Publishing: Odds and Ends and Lessons Learned

We are approaching the one year anniversary of the release of Khel’s book, To Thee is This World Given, and we thought this was a good time to share a few of things we’ve learned over the last year and a half that don’t quite merit posts of their own.

1) Lightning Source/Ingram Spark has no objections to your selecting a 30% discount rate and making your books non-returnable. 

When we settled on the prices for our print formats, we were under the impression that Lightning Source/Ingram Spark required a 55% discount rate. In order to make any profit from our print editions with a 55% discount rate, we had to set the prices much higher than we wanted to. When we learned that we could have set the discount rate at 30%, it was already too late — the prices had been locked into their ISBNs and printed on their covers. The only way we can change their prices is with a second edition, which we hope to be able to release in the not too distant future. So, before you choose the price of your books make absolutely sure you know what discount rates are available from your printer/distributor, and chose the lowest.

2) Make sure your cover designer gives you the JPEGS (without crop marks) of the front cover, back cover, spine, and flaps (if a hardback) to submit to Amazon for the look inside feature for your print editions. 

You’ll need separate files for both your paperback and your hardback. If you can, get your interior designer to give you the complete PDF file with both the front and back covers included (that’s Amazon’s preferred way to receive the file). If you can’t, you can combine the JPEGS and the PDF text yourself with a PDF merger program. And if you don’t have the JPEGS, you can always scan your cover and merge it with your PDF file as a last resort (but keep in mind that the thicker your book, the worse it will look if you do this).

Also make sure your interior designer gives you a PDF of the front matter, first chapter, and back matter so that you have a professional sample chapter on hand. If you can have the front and back covers included as well, that is even better. So, before you choose a cover designer and an interior designer, make sure they will provide these files for you as part of your package. And if they won’t, find ones that will.

3) You will need your cover designer to create separate covers for your paperback and hardback, even if they have the same trim size.

Fiction hardbacks usually have book jackets, not printed case laminate covers. The information that appears on the back of a paperback, appears on the inside flaps of the hardback’s book jacket. The back of the jacket is usually text-free (even the bar code goes inside the back flap). If you order all of your covers at the same time, the additional formats should be less expensive than the first (at least they were for us), but hammer this all out before you place your order.

4) Unless your paperback and hardback formats are the exact same trim size, you will need your interior designer to create distinct interiors for each.

There is no fudging with the interior designs and you won’t save money on them by trying to push the two trim sizes as close to each other as possible in order to get away with using only one interior for both. Trim size should be a function of the number of pages and the thickness of the book — the fewer the pages, the smaller the trim size. Because hardbacks are inherently thicker than paperbacks, they usually have larger trims, you may not even be able to get a hardback as small as your paperback. So, budget for two interiors and pick the trim size best suited for each format.

The interiors for the second format should be less expensive than the first when you order them together (they were for us), but again, hammer this all out before you place your order.

5) Wait until your interiors are finished before you have your cover designer create the final cover files.

You have to know the exact spine dimensions before your covers can be created and sent to your printer. You can only know this when you have the final page count that includes all of the pages — the front matter and back matter, as well as text. If you don’t wait until you know for certain you may have to pay your cover designer for corrections. So, plan ahead to give yourself time for the interiors to be completed first.

6) It’s a hassle trying to get an eBook  formatter to comply with your design preferences and non-scaleable style-sheets for your print interiors.  

Interior design is not the same thing as eBook formatting. Because eBooks are scaleable, eBook formatting is more utilitarian and generic than the interiors of print books, and the relationship between the reader and the text is less personal. One example: hyphenation in an eBook is a function of whatever size font the reader chooses. In a print book, the hyphenation is fixed. Having one line end with “ev-” and the next start with “rybody” is awkward, even though not technically incorrect. Make sure you create a style sheet for your editors, formatters, and designers and make sure that they are willing to comply with it before you hire them. If they aren’t, you might be better off using someone else. So, just go with a true interior designer for your print editions, if you can afford it.

7) You do not need to purchase bar codes from Bowker.

Bar codes are provided free of charge by your printer/distributor when they set up your print covers. Bowker will charge you $25 per bar code– save your money! (You will need to purchase your ISBNs from them though; a bar code cannot be generated without one). Don’t forget that every print edition — hardback, paperback, 2nd edition, etc. — needs its own unique ISBN, and that eBooks do not have bar codes.

