Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Hopping on the blog: writing plans and processes

I have been tagged by the lovely Sara Foster in a blog hop about writing and writerly things.  If you've read From the Indie Side, she's responsible for that great story "Cipher".  Check out her post here to read about what she's working on and her plans for the coming year.  She tagged a bunch of authors from the Indie Side project, including Jason Gurley and Mel Hearse.  So if one of them wrote one of your favorite stories, today is your lucky day!  Check out her post and follow the links through to find out about each author!

But to the questions!

What am I working on?
Right now, I am chewing my way through the final edits of M&K Tracking, which is book four in the Maggie MacKay: Magical Tracker series.  Last year was a fantastic year, but in looking at the lessons it taught me, I have decided to stay focused on my series in 2014.  Diversity is fun, but writing all of these standalone projects does a disservice to you, my loyal readers, who have stuck around through both thick and thin to see what Killian & Maggie and Clara & Wesley have been up to.  I have listened as you have sent me messages about how much you love my series and how excited you are about finding out what happens next.  There are a couple other stories whispering in my ear, but they are going to have to get in line.  This year is the year of Maggie and O'Hare.

How does your work differ from others in its genre?
I had a reader point out to me that Maggie is a book with zero male-gaze.  Male-gaze is an idea from the feminist movement back in the 1970s in which a woman's worth is defined by how men perceive her.  I didn't even know I was embracing this concept.  Although Maggie has a male sidekick, her value is her own and whether they end up together or not has nothing to do with her journey.  When I wrote Maggie, I was rebelliously pushing back on a theme I was seeing in the urban fantasy genre: that in order for a woman to be successful, she had to end up entangled romantically.  The urban fantasy women (at the time) were always being saved by some guy.  They were incompetent and stumbling upon victory.  They were smooching vampires and dating werewolves.  They were unable to overcome evil unless there was some big strong someone there to fight the monsters for them in the final battle.  What I decided to do with Maggie was to have a heroine who was really good at her job, who really liked what she did, and who didn't need to be saved by anyone.  And, sadly, this is kind of unique in my genre.

Then I have my more serious titles (The Woodcutter, Queen Mab, Queen Joanna, Spirit of Krampus).  These are darker and sparse.  With these books, I was focused on crafting each sentence, creating poetry in every paragraph.  I wanted these books to be a little creepy at times.  But at their heart, each of these stories examines different forms of love and duty.

And then there is my O'Hare House Mystery series, which is a hybrid of the two.  I was so tired of the ghost stories where the ghosts ended up just being someone behind a curtain.  I wanted the ghosts to be real, I wanted the danger to be real.  I wanted the fun of a drawing room mystery with a true supernatural threat, not just Col. Mustard in the library with the lead pipe.

Why do I write what I do?
Spite. I write out of spite.  Wait.  Did I say that out loud?  Okay, here's the deal.  I love to read.  I read a lot.  And I get so frustrated sometimes when a story goes the wrong direction, or an author is so close to getting it right and then goes off the deep end.  But you can't be mad at a stranger for not telling the story in your head.  That is your story.  And I realized I needed to start putting my money where my mouth was, otherwise I was a hypocrite.  Rather than stewing in anger that someone I didn't know was doing it wrong (do you hear how ridiculous an expectation that is?  And yet...), I needed to write the stories the way I thought they should go.  It is easy to pick people apart.  It gives you a whole new view and appreciation of what an author goes through when you pick up your pen, instead, and try to wrestle a world into submission.  Each book starts out of spite, and ends in a lesson of humility.

How does my writing process work?
This has been changing recently.  In the past, I would just sit down and write.  Whatever came out, came out.  But this past year I was introduced to a book called 2K to 10K that changed my focus.  Now I write with outlines.  I am more organized.  I do all of the blood, sweat, and tears in a condensed three day period, and the rest is cake (as opposed to blood, sweat, and tears all over every page I write for six months).  I also co-oped the idea of dream boards into my writing.  Picture is worth 1000 words, right?  So, I have a bulletin board with pictures of my characters and their world.  I hang it where I can see it regularly and let my imagination draw the lines between the images until I have a story.

And now it is time for me to tag someone!  I'm going to kick it over to 47North peep Mark Teppo, who you probably know from the hugely successful Mongoliad series, the Foreworld Saga, the Codex of the Soul Series... oh the list goes on and on.  Go check out his blog and see for yourself!  I'll post a link here to his hop answers!

