Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Work in Progress (WIP) Blog Tour

Writing is often a solitary endeavor, but I truly appreciate when an opportunity to work with a fellow author comes along.  I recently received an invitation from highly successful and talented paranormal sci-fi author Kim Cormack to join the Work In Progress (WIP) Blog Tour.  Kim recently released Sweet Sleep:The Children of Ankh Book 1 (Volume 1) and is steadfastly at work on Volume 2.  Here's a link to her blog:  kimcormack.blogspot.com.

Rules for the WIP Blog Tour are as follows:
1) Provide the link back to the post by the person who nominated you (see above).
2) Write a little about and give the first sentences of the first three chapters of your current WIP
3) Nominate a few other writers to do the same

My current WIP is the yet-to-be titled follow-up to my award-winning debut young adult science fiction novel, Spartanica, where middle school brothers Ty and Marcus Mitchell battle to get back to Earth after being unexpectedly pulled through an inter-dimensional gateway to a parallel world defined by planet-wide apocalypse.  In their quest to escape, the brothers uncover many of Spartanica's hidden secrets, and fall prey to its predators and betrayal.  Did they ever make it back?  These hints from book 2 may offer clues:

Chapter 1 (Ty speaking): 
My name is Ty Mitch—. Scratch that. Deep breath. Ok. Actually, to say it the right way, the Spartanica way, I am called . . . Tymaeus of the Order of Bellator. Yeah, I know. Weird, huh? Believe me, you don’t know the half of it.

Chapter 2 (Bellana speaking): 
“So you guys were just going to leave?” Yra blurted in disbelief and anger. “After all we’ve been through? I thought we were a team! I mean, what were the rest of us supposed to do? Just hang out around here forever?”

After watching Ty vanish through the “gateway” (as Marcus called it) in the remote studium outside the city, the rest of us piled into the water transport and rumbled our way back to the armory in Spartanica. Marcus opened up the tunnel and we all clambered down. The Atlantean girls helped me down to the level 4 medica and patched up my shoulder, after which we caught up to the boys in the level three dining module. We were all exhausted after our collective near-death experience with the Desrata, but hunger and questions surrounding Ty’s dramatic disappearance were keeping us all awake.

Chapter 3 (Ty speaking): 
“Get up,” Kinnard ordered. “You’re coming with me.”

While this was the first time I’d been with Kinnard in-person since he and the others headed for the Desrata settlement to rescue Bellana, I’d seen him once since then, in a projection through the eyes of some guy he kept calling ‘my Nobilis.’

Projection was the one Guelphic Varkis power I’d inherited. While Marcus and Bellana got the speed and strength, the only thing I could do was see and hear everything this Nobilis guy saw and heard for short, random periods of time.


Authors I've nominated for the WIP Blog Tour:

Monday, September 8, 2014

"He Wants You Too, Malachai . . . . "

Went to Richardson "World's Largest" Corn Maze in Spring Grove, IL this past weekend. Absolutely huge and very well-defined corn maze (visible in background of attached pic.)

Walking amongst the rows, I swear I heard a voice somewhere say:

"He wants you too, Malachai. He wants you too!" 

Be the first to:
1)  Identify the movie from which that quote came,
2)  Follow my Facebook fan page, and
3)  Follow me on Twitter

and win a signed copy of Spartanica. 


First Time Self-Publisher - Things I Wish I Would Have Known!

While writing my debut YA sci-fi adventure novel, Spartanica, I fully planned to go the traditional publishing route.  I even had a two-pronged strategy all mapped out:  

  1. First, I would submit to a big six publisher that worked directly with authors. I identified one with an imprint geared to my genre.
  2. If that didn't work, I'd submit to a literary agent I had identified with a particular interest in YA sci-fi.

As the authoring phase of Spartanica neared conclusion, I started reading more and more horror stories about working with agents and publishers, especially as a first-timer bringing nothing to the table other than a big smile and a manuscript.  Numerous articles and subsequent comments reinforced that, even if I landed a publishing deal, I might have to wait six months or more to see my book in print. Assuming that happened, the publishing house would have no real motive to put any resources behind promoting my product. Most of that was going to have to come from me.  This revelation together with the realization that I would only make 10% - 15% on each sale sealed the deal.  It'd be lot more work, but I was going the indie route.  If Spartanica didn't take off, at least I knew it wouldn't be because of lack of effort and attention.

Like any profession, publishing has a number of subtle knowledge bits only gained through experience  I expected my first pass through the process to include a few of these, and wasn't disappointed. For instance: 

Book Stores & Wholesale Returns Policies:
I mentioned this in my previous article. As an indie publisher, make sure your chosen distribution service accepts book returns from retail outlets. Most brick and mortars, especially independent stores, require this. A distribution service without a wholesale returns program is dead to the independents, and so is your book. 

Pre-Publishing Literary Awards:
I anticipated having to do the following with my book:

  1. Publish and make it widely available in ebook and paperback format,
  2. Get reviews, especially on the big hitters like Amazon and B&N, and 
  3. Win some literary awards. 