8) Your book is not automatically added to Bowker’s Books-In-Print database.

After you purchase and assign your ISBNs with Bowker, you will still need to add them to Books-In-Print yourself. Being listed in Books-In-Print isn’t necessary, but it does improve your visibility, open new avenues for sales, and enhance your legitimacy.

9) When offering free books in exchange for reviews, use Goodreads, not Story Cartel.

Story Cartel is a for fee service ($25) where you provide free copies of your eBook for a limited time to Story Cartel members in exchange for their honest reviews, except that Story Cartel does not require its members to follow through. We had ten downloads and received one review (we found out later our results were on par with what Story Cartel itself anticipates: ten downloads typically generate zero to one reviews). Goodreads, on the other hand, is free and out of twelve downloads, we received six reviews.

10) To get feedback from those who take review copies but do not post reviews, you can send a free Survey Monkey survey to them.

We emailed a survey to the fifteen people who did not post reviews of To Thee is This World Given to learn if they had read the book and to hear their thoughts about it if they had. Nine responded: Seven of the nine had read it. Three rated both the writing and plot as excellent. Three rated both the writing and the plot as good, and one rated the book as terrible (oh well, you win some, you lose some).

11) When providing free eBooks for reviews, use Amazon to gift them to the reviewer instead of emailing them a copy or providing them with a link to the text.

When you gift copies, each copy counts as a purchase, which helps your sales ranking, which offsets those copies that are taken but never reviewed. For more details, see our longer post on how to make Amazon work for you.

12) Goodreads giveaways are a better investment than Goodreads ads. 

Giveaways generate verifiable exposure. We had three giveaways between September and December of last year: over 900 entered the first giveaway, over 700 the second, over 600 the third, and over 100 entrants friended Khel. The cost of each giveaway is only the price of the book plus shipping, a total of $45 for the three month period. 

Unlike an ad, with a giveaway you know for certain how many people, who were at least somewhat interested, saw your book. Also, when someone enters a giveaway, your book is added to their “to read” list, which provides ongoing free advertising until they choose to remove it. The giveaways also provide a way to establish relationships with Goodreads members who have shown an interest in your book.

Goodreads ads, on the other hand, require a non-refundable upfront deposit. For each click the ad receives, part of the deposit is subtracted from the total until the entire amount is exhausted. Unless an ad is clicked, there is no way to determine if it has actually been seen. The ads are small and grey, and over the three months that we ran our ad it received no clicks, even though the number of times it had appeared on a Goodreads members’ home pages was over 9,000, and despite the fact that we were continually tweaking its text. If your ad is not clicked, your deposit just sits there, unable to be refunded and applied to anything else.

13) Goodreads is a forum first and foremost, and it behaves like one.

This probably seems obvious, but it’s something to keep in mind if you are planning to use it as a central part of your marketing plan. Forums are insular and difficult for new users to break into and users often need to have a certain personality defined by the existing members in order to fit in. We use Khel’s Goodreads page primarily as a point of contact.

14) A cover has to be shockingly bright to stand out online.

The particular color and the image are probably not as important as having a super bright thumbnail that pops out at the viewer, because:

Thumbnails are puny,

The internet is crowded,

And you have about a half of a second before someone moves on.

So, you need something that they can’t not look at.

Better bright pink, than not even noticed.

Update, Jan 2018: You can see our redesigned covers for To Thee is This World Given and its companions in the Quinquennium series here.

15) Front matter, including any opening quotes, are overlooked in eBooks because the books automatically open to the first page of the first chapter.

Khel’s book To Thee is This World Given opens with quotes that precede chapter one:

“It is required of every man…that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow men and travel far and wide, and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is doomed to wander through the world and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth and turned to happiness” (Charles Dickens)

and

“What is the appropriate behavior for a man or a woman in the midst of this world where each person is clinging to his or her piece of debris? What is the proper salutation between them as they pass each other in this flood?” (Siddhartha).

We noticed that those who read the story in print had a different reaction to it, a reaction more in line with what Khel was hoping to achieve, than did those who read it as an eBook.

To be honest, we’re pretty stumped by this. It could just be selection bias, but we did notice that the opening quotes in the eBook version cannot be seen unless the reader deliberately chooses to view the front matter. We can’t be sure this accounts for the difference in responses between our print and our eBook readers, but it might, since even the font in which a book is printed impacts a reader’s reaction to it.

