Resources for Readers

DaVinciWhat to read? When I was young (a very long time ago) my mother took my sisters and me to visit the public library every week. This was “free” entertainment, and as we were fairly poor, it was a great deal. However, there was that day when I’d read everything of interest to me in the children’s and young readers category. Again, this was a long time ago, when “young adult” publications were not a big category. I remember her guiding me over to the adult fiction section (meaning not for kids, but nothing racy—it was a public library) and she suggested some titles. My first reads from that section were what mom would term “mysteries” although romantic suspense would be closer to the genre of that time. The authors were Phyllis A. Whitney and Mary Stewart, although I can’t remember the titles. So began my transition into reading for pleasure, an activity that is still a big part of my life.

Mom has been gone for a long time, as she had cancer and died before she should have, but there are plenty of other places to find recommendations for reading. I do belong to way too many Facebook Groups, and most of those have advertising that I largely ignore. For a time, Amazon was my favorite place to find books, and while it is a source for content, the weirdo reviews have made it less and less reliable for recommendations. Also, big A encourages authors to buy ads, making it even less relevant. If you are lonely and want to be inundated by promotional emails, there are lots of sites that promote books via that route, but by and large that content comes from paid ads, so it’s not reliable either. I read a lot of eBooks these days, and my public library has a few thousand titles, but I’ve noticed that far too many of them are “reprints” wherein established authors are giving their backlist titles new life, and I have either read those books are wasn’t interested the first time. So, what to do?

There are some solutions. First, check out Goodreads. It’s now owned by Amazon, but it seems to work quasi-independently from big A, so the reviews are more often by serious readers. Authors can have a “page” on Goodreads, too, which can be helpful. If you like a certain genre, typically there are blogs that feature books of interest. As a lover of science fiction romance, I like this blog: SFR Brigade. Some authors maintain a blog or a Facebook group, so check on a favorite writer’s web presence. Often writers will mention fellow writers or their own favorite reads. I’ve really enjoyed Susan Grant’s books and her blog, Come Fly with Me (now found via her website).

In addition to big A, readers sometimes leave reviews on traditional bookstore sites such as Barnes and Noble and Books a Million. As these sites primarily serve readers, the reviews tend to be written more literate customers. There may be fewer reviews, but I believe they are more reliable.

Also, if you know others who like to read, try forming a book club. My sister belongs to such a club, and members propose which books to read. She’s given me some suggestions of books that were well-received by her group, such as my current read: DaVinci, by Walter Issacs. It’s fascinating, and I would never have chosen it without the recommendation of that group over in Richmond, Virginia.

 

 

Resources for writers

Book Covers SFOver my almost two decades of writing and (occasionally) publishing, I’ve learned some stuff. Lots of stuff, actually. Some of what I learned (such as a great place to buy a box for a manuscript) is out of date. However, there are some resources that budding writers should utilize that are still quite relevant, so here goes—

While a novel (or a short story or screen play) is still in the drafting stage, consider getting editorial help. Informally, there are many writer’s groups which offer support and critiques. If you live close enough, consider that as a first source of assistance and career development. I was once privileged to judge a short fiction contest held by the Northeast Georgia Writer’s Group, and all of the entries were quite worthy. The group is active, with contests and guest speakers. Many libraries sponsor such groups. There’s a great list of writer’s groups in Georgia at ReadersUnbound.com.

Depending on genre, there just may be a writer’s conference waiting for you. Such conferences usually feature guest speakers, workshops, and opportunities to meet with literary agents, who are the typical conduits between writers and publishers. I was fortunate to attend a few in nearby Athens (at the UGA campus) which was sponsored by the Mystery Writers of America, but there are a number of conferences, either general or targeting specific types of writing.

When the work is more or less complete, if there is no conventional publisher in the picture paying for it, an author seeking to self-publish or polish a manuscript for possible submission should really consider a paid editor. The Writer’s Digest magazine folks have an entire “store” devoted to such services. When I was working on my first novel, a publisher recommended that I go through a course with Writer’s Digest, and the experience taught me quite a lot about the value of editorial assistance.

