Author Interview with Richard Flores

April 20, 2013 7:14 pm by MRM in epublishing, Interviews, Writing

Today, I’m doing an interview with Richard Flores, author of Dissolution of Peace and editor-in-chief of Plasma Frequency Magazine, as part of his Dissolution of Peace blog tour. I’ve known Richard for a while via the Hatrack River writers forum, and I think you’ll enjoy what he has to say. At the bottom, check out the cover and blurb for his excellent book. Thanks for stopping by, Richard!


When and why did you begin writing? I really began writing with serious intentions in 2003. That was when I wrote the original manuscript for Dissolution of Peace, though it had no title at the time. But it wasn’t until late 2010 that I really began to take getting published seriously. Why the sudden motivation? I’m not a hundred percent sure. But ever since writing in 2003, the idea of doing it called to me. I finally decided that I needed to do it. It was time I finally realized a dream after having several others not work out. 

What genre are you most comfortable writing? Science Fiction. This is what I read, this is what I love, and I think that’s why it is so comfortable for me. I’ve recently found myself enjoying a lot more Fantasy, so who knows maybe I should try my hand at it. After all stretching our comfort zone is what growth is all about.

What inspired you to write your first book? Dissolution of Peace, my first novel, is largely inspired from the space operas and military science fiction that has come before it. The idea came to me in a passing thought. What if we had peace on Earth? What if the money the world spends on war was turned to science? That sparked the idea. Then I took it to the next level. Would we be able to abandon our “warrior ways” and if not, how long could we really stay unified and at peace? The idea snow balled from that. 

What do you consider the most challenging about writing a novel, or about writing in general? The most challenging part is what those outside the writing world think is the easy part, coming up with an idea. People seem to think that everything that pops into their head is going to be the next novel. But taking that fleeting idea and growing it into a novel takes a lot of work. What keeps the reader turning pages? An idea is a spark. Just as a spark doesn’t warm a room, an idea doesn’t make a story.

Have you developed a specific writing style? If I have, I haven’t noticed. I’ve been told all my published works, the three short stories and this novel, are all very character driven. I enjoy my characters the most, so I can see why people see that. Perhaps that will become my writing style.

What is your greatest strength as a writer? My willingness to learn has to be it. I am always reading new articles, books, and posts on writing. I participate in writing groups and workshops. Growth is a necessary part of this industry and I love to learn more about it.

How did you come up with the title? Dissolution of Peace came to me after so much drama. The original title for the manuscript was “Serenity” after the main character. But, as the serious SciFi fans know, the movie of the same title took that. While the association with Firefly might have been good for sales, I didn’t want to make that false promise to the readers.

Instead the name didn’t come until the 11th hour. I was using random generators and other things just to see words. While reading this long list of titles to my wife, none of which worked for me, the idea of dissolution (dissolving) peace really fit what I thought it was about. So I pitched the idea of Dissolution of Peace to my wife and editor. Eventually that was the title I stuck with.

Can you tell us about your main character? This novel centers around three main characters:

Christina Serenity is the Captain of the E.S.S. Australia, an Earth Naval vessel that suddenly finds itself in the critical points between the possibility of war between Earth and Mars. Serenity is a smaller woman, but she has a command bearing. She is respected by her crew, but the Earth Navy sees her age more. She is the youngest commanding officer of any Earth Navy ship. Serenity is a career driven woman and now that she has the command of a ship, she is happy to keep it as long as possible.

Mike Carlson is a Corporal in the Earth Security Forces, the Earth’s global police force. He has been assigned to Protective Services, and protecting Captain Serenity, for some time now. He is a thin guy. He’s not particularly attractive or ugly. He is very committed to protecting Captain Serenity and does not plan to leave that assignment any time soon.

Janice Kanter is an officer in Earth Security Forces and she was just assigned to be Carlson’s partner. She doesn’t care much for Protective Services, she only took a specialty assignment so she could eventually promote and return to a patrol assignment. She isn’t happy to get a military assignment, because that means a year or more working in PS. She also doesn’t care much for shuttle flights. Overall she is bright, an excellent marksman, and very good in defensive tactics.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? Messages, to me, are something English teachers tell you an author meant so they can make homework assignments. I write my books with hopes to entertain and that readers will find their own special message in the novel. Novels should speak to each reader a little differently.

 

How important do you think villains are in a story? Villains come in varying degrees. You can have a very likable villain and a much hated villain and everything in between. I absolutely think every novel has to have a villain of some type in it.

What are your goals as a writer? I simply want to continue to produce novels and stories that people want to read. Eventually to a level that writing becomes all I do for a career.


 

When Earth Navy Captain Christina Serenity is brutally attacked by a traitor, her life is saved by Security Forces Corporal Michael Carlson. On the heels of her recovery, her ship is attacked by terrorists, and she is thrown into a difficult assignment. She must chase after the only clue they have, a Martian ship called the Phobos, and find out what secrets it hides. To make matters worse, someone still wants her dead.

Her ship, E.S.S. Australia embarks on a mission that leads Serenity on journey of discovery, friendship, betrayal, and revenge. She quickly learns the only thing harder to prevent than war, is love.

Now Serenity must trust her protection crew to keep her alive long enough to solve this puzzle while trying to prevent an interplanetary war.