At first, we thought the fact that the quotes in the eBook were being jumped over was due to a mistake by our eBook formatter, 52 Novels, but it turns out that all modern eBooks jump over the front matter (Jim Crace’s novel Being Dead opens with a poem — but you’d never know it in the eBook unless you looked for it. In Benjamin Percy’s The Dead Lands, this flaw was overcome in the eBook by putting the opening quote on a stand alone “part one” page).

We aren’t sure how to overcome this problem in eBooks that do not have multiple “parts.” Putting the quotes on the top of the first page under “chapter one” would prevent them from being missed, but then the reader might think they only relate to chapter one. If we discover a better solution, we’ll let you know (likewise, if you know how to fix it, we’d love to hear from you).

16) Make sure to plan your contest entries, crowdfunding projects (such as Kickstarter), and the like, so that notifications and results do not overlap.

A person can only take so much bad news at one time, so it’s best to prepare for the worst and stagger the receipt of any potential bad news, just in case.

17) Stick to your original goals. 

Keep to your original marketing plan, activities, and goals. It’s easy to get sidetracked and start hopping from thing-to-thing willy nilly, but all you wind up doing is diluting your efforts and distracting yourself. If new goals and marketing ideas occur to you as you go, write them down and work them into your next marketing cycle’s plan.

18) And last but not least, listen to your heart.

There is a ton of advice telling you to do this and not that, but in the end you have to do what feels right for you and your book. If you are uncomfortable doing something, you aren’t going to do it successfully anyway, so it’s best to do something else.

 

A Few Thoughts on Writing

Most advice for writers online seems to impart information the adviser does not truly understand, advice unable to capture the nuance and complexity of writing (and reading).

The concept that is probably the most misunderstood and misused is “showing vs telling,” followed by the disdain of adverbs.

The best example of “showing” in English literature is Ernest Hemingway’s short story Hills Like White Elephants.  Because it is written in strict 3rd Person Objective, the reader only sees and hears what a camera would see and hear:

The woman brought two glasses of beer and two felt pads. She put the felt pads and the beer glass on the table and looked at the man and the girl. The girl was looking off at the line of hills. They were white in the sun and the country was brown and dry.

“They look like white elephants,” she said.

“I’ve never seen one,” the man drank his beer.

“No, You wouldn’t have.”

Some of the best examples of “telling” can be found in fiction for children and young adults. If you’ve read the Harry Potter books, you’ve read thousands of pages of examples of “telling.” Here is an example:

Harry had taken up his place at wizard school, where he and his scar were famous … but now the school year was over, and he was back with the Dursleys for the summer, back to being treated like a dog that had rolled in something smelly. The Dursleys hadn’t even remembered that today happened to be Harry’s twelfth birthday. Of course, his hopes hadn’t been high… .

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. J. K. Rowling.

Variations of the following are provided all over the web as an example of the sin of “telling:”

“She was cold.”

The prescription offered to correct this mistake, transforming it from “telling” to “showing,” is always along the lines of:

“The snow swirled around her. She blew on her hands then pulled her scarf tighter around her neck.”

Both are examples of scene setting description that do not tell you anything about the character’s thoughts and feelings, nor advance the plot.  And because they do not function as either character or plot development, that the first tells what the second shows, is irrelevant with regards to the prescription against “telling.”

The only meaningful difference between these two examples is that the first is a very efficient description and the second is a less efficient description.

Here is another example from Hills Like White Elephants:

The American and the girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building. It was very hot….

You’ll notice that Hemingway comes right out and tells you it is very hot. In the nearly 100 years that this story has been subjected to literary criticism, this sentence has never been flagged as “telling,” because it tells you nothing about the characters and doesn’t give away the story. The title does that.

A succinct, efficient description is all that is needed here, because the weather is not the point. Hemingway could delete this sentence and it would have no effect on the story. If the temperature was to marry the mood of the characters, it would be cold.

If Hemingway had spent 3-4 sentences establishing that it was hot, showing that it was hot, the reader would have been lead to believe that the temperature was important, because the time spent on detail is how an author clues the reader into what matters and what doesn’t.