Whether self-publishing a novel or developing a website and/or a social media publicity campaign, hiring a professional graphic artist is really important. For a web only publication, such as Kindle Direct, I might try the do it yourself method, but even then, it is good to use a site such as Canva.com. However, if there is any serious money going into the project, such as self-publishing in print or multiple platforms, then a cover artist is very helpful. Both The Gift Horse and the second edition of Trinity on Tylos have covers designed by an independent artist. There’s a list of cover artists over at The Creative Penn. By the way, I’d steer clear of Fiver. I tried that, and got nothing, not even a refund for my initial payment.

Once a book is in print or available as an eBook, most writers will want to help with marketing. This can be rather daunting for many writers. The publisher of The Gift Horse (Booklocker) has a companion site, Writer’s Weekly, which has some links to paying markets for shorter works, as well as articles about writing and marketing.

There are a lot of companies that offer “services” to authors. Be very careful to choose wisely, or money that should have been spent on editing and cover design will be frittered away on something else. While some of these resources have costs, others are cheap or even free. Regardless of how much money you spend, for a novelist the two most important resources are editing and cover design—in that order.

 

So you want to be a successful author—

book and moneyWhile I am pretty sure I don’t qualify as successful in the author department, I made enough mistakes to write (or rant) about the topic. Here are some tips, in no certain order, for those who are writing with the intent to publish a book, or for those who have published but are lacking in sales.

First, write the best book you possibly can. Yes, that should go without saying, but writing is like photography or cooking in that no matter how good you have done it, you can get better. There is no such thing as perfect in any of those endeavors. However, don’t publish unless it is really ready. Mistakes in print are embarrassing!

Next, find a real publisher if you can. Not necessarily one of the big companies (although if that happens for you, whoo hoo!) There are a lot of small and micro presses that can get a book into print and into at least some distribution channels, which leaves more time for the author to help with promotional activities and keep writing. A small company, Whiskey Creek Press, published my second novel, and while my sales were low, any money I spent on promotion was voluntary. My debut novel was initially accepted by a micro press, but when it failed, I ended up using a self-publisher called Booklocker.

Third, if you end up self-publishing, do so at minimal cost. Many authors have published via the Amazon Kindle Direct program, which is free. Yep, that’s right, free. I published the second edition of Trinity on Tylos via KDP, and my only expense was a fancy new cover by Dawn Seewer (which was entirely optional.) I disliked the first cover, which was done by an artist at Whiskey Creek Press, and I thought the book deserved a better effort, and Dawn did a great job for me. Another self publishing program that I am considering is Smashwords, which offers many free services. For most self published authors, the distribution channels associated with Smashwords are fantastic.

Fourth, once the book is ready to debut, get the marketing plan in motion. There are lots of books on this topic, as well as a gazillion websites. I’ve had some success with using Facebook groups, such as Ebook Rave, Kindle Book Authors, and Sci Fi and Fantasy Authors . Those have worked well in conjunction with sales and freebie promos, but bear in mind that I have low cost Kindle titles. Under “links of interest” on this site I have a few other spots that I’ve used for promotion, including “Book Goodies” and “Goodreads.” Having an author page on such sites is not necessary, of course, but doing so usually offers links for anyone who “googles” your author name.

Finally, the most important pillar in promotion is reviews, and lots of them.  If friends and family will write a review on a vendor site, such as Amazon or Barnes and Noble, that’s great, but most of us don’t have that many friends. Also, such reviews don’t carry as much cashé as a professional or semi-professional site. Do send your books to as many of those as you can find and afford. Don’t ever pay for a review, beyond giving a copy of the book. Paying for reviews is wrong on both sides of the equation. If the author pays for a review, then there’s a bias that makes the review worthless for the reader. Unless the book is an eBook only, then there is some expense in distribution of the ARC (that’s advanced reading copy) or published book, so it is best to send the book(s) to appropriate sites, because some sites only review certain genres. There are any number of review sites, and these do come and go fairly frequently. My first novel, The Gift Horse, had several reviews online within a year or two of publication, but apart from those on Amazon and one archived on The Midwest Book Review, they are gone! Therefore, if you get an online review, don’t just save the link, but archive the content, too!