The line has been drawn. Who will cross first?

Buy Now @ Amazon

Genre – Science Fiction

Rating – PG13 to R (Language)

More details about the author

Connect with Richard Flores IV on Facebook & Twitter 


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More #GUTGAA–with analysis this time

I have entered yet another pitch contest in #GUTGAA, this time the small press pitch contest. The only difference is that instead of agents being the ultimate judges (as in the agent pitch contest earlier), this time it’s small press… people. Editors? Talent scouts? I don’t actually know their titles. (But I’m sure they’re awesome. One of them has even voted for my entry so far!)

I decided to enter Blackout this time instead of City of Magi for a lot of the reasons I mentioned in earlier posts. Though I think City of Magi is my best work, Blackout is “pitchier.” I know I sound like a TV Singing show judge, but what I mean by that is that it’s an easier pitch to an agent. Blackout is Urban Fantasy with a religious mythological theme. It’s short (kind of—more on that later). It’s more modern, and it’s a lot more like stuff that’s getting a lot of press today.

Before I go further, I’d like to try and absolve myself: I don’t intend anything I say as an insult, though if you read it with the right voice in your head, it certainly can sound that way. You see, one thing this contest has taught me is that I understand very, very little about the modern female mass-lit consumer. And there are so, so many of them. I pitched Blackout in this contest because I specifically think it appeals more to women—not in its actual content (the female characters are much better developed and stronger overall in City of Magi), but in its pitch, and that’s largely because I hit all the checkboxes. Urban Fantsasy. Under a hundred thousand words. Protagonist is a mid-to-low income teacher. Part of the struggle is how the events of the plot affect his love life.

Now, my analysis here (pitch to women, because they’re the consumers) is not based simply on a hunch. In fact, I did a little compiling of the data. There were thirty-two entries in the adult literature category. One of them was a nonfiction analysis of humor essay that really didn’t fit in, so for the below data, consider that one as having been set aside. Hence, there were thirty-one entries.

Of those thirty-one, no fewer than 20 were what I would call (and again, not as an insult) “chick lit.” I mean this in the same vein as “chick flicks,” which, to my knowledge is not used in a derogatory manner except by people who hate romcoms. Chick flicks tend to do very well in the cinema, and I have no doubt (particularly now) that chick lit does just as well at the bookstore. I classified an entry as chick lit if it met one of the following categories:

  1. Its stated genre was “Romance,” “Romantic Comedy,” “Paranormal Romance,” or “Women’s Fiction” (and if you don’t want your book to be called chick lit, but you market it as women’s fiction… c’mon… really?)
  2. The first two sentences established the protagonist as a plucky, determined woman trying to right her life when everything gets complicated, and she has to deal with the sullen but handsome detective snooping around her… you get the picture. If it took me all of five seconds to say “Ahhh… this book is aimed at women,” then I lumped it in there. If I had any hesitation, I didn’t include it.

Of the entries mentioned, 12 were assigned to chick lit by their self-professed genres, and 8 were my own intuition. You’re welcome to do your own analysis (or try to guess which 8 that were not automatically assigned I thought were clearly for women) by seeing the whole list at Tara Tyler’s blog. Two thirds of the entries sounds a bit high for just chance. There’s a lot of it out there. By comparison, just 8 of the others were fantasy or urban fantasy, so if you add the three paranormal romances you’d be up to 11 out of 31 entries as fantasy. Six were mainstream or literary fiction (one of which I counted as chick lit), two were genuine hard science fiction, two were thrillers, and two were historical fiction. There is some double counting in there, so the numbers don’t add up to 31, but that gives you a sense of the breakdown. There’s some fantasy going on, but holy Mary mother of Jesus is there a metric ton of chick lit.

Now, I suspect some of this is just the nature of the contest I entered, the people who knew Deanna Barnhart (who I can’t thank enough for putting this together) or followed her blog, and in that way it may be skewed toward this audience. But I can’t help but wonder if it’s less skewed than it looks. Maybe that’s the shape of the modern reading market, and because I’m not a part of that audience, I didn’t know how significant it was.

Something else that really blew my mind was the length of the entries. Now, there was one monster at 240K, which is actually shorter than the non-split version of City of Magi, but if you throw out that entry and the essay, the average length of all entries was 82,456 words. That puts me on the long end with what I felt was my “short” book at approximately 99,000 words. Pouring through comments from the agent competition and the small press competition, there appears to be consensus that books should only ever be up to 90K or so in length. 100K was just excessive, and the absolute max publishable length (from one comment) was 150K.

I have to admit, this all leaves me speechless. I had researched this before, and I thought the target was 120K on submission (to hit something like 400 pages). This is particularly true given that the first thing any good editor is going to do is look for what she can cut out of the book. They want to trim the fat and they don’t do that by asking for longer descriptions. A 120K manuscript can easily become a 95K published book in the hands of a particularly vicious (and I mean that in a good way) editor. How long does a submitted 80K manuscript end up? I can’t imagine paying for a 70K book. I have literally never read a book that short, and I would assume something of that size was intended for a younger audience. Is this the face of chick lit? Am I missing the audience or am I looking at a completely different crowd from where I usually am, at least in fiction today?