Another example from Hills Like White Elephants:

They sat down at the table and the girl looked across at the hills on the dry side of the valley and the man looked at her and at the table.

This is perhaps the most perfect example of “showing” you will ever find. It is so perfect, the reader may not even pick up on the significance of this scene until after having read the entire story.

Many online writing gurus implore writers to more write elaborate, lengthy descriptions, full of novel metaphors, in order to avoid “telling.” But unless you are a very talented writer, following this advice will usually only serve to draw attention to your writing, which for me at least, is a much greater sin than “telling.”

It risks annoying, distracting, or boring the reader, especially if you are composing metaphors. Metaphors are extremely hard to get right and extremely easy to get wrong, and everyone always assumes that they get them right, but they don’t, and readers pay the price.

How elaborate a description should be, whether you set the scene efficiently or inefficiently, shouldn’t be determined by an arbitrary rule about showing and telling (and it is arbitrary–all dialog is characterized as “showing;” if a character says “I’m cold” it does not count as “telling”).

The amount of detail provided should be based solely on the needs of the story both at that moment and as a whole. And your actual skill as a writer.

I find that elaborate descriptions are best left to exceptional writers, and that encouraging writers, in general, to be unnecessarily verbose, does their writing more harm than good.

Most writers, and surely all readers, would be better served by Elmore Leonard’s tenth rule on writing: “If is sounds like writing, rewrite it,” than they would by having two extra sentences added to convey that a particular character was cold, so as to avoid the appearance of “telling.” Readers don’t want to be constantly reminded that they are reading as they read.

I’m not saying that “She was cold” is necessarily better than “The snow swirled around her. She blew on her hands then pulled her scarf tighter around her neck;” I’m saying that “The snow swirled around her. She blew on her hands then pulled her scarf tighter around her neck” is not necessarily better than “She was cold.” It is artificial to compare them out of context, which is how they are always compared by the writing gurus.

I would probably opt for just “the snow swirled around her.” From that it is obvious she is cold, the reader learns it is snowing, and unless her being gloveless is important, and unless the scarf will prove important later on, as a reader, I don’t care. It’s detail I don’t need. My mind provided her with the appropriate attire as soon as I learned she was outside in the snow.

Writers need to evaluate our writing as a reader would; ask ourselves: If I read this in a book I didn’t write, would I like it? Would I even care? We also must trust our readers, have faith that their imaginations will be able to bring our stories to life. While no reader wants to have to play games figuring out how things look, at the same time, they don’t want the way things look to interfere with their enjoyment of the story itself. A reader’s mind will fill the void.

The following paragraph is, for me, the most beautiful in the English language. I am honest enough with myself to know that it would take me six months to write even a shadow of it. But it provides a good rule of thumb for evaluating elaborate descriptions: the more elaborate the description, the greater the demand that the description be beautiful, and that it be used primarily to establish tone and subtext, to create an emotional response in the reader:

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, on the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

The last paragraph of James Joyce’s “The Dead”

(The last sentence of that paragraph surely ranks with the best poetry ever written).

You’ll notice Joyce had no fear of adverbs. I’m not sure when or how the war against adverbs began. I know Steven King is a champion of the cause to rid the world of adverbs, somewhat disingenuously given the frequency of adverbs in his own writing.

My guess is that the same misunderstanding about “showing vs telling” gave birth to it. Adverbs can certainly be misused, but they are simply another form of efficient description. And as the above excerpt shows, they’re critical to creating a sentence’s cadence and tone.

Even Hemingway, the most famous Minimalist writer of all time, used adverbs freely. His writing, like all Minimalists, is absolutely efficient, but his sentences are beautiful nonetheless:

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.

 A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemmingway

Not only did he use adverbs liberally here, he repeatedly uses one of the most reviled adverbs of all: very. And he does so with great success, because no sentence ever written has been harmed by making it more pleasing to the ear, which is why the very’s are there.

The beauty of any sentence comes always from its cadence, and cadence is created primarily by adverbs and the word “and” (and commas too — they are the punctuational equivalent of “and,” but multiple commas in a short stretch can sometimes become confusing). Many misunderstand this, I think, assuming that the beauty comes from the words. There is not a single fifty-cent word in either Joyce’s paragraph or in Hemingway’s. They both used everyday language. They just used everyday language in exceptional ways.

