Cover Directions – Want to Vote?

I’m about to publish a new series of books called DDsE. My cover ideas are divergent, and I’d like to get your reactions to the two styles, which capture different flavors of the series, a young adult paranormal horror romance. A brief introduction:

Being sixteen is Tupac Eminem. Ella has no one to talk to except her new diary, which she has to hide from Ma and Pa Warden, the foster parents she’s stuck with since her family got flattened in a car accident. Now that she lives with the wardens, she’s in a new school where people act like her tragedy is contagious. Her new suburb is just as boring as the last, and offers no hope of secret passageways or magic. But life is not all bad. There’s an interesting boy at the new school – although his family turns out to be impossibly dangerous. And there’s a feral cat, living in the suburb’s only open space, a pitiful excuse for woods. Sometimes the cat invades Ella’s mind. She tells her diary, ‘I’ve gone a special kind of crazy, a split personality. And my other personality is a cat, not a person.’

I’m looking forward to your input!

Pssst! I Want To Share My New Discovery: It’s Called Twitter!

How many times do you have to hear the same advice before you listen? For me, the answer is 17. That’s how many times somebody told me, You’re a writer? You need to be on Twitter or people won’t know about you.

Okay, I made that up. The 17, that is. It could be 12, could be 30. Anyway, I’ve heard it a lot of times. I resisted the advice for years, because I don’t really get Twitter, except it is amazing to watch the flow of tweets during big-deal world events. And it’s a brilliant medium for certain comedians. The 140-character limit is also an intriguing fictional milieu, and I once dabbled in creating multiple accounts for imaginary people so that I could engage them in a story. It was fun, but writing novels remains funner.

Funner is a word my son used, back when he was small. For example, he dictated this message with the shower gift to an unborn child, “At first it’s not fun but then it gets funner and funner.” (It = life.)

But I digress. Just like on Twitter, except with more characters.

As with my children, I want the best for my novels. Especially, I want people to read them. Towards that end, the first – and in the current publishing world, the most difficult – step is to make people aware that my novels exist! So, a week-plus ago, I took the plunge and joined the Twitter universe.

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 5.46.40 PMThe Twitterverse is a peculiar place that I don’t much understand. I have come to learn that if you like what someone tweets, you can reward them with various coins of the realm. You can favorite the tweet, or re-tweet it, or follow that tweeter. Following someone is a particular honor, apparently, and important. Some people pay for services that reveal who followed – and who un-followed – them every day. What does one do with un-follow information? Beg them to come back? Make a Nixonian enemies list?

My number of followers fluctuates. This happens whether or not I tweet anything. The long-term trend is up so maybe it’s like the stock market. Or perhaps I have offended some, by failing to retweet them, and so they cut me off. More likely, they were false followers, who followed me just to get me to check them out and say hmm, interesting and follow them back… Mission accomplished, they hook another follower and then unfollow her. Me. Apparently this kind of thing is worth the effort because your ratio of followers to following could indicate how cool you are. In even more arcane ways, your number of tweets matter, but I’m not the one to explain how that works.

The unfollowing methodology perplexes me. Should I figure out who unfollowed me and – eye for an eye! – unfollow them? Should I unfollow the #Dalai Lama? What about my musical faves like #Chris Thile or #Noam Pikelny or #X (here Xtheband)? They’ve had more than a week to follow me back, how long am I supposed to wait for respect?

I can’t imagine how much energy it takes to keep track of such things. Twitter is overwhelmingly productive. I don’t follow many people yet, so I don’t get all that many tweets on my timeline. While I typed this, I only got 183 new tweets. Wait, make that 203. The tweets flow by and if I’m not watching the screen when your latest tweet posts, I will never see it. And so tweeters post and post and post, so that I might occasionally see one of their tweets. (Make that 247 new tweets.) Many writers claim that incessant tweeting noticeably boosts sales and downloads of their books. (272 new tweets.) Oy. I hope that is not the only way to grow readership. (292 new tweets)

Conversation seems difficult on Twitter. When you reply to a tweet, you do actually engage with another tweeter, but your timelines shows non-sequitur reply lines that make no sense to anyone else and it takes several clicks to backtrack to understand the conversation. I’m sure no one bothers.

