Sunday, March 31, 2013

Take Your Time, Do it Right

My youngest sister, AKA, my Initial Reader, is a busy college student, so when I need her to read a manuscript, I have to catch her during school breaks so I can get her full attention.  She read “Sweet Little Lies” over the Christmas holidays and as always, gave me valuable feedback on what I needed to fix.  I also let my other sister read it, though she almost got fired because she took so long, but in the end, she also provided some great ideas on how to enhance the story and characters. 

With their suggestions in hand, I was ready to start the process of getting the book ready for a Winter 2013 release date.

It was in the middle of implementing revisions based on their comments, that I got an email from a potential critique partner who found me through the website, inquiring if I’d be interested in partnering up.  After a few back and forth emails, my potential critique partner and I exchanged manuscript samples.  We decided we would be a good fit and forged ahead with providing each other deep critique on our manuscripts. 

While I was definitely on a particular timetable for releasing “Sweet Little Lies,” I’m glad I took the time to get another set of critical eyes on the manuscript.  My (new) critique partner, Emily McDaid, gave me sound insight and awesome perspective on how to round out my story and characters a bit more.  She was also a wonderful sounding board for story points I was trying to muddle through and has provided some great marketing tidbits – always helpful in the indie world (more on Emily the Awesome in a future post.  In the meantime, check out her book, “The Boiler Plot,” a suspense novel with a white collar twist and a candidate for Amazon Breakthrough Novel).

Being able to self-publish with the click of a button has been nothing short of revolutionary.  But it’s also a bit of a cautionary tale.  Because it’s so fast and so easy, it’s that much more tempting to rush through (or ignore) some important steps in the process and put the product on the market before it’s ready.  Sadly, the indie landscape is littered with books bursting with typos, mangled syntax and poor story structure.  In the mad dash to get the book out into the world, a lot of indie authors haven’t given their work enough time to cook.

Quality control is one of the most critical phases in the development of any product (and make no mistake, your book is a product) and to skip it shows a lack of respect for both the product and the audience.  When you’re producing a book, that means running spell check, finding at least one brutally honest person to vet the manuscript (if the person who reads your manuscript only says gushing things and tells you nothing needs to be fixed, keep looking – find that person who will give you good, honest critique about what works and what doesn’t) hiring a professional proofreader and cover designer and unless you’re a whiz at it, a formatter.   

Are you putting your manuscript through quality control before it goes on the market?

Think about it this way; wouldn’t you clean your house before showing it to prospective buyers?  Wouldn’t you wash your car before showing it off to potential customers?  How pissed off do you, as a consumer, get when you buy something only to get it home and realize it’s full of bugs or just flat-out broken?  You curse and rail against the manufacturer for putting out the product before it was ready. 

Why should your books be any different?

As for my own product, I am coming into the home stretch on releasing “Sweet Little Lies.”  It will be going out for proofreading in a few days and formatting immediately after that.  For more information on release dates, sign up here.

While I won’t be putting the book out as soon as I planned, I’m glad I took the time to put it through one more inspection, because it only made it better, which is a good thing.

And now, back to writing.



Sunday, March 24, 2013

In Praise of Book Bloggers/Reviewers

When I released “Live and Let Die” last year, I made a conscious decision to tell only a handful of close friends and family what I was doing.  However, I haven’t beseeched any of them to post glowing reviews on Amazon, et al.  I’m sure if I asked them too, they’d be more than happy to Fangirl all over Amazon with a cache of five star reviews for my book (well, except my sister, Kathryn, since she doesn’t like anything...which is why she’s my first reader.)  It was (and is) important to me that my work stand on its own merit, which means accepting what complete strangers say about it – good, bad and ugly. 

So, because I decided it’s a better use of my friends and family’s time to celebrate or commiserate with me over my reviews, rather than write them, I had to find other ways to gain readers/reviews.  One of the ways I’ve done this is to reach out to book bloggers.  It takes a lot of time and is an ongoing process, but has been worth the effort. 
So far, I’ve gotten some really nice feedback on my work and have even heard from readers who bought my book based on a positive review they saw from a book blogger they read and trust. Getting that kind of feedback has been wonderful and is not something I take lightly.  As a bonus to building relationships with book bloggers, I’ve been introduced to some really terrific blogs.  It’s been a lot of fun getting to know folks through their blogs and even getting some book recommendations for my own to-be-read pile.