When I first published The Gift Horse, I was invited to do some speeches to local clubs, and I sold a few books via that avenue, but as publishing and self-publishing became more common place, those opportunities dried up faster than blackberries in late August. I also got a book signing at a book store after Trinity on Tylos came out, but it was a very lonely afternoon. If those opportunities come your way, enjoy them, but books and eBooks must be purchased via online vendors in order to make any real money, and that means social media marketing. If you are here, clearly you know what a blog is, of course, and having an author website is usually a good idea. Marketing is an ever changing field, but as of this post, you must get to know Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and other modern means of communication in order to build an audience for your books.

Oh, and as footnote to “finally” when readers like a book, they usually look for another book by the same author, so you’d best be writing another book, too.


A few books on marketing:

How to Market a Book

Guerrilla Marketing for Writers

The Frugal Book Promoter

Book Marketing 411 for Authors

And a couple on having a book worth the effort:

Don’t Sabotage Your Submission

Writing the Breakout Novel

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher— brief review and commentary

DiaristI’ve met a few people who have never seen Star Wars or any of its prequels and sequels. Weird, huh? For me, when it premiered in 1977, it was the best science fiction film I’d ever seen, and to this day, it ranks among my favorites. The characters leapt off the screen and into the pop culture of the United States. Even those unfortunate folk who mistakenly believe the film has nothing for them are probably familiar with some of its tag lines, such as, “May the Force be with you.” Literary critics sometimes opine that writers can tap into themes that go far beyond what they, as writers, envisioned, and I do believe that George Lucas managed that with Star Wars. Much has been published about his source material, from Saturday morning serials to Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces. Yes, the film has some flaws, but it gets a lot of things right, including setting, plot, and especially character. Casting a young Harrison Ford as the scoundrel Han Solo was a great choice, as was Sir Alec Guinness as Obi-wan Kenobi, and Mark Hamill certainly looks the part of a young man on a heroic quest. Perhaps the most controversial choice would be casting the very young Carrie Fisher as a princess, but who else could have blended innocence, sass, and strength the way Fisher did?

For some forty years, Fisher was both herself and Princess Leia. Video of interviews and even stage performances document how much the role influenced her career and her life. But, Fisher was also an able writer; indeed, she wrote multiple books and was often called upon to assist screen writers as a “script doctor.” Her last book, published shortly after her death, is a witty and poignant recollection of the filming of Star Wars, a three month interval that she documented via journaling.

The Princess Diarest includes both journal entries and some poetry, mostly about Fisher’s affair with co-star Harrison Ford. The framework, that is her introduction and conclusion, are far more interesting to me, as they benefit from the wisdom and perspective of those forty years after the filming of Star Wars. While the diary entries can be interesting, mostly they reflect the infatuation of youth. The framework, however, was fascinating, just like the author.

Some people never saw her performance in Star Wars, but it’s likely that they heard her voice, as she did quite a bit of voice work, or saw her in other roles. The world lost an icon when Fisher died in 2017. Her talents were many, but some roles can’t be left behind, and Princess Leia Organa was such a role.

The Apocalypse Troll by David Weber

TrollI’ve been re-reading some titles that I have in my “Nook” library, as I am unsure of what will happen with that since Barnes and Noble has sold out. One of my all time favorite science fiction authors is David Weber, who is best known for his series writing, especially the books about Honor Harrington. However, early in his career he wrote a few stand alone books, including The Apocalypse Troll. It’s a thrilling story, well told, and very much showcases Weber’s knowledge of military tactics and the geography of North Carolina.