Far more important than showing or telling or adverbs is being conscious of what you are doing when you write and why you are doing it and what you hope it will achieve. You should be able to explain why you made the choices you did — every one of them. If you can’t explain it, you should probably cut it.

A useful tool for both writers and reviewers is LiteraryDevices. net . It has definitions and examples of the all of the various types devices employed and available to writers.

[T]he term Literary Devices refers to the typical structures used by writers in their works to convey his or her message(s) in a simple manner to his or her readers.  When employed properly, the different literary devices help readers to appreciate, interpret and analyze a literary work.

Literary Elements have an inherent existence in a literary piece and are extensively employed by writers to develop a literary piece e.g. plot, setting, narrative structure, characters, mood, theme, moral etc. Writers simply cannot create their desired works without including Literary Elements in a thoroughly professional manner.

Literary Techniques, on the contrary, are structures, usually words or phrases, in literary texts that writers employ to achieve not merely artistic ends, but also give readers a greater understanding and appreciation of their literary works. Examples are:  metaphor, simile, alliteration, hyperbole, allegory etc.

In contrast to literary elements, literary techniques are not an unavoidable aspect of literary works.

I’ll leave you with the best refutation of the assertion that adverbs weaken sentences that there is:

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

The last line of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby

Verbs were meant to be modified and they were meant to be modified by adverbs.

 

Getting Amazon to Work for You

It’s no secret that Amazon is where micropresses and independent authors rise or fall.

And while there are certainly undeniable legitimate reasons to find fault with Amazon as a corporate entity, the fact remains that their egalitarian, open door policy for all authors, their lack of pretension and self-importance, and their market dominance, single-handily made the micropress revolution possible.

There are numerous articles around the web on the importance of generating customer reviews on Amazon (here are two goods ones by Author S Smith and Gwen Whiting). There are also many articles on how to go about generating those reviews (the Creative Penn has an nice one). Additionally, there are numerous forums on Goodreads dedicated to reviews-for-books exchanges (here’s one; here’s another). There is also a for-fee service where authors and publishers can pay for access to potential Amazon reviewers called Story Cartel (you can read my review of Story Cartel in my post Publishing: Odds and Ends and Lessons Learned,  see #9, tldr waste of money).

But even more important than book reviews are Amazon sales rankings, and unfortunately, very few reviewers are willing to purchase copies of the books they review. Actually, I’m the only one I know of who does. I won’t review a book unless I purchase it, because I feel the only real way to support my fellow micropresses and independent authors is by purchasing their books.

The price most reviewers pay for the books they review are the reviews they write. It’s a system that works reasonably well for everyone. But because the books are usually distributed as eBooks directly by the authors themselves, they rarely help boost a book’s sales ranking.

There is a very simple way to rectify this and make sure that the books you distribute (for whatever reason) are counted towards your Amazon sales ranking — purchase the books from Amazon yourself. This also ensures that complimentary copies to reviewers who fail to review the book still help the book’s success.

Purchasing and distributing print copies is straightforward — you simply purchase the book and have it shipped to yourself or directly to the recipient. Purchasing and distributing eBooks is a little less intuitive — you will need to use the “gift to” feature, and gift the copy to the recipient (unfortunately, I did not think of this until about a week ago and am still kicking myself that I didn’t do this with the twenty-two complimentary eBooks of To Thee is This World Given I gave out in June, only six of which generated reviews).

Buying the books you need from Amazon probably won’t be enough for you to break into the top 100, but if you do it consistently, it should keep your book in the 70,000 range, which is in the company of many traditionally published mid- and back list authors. And if you have chosen your Amazon genre categories well, it might even keep you under 5000 in those categories (this How to for Authors has some good advice about how to choose categories).

For small orders of print books, the financial outlay of purchasing them from Amazon, as opposed to purchasing them from your printer/distributor, is negligible (my printer/distributor is Lightning Source/Ingram Spark — I highly recommend them). The primary difference in price is your publisher profit, which is included in the Amazon price, but not in the direct sales price, so it is eventually returned to you from Amazon by your distributor. And as long as you always purchase enough copies at one time for free shipping, your shipping costs are less than they would be from your distributor. [Note: If you are purchasing in bulk — i.e. whatever quantity at which your printer’s bulk order discounts kick in — it is almost always going to be more economical to purchase directly from your distributor].