I have nothing but the utmost respect for the time and effort book bloggers put into reading and reviewing books, especially those by indie authors.  Many of these bloggers review books strictly as a labor of love; they don’t get paid to do it and like the rest of us, have jobs, families and lives outside of reviewing books.

Because of the admiration I have for book bloggers and the work they do, it’s distressing to hear of indie authors who flame bloggers when they don’t get a good review or insist a negative review be removed, sometimes sinking to snide personal attacks in the quest to realize their mission.  As a result of ongoing abuse from outraged indies, I’ve heard of some bloggers declaring they will no longer review indie authors, because it’s just not worth the aggravation. 
This is really a shame.  Publishing is tough enough, especially as an indie and book bloggers are a great resource for spreading the word about your work.  Personally, I’m thrilled when a blogger agrees to read my book.  A great review is the cherry on top.          

It’s been said before and it bears repeating; not everyone will like your work. Just because we ask for our book to be reviewed, it does not guarantee we will get a love letter in return.  Everyone is entitled to their opinion and some people just don’t cotton to certain books (however, if reviewers keep dinging the work for typos, bad grammar, poor sentence structure, etc., that’s not the time to stick our heads in the sand and insist the reviewer is an idiot who doesn't know what they're talking about; that’s the time to step back and take stock of what needs to be fixed – and fix it). 

While I think “Gone Girl” is brilliant and the best book I read in 2012, there are thousands of readers who have reviled it as one of the worst books they’ve ever had the displeasure of reading.  Insert my disinterested shrug here.  Different strokes for different folks.  Gillian Flynn isn’t taking to reader forums to engage in flame wars or sending outraged tweets; she’s working on her next book.

Which is what all writers should be doing.

And so, mazel to book bloggers and their willingness to support indie authors.  Please know, there are many of us who appreciate the work you do and will take your words about our work to heart – good, bad and ugly. 






Sunday, March 17, 2013

Yes, TV is Good for Your Reading List

I love to read.  I’m a writer, so that shouldn’t come as a surprise.

However, I also love TV.

There, I said it.

I’ve never understood folks who disdain TV and declare it does nothing but spew crap.  I beg to differ.  They’re just not looking hard enough for quality shows of interest.  I’ve learned a lot of kitchen skills from PBS’s cooking shows; I’ve discovered a plethora of brilliant independent and foreign films courtesy of IFC and Sundance and I love the “Unsung” series on TV One (did you know original Shalamar member, Jeffery Daniel taught Michael Jackson how to moonwalk?  No, me either…until I saw it on “Unsung.”

IS there crap on TV?  Of course!  And yeah, I watch some of it and love it.  No shame in my game.  

Besides teaching me and entertaining me, TV has also done A LOT to feed my reading habit.  I was reminded of this recently when the Encore channel devoted February to replaying all three volumes of the epic “North and South” miniseries, based on John Jakes’ historical novels about the Main family of South Carolina and the Hazard family of Pennsylvania before, during and after the Civil War.  I was rapt in front of my TV during each Sunday afternoon airing with a bag of microwave popcorn, a Coke and smile.

Re-watching “North and South” a few weeks ago took me back to the first time I saw Book I and Book II.  I didn’t see them when they first aired in the mid-80’s, but rather when ABC re-aired them in the late 80’s and I was in high school.  When I saw Book I, I was hooked.  And why wouldn’t I be? A pre-“Dirty Dancing” Patrick Swayze as the earnest, upstanding and lovesick Orry Main and James Read as the dashing, confident and easygoing George Hazard represented the original bromance. Watching their escapades – romantic and otherwise – was entertaining and yes, educational even, with the origins of the Civil War being woven between all the bodice ripping and heavy breathing.

Loved, loved, loved.
After watching Book I, I rushed to the library and checked out John Jakes’ book, devouring the 800+ pages in a matter of weeks.  Not something a lot of high school freshman would do willingly, but I was obsessed and couldn’t get through that book fast enough. 

Then Book II (based on “Love and War”) was rerun and I was even more addicted (especially with the part of Billy Hazard being recast with Parker Stevenson.  Hello, Patrick Swayze, James Read and Parker Stevenson in one movie?  Talk about Holy Trinity of Hotness.) Once again, I ran to the library to check out “Love and War,” and sped through that as well (though there was such a vast divergence between book and movie, it’s not really fair to say the book inspired the movie.) 