As the story opens, Colonel Ludmilla Leonova is assigned the task of attacking an instrument of the dreaded “Kangas” a Troll, slang for a human brain in a mechanized body. This brain, conditioned to fight and kill humans, is not quite indestructible, but very close. Leonova is both brave and determined, however. She’ll seek and destroy this enemy of humanity, through space and time itself.

Thus, Leonova ends up on earth in the year 2007, and as this book was released in 1999, a near future story when it was written. After her fighter crashes, she is rescued by Captain Dick Ashton, who is incredulous, but convinced by her steady demeanor and the advanced tech of her space suit and weapon that she had indeed traveled back in time in pursuit of a malevolent enemy. This sounds as if it very much strains the concept of suspended disbelief, but the captain also convinces the upper echaleons of United States military and the President himself that Leonova is who she says she is, and that the Troll is somewhere on the planet, ready to wreak havoc on humanity. Weber does this quite skillfully, introducing a panoply of characters, one of his trademarks.

All sorts of military hardware and personnel are put into play as the Troll uses a less than honorable religious leader to whip susceptible citizens of the southeastern U.S. into angry mobs, and western North Carolina becomes the battleground.

Weber’s story is a good one, and the reader isn’t left with that sense of “what next?” that accompanies series books. For fans of David Weber, this story is a treat, and for readers who haven’t yet read any of his military fiction, it is a good introduction. The book is still available used and an an eBook from the publisher, as well as other sources.

Nook—a second look at the eBook app

NOOK-feature-300

Nook is an app and a device!

Since big A decided to fire me as one of their “Associates” I have set aside my K—  library for the moment, and am re-reading some older titles via the Nook app on my iPad. For readers who aren’t familiar with this, it is basically the eBook platform used by Barnes and Noble. While I have not purchased many books via B & N, I was once a very loyal customer at Fictionwise. When B & N bought out Fictionwise in 2009, I was able to keep some, alas not all, of the content I had purchased, by adding the Nook app, so those books became part of my Nook library. And, as there are quite a few titles there, I am looking through the library, seeing if anything is worth a second read. One of the best aspects of eBooks is that the “keeper shelf” takes up no room in my house!

The Nook app works like other eBook apps; the raw file format is ePub. In their review of eBook apps, CNET judged it as #3, and it is quite good. I find the animation associated with page changes very pleasing; it looks just like flipping a physical page! I also like having basic info at the top of the screen (date, time, % of battery are all available) as well as the typical (in print format) of two facing pages, with the title on one side and the author name on the other. Apart from a page number, which is not possible as the file must adapt to the reader’s screen size, the interface is very book-like, and I mean that as a compliment. As an app, it is a bit quirky, however. For instance, getting back to the library can be a bit of a chore, as one must first get a more info screen, and then the option to move around a bit becomes available.

There is a library screen, a bookstore screen, a quick link back to the current book being read, and something called “Readouts” which is a bit of sales pitch mixed with freebies and information. The library screen shows “Recent Reads” and “Recent Purchases” as defaults, and there are tabs with “All titles” and “Shelves” which are, of course, organizing tools. Unfortunately for me, the only way I can find some of the oldies is via the “search” feature, but it works quite well. For instance, I didn’t finish my last name before both of my titles popped right up!

I use my iPad (mostly) for reading, so I’m using the free app, but Barnes and Noble is currently offering a 7 inch screen Nook for about $50, and a big screen (10 inch) for $130. When eBooks were new to the market, most were priced substantially lower than their print counterparts, and sometimes that is still true. Lots of classics are free, of course, but lower priced options can be, well, garbage. Overall, the prices at B & N are a bit higher than their ginormous internet competitor, but the store’s interface is elegant. Also, the content is a bit more “curated” than the content over at Big A, where just about anyone can sell anything, regardless of quality.

Since I’ve been reading via the Nook app, I have begun researching the possibility of pulling Trinity on Tylos out of the K— exclusive program and publishing it via ePub to other bookstores. Perhaps Barnes and Noble readers would buy a few digital copies. Stay tuned….