The financial outlay for gifting eBooks is even less burdensome, especially if you reduce the sales price to ninety-nine cents for the giveaway. Twenty books will only cost you thirteen dollars (ninety-nine cents less your thirty-five cent publisher profit times twenty).

Once you start purchasing your books from Amazon, Amazon starts purchasing additional copies of your book to keep on hand. Print on demand (POD) books are listed on Amazon as “in stock, but requiring additional time for delivery” unless it has copies on hand. If it does not have copies on hand, the customer will not be able to receive the book as quickly as they normally would expect, so an additional benefit of purchasing through Amazon is that it ensures your book remains readily available.

To give you an example of how few books it takes to get Amazon to take notice, I purchased 7 copies of the hardback of To Thee is This World Given between mid-June and the last week of September, but Amazon now keeps at least 5 copies on hand — that’s five books Amazon purchased outright. So my seven purchases not only helped my sales ranking, they were offset by Amazon’s own purchases. Additionally, the first three of those seven books took between two and three weeks from the date of order to reach me, but the last four I purchased arrived less than a week later.

Because Amazon’s sales rankings are a rolling count, you will get the most impact by staggering your purchases — one sale a day for thirty days gives you a higher rank than thirty sales in one day. The German website Self Publisher Bible did an excellent study of how rankings work on Amazon (no worries, it’s in English).

This is something to keep in mind with book launches and promotions as well — if you are gifting eBook or print copies for the launch, a promotion, or a Goodreads Giveaway you might consider staggering when and how many you purchase to get the most benefit. [To learn more about Goodreads Giveaways, see our post here  #11].

Most of the public, including micropresses and independent authors, has very little understanding of how traditionally published books get their initial sales rankings and end up on best seller lists. Their rankings are based on pre-orders by libraries and booksellers. They are not a function of how many books are actually purchased by individual book buyers. And the vast majority of these books are never truly purchased as they end up back at the publisher as returns. This is especially true of mega-hit best sellers.

Booksellers game the system too by buying books by the carton for displays, knowing they will return all but one or two before the net thirty or net sixty on their invoice comes due, thereby requiring the publisher to pay for the return postage. The publisher remainders the books and writes the order off as a loss. The bookseller gets a nice holiday display. The publisher gets a huge sales bump for its books. And the book buying public gets to believe that 100 million people actually read Fifty Shades of Grey.

There is a service that ostensibly tracks actual retail sales of books called Book Scan, but it’s pretty much a joke, even inside the industry. The truest indicator of actual sales is…Amazon. This is something traditional authors and publishers object to because Amazon’s numbers frequently tell a different story than the industry’s do.

One other thing to keep in mind about a traditionally published book’s sales ranking is that the books are almost always bought as part of pre-set packages from book jobbers like Baker & Taylor. This is especially true of the books you find in libraries. Booksellers and librarians sign up for certain types of package programs and then purchase whatever books the jobber includes in that package. So these sales aren’t truly a reflection of what books readers are even interested in.

Don’t be ashamed or afraid of using the system to your advantage. There is almost nothing a micropress or an independent author can do, short of hacking Amazon, that rivals what traditional publishing houses and booksellers do as a matter of course to take full advantage of the system.

You also might like my post on additional lessons I’ve learned over the past year.

Why: Reading is a Modern Superpower…

This list could also be titled “Why We Should Write”…

James Radcliffe

It is my contention that:  In the modern world, Reading is no less than a Superpower.

In this post I will explain the thinking behind this, and share 7 reasons why you should consider make reading an integral part of your daily life.

So sit back, strap in, and turn on, dear reader, while I expound upon…

View original post 1,150 more words

To Write — All Writing is Political

But to show up is a political act. To write is a political act. To question is a political act. If I have found no other answers, I have those certainties, and it is that which grounds me as a writer and editor. The great myth of this country has been that there has been one static, unassailable narrative, one righteous and unbending truth. I now know that as artists, we destabilize that. We ask questions, of others and of ourselves. We create opportunities for others to ask questions. We tell different stories—some overtly political, others less so, many intensely personal—and insist on their inherent value. We show that not only are our voices rightfully part of the narrative of America—we are the narrative, in all of our bewildered, enraged, tragic, hilarious, glorious, divergent truths.

Karissa Chen is the author of the chapbook OF BIRDS AND LOVERS (Corgi Snorkel Press 2013).