Years later, I even brought myself to watch Book III, based on “Heaven and Hell,” though like most “North and South” devotees, I prefer to believe the story of the Mains and Hazards ended with Book II and them walking out of Mont Royal for a fresh start after the big house was burned to the ground by a band of ragtag renegades. 

Through the years, I’ve read numerous books after seeing them on TV (“The Wedding” by Dorothy West,” and basically any miniseries or TV movie from the 80’s.)  Honestly, were it not for seeing them on TV first, I might not have picked them up.  Not being big on historical fiction, I highly doubt I would have ever in a million years picked up “North and South,” had I not fallen in love with the miniseries first.

Thank you, TV.

In fact, I wonder how many readers discovered “Dexter Dreaming Darkly,” “A Song of Fire and Ice” and “The Southern Vampire Mysteries,” after seeing the television shows/movies they were based on.   

So, before writing off TV as a perpetual purveyor of crap, consider that it just might hold your next
book to be read.

By the way, below are my two favorite sequences from the entire 500 million hours of the “North and South” miniseries.  Despite all my opining to the contrary, I really am a sucker for romance.

Did I mention how hot Parker Stevenson is?








Sunday, March 10, 2013

Think You’re Just An Author? No…You’re The CEO

For the past few months, I’ve been working steadily to get my next suspense novel, “Sweet Little Lies,” ready for release; revising the manuscript based on feedback from my beta readers and critique partner, planning the cover art, writing “back of the book” blurbs and releasing sneak peeks.  Not to mention ongoing promotion for “Live and Let Die,” blogging regularly, updating my website, diving into the revisions for my next two releases, and toying with the outline for another manuscript idea. 

And yet, I still find time to watch copious amounts of Bravo.  Never let it be said I don’t have my priorities in order.    

As busy as I am and as hard as it is to be a one-woman band, I have to admit, I like having the control over my products, their price and promotion (remember that from “Jerry McGuire?”). 

As an indie author, I can decide what edits/revisions I want to make to my manuscripts, what I want to title my books (Joy Fielding, a New York Times bestselling author and my author crush, cause we all have one, doesn’t get a say over her book titles and in fact, doesn’t like a few of them) and what I want to price my books.  If I don’t like the direction my cover art is going in, I can change it. I can make the call on when my books are published.  It’s an incredible sense of freedom to be able to have the final say-so over my product.  The buck stops with me, but anyone who’s the CEO of their own company understands that.    

And indeed, I do think of myself as my own CEO.  I think a lot of authors get into the indie game with the idea that if they could just get a traditional publishing contract, it will solve everything.  Anyone who regularly reads J.A. Konrath’s blog or has read his ebook “A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing,” knows the work doesn’t stop just because you signed on the dotted line with a publisher.  In fact, it’s hardly a guarantee of mainstream success.  As Konrath has pointed out numerous times, he didn’t have the support of his publisher, so he did everything he could think of to bring eyeballs to his books, running himself ragged and going broke in the process.  Now that he’s the CEO of his brand and running it the way he wants to, he’s much happier and by his own accounts, has greater visibility and is more financially successful than ever.    

All authors, even those with the traditional publishing contracts, have to think of their publishing career like a business.  Joy Fielding pays for the design and maintenance of her website out of her own pocket (which, if you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend checking it out.  It’s gorgeous.)  James Patterson works seven days a week and constantly produces new product.  Nora Roberts made the inn she renovated in her hometown the backdrop of some of her books (driving book sales and inn reservations.  Smart and creative).

No matter what route you take along the path to publication, don’t fall into the trap of thinking it will be easy or that you can abdicate all responsibility for your career.  It will be a lot of missed Happy Hours, time away from family and long, bleary-eyed stretches in front of the computer.   But, in the end, when you get the success you want, however you define it, it will all be worth it because YOU stepped up to assume the CEO mantle.  

Write the best book you can, spend the money to hire professional cover artists, proofreaders and formatters.  And always, ALWAYS… keep writing.




Friday, March 1, 2013

Get "Live and Let Die" FREE on Smashwords!

Because February is behind us and Spring is almost here (the time when “a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love,” – except in my world when it all goes to hell J) I’m offering a coupon for a FREE copy of my suspense novel, “Live and Let Die,” (click here to find the book and redeem your coupon).
Just enter the coupon code TK46K (not case-sensitive) before checkout. Coupon expires on March 31, 2013.