For all of that, Twitter is amazing. Think about it. All over the world, millions upon millions typing and sending these cryptic messages in internet bottles, all day, every day. No need to reply, it’s all one-way. (337 tweets) Sometimes I go bittersweet and pretend that Twitter relays the transmissions from a distant galaxy, messages only just now captured after traveling light years from a civilization lost to a supernova, eons ago.

Do you tweet? My twitter handle is in the snapshot – stop on by! (363 tweets)

P.S. To those of you who have read Nica of Los Angeles – I sound like Nica now, don’t I? It’s kind of awesome and kind of creepy to be inhabited by a character in this way. After I finished book 1, I wasn’t able to shake her style of narration, and now that I’m immersed in book 2 in the series, I’ve stopped trying to shake it because I need it again. Maybe I will become more like Nica, and not just talk like her. Now that would be awesome!

Four Answers, Then Tag, They’re It!

Folks, you are about to witness my first participation in a blog tour, a newfangled invention by which indie writers help spread the word that they exist. Lisa Voisin invited me to join. Lisa has followed an interesting life path and it’s no wonder, perhaps, that she now writes young adult paranormal romance.

The way this blog tour works is that I answer four questions, then tell you about a few writers whose books I have really enjoyed. They will continue this tour by answering the same questions on their own blogs in two weeks.

Q1) What am I working on?

I’ve just started writing the second novel in the FRAMES series, the follow-on to Nica of Los Angeles, a speculative fantasy with detective and dystopian elements. Book 2, Chapter 1: my most recently completed sentence reads “As I returned to the street, the air pulsed in a series of quick blasts, punctuated with the deep screams of grown men.” Maybe we should have a contest and the winner will correctly guess what that sentence will read like by the time this new novel matures into a final draft.

Q2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Frankly, I think the author would be the last one to answer this question well.

Q3) Why do I write what I do?

I write what I feel compelled to write. The trick is to sustain that drive through the long haul of finishing a novel. More than once, over the years, I have fought the temptation to freshen my characters mid-book, by sending in a bus to run over the first bunch. Fortunately, I am having a great time writing Nica, and her second book looks to be more fun than the first.

Q4) How does my writing process work?

My subconscious has all the best ideas, but its contributions are scattershot and unpredictable. It’s my conscious writer that keeps plugging away, day after day, to draw the inspirations up to the surface and the page. Screen. Keyboard. Touchscreen.

I write first drafts on my iPad, and love sitting on a summer patio in the dark, illuminated only by my device. However, for editing and formatting, I have to return to my laptop, with its full-service software.

And now I’d like to introduce…

One benefit of being an indie writer is getting to e-meet other indie writers, all over the globe.

Hock Tjoa has this to say about himself:  “Hock is a retired teacher and banker and writes as part of his mission to make more widely known traditional Chinese values, but he makes digressions. He lives in northern California.” I read a play that Hock wrote, based on a Chinese folklore detective, and much enjoyed the dry wit and cleverness of the piece.

Louise White has had nearly as many career paths as I’ve had (!) and has covered both ends of the service spectrum, as a waitress and then a cop. She lives in Scotland and writes a young adult series about a kickass teenage girl who fights demons in a world that is … almost… just like ours. I love how normal and teenage her heroine is, in the midst of all the fantasy.

Tennesseean (?) Fran Veal also writes YA. She mingles teen drama with crime and just a touch of the paranormal. I am one chapter away from completing my first novel by her and it was painful to set it aside so that I could meet various deadlines like posting my blog tour entry on time. But hey, I’m a grown-up, right?

I sense some sniggering, somewhere. Grown-up? Reading a bunch of Young Adult books? And how! It’s one of my favorite genres! Let me know if you want some more YA recommends!

 

 

A Shot to the Foot — Or the Head? (Cautionary Lists for the Self-Published)

Cover art by Lars Huston.