 

Text-To-Speech (TTL) as Editing Aid for Writers

No Wasted Ink

microphone2
As authors, hearing your manuscript read out-loud is an important step in the editing process. By listening to your text, minor glitches in your writing stand out and are more easily corrected. While many of us do read our work ourselves, it is often better when someone else reads your work so that you can focus your attention on errors and making a note of them on your manuscript.

Personally, this is one of the reasons I like to read my work at critique groups. It allows me to not only gauge the response to my work on other people, but I also get the benefit of the read. However, there are times when a critique group is not available or when you wish to listen to long passages of your manuscript. For those times, I recommend a text-to-speech program.

A Text-to-Speech program converts your typed text into speech. Most…

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AutoCrit Automated Editing — An Author’s Best Friend

AutoCrit is an easy to use, automated, online substantive editing tool for fiction of any length, be it flash fiction or an epic novel. It can be used at any stage of the writing process — from the first draft to the last — to help identify common weaknesses in your writing and any areas that may need your attention. And it’s awesome!

The aspects of your writing that AutoCrit examines relate to sentence craft, not grammar — it isn’t a copyediting program. It doesn’t flag misspelled words and punctuation mistakes.

When you upload your text, it generates instant reports on your story’s pacing, dialog, word choice, repetition, strength of writing (overuse of adverbs, passive voice, showing vs telling, cliches, redundancies, and filler words), and a comparison of your work to successful fiction.

When it locates potential problems, it lists them in the sidebar and highlights them in the text in the main window. It doesn’t make changes, or recommend any specific changes to make, it just suggests the number of any given problem to remove. It allows you to make changes to your text while you are in AutoCrit and to export the edited text to you computer, if you like.

Because To Thee is This World Given has circular structure, where the first and last chapters, second and second to last chapters, third and third to last chapters, and so on, are mirrors of each other, I needed to be able to evaluate each pair of chapters side by side, so printing the reports out and making the changes in the manuscript by hand worked best for me.

I’ve posted a sample of one of the reports from the 3rd draft of To Thee is This World Given here, so that you can see a real world example (the changes made to the 3rd draft with the help of AutoCrit became the 4th draft, which was the first draft sent to a human editor).

This sample report illustrates why you still need a human editor — the section evaluated was all dialog. AutoCrit can’t distinguish between dialog and narration, and since people tend to speak in the passive voice using a lot of filler words and vague pronouns, dialog will often be “red flagged,” even if it is okay.

There are three 12 month subscription plans available: for $60, you can evaluate up to 1,000 words at a time; for $96, you can evaluate up to 8,000 words at a time; and for $144 you can evaluate an unlimited number of words at a time. You can use any level repeatedly over the duration of the subscription, so while there are limits on the number of words you can upload at any one time with the first two plans, over the course of the year all three programs allow you upload an unlimited number of words. You can try it for free here.

I chose to go with the $60 / 1,000 word option, both because I was skeptical whether the program would be worth it and because I wasn’t sure how unwieldy the longer reports would be. The service so greatly exceeded my expectations that it’s hard to put into words how satisfied I’ve been with it.  AutoCrit is the best $60 I have ever spent.

One final plus — AutoCrit can help you gauge a prospective human editor’s competency. In the future, I plan on requiring potential editors to provide a sample edit of around 1,000 words that I can compare to an AutoCritted sample.

Wendy Van Camp on her blog, No Wasted Ink, also reviewed AutoCrit and provides a nice comparison of it to a few other automated editing services.

You might also like my proofreader, Chereese.

For an account of my experiences with Kirkus Editorial services, go here.

 

Design For Writers — Great Covers, Great Service, Great Experience

The cover art for To Thee is This Word Given was designed by Andrew at Design For Writers.

The final design was the culmination of a 3 month collaboration between myself and DFW.

When Andrew presented me with the first pass proofs, I was impressed with how he well had captured the essence of my book.

Going into the process, I did not have a clear idea of what the cover should look like, only that it needed to be somewhat enigmatic and not stereotypically post-apocalyptic, because the story, while placed in a post-apocalyptic setting, is not stereo-typically post-apocalyptic.

I wanted a cover that could appeal across genres. A cover that could appeal to those who would not normally consider picking up a post-apocalyptic novella.