In reverse order, the last books I have read are:

  1. The entire Game of Thrones series (these are all massive)
  2. The entire Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series (~600 pages each)
  3. The Hunger Games (~100K words, the rest of the series was a little shorter)
  4. Spell Bound by Kelley Armstrong (350ish pages, so approximately 100K)
  5. The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson (333 pages, so approximately 95K)

 

I never read books that are shorter than 90K, it would seem. It isn’t at all the case that I think you need that kind of length to be complete or to be interesting. I don’t doubt that great stories can be told in 50,000 words or less. I’m just stunned by the view that you can’t be longer than 90K if you want to get published as a first time author, or that books longer than 150K are “out of style” as one commenter in the agent contest mentioned. Out of style? Did people never pick up any of the Harry Potter books? The first Harry Potter was 77K, but the last four were all close to 200K, and I enjoyed them all. Is Game of Thrones (first book, 284K, and that was the shortest one) not the most popular work of fantasy in the world right now? If I go back further in my reading queue, you’ll find Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind (259,000) and A Wise Man’s Fear (399,000), both of which are insanely awesome and very long.

Again, I don’t think you need length, but I have a hard time seeing people get turned off by it.


UPDATE: With three out of four judges voting for Blackout, I moved on to the finalist round! Thanks to all the judges and congratulations to all the other finalists.


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Multithreaded Writing

October 10, 2011 12:59 pm by MRM in epublishing, serial, Writing

Ever since I published Bearers of Bad News, I’ve been trying to push myself into a multithreaded writing mode. What’s multithreading? It’s how we should think of multitasking. At least, it’s how computers think of them. Each processing core, that is. Multicore machines can do true multitasking, but old-school machines can’t, and it’s debatable whether or not humans can. We certainly can’t write more than one thing at a time, thanks to the two-handed nature of typing and our regrettable lack of a second pair of hands and eyes. For the most part, your computer can’t really do more than one thing at a time (even if it’s multicore – most programmers don’t take advantage of that). If you’re playing a game and something is animating while the game is deciding on something logical (like, did you hit that target?), then you’re seeing multithreading. What’s really happening is that the machine is quickly switching back and forth between drawing that animation and making that hit calculation. If you could read the processor’s mind, it would go something like this:

Paint the screen, paint the screen, paint the screen. Divide bullet speed by time. Add to distance. Paint the screen. Paint the screen. Is distance to target less than hit distance? Paint the screen. Yes. Check probability for hit. Paint the screen. Probability is 35%. Paint the screen. Get pseudorandom number. Paint the screen. Paint the screen. Number is 54. Paint the screen. Bullet missed. Paint the screen…

It’s never painting and calculating at the same time, but it looks like it to you because it switches back and forth so quickly. That’s the only thing computers are actually good at—doing simple things extremely quickly.

The relevance to writing is more the one-thing-at-a-time issue, when I really want to be doing multiple things at once. I want to blog. I want to tweet. I want to edit issue 3 of Those Who Die Young. I want to write Issue 4 of TWDY. I want to finalize my short story for submission to a couple of markets. More than all of these, I want to get moving on edits to City of Magi to ready it for queries.

There is absolutely no chance I can do all of these at the same time. I’ve determined that I can do minor edits even when I’m not in full writing mode, so I can banish that to evenings and lunchtimes and still make some progress on it. The biggest conflict here, though, is between TWDY and City of Magi. I love TWDY. It’s by far the most fun thing I’ve ever done in writing, and I love that people are actually buying the first two issues. I feel a duty to my readers to further the story.

That being said, City of Magi is my dream book. It’s a powerful story that is something I want out there in front of the masses, published in for-realsies paperback form and sitting on the shelves at your local Barnes and Noble. And it’s not going anywhere if I spend all my time on TWDY.

Hence, multithreading. I can’t write both at once, but perhaps they can develop in tandem. So I’m going to try something. Monday and Tuesday are for TWDY. Lear, Erica, Mede, Quinta, and Roland will plow forward in their quest to keep the peace and re-enable Lear’s entry to the Infinitum. On Wednesday and Thursday, I’m in for City of Magi. The Grey Ghost lives. Friday’s a toss-up. Whatever needs development gets attention. It may also have to do with my mood after my Friday workout, or how close to my self-imposed deadline for TWDY releases I am.

We’ll see how it goes. Hopefully it’ll look like I’m successfully writing two things at once. At worst, it’ll be an experiment I do away with and I’ll go to single-mindedly prepping City of Magi for a month or so before switching to TWDY-mode for a similar amount of time. It’s all in good fun.

 


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Math, Writing, and the Great Big Why

I’ve been putting in a lot of extra hours recently to get things together for the publication of Bearers of Bad News this Saturday, and in doing so I’ve had to think a lot about why I do what I do, and what I hope for it to become. I certainly didn’t start writing for the money. Protip to those thinking about going into writing for the money: you’re doing it wrong. For a more hilarious take on that, see the number one item on the list I link to just about every third post: Cracked’s How to Become An Author in 5 Incredibly Difficult Steps.