Cover art by Lars Huston.

This is a sad story about self-inflicted damage to my recently published e-book, WAS IT A RAT I SAW, a psychological thriller involving split brain research, animal rights, and a love quadrangle.

I’ve always been a decent copy-editor, but things went terribly wrong with RAT. I thought it would be my easiest e-publishing experience. After all, I have the hardcover version, published by Bantam-Doubleday-Dell after mind-bogglingly extensive editing by their professional crew. All I had to do was retype it; and typing is easy for me.

Yeah. Well. My first e-version had hundreds of typos that I failed to notice. Not an exaggeration and not a … typo. Hundreds. I thought I had reviewed it carefully: professional-quality self-delusion! Below I itemize what I think went wrong, in case it helps another self-published writer avoid a similar nightmare.

It turns out that there are readers who ignore typos, and readers who are personally offended by them. My first several reviews were from the former group – so warm and enthusiastic! Five stars and raves from strangers – awesome! I started to get a steady trickle of sales. Then the latter group of readers posted reviews. All those typos opened the door for some nasty attacks. My trickle of sales stopped on the day the bad reviews appeared.

(Don’t get me wrong – I hate typos and don’t blame readers for hating them also. Probably because I support indie writers, I would never write an attack review because of typos, though … especially when I got the book for free. But if I didn’t absolutely love a typo-riddled book, I would avoid other works by that author.)

RAT’s problems may yet worsen. More than 2000 patrons of Amazon and Smashwords downloaded the typo-riddled version (mostly during free promotions). My initial elation about all those potential readers has mutated to fear of typo-phobic reviews, and misery that I created a situation where I may have attracted then repelled so many readers.

I’ve now spent the last couple weeks doing nothing but proof-reading and contacting reader-reviewers who were about to read the typo-riddled version and exchanging emails with Amazon and Smashwords to find out whether they can notify their patrons that a new, cleaner version is now available. (With Amazon, the answer is maybedepending on whether Amazon thinks the changes matter; with Smashwords the answer is no.)

I see sentences from RAT when I close my eyes. I induce insomnia imagining that the newly uploaded version is still full of typos that I somehow still missed. I yearn to return to editing FRAMES, my fantasy detective series. The FRAMES manuscript is dusty now, and covered with paw prints because this fellow has taken to sleeping on it:

A nice soft stack of papers makes an excellent nap site.

A nice soft stack of papers makes an excellent nap site when you don’t care about typos.

I can only hope that I will be able to restore trust and momentum with the newly uploaded, corrected version of RAT. Tune in later to find out whether I have shot RAT in the foot, or the head.

Many things seem to have gone wrong during the creation of  that first e-version of RAT:

  • Software conversion glitches? I used the Apple word-processing software Pages initially, then converted to Word. At some point, one of these stripped away certain “end paragraph” markers and adjoining dialog quotation marks.
  • Rogue auto-correct? Auto-correct is a headache-inducer so I always keep that “feature” turned off, yet some of the substituted words in RAT were so bizarre! Makes me wonder if an auto-correct got engaged, clandestinely, for a time.
  • New glasses prescription needed? Many of the typos were invisible to me until I magnified the text above 300%: for example, single quotes where double quotes should be; sign instead of sigh, i where l should be.
  • Past my bedtime? In some chapters there are clusters of typos in sections that I recognize as places where I pushed myself to do just one more page before I stopped for the night.