I've been fortunate enough enough to achieve all three. What I didn't know, and what likely hurt future sales, was that a number of the most prestigious awards required access to your manuscript up to four months PRIOR to publishing.  One main reason I went Indie was to get my beta-tested, copy-edited, spit and polished title to market in a timely fashion. Only after publishing did I realize I'd missed my shot.  The concept of sending my pre-published manuscript out for awards consideration never even registered.

Working with Illustrators is Challenging & Time Consuming
Given Spartanica is targeted at young adult sci-fi readers, the imagery around the characters, beasts, and locations had to be vibrant, engaging, and outright fun.  My beta readers helped me get there in the story, but I knew Spartanica-based graphics would only help.

I ended up using a combination of local and remote resources. The process was a hassle as each illustrator always had a bevy of other things to do.  What struck me most was their general inability to draw, even conceptually, from the descriptions in my book.  They simply could not do the translation. I finally figured out that if I wanted to avoid hours of repetitive discussion and rework, I needed to supply example images for the illustrator to start with.  They had a much easier time drawing my illustrations when they could start with something visual.  It meant a lot more time for me, but ultimately worked out.  See my Pinterest account for numerous examples of the resulting illustrations.

I was disappointed with the average author commissions I'd read about with traditional publishing, however, the self-publishing route hasn't been an improvement.  I'm sure this can change as a novel becomes more popular and the ebook price can be raised.  I've had the Spartanica ebook listed at $2.99 with specials at $.99. The paperback on Amazon sells for a little over $10.  Via CreateSpace and Lightning Source, I take home the usual 10% - 15%, which is comparable to traditional commissions. I take a much bigger slice of the ebook, but the retail price is so low that my piece is about the same as a paperback sale. Hence, while traditional commission weren't impressive, I haven't seen self-publishing do much better.

Would Traditional Publishing Have Been A Smarter Decision?
Knowing what I know now, I would still have self-published Spartanica.  As a completely unknown, first-time author, I believe landing a publishing deal would have been difficult and time consuming, and may never have happened.

For my next book, however, I definitely want to try the traditional route.  Now, I have a published book with a thirty-review, four-and-a-half star Amazon rating and a terrific Kirkus review. I have a website, Facebook fan page, Twitter page, etc.  In short, I have some presence and following that can hopefully lend themselves to presenting a marketable image for a traditional deal.

Why the interest in going traditional?  Access to my target market.  I've had real challenges reaching young adults en-masse. Those that I've met that have read Spartanica LOVE IT! My kids come home from school or activities each week and tell me their friends are pounding the table for book two. Based on all the feedback I've received, I'm very confident the story is a winner, yet cracking the broader market has been elusive.  I need help there, and I'm hoping the traditional route can provide the needed guidance and exposure.

I'd appreciate any feedback from other author, literary agents or publishers.

Your friend in most excellent sci-fi,


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Paperback Self-Publishing - CreateSpace vs. Lightning Source

When self-publishing a book, you personally handle everything from authoring to cover design and social media. It's a tremendous amount of work, but I purposefully self-published Spartanica for two reasons:

  1. I'd read the recurrent horror stories about authors (especially first-timers) going the traditional route only to wait six or more months for their books to make it into print. Even after that, indie authors were often unimpressed with post-published marketing and support.
  2. I wanted to learn the ins and outs of the process and the industry.

As Spartanica neared completion, I did extensive research regarding where to publish the paperback. The following features were important: 

  • Cost: I didn't mind spending what I needed to get the book published, but any anything not spent on publishing could be fed later into marketing.
  • Distribution: Online availability was key. The paperback version of Spartanica, a young adult science fiction novel, needed to at least be on Amazon.com and be easily available for libraries and independent bookstores to purchase. For broader distribution, I'd rely on the ebook version on major outlets like Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Sony Books, iBooks, etc.
  • Publishing Tools:  Being a first-timer, I needed a well-prepared landing path to the runway. I'm pretty savvy with MS Office tools and worked with illustrators on the cover, but I needed tools (preferably free) to enable me to take Spartanica from manuscript to publishable book form.
  • Guidance: What's the best size to publish the paperback? Is any one font or font size better than the other?  Little questions like this come up, and having experienced feedback for them can be a time saver.
  • Simplicity:  I'm a big believer in keeping things clear and simple. If your application takes me through the process is a logical, straightforward manner, I'm likely to use you.

I initially checked into several "self-publishing assistance" websites that charged $3,000 - $5,000 to do the heavy lifting. Online reviews of these sites had the usual bevy of lovers and haters, but I decided to look further for a lower-cost option.  I ultimately found two inexpensive, completely DIY sites: CreateSpace and Lightning Source.

CreateSpace (CS)
CreateSpace.com is owned Amazon, and that relationship has huge benefits associated with it. For instance, once a submission is fully reviewed and accepted by CS, the novel becomes available via Amazon in the US, UK, EU, Australia, and several other countries within just a few days. That was exciting!

CS also provided an extensive list of interior and cover templates that can be used to get your manuscript into an acceptable format, which was key. Once my interior and cover files were ready, I submitted them to the Digital Proofer and could view every page of the book as it would be printed. The Proofer also provided error messages if any content elements exceeded the allowable margins, for example. I found the Proofer to be very accurate, which saved a ton of time and money when compared to ordering proofs to be delivered via USPS.