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Mechanics Behind Creativity, by Mark T. Barnes

Today I am so pleased to welcome fellow 47North author Mark T. Barnes to my blog.  He's put together a FANTASTIC guide for anyone just starting on this writing journey and answers the big question:  how do you get those darned words onto that darned blank page?  It is a wealth of information.  Enjoy!


 


As much as writers enjoy telling their stories, and hopefully touching people with their words, there is a different journey that takes us from the blank page to something we can edit, then show our first readers.

I use the phrase the mechanics behind creativity because telling a story is not all about thinking about story, plot, characters, and the other elements of story. At some point we need to transform the blank page to the full page. At a high level you can break it down into simple chunks by knowing:
  • What you want to say;
  • How you’re going to say it;
  • In who’s voice you’re going to say it; 
  • How much you’re going to say; and
  • How quickly you need to say it.
For the purposes of this essay we’ll assume you’ve already answered the questions about what you’re going to say, and how you’re going to say it. Knowing what your plot and story are in reasonably defined (though not necessarily concrete) terms is a big help to save a lot of rewriting later on. Your understanding of how you’re going to say it and in whose voice, knowing whether the story is best old in first or third person (and their variations), and who the point of view characters are, will help you with setting the style and the tone of your story.

What we need to do is to turn the idea into something tangible. There are many articles that discuss how many words you should write in a day, or what process you should use when writing. For example some people will say that you should write a minimum of 1000 words a day, starting at the same time every day, writing in the same place. I’d argue that what you’re trying to do is to form habits. It’s rare for a new writer to be able to sit at the keyboard and smash out 1000 words in a day, any more than you’d expect a person to put on their shoes and run a half-marathon firs time out. Writers need to build writing fitness: you need to train your body and mind to produce good words, and to get better and more productive over time.

Don’t be hard on yourself when you start. Getting annoyed or disillusioned with your progress won’t help you. The fact is you need to build your writing fitness up in achievable increments, and not deny yourself the joys of the world outside your office, cafĂ©, bedroom, or wherever it is you choose to write. Start with realistic goals that you can attain, then once you’ve mastered those push yourself harder by forming the habits that will help you write consistently, and write more, the more you work.

The only right process for writing is the one that works for you, but for example:
  • You may start off with a goal to write 250 words per day for five days. Take the evenings and weekends off: don’t deny yourself time with family and friends, doing the things you love. Train yourself to know that your writing is not to the exclusion of everything else in life. Start at a time that you’re feeling relaxed, and when your day job and any domestic responsibilities are complete. Avoid distractions as best you can.
  • If 250 words has worked for you, up your goal to 400 words a day, or 500. Nothing too onerous and something that is still achievable. Again, keep your weekends to yourself while you’re getting fitter.
  • For the third week, and the weeks that follow, increase your word count. You’ll eventually find a word count, as well as a duration, that works for you without compromising the quality of your writing or your life. Once you’ve reached this point you can try and push harder and see how it works for you, and possibly add free times from your weekend, or set aside additional time from the weekend, to write and edit.
From my own experience I landed the writer’s dream. I had planned The Echoes of Empire series of books, with the first trilogy reasonably well developed. I intimately knew what would happen in The Garden of Stones, knew reasonably well what was going to happen in The Obsidian Heart, and had a looser idea for The Pillars of Sand, though the ending was pretty secure. I did it this way because I wanted to give myself some wriggle room should the characters and story head in directions I’d not expected. With the first book written I was offered a three book contract with my publisher, which meant that I was no longer writing to my own schedule, but theirs.

The mechanics were no different: set goals, build writing fitness, then set harder goals. This time against a deadline. I won’t lie. It’s as daunting as it is exciting. But having developed writing fitness I was able to write and edit 300,000 words in about nine months, while managing and operating my own business. It may sound like a lot, but the more you do, the more you can do. To be honest it’s not the kind of workload I’d want to carry again, as there were a lot of sacrifices involved to fit everything into the time frame required. I’m working on two new series at the moment, producing circa 3500 to 4000 words a day. If I’m feeling good, I’ll keep going until I feel the need to stop. Some days I do nothing, particularly if other distractions have sabotaged the writing day. I don’t let it upset me: it is what it is. I simply wait for the next day and get back to work.