I did, however, have actual monetary goals when I decided to really put myself out there. Of course I want to be a mega-millionaire, but I also had a few concrete goals when I started publishing serial fiction. The number one goal was that publishing my works shouldn’t cost me money (My wife supports this goal). I’m not talking about time. I love writing; I’d do it for free – and in fact I am doing it for less than that right now. I have sales that I’m proud of, but they aren’t greater than the price of five covers (three for TWDY, two for Joyriders) and the cost of this site, this WordPress theme, and a handful of programs that I like to use as I write. I had also seen this post by Dean Wesley Smith on math and making money writing before. Suffice to say, the man doesn’t believe in selling your work for $0.99. I agreed with him, but only for full length novels. There is no way I’d sell City of Magi for a buck – but that took three years to write. Each issue of TWDY only takes about a month and a half… but… it’s really more than that.

TWDY has averaged about 35K words an issue, which is about a third of an average adult (non-YA) novel. I write something on the order of 1000 words an hour, usually one hour a day in the mornings. So that’s something like thirty hours of my time writing. It takes almost as long to edit it as it does to write, not to mention the crit input of several of my wise readers, the editor I’m trying out to save me time on the copy editing… and I think DWS might be on to something. Something that’s relevant even for me.

Re-reading DWS’s post made me really ask myself: do I believe in what I’m writing? Is it worth someone’s money, even a little bit? I absolutely believe that. But there’s another question – is the serial format worth more than a dollar? These aren’t short stories and they aren’t chapters of a book. They are individual issues, each with their own story belonging to a greater arc. I had to wonder if I would buy episodes of a television show I liked and couldn’t get for free on TV. I think I would – but I’d pay more for the hour-longs than I would for the half-hours. It just feels right. Well, TWDY is about 100 pages an “episode.” I’d pay probably two or three dollars for that.

Well, it just so happens that $2.99 is the magic price point at which all online retailers decide the author can have a big-boy cut of his sales. The magic range on almost all retailers is between $2.99 and $9.99. If you hit that, you can get something like 70% of sales. Outside that range, you get in the neighborhood of 35%. That makes the choice between two and three easy enough. Then comes the $64000 question. Would I buy it at three bucks?

My Xoom (and yes, I have a Xoom… I was an early adopter that got burned) isn’t overflowing with serial fiction, so I don’t have a guide to go by or any evidence as to what the answer to that question is. I believe the answer is yes. At a publication rate of one every month and a half to two months, three bucks a pop, quick (but not too quick) fiction, well-formatted and easy to read… I think so. The proof will be in the pudding, though, as I’m going to go out and do it.

As of September 24, Shelter From the Storm will be priced at $2.99, along with Bearers of Bad News (which hits the e-Stands that day). I will, however, be offering discount coupons for a limited time to get them to commenters on this page – provided everything works with Smashwords coupons. I love hearing from people reading the words I toss out there into the electronic ether on a regular basis, so if you’d like a coupon (and it’s before October 15), leave a comment and I’ll email you a coupon to pick up a copy of Shelter for the original price of $0.99.

I’m both excited and terrified about the change. This is the sound of me really believing in my work. I have evidence that it’s worth believing in, and I think you’ll feel the same way. Enjoy a brand new issue of Those Who Die Young this weekend. It might just blow your mind.

 

 

 

 


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Publication Week: I weep for my free time

If my experience last time is anything to judge by, this week is going to be both exciting and supremely frustrating. It’s Monday, and I’m determined to make front-page graphics for Bearers of Bad News to include with its brand new cover. The brand new cover is a lot like the old cover, but darker. I asked my artist to change up the background a little so they look less like chapters of one book and more like related issues. Because that is what they are (or what I am trying very hard to make them). The new issue is on schedule and should be live on Saturday, September 24th, as planned.

The site will get a few new graphics, the story will get one final, frantic edit, including a read-aloud, and then… on to the formatting. This time, Smashwords meatgrinder, I will conquer you. And I will continue to harp on how irritating it is that Smashwords doesn’t let you do a meatgrinder bypass if you already have nice software that converts your manuscript into whatever eReader format you want. It looks much prettier when I do it than when the meatgrinder does it, but them’s the rules.

My plan is to continue doing the Kindle/Smashwords split, publishing separately in each of them. My experience thus far is that my Kindle sales dwarf my Smashwords sales, but the convenience of being in all other formats is too much to give up (and I don’t want to exclude any readers who decided to buy a Nook, particularly since I think the Nook Simple Touch has a slightly nicer interface than any other device on the market at the moment (and it’s only $139). I do really like the Smashwords dashboard, and if Smashwords negotiates a better split than I currently get with Amazon I’ll merge the versions. As it is, the .mobi file you buy from Kindle is prettier than the one you can buy from Smashwords.

I also hope to have at least one more author interview up from the #writecampaign (which has been a fantastic experience – join it next year if you missed it this time), and maybe post a real blog post that builds upon my popular Death by Social Media entry from a few weeks ago.

Shameless self-promotion moment: Bearers of Bad News is incredible. I’m incredibly proud of the way it turned out. It’s a fantastic stand-alone issue… but… it’s better if you read Issue 1 – Shelter From the Storm first. They’re cheeaapp….

In all seriousness, I think they’re fantastic and I really hope you enjoy them. Donnerin and Ratio will be forever changed after Bearers, and it’s only getting more exciting.


