans. So effectively nineteen outlets covered there.

NB In theory many other countries (by no means all – over half the world is blocked totally) can buy from AmCom, but sending readers to Amazon US…

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The Truth About the Book-Blog

Just before I published my first book on Smashwords a few years ago, I started this blog. The blog was intended to lead readers to the the book. A no-fail strategy, for sure.

Since then I’ve learned that a blog as a vehicle to promote your self-published books is only as good as the blogger. You have to work at blogging almost as hard as you did writing the book. Harder, maybe. And it isn’t as satisfying.

Here’s how to do it: visit and follow a lot of blogs. Those bloggers, flattered to get a follower, will return the favour. “Like” a lot of posts. WordPress helpfully informs bloggers when someone has liked one of their posts, leaving links to posts from the “likers'” blogs. When you get these messages, visit those blogs. Like, comment and follow. Then follow through. Before you know it, you’ll be following dozens, maybe hundreds of blogs and your world will be a whirl of likes and follows.

If you can manage it, leave comments (short ones, of course) on all the blogs you’re following. Bloggers will respond to your comments, and maybe follow your blog. Your followship grows and grows. Some of those people may buy your book.

That’s how it’s supposed to work, but I’ve decided this approach isn’t for me.

I don’t want to follow blogs just to get an obligatory follow-back. Same with comments. I follow only blogs that interest me, or at least look like they might. I want to read and comprehend most of the posts on those blogs, to push the “like” button only when I actually like something and comment only when I have something to say. I have found I can do this reasonably well while following about a dozen blogs, less well with two dozen. I really don’t want to go looking for fresh blogs to follow every day. Blogging becomes a blur and WordPress a bad word.

I’ve been blogging for four and a half years, writing a post every week. I’ve followed a couple of dozen blogs, just enough to experience that blur feeling, but haven’t noticed any increase in book sales as a result. Whatever motivates people to buy my books, I’m pretty sure it isn’t my blog. Maybe I’m not working the blogosphere hard enough.

My blog posts are on two main topics — writing and gardening. The posts on writing are (surprise!) of interest mainly to other writers, all of whom are flogging their own books. Selling books to other writers is not a great strategy. Yes, most writers are also readers, but what with critique group pieces, beta-reading, and reading for purposes of writing reviews (never mind actually writing), writers don’t have much time or mental capacity for leisurely reading. We’re all drowning in books.

My posts on gardening, especially those that include pictures, generate small flurries of “likes” and even a few follows, but no book sales. Evidently gardeners are not in need of novels about a corpse-revivifying physician on a journey of transformation.

The worst thing about blogging as a way to market a book is that it diverts the blogger from writing more books. Some say a writer’s best marketing strategy is to produce a well-written book with an eye-catching cover image and intriguing description, and then do it again. And again. Multiple books generate their own marketing mechanism, in the form of return customers, reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations.

Writers with a considerable social media following may find a blog to be an effective marketing tool. For me it isn’t and probably never will be, because I have no intention to engage in power-blogging. I don’t want to quit, because I find blogging to be good practice in marshaling my thoughts and writing short pieces to a self-imposed deadline. And it is satisfying to get those likes and comments.

But as autumn draws near, I intend to disengage myself somewhat from the time-devouring seductions of the Internet in order to write another novel. I will leave this computer alone much of the time and fire up my old Toshiba laptop (one of those two-inch-thick grey jobs from the turn of the century). It’s not connected to the Great Network in the Cloud, but last time I used it (in 2010) it worked just fine as a glorified typewriter.

 

Late Summer in the Garden

August is not this garden’s best month. Since I no longer have a vegetable patch, I don’t experience that plentiful harvest thing. Except for tomatoes. I grow them in pots, and this has been quite a productive year.

August 24, 2014

Otherwise, things have that dry and rattly look.

August 21, 2014

There are a few exceptions.

Dahlia "Bishop of Llandaff" and Delphinium in new flush of growth

Dahlia “Bishop of Llandaff” and Delphinium in new flush of growth

August 9, 2014

Today I saw developing buds on my Chinese witch hazel. One branch has managed to grow into a spot that gets a bit more sun than the rest of the plant, and so will bloom next winter. The Convolvulus sabatius I thought was killed last winter is alive and well (although small), and yesterday I potted up seedlings of Gaura lindheimeri. Now the trick is to get them through the winter. For some reason I have had trouble with this plant in recent years. I don’t know if it’s because of late cold snaps (such as last February’s -9 C) or excessive wetness in the dormant season. I do have more seeds if this batch fails.

I see I have mentioned winter several times in this post about late summer. Yes, I am actually looking forward to winter, which here is green and wet, a refreshing change from endless sunshine and drought. Before that, I hope, we will have the delightful season I think of as spring-in-fall, with shorter, cooler days and rain. Many spring-blooming shrubs put out a few blooms then and the garden seems to sigh with relief. Certainly the gardener does.

My “Fragrant Cloud” rose (a rather feeble specimen growing in a pot on its own roots, not grafted) escaped being eaten by deer this summer, so is blooming again.

Rose "Fragrant Cloud"

Rose “Fragrant Cloud”

These dark red sedums have likewise been spared by deer, even though they are in the unfenced front garden. It seems to me that deer have distinct preferences;  a couple of years ago sedums had no chance, but these have been blooming for weeks.