Yes, there’s more to writing stories that coming up with interesting stories, wonderful worlds and compelling characters. There’s the need to prepare yourself for the hours you’ll be working, of intense concentration and finding the right mix of environmental aspects that allow you to be creative. But by being realistic, being kind to yourself, and by not comparing yourself to any other writer’s process or goals, you’ll find the writing journey that’s right for you.

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Mark Barnes lives in Sydney, Australia. He is the author of the epic fantasy Echoes of Empire series, published by 47North. The series includes The Garden of Stones (released May 2013), and The The Obsidian Heart (released October 2013). The Pillars of Sand is the third of the series, due for release in May 2014. You can find out more at www.marktbarnes.com, his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/marktbarnes.author, or follow Mark on Twitter @MarkTBarnes.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

A new cover for Queen Mab

A picture is worth a thousand words, and when you go into publishing, your cover is going to be your greatest marketing tool in your arsenal.  One of the advantages of being an indie author is the ability to experiment with covers and price points to try and connect with new readers.  Aesthetics change.  Trends change.  Like the landscape of fall fashion, cover trends change, too.

I started off with a traditional fantasy cover for Queen Mab (and anyone who purchases the ebook edition will have the original cover image as the first page).  This was the image which hung over my desk as I wrote this book and inspired all the words that I put down on the page.  I love this image by Howard David Johnson madly.


Unfortunately, most of my book sales are made on the internet, and when this image is reduced to the thumbnail size, the detail is lost.  It is one of those things you have to think of when you switch your hat from "author" to "marketer".


So, I then switched the cover to a more icon themed cover, much like was found with Hunger Games or Game of Thrones.


This was a very trendy look in the fantasy world for awhile.  It was designed by Damonza (who is considered one of the best bookcover designers out there).  Most importantly, it fulfilled the need for "eye catching as a thumbnail".


But this design trend is on the downturn and I wasn't connecting with readers the way I wanted.   So last week, I stumbled across this beauty and Queen Mab received yet another look.


Arresting, eye-catching, romantic and trendy... It was the perfect fit!  Plus, it looks great in a thumbnail, too!


So if you are an author and your books are struggling, be willing to experiment.  What defines a great cover changes and, fortunately, when you are both the CEO and peon of your own publishing empire, you have the flexibility to try to new things.  And if the experiment fails?  You pick up where you left off and continue the search.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Why Indie Publish?

There was a report recently spearheaded by an author named Hugh Howey that caused quite a stir amongst the publishing community.  The report can be found at AuthorEarnings.com (if it doesn't work, try again later.  The server has been crashing so many people have been looking at it.)  It is meant to be a tool for authors to be able to make an informed decision about their publishing career.

I am a proudly hybrid author with titles both traditionally and independently published.  Both directions have done very, very well for me.  Michael Bunker, one of the authors I was privileged to share the insides of a cover with in From the Indie Side, wrote a fabulous blog post about the realities of what new authors are up against in the traditionally published world and how the "choice" between trad pub or indie pub is a bit of an illusion.

http://journal.michaelbunker.com/2014/02/is-traditional-publishing-choice-not.html

I was living in Hollywood during the YouTube revolution.  I had friends who were making projects that the studios were gobbling up.  Options and deals and money were thrown their way.  Some of these projects went on to create the fabric of nerd culture.  And some faded into obscurity.  But you know what?  None of these projects would have been made if the creators had waited for the traditional studio system to anoint them with The Green Light.

I find my journey in the publishing world to be very similar to that YouTube revolution, except for the first time in my life I just happened to be at the right place at the right time instead of two years behind the curve.

I started writing my first book, The Woodcutter, in 2004.  This was before Grimm or Once Upon a Time or Red Riding Hood or Snow White and the Huntsman.  Horror was the genre de jour and I couldn't get a single agent or publisher interested in my book.  I submitted it for five years and no one would touch it.  I hired an editor to whip it into shape and she loved it so much, she personally recommended it to her friends and editors at some of the Big Six publishing houses... and my manuscript couldn't get past the slush pile.

What killed me was that this was a really great story.  I knew it in my bones.  I would see the file sitting on my hard drive and it physically hurt to think that this book would die on my computer, that no one would meet this hero who had presented himself to me on the page.

And then one day, a fateful email arrived in my mailbox saying that if I wanted to be a published author, all I had to do was upload my manuscript.