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Progress Bars and Time Shares

The last few weeks have been hectic in a good way, and now that I’m settling in to getting Bearers of Bad News ready to roll, it’s time to take a breath and reflect. The good news – I intentionally picked a day over a month away from the first issue’s publication, despite having most of the second issue complete. I did this because I wanted the third issue complete first before doing final edits on Bearers of Bad News. It’s given me a chance to make sure I don’t break continuity and that things are still flowing. It also means I’m going to hit my deadline, or possibly get it up there even earlier. September 24 is the big day.

The other reason I’m glad I gave myself so much room for padding is that publicity and outreach has cranked up to 11, and I’m glad of it. The #writecampaign has been a lot of fun, but also a lot of work. My Klout has jumped since I joined, and as I wrote about earlier, that’s one of the things I now have to care about. I like Klout because it gives you a simple score-based analysis of your social media reach, and I suppose that appeals to the gamer in me. You can even “level up” and earn new titles. It omits Google Plus, which I find tolerable since G+ is so new, but it also omits WordPress (i.e. the reach of this blog). Seriously, Klout? WordPress has been around since the beginning of modern blogging. How do you omit that major a platform? It’s not that difficult to analyze, or at least not any more difficult than Blogger, which you do use.

Enough of an aside to the good people at Klout… I just couldn’t ignore it. In any case, I have one short story, one book, and three serial issues (2 & 3 of TWDY, and 1 of Joyriders) waiting to be unleashed upon the world, and that means a lot of work getting them presentable. I both love and hate that work, but I’m excited that a lot of my new work is going to be out there in the near future. I’ll be sure to keep everyone posted when I pick a release date for TWDY Issue 3 (I should have cover art soon).

In the meantime, I’ve got a lot of flash fiction to read from the #writecampaign challenge (see my entry here), and a few hundred thousand more social media errands to run. Part time writing… such a blast. In all seriousness, I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it, and sales have been picking up, so I’m excited about that. Thanks to everyone who has purchased the first issue of TWDY. Issue 2 is on its way and even more exciting than the first (which is no reason not to read the first issue). I’ll be doing a post about the Argumentum section soon.

Incidentally, among my other social media errands was lightening the text on this blog. The color went from #666 to #AAA – if you noticed it, let me know whether or not you like it.


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Death by Social Media : A Primer for Part-Time Writers

September 4, 2011 10:39 pm by MRM in epublishing, Writing

So, you’re a new writer, publishing a few short stories and a few pieces on Kindle, and you want to get noticed? Join the club; there’s thousands of us out here, and everyone is struggling to get that breakthrough piece, the one that actually lets people know who they are. I’m there too; if you’re reading this blog, I’ve taken another step down that road (that apparently goes through the boat. Hooray for mixed metaphors). It actually takes quite a bit just to put yourself out there, even with the strides made by ePublishing companies, eReaders, and eBookstores. I’ve written about that before. This isn’t an article about how to publish, but much more crucially, what to do next. And by next, I mean before. Before and after; it’s all crucial, and there are a million little steps to take. The sad truth is that unless you’ve taken one heck of a plunge and gone all-in on writing, you don’t have time to do them all. Incidentally, I don’t recommend “going all-in” unless you know someone or are simply the best writer on the planet, and I still don’t recommend it if you only qualify as the second of those. Yes, the quality of your writing is the most important thing to worry about, but if you wrote the world’s greatest book and published it in Kindle and Smashwords and that was all you did, you’d be lucky to make 100 sales in a year. Unless, of course, one of your sales was the right sale.

I’m certainly not an expert in this field. I have yet to make my break, but I have taken a lot of steps and seen some very positive results. Feel free to comment if you have things to add; this is a discussion, not a lecture from up above.

Without further ado, here is my checklist of items to nail down, and my thoughts on the value and importance of each.

1. The first sounds easy, and it is – if you don’t mind doing it badly. Start a blog. It sounds simple, and yet making it an effective blog isn’t. You need a lot more than just your daily or weekly musings, and God help you if you can’t post to it weekly or biweekly at least. Write, even from the very beginning, as if hundreds of people are reading. I can assure you they aren’t, but one day they might be. Every sentence you post out on the interwebs is one that people can use to judge the most important question that will determine sales of your book: Is this an author? If you have something published in any form, the technical answer to that question is yes. But there is more to that question than the technicality. People are constantly asking themselves whether or not your work is worth floating to the top of the pseudo-infinite flotsam that exists in the online market. Is this an author, or is this some jackass who figured out how to push the “publish” button on Kindle direct publishing? The sad fact is that a lot of people fall into that latter camp, and readers are rightfully wary of buying eBooks by people they’ve never heard of. It’s much easier to pick up a physical book because a reader can have faith that at least someone at a publishing house thought this was worth printing. They have no such assurances when browsing Smashwords. If you’re lucky enough to get them to your blog, then you have a chance to convince them that you are worth buying from. Consider that with every sentence you post – a potential reader might check your archives and pick out a post that has an interesting title.

So you have your blog, but what else goes there?

Do you have something purchasable? Can you post a link to it? Do you have other pages, on Goodreads, Facebook, a Twitter feed, etc (also covered below)? You need more than just hyperlinks on the side; you need widgets that show you actually use your various feeds, that attractively encourage people to follow you or check you out in as many ways as possible

With regards to your publications – you need a “portfolio” page. There are millions of WordPress themes that include portfolios, but most of them are geared towards artists and photographers. If you click on the Books link on my nav bar, you’ll find mine.