From a distribution standpoint, CS offered "Standard" and "Expanded" options. Standard essentially got your novel onto Amazon.com and the CS book sales site, which I'd never heard of before. Expanded was supposed to open channels to libraries, universities and other retailers such as independent bookstores. Sounds great, but there's a very subtle catch that I didn't know about until well after I'd published. The thousands of local bookstores nationwide almost always require an option to return any books they stock to the publisher.  While CS touted a distribution channel to indies, they offered NO returns policy, which was like having a car with no tires... you're not going anywhere.

Lightning Source (LSI)
LightningSource.com is owned by Ingram Content Group. Over the previous year, Ingram started a different service called IngramSpark, with which I'm not acquainted. Their website states that IngramSpark is meant for small independent while LSI is for medium to large publishers. As part of my discovery process for Spartanica, I'd setup an LSI account. When I later tried to setup an IngramSpartk account, a message on the site said I couldn't because I was already registered at LSI.

When I first looked into LSI and CreateSpace, I went with CS, primarily because their user interface was much more intuitive and easy to understand. I found the LSI site to be stark and challenging to navigate. It was obvious that  a lot of thought to guide authors had gone into the CS site. My impression from LSI was that they assumed I knew what I was doing, which I didn't. Maybe that's why they created IngramSpark, but I don't know.  LSI also had more fees, especially for any post-publishing changes (primarily proofreading-related).  With CS, I made the change, uploaded the document, and published it without cost. The only downside was that my paperback version became unavailable for sale on Amazon for 2-5 days each time I did this.

So, CreateSpace Then?
Having selected CS, I published and was off to the races. I didn't initially do anything via LSI, until a few weeks later when I learned about independent bookstores requiring a returns policy. Even with CS' Expanded Distribution, no indies would look at Spartanica.

Enter LSI, which had a couple options re: how to handle returns, depending on the country.  The Ingram distribution network also had a long history of serving libraries, which couldn't hurt.

I ended up creating another file formatted to LSI standards and publishing through them, as well. It took more time and cost more but at least I knew an important distribution channel was open.

There were additional considerations when comparing the CS and LSI such as the granting of ISBN numbers, etc., but my recommendation for independent authors is to definitely publish through CS.  Assuming you have the MS Word skills and ability to somehow get a cover made, CS gets your paperback immediately onto Amazon in several countries for the lowest price I could find anywhere.  If making your novel available to other retail outlets is important, you'll want to consider LSI (or maybe IngramSpark) as well, to ensure your paperback doesn't get ignored because it can't be returned.

First-time self publishing is full of questions and land mines. Hope this was helpful in getting you where you want to be.

Your friend in most excellent sci-fi,


P.S. - This was based on my experience 9 months or so ago. Please visit each site to get the latest regarding offerings.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

New Spartanica Pinterest Page

Check out our new Spartanica Pinterest page. I spent quite a bit of time working with illustrators to create these. Hope you like them!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Petras - The City Built Into Rock

A big part of the fun in Spartanica is exploring all the terrific places on the planet of Sapertys. I mostly made them all up from scratch, but one place that I took from reality here on Earth is the city of Petras. Ty and Nekitys ended up there while searching for Professor Otherblood while the other survivors went off to the Desrata settlement to rescue Bellana. Ty described Petras as follows:

"The cliffs around us extended hundreds of feet into the sky, blocking out most sunlight so that we were walking in shadows. Every sound echoed in all directions. After a minute or so, our pathway opened to a big, clear circular space, also bordered all around by high cliff faces.
While the landscape alone was awe-inspiring, the buildings were unlike anything I’d ever seen. They looked like Greek and Roman architecture with oversized pillars and decorative elevations except, and this was a big except, they were carved right into the sheer stone cliffs at ground level. Imagine the White House or Capitol Building or even the Acropolis carved into the side of a mountain."

The abandoned city of Petras in Spartanica is based directly on the actual lost city of Petra in southern Jordan. I'd read about it years ago and was entranced by what its inhabitants had somehow done. Most of the city is literally cut into the rose colored stone (hence the nickname "Rose City").  

According to Wikipedia, "...writers identify Petra as the capital of the Nabataeans and the center of their caravan trade. Enclosed by towering rocks and watered by a perennial stream, Petra not only possessed the advantages of a fortress, but controlled the main commercial routes which passed through it to Gaza in the west, to Bosra and Damascus in the north, to Aqaba and Leuce Come on the Red Sea, and across the desert to the Persian Gulf."

While I generally prefer to create other worlds using my imagination, there is the occasional exception. Petra is a truly amazing, man-made wonder of this world that I couldn't easily have improved upon. The astonishment you hear in Ty's voice above as he describes is truly mine. I truly hope to visit there one day.


22 Lessons From Stephen King On How To Be A Great Writer

If you're an author or thinking about being an author, the article at this link is a must read! 

22 Lessons From Stephen King On How To Be A Great Writer