August 15, 2014

Fighting the Blurb

Audrey Driscoll:

I actually hate the word “blurb.” It sounds like a dumb, brainless thing. But blurbs are actually important when it comes to selling books, so getting them right is important. Here are some wise words on how to do it.

Originally posted on chrismcmullen:

Blurb Fight

BOOK BLURB

In modern times, the book’s blurb is dynamic—it isn’t etched in stone. You can change it as often as you like.

  • If you’re getting regular sales, don’t touch your blurb with a 12-ft. pole!
  • Otherwise, keep fighting your blurb until you finally get it right.

It would be ideal to perfect that blurb before you publish, and you should strive to do this:

  • Browse top-selling books similar to yours and search for successful books where the blurb likely played a strong role. Big-name authors and publishers can sell books without the best blurb, so you can learn more by studying effective blurbs from lesser-known authors.

But, try as we might, it’s really hard to nail that blurb. Thus, those of us who are merely human must keep trying (except while sales are good—”if it ain’t broke…”).

And even if the book description was perfect, external factors may prompt…

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So Your Friend Is an Author…

Audrey Driscoll:

Good advice for friends of authors. (You know who you are).

Originally posted on chrismcmullen:

Judge

Amazing, Isn’t It?

Yes. It is.

How many authors do you actually know?

Now your friend is one.

The key word there is friend.

This was your friend before. Becoming an author doesn’t change that.

Sure, you can tease your friend about this, if your relationship ordinarily involves teasing.

But your friendship is based on more than just teasing:

  • You support one another. Even if one of you writes a book.
  • You’re honest with one another. Even if you think the book isn’t quite, well, you know.
  • You know each other well. How to get on one another’s nerves. How to put things gently. So you can figure out the right way to share honest feedback.
  • You motivate one another. So in addition to honest feedback, you’ll provide encouragement, motivation, and direction.

Your friend wrote a book. That’s a huge accomplishment. Treat it as such.

There are some things you…

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Wishes and Horses: The Phenomenon of Self-Publishing

Last week I attended a book launch by a writer from one of my critique groups. It was a pretty splashy event, complete with an Elvis impersonator who arrived in a vintage Ford Mustang.

That got me thinking again about the whole self-publishing thing. It’s a remarkable phenomenon, the result, I think, of three things: thwarted creative ambitions, market forces and technological developments.

“Everyone has a book in them,” and when it became easy to create manuscripts, everyone wrote their book. With all the touting of books and featuring of authors in the media, wannabes began submitting their creations to publishers. To serve this market, how-to-get-published books and courses proliferated.

Publishers could not cope with the flood of queries and submissions. The big ones fenced themselves off behind agents. Smaller publishers insisted on print submissions, hoping that exacting submission guidelines and the cost of postage would act as a deterrent — to no avail. Who hasn’t heard of five-foot stacks of “slush” plugging up publishers’ mail rooms?

Rejections flooded out from agents and publishers to hopeful writers, many of whom (despite advice to develop thick skins) got seriously pissed off and started looking for other ways to get their creations out there. By this time the internet was available to all and creation and sharing of “content” was the name of the game. In the best tradition of the free market, alternatives opened up to meet the pent-up demands of writers. Self-publishing went from suspect (the vanity press) to last-resort (POD and “subsidy” publishers) to normal (today’s new world of ebooks, Smashwords and Amazon).

When you think about it, this progression is logical. Why wouldn’t people start to write memoirs, novels and how-I-did-it books, when all through school they were told to be creative, follow their bliss and take chances? Especially when the personal computer and Microsoft Word made whiteout and carbon paper obsolete.

Having poured one’s passion into a literary creation, why wouldn’t one hope to share it with others, receive admiration and make money? Most famous authors aren’t beautiful, athletic or talented at anything besides sitting behind a computer and stringing words together. Oprah’s Book Club, here we come!

Publishing has always been a business with narrow profit margins, in which a few wildly successful books subsidize the less-than-best-sellers. In the traditional situation, a book has a short time to prove itself before it’s taken out of print and remaindered. With the best will in the world, there was no way publishers could hope to publish all the wannabe authors flooding them with submissions.

And there was no way that the writers, full of newly-discovered creative joy and the self-esteem that had been introduced to them from childhood, would accept their multiple rejections and settle for bridge, bingo and birdwatching. Entrepreneurial types recognized a huge and eager market, and hastened to serve it. Editors, book and cover designers, advertising and publicity providers rushed to fill the gap. Writers, no longer thwarted by the gatekeepers, became published authors eager to market their books.

I am a self-published author, and I can say without hesitation that I much prefer that to being an unpublished writer, full of self-doubt, resentment and frustration. I decided to publish my works, and it was up to me how much and what kind of editing to do, what cover images to use and what sort of marketing to do. Several years have passed since I published my first novel. It’s still in “print” (as an ebook) and selling steadily. Instead of sending out submissions I am writing new material.

You could say that the slush pile has been liberated from publishers’ mail rooms and made available to readers. Some bemoan the flood of crap, but let’s face it — there’s always been a flood of crap. The internet has made it possible to create and share more of everything, “crap” and good stuff both. The best indie authors are producing books as good as anything by the traditional publishers. What can possibly be wrong with writers and readers having more choices? It’s an exciting time.

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