Lastly, you should always have an About the Author page, as well as a way to get in contact with you. Some of the trickier bits about WordPress that I’ve found my way around.

  1. Buy a nicely customizable theme. The free ones are out there and good, but nothing eases your mind like having the support of the theme writers, and hardly anybody who gives one away for free gives out tech support. Note: this is not just a suggestion for the tech-illiterate. I am a software engineer. That doesn’t mean I want to spend the time to write all the wicked cool PHP plugins myself; it just means I’m not scared of getting my hands dirty to edit the code. I have used the crap out of the tech support for my theme; they even answer generalized WordPress questions. It’s the best $40 I’ve ever spent. Don’t tell them, but for the support they really ought to charge more. (Incidentally, this theme is called Spicy, and I love it. None of the samples look anything like this, but I’ve modified it quite a bit and it works beautifully).
  2. Pick a portfolio theme that minimizes the emphasis on visuals. This is actually kind of hard to find, and it was one of the key reasons I picked Spicy. I want you to look at my covers, but really anything I do is going to be text-heavy.
  3. Load up on widgets, but be sure to pick compatible ones. You’ll want to allow comments, but the first time you add a hyperlink, you’re going to have dozens of spammers hit you. Add an authentication scheme. Widgets are your friend.
  4. Remember that readability is paramount. You want your text to be inviting and simple to look at. Avoid high-contrast color schemes and keep the width of your text under control; this site is actually a little wider than is advised. Long columns of text are easier to read than the same amount of text stretched across an HD screen. Also, light text on a dark background is easier on the eyes than the other way around, despite it being the opposite of how you’re used to reading physical texts. Sans serif fonts tend to work better on the web.
  5. On the topic of fonts – I don’t care how cool Estrangelo Edessa looks to you; for your actual web content, pick something that is loaded in all browsers and is easy to read. You have a choice between TNR (serif), Arial (sans), Lucida (sans), and Georgia (sans). Don’t get fancy with your fonts unless you’re a typographer and know what you’re doing (and most of them would adhere to the no-fancy-fonts rule themselves).
  6. Remember that more people access the web with phones these days than do using computers. Make sure your site is navigable via a suitably equipped smartphone.
  7. Test your site in at least four browsers, and one of those had better be mobile. There is no excuse for not doing this – browsers are free and it takes ten seconds to navigate to your site and verify that the links work. Longer if you have a slow 3G connection, but I wouldn’t bother buying extra phones just to check it out in Android, iPhone, and WP7.
  8. Minimize the graphics on your page. They’re cool to play around with, but they cause longer page load times and nobody is coming to see your wicked cool graphics anyway (unless you are writing books about graphic design).
  9. Have a blogroll. More about this later.
  10. Above all, do what you can to make it look professional. This site is your main billboard to convince a potential reader that you are for real. Using the blink tag and comic sans is not the way to do that.

 

2. The second big item is to reach out to the communities you already have in writing online. And if you aren’t an active member of an online writing community, what are you doing on here? Go find one that you like and get going. These people are valuable resources of crit swaps, honest advice, and learning experiences. They are also people with whom you can build relationships based on your love of writing and reach out when you reach that point where you start publishing. They are very much comprised of people who are now or used to be in your shoes. There’s no way for me to tell you which ones are the best; just start looking. I’m on Hatrack quite a bit, the Orson Scott Card-sponsored site, and I used to be active on the Kelly Armstrong forums. I can’t promise that either of those will work for you, but they’re both great (Kelly Armstrong’s forum software is a bit more technically savvy, but then again she was a web developer). If you have an author that you’re a big fan of, go to that author’s site and look around. He or she will probably have a link to a writing forum; by and large big-time writers are pretty cool people and are big on encouraging others. If your favorite writer doesn’t have a forum, pick your second favorite, and just go down the list. If all else fails, use the powers of Google. It’s not that hard.

When you do get on forums, don’t crit-bomb them, asking for people to read your stuff. It’s rude. Do crits of at least five people before asking for one back. Prove that you’re ready to contribute before you start asking for contributions. You’ll get pieces from people that are better than you, worse than you, and some people you don’t realize are secretly more talented than you ever knew and you just didn’t know how to see it because they don’t write the stories like you would have… if you see all of this, don’t be afraid. That’s how crit groups work. And if you read three stories in a row that you think have no potential, be kind, give advice, and keep going. If you read three stories in a row that sound massively better than anything you think you’ll ever be able to write, don’t be afraid. Give what advice you can, and keep going. Writers’ forums are the best way to start out in the online world, and I’d honestly be surprised if you found your way here without going through at least one of them first.

Most forums have a place to announce publications. Whether you do it the traditional way or go online and publish yourself, go ahead and announce it there. Don’t overdo it. Post your piece, thank the people that congratulate you, and don’t forget to check that board and congratulate others. People who have been critting your work as you were writing it might be excited to finally see it in print. It can be an important first source of sales.