Here is what I will do differently from now on:

  • Stick with Word. It pains me to type that. I so hate Word. However, a Word doc is a required step to prep a file for Smashwords and Amazon, so that format cannot be avoided. And with every format change, problems can multiply. If I only use Word, I limit the number of format changes.
  • Remember, humans are the real spellcheckers. The spell- and grammar-checking functions of word processors only catch easy, obvious problems. Most of my typos were subtle punctuation errors, or mistakes that produced words that were real, but wrong.
  • Save the most careful read-through for the end. I did my most careful read-through early on. I’m still uncertain how many problems I missed and how many I introduced later.
  • Blow it up. To do a serious typo hunt, I need to magnify the text to 400% zoom, then resize my window so I can only see a couple lines at a time. This minimizes the chances that my eyes will bounce, jump, or slide past overly-familiar text.
  • Learn patience. Damn, I thought I would sneak through this life without it. When I finish a book I am so eager for people to read it! But if I can get myself to set the book aside for several months, I will regain perspective and a fresh set of eyes.
  • Print it on expensive paper? At the office this works like gangbusters: nothing like printing a “final” document to spot mistakes in it. This technique may only work when racing to meet a deadline, however.
  • Read it aloud? Other writers suggest this and it sounds like a great idea — maybe to evaluate the flow of sentences rather than copy edit? Anyway, the technique didn’t help me. When I read the words aloud I missed punctuation and syntax errors.
  • Read it backwards? This is another great-sounding idea that I couldn’t get to work for me. I found fewer mistakes when I severed the words from their context by reading backwards. Maybe I failed to select the right length of prose to read backwards.
  • Hire somebody? In principle this sounds good. Of course, one must check the checker (Horror stories abound regarding hired-gun mis-fires.) Anyhow, for the foreseeable future, I do not have the $800+ that a copy editor charges for a full-length novel.
  • Offer readers a free ebook if they report typos back to me? I have made this offer to a group of LibraryThing reviewers. Maybe they will like the offer, maybe it will piss them off and guarantee more bad reviews. Sign. (<- joke typo)

Indie authors and indie readers, I would love to get your input about any or all of this!

Confessions of an Ignorant Book Marketer – Advice Sought!

photo from michaelfruchter.com

Am I making this harder than it should be?

Leave it free or stop the freebie? That is the question.

A detailed recap of the situation so far: a couple days ago, I was surprised to discover that Amazon was offering my ebook, WAS IT A RAT I SAW, for free. It turns out this happened because Amazon will not be undersold, and Sony-US (also unbeknownst to me) was offering the book for free … That, in turn, happened because Sony-US did not update its price after a free promotion ended on Smashwords (which distributes to Sony-US). Sony-US  has now  updated its price, so Amazon has no reason to continue the free promotion.

If that recap is confusing and doesn’t seem worth the time to sort out, here is the bottom line: it is now up to me. Do I continue the free promotion on Amazon?  Answer: I dunno. So: anyone with experience or opinion, please weigh in!

Here are my conflicting facts and questions:

  • In a couple days, there have been more than 1000 free downloads (to me that seems like a lot)!
  • Are these downloaders readers? reviewers? Or simply hoarders of free stuff?
  • My first priority as a writer is to have people actually read my novels.
  • My second priority is to get reviews on line.
  • Third priority (yet still a priority!) is to have people purchase my novels.
  • My “sales” ranking among the free ebooks has moved from infinity to measurable.
  • The “sales” rankings seem quite sensitive to minor variations in totals. Mine now  fluctuates between #200 and #400.
  • How long might it take to break the Top 100 Free Ebooks list?
  • Is there value in doing so?

What do you think about maintaining the freebie? I’m inclined to let it ride for a few more days and see what evolves. Is there a downside I’m not seeing?

P.S. To download your own free copy of WAS IT A RAT I SAW, start here.

P.P.S. Photo from michaelfruchter.com.

Free Ebook: WAS IT A RAT I SAW

Cover art by Lars Huston.

Cover art by Lars Huston.

Until the end of October, 2013, get a free e-copy of WAS IT A RAT I SAWmy psychological thriller involving split brain research, animal rights, and a love quadrangle.

I’ve recently distributed some copies for readers’ reviews and I am thrilled to report that so far the ratings have been great!

Here’s how to get your free copy:

* Go to RAT’s page on Smashwords,
* Click the blue “Add to Cart” button.
* Proceed to checkout, but instead of paying, use coupon code KX86E.
* Let me know (via a comment on this page) if you encounter problems.

After you read it, please write a review! (Readers’ reviews are incredibly important to indie authors.)