The covers that I referred Andrew to were almost all from literary titles such as Fiskadoro and Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge.

The process at Design For Writers is geared for success — they have a very lengthy, in-depth intake form, which not only elicits information, it forces you to think seriously about what your story “looks” like and what emotional response you want your cover to evoke.

Their attitude is also geared for success — they are responsive, they listen, and they respect their clients’ feelings, wishes, and input.

I had a great experience working with Design For Writers. If you are looking for a cover designer, drop them a line at hello@designforwriters.com.

You might also like my proofreader, Chereese.

For a review of Kirkus Editorial services, you can visit my post here.

And for a review of AutoCrit’s online editing service, go here.

 

Need a Proof Reader? Try Chereese at GrammarRulesAtoZ

Because of complications with my editing service, Kirkus Editorial, which put me behind schedule, when I received my 1st pass proofs for To Thee is This World Given from 52 Novels (my eBook formatter and print book interior designer), I had to find a competent proofreader on short notice, who would agree to do the work at a reasonable price on an expedited schedule.

Chereese with GrammarRulesAtoZ came to my rescue. Not only did she reply to my inquiry within twenty-four hours, she had my proofs back to me in four days and only charged $150.00 (her rate is based on a flat fee of $1.50 per each double-spaced, twelve point font page).

Cheresse was great to work with and the process was simple and straightforward — you just email your manuscript to her and when it’s ready she will forward you an invoice via PayPal and send you your edited manuscript upon receipt of payment. GrammarRulesAtoZ has a no-frills website, but the service is competent and professional.

I also recommend AutoCrit, which is an automated online editing service. While it does not offer copyediting and is not a substitute for a human editor, it is has been indispensable to me for early round substantive editing, and I can’t recommend it enough. You can learn more about it here. 

Another post you might find helpful is To Lie or To Lay, That is This Question, which provides a quick guide for how to keep lie and lay straight.

To learn about my cover designers, Design for Writers, go here.

To learn more about my experience with Kirkus Editorial, see my post here

Finally, you might also enjoy my post, Publishing: Odds and Ends and Lessons Learned

 

 

To Thee is This World Given, Book One of the Quinquennium

Three years after the day the world reset, when the dead stopped being dead, a man, a woman, two dogs, and a cat, cross paths on rural road littered with desiccated corpses. When the man chases the woman into the woods he links their fates for the next twenty-four hours. What each wants, where each is going, and whether either can be trusted will play out against a vivid, evocative backdrop and the ever present menace of the undead.

To Thee is This World Given is the first of a planned quintet of novellas by Khel Milam highlighting four characters as they cope with and adapt to a post-apocalyptic world. It is the only one of the five books in the Quinquennium series in which all four human characters appear together. Chronologically, it takes place between books four and five.

At just over 100 pages, this understated, thoughtfully composed novella’s steady, unrelenting pace shifts seamlessly from overt to subtle tension, creating a slow burn that holds the reader’s attention from start to finish. Its fluid, effortless prose is always driving forward with no extraneous motion.

What People are saying about To Thee is This World Given:

“A rare gem…a measured, well written…philosophical perspective on the end of the world.” Dom Mossiah, Dom on Wrting 

“Extremely well written — the prose is descriptive and interesting. The characters are memorable.” Ed Morawski, author of over 20 books

“Extremely well written. Milam really knows how to paint a picture with words.” RachaelReads TTITWG page

To Thee is This World Given is brilliantly imagined, expertly told, and hard to put down.

About the author:

Khel grew up in Texas in the 1980s, but has lived in South Florida on and off for the past 20 years. Degrees in Anthropology and Philosophy and Law greatly influence her writing, as does her admiration for the works of John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Dennis Johnson, and Jorge Luis Borges. Despite having intended on being a writer since high school, life seemed to always get in the way. And so, when finally given the opportunity to pursue writing full time, she took it, and her first book, To Thee is This World Given, was released the following year.

Read the first chapter 
Buy A copy now — Amazon     Barnes & Noble  

 

To Thee Is This World Given, Khel Milam, Eponym ISBN 978-0-9862625-1-7 (hb) US $16.95 / 978-0-9862625-0-0 (pb)  US $9.95 / 978-0-9862625-2-4 (Kindle/Mobi) US $2.99 / 978-0-09862625-3-1 (Nook /ePub) US $2.99