3. The third big item is to engage in social media. To some, this feels like pulling teeth, but unless your name regularly graces newspapers and headlines across the country (whatever country), you need to do this. The easiest way to start is Twitter. Don’t pretend you haven’t heard of it; if you aren’t on Twitter, you might have been avoiding it for a very good reason. You might think of it as a place where celebrities tweet what they had for lunch and overly internet-addicted people tweet their “philosophies” in 140-character bursts. Twitter is absolutely both of those, but there is a side of it that doesn’t suck.

Twitter can be a rapid-fire customized news feed. Do you have blog authors that you follow? Most of them will tweet-announce new posts. I do. And I like knowing when artists and writers I enjoy, like Felicia Day, Wil Wheaton, Scott Lynch, Kelley Armstrong, or Brandon Sanderson post something new. I follow newscasters I respect and get timely updates on other things I care about as well. I’m as embarrassed about it as the next guy, but some people I follow just because their tweets are funny.

As for how you ought to use Twitter – that’s the subject of much debate. Announcing blog posts is obvious, but you need to do a little bit more than that. You’re essentially replicating the work of a good RSS feeder if that’s all you do. Tweet about what you’re working on. Tweet about what you like. If an author or artist puts out something that interests you, Retweet it (there’s a button for that) or put out a personalized tweet referencing it. It’s as easy as it sounds. I’ve been guilty of ignoring Twitter for too long at times, and I always regret it. You even have a little counter of how well you’re doing, and it’s in your number of followers.

Now, this isn’t like Facebook “friends” where the competition is to have the most. You don’t really win anything by having a lot of Twitter followers, and that’s certainly not the goal, but I do look at it as something going right if I start gaining a lot of Twitter followers. The fact is that every person who clicks to follow you is someone else that, however fleetingly, knows you exist. That person might, might, buy your book. And you can’t ignore that.

4. Facebook. Oh hell, Facebook is here. I have mixed feelings about “The Facebook,” and the utility of pages. You absolutely need to have one, and I went ahead and created it: my page exists. I’ve gotten a few “likes,” but I’m not sure how much I care about this one. A lot of people use Facebook as their only portal to the internet, and that’s not something that a smart writer ignores. I love to use Facebook in my personal life. I love being able to see pictures of my niece, my friends’ kids, places they’ve been, and generally to keep up with what’s going on with people that I don’t necessarily get to see every day. To me, that’s the point of Facebook. It absolutely, positively, is NOT a place where I browse businesses, despite the tendency of every damn store I go into these days asking me to “like” them on Facebook. Why does my local Kerr Drugs want me to like them on Facebook?!! I’ve always partitioned my zones of the internet. CNN, Slate, and NYT for news, Facebook for social stuff, Cracked, XKCD, and Fark for humor, and Wired, Engadget, and Gizmodo for tech stuff. It has never bothered me to look in different places for all of these things, and I mostly scoffed from the sidelines as I saw Google and Facebook trying to become the center of something that clearly needed no center – the internet.

I, however, am not my target audience. There is a whole world of people out there, and I want all of them to read my books. I can’t ignore this audience, and I will work with the Facebook-is-life crowd, even if I don’t quite understand them (and I consider myself well-versed in the ways of the series of tubes). The saving grace here is that you can hook up your blog to automatically post to your Facebook page. I can’t emphasize this enough – it’s a free secondary page! Your blog shows up on your Facebook page. Add your cover art, add a few “action shots,” and call it a day if you feel as I do about the Facebook. This is such simple publicity that you can’t ignore it.

5. Goodreads is a fantastic place to find out about new fiction. I used Goodreads as a reader before I ever messed around with setting up my author page. It’s a fun place to talk about books that you like, find out books that your friends like, and just enjoy thinking about what you want to read next. I was very social networking fatigued when I first set up my Goodreads page, but I did this one as a labor of love, rather than a labor of obligation (see: Facebook). And Goodreads was even kind about it. They have a tutorial about how to set up your page, and they even allow you to link your Kindle-published works directly to your page as a way for people checking out your page to purchase them. You can sell directly on there! It’s actually a fantastic service, and to top it all off they also let you automatically feed your blog there!  It’s like they went out of their way to make it as easy as possible to use a service that you already love. The only catch is that this is one that you can’t do until after your book is purchasable from at least one of the major online stores, and Kindle is the simplest. Most of the rest of these you really ought to be doing and have in place well before you put something out there, and Goodreads you can’t. I don’t really fault them for that; it’s just a fact of how they work. Author pages are for authors. You want to join the club, right? So get going.

6. The last item is to engage your community of fellow writers. It coincides with #2 above, but in this item I mean to specifically talk about interacting outside of the boards. Right now I’m involved in the Writers’ Platform-Building Campaign. I’m meeting new people, getting involved and reading more blogs and interacting with fellow artists. It’s a fantastic opportunity and a lot of fun. It’s also a lot of work, and it’s the exact sort of thing that you’ve got to do. Find events like this – they’re not as rare as you might think, and the only way you find out about this sort of thing is by engaging in all of the above steps. Meet fellow writers, engage with them on Twitter, Google Plus, Facebook, and forums. Participate actively, and do your best to be a virtual social butterfly. It absolutely is exhausting, but if you really want to get your work seen, it’s a necessary labor, and you might even find it fun once you get started.