I sat there looking at that page.  It had been nine months since I had submitted my book to The Big Six, but what if I published and then they called?  (btw, they never did)  What if I was destroying my chances?  What if?  What if?  What if?

But sometimes it is important to look at the reality around you and stop waiting for someone to tell you that you are good enough.  Sometimes you have to just make that decision for yourself.

So I published my book.  And the beginning was rough.  The first month, I sold 24 copies.  The next month, I sold eight.  This is normal.  Please, if you are considering going into indie publishing, know that it is normal to sell less than a book a day at the beginning.

But I kept at it.  I started hanging out in the Writers Cafe on Kboards.  I started researching and advertising.  But most importantly, I started writing another book.  And when I released that second book, my sales on both projects doubled.  When I released my third book, sales on all projects tripled.  I participated in some golden promotions that brought my Woodcutter book to the attention of my wonderful publishers at 47North (Amazon's Sci-Fi/Fantasy imprint, which is a publisher that treats its authors with great respect and care).  They approached me, which was unheard of in my view of the world.  That opportunity leapfrogged my career and took it to a whole new level with new opportunities.  And I would not be where I am today without them.

On the indie side, my Maggie series gained the attention of a producer who, again, approached me and the series was optioned for film and television development.  I was invited to participate in a boxed set with other indie authors that hit the USA Today bestseller list and outsold my entire publishing career in three months.

My first year, I sold about 350 copies of all of my books over 12 months.  This is my third year and I sold over 135,000 copies.

But what it all comes down to is that one decision.  Would I spend another six months to submit The Woodcutter to an agent or would I self publish it through this little known technology called a Kindle or a Nook?

If the best case scenario would have happened, I would have submitted to an agent (six months), who would have submitted it to a publisher (six months), who would have presented a contract (three months), and gone through the editing and publishing process (one year), and nearly two and a half years later, I would have had my book published.  Best case scenario, I would have been published early 2013 instead of when I did in the fall of 2010.  There would have been no Maggie.  No Mab.  No O'Hare.  No 47North.  No Dead Man.  No Krampus.  I would not have been invited to participate with Indie royalty in From the Indie Side.  I would not have learned the lesson that I needed to write more to succeed.  I would have placed all  my hopes and dreams on the success of one book.  I would probably be sitting in my cubicle still.  I would have missed the revolution.

But because of one decision, I have a career.

I don't submit to traditional publishers anymore.  I don't submit to studios.  I don't do anything anymore except focus on creating the best stories I can possibly tell, and for whatever reason, this seems to resonate with people.  And I think perhaps because I try not to be a jerk, folks usually don't mind inviting me to join them on awesomeness.

So as the broohaha continues over traditionally publishing vs. indie publishing, I just thought I would share my experience.  Your mileage may vary.  Is indie publishing a risk?  Sure.  But you'll miss 100% of the shots you don't take.  Please know that you can be both indie and traditionally published.  One does not exclude the other.  Both are great.  Just, please, stop waiting for someone else to fix your life.  This is yours.  It is the only one you have got.  Take a chance.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

From the Indie Side Giveaway

Want a paperback copy of From The Indie Side to love and cherish and keep forever and ever?  Enter to win one of two copies on Goodreads through the Goodreads Giveaway!


Goodreads Book Giveaway

From the Indie Side by Michael Bunker

From the Indie Side

by Michael Bunker

Giveaway ends February 12, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Sunday, February 2, 2014

From the Indie Side


From the Indie Side

a global anthology of short stories from
award-winning independent authors

Last year, I was invited to write a short story for an exciting project.  A crack team was assembling some of the leading voices in independent publishing from around the globe for an anthology of sci-fi and fantasy.

What formed was From the Indie Side, with NY Times and USA Todaybestselling authors like Hugh Howey, Ernie Lindsey, Anne Frasier, and others.  It is a power ballad to the indie movement, a freedom rock anthem of prose.

I just finished reading the entire thing myself, and I gotta say, even if I hadn't contributed to it, I would be recommending this book to everyone I know.  The stories in here are delicious and challenging and glorious.  It's like a five course meal after you've been eating saltines all week.

And what's even better?  The ebook is only 99-cents!  For real.  Less than a generic can of cola from a vending machine!

But don't take my word for it!  Check out our perfect 5-star rating on Amazon!  It really is that good.  Even if you don't like short stories.  I'm not just saying that.  Really, really, really.