There are dozens of other communities, Goodreads-like sites, and social services out there. I’m on Google plus, and I dig it thus far. I don’t consider it an essential step yet, though if you want to be tech-savvy, you should be there. I’d be an embarrassment as a software-engineer if I didn’t have a presence there. The key to all of these different sites is this: if you’re in, you’re in. Do not dip your toe into a service. Every place that you have a web presence is a place where people might see you and might be basing their decision on whether or not you’re a promising young amateur or a hack that likes to put his stuff in ePrint. The decision is that close; do I click the button and wave goodbye to a few of my dollars or navigate away and forget I ever heard of this guy? Nothing screams “hack” as loudly as a half-finished page.

This isn’t even half of what goes into launching yourself, and by no means am I the definitive expert. I know just enough not to trip over my own two feet. I approach every foray into the social media as a chance to get myself noticed, and that’s all I can do. Every person who hovers over a link for half a second is another person that might hover over the purchase button. Every sale boosts my rank on Amazon. And every increase in rank makes it that much easier for me to get my name out there. If you’ve read this far, and find my musings on writing interesting, then check out Those Who Die Young Issue 1 – Shelter From the Storm on Kindle or Smashwords. After all, this is my blog, and I brought you here to check out my writing.    

 


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Adventures in Serial Fiction

June 10, 2011 9:53 pm by MRM in epublishing, serial

Starting a serial fiction work has been a devilish adventure in absolutely none of the ways that I thought it would be. The part I was most worried about – making the actual writing work in the episodic format – was the most natural part of the process. I fretted to no end as I was writing the first two issues of Those Who Die Young that the pacing would feel off, or that it would just feel like a cut up book with no beginning and end to each issue. Much to my surprise, it just seemed to flow. Part of this is no doubt due to the fact that I’ve had this idea kicking around in the back of my head for a long time, so it exploded out of the gate as soon as I put the first words on the electronic page, but the rest just came from the story feeling fit for the category. Formatting for epublishing ended up being (mostly) a non-issue as well, thanks to my decision to go whole hog and just buy full-featured writing software, Scrivener from the good people at Literature and Latte. A few clicks and a little experimentation are all it takes to get decent-looking epub and mobi files (and if you’re paying someone else for that privilege, you’re getting hosed).

Deciding on a length was easy as well – it mostly just happened as I wrote. Twenty-five thousand words (approximately one hundred pages) ended up being the sweet spot to get a full story in that could entertain on its own, yet still feel like it was connected to the issues before and after in the sequence.

No, the difficulties were in two areas I really didn’t see as roadblocks going forward: Latin and Nomenclature. Latin seems obvious in hindsight, but as I excitedly rushed forward with my drafts, I never thought it would be a big deal. A large part of the story in TWDY has to do with the traditions, lives, and mysteries of people living in a city called Ratio. It’s a fantasy story, and the wizards of the world live there, speaking an isolated language that I modeled off of Latin. The protagonist, however, is not from Ratio, so when she hears spoken “Rational,” it sounds like gibberish. The language of her people (Feccish) is loosely derived from the much older language of Ratio, much as English is from Latin, and so I thought I may as well use Latin than try and go full Tolkein and invent my own language. Now, I’m not so foolhardy as to have long stretches of text in a foreign language in my English-language fiction, nor would I dare use it in big heaps given that I never studied the language myself. In the first two hundred pages of TWDY, there are exactly three sentences, each of which is (quite coincidentally) three words in length. Surely Google translate would be sufficient to get fine translations for such a small amount of short text, I thought.

Long story short (too late)… just… no. Don’t do that. Don’t ever do that. It took about two hours with the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Learning Latin to realize how horrible my first two three-word sentences were. Alas, the googleplex failed me, but I wasn’t about to panic. I spent nine damn years in colleges of one kind or another, and friends of mine study all sorts of useless things. If you ever want to hear an astounding assortment of utterly useless but highly esoteric crap, play a few hours of poker with a bunch of math grad students. On top of that, I’m a member of a couple of online writing communities that I post to regularly. Surely someone, somewhere would have both the means and the time to assist me. Surprisingly, this was not so. I’ll have to earn my Latin, and I’ll have to sweat every letter of it.

Like I said, I never planned to use it extensively – it would annoy readers to death. Just the same, a real language is one of those things you don’t want to mess up. You will piss someone off if you get the details too far wrong, just as it’s always dangerous to write anything that involves horses, guns, sailing, or computers without knowing anything about them. Idiot’s Guide and abbreviated history of Rome in hand, then, I marched on.

The second unexpected gotcha of publishing serial fiction has been nomenclature. What do I call the issues? Are they issues? Episodes? Novellas? Issues sound like things for my psychiatrist, stories sound like I should be reading them to my niece around a campfire, episodes are of Seinfeld, and novellas should be self-contained. My serials are none of these. I settled on calling them issues on the covers of the individual (purchasable) things, and books or series otherwise, the reason being that the most appropriate parallel I could draw between what I was writing and something that actually exists was comics. You know, except for the part where there are comics in them. I’m honestly still not sold on that particular issue, but we’ll see how my opinion changes as P-Day (publish) gets closer and closer.

Issues and all, it has been tremendously rewarding to put TWDY to electronic paper and prepare to put it out there in the world. I love doing something that just isn’t out there. Having a unique format may destine my stories for the digital dustbin, but it has been fun to do nonetheless. I hope they are as much of a joy to read as they were to write.


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