Thursday, November 27, 2014

Blog Hop 2

Never one to back down from a challenge, I am taking on Liane's request that I do a blog hop. I must confess that I'm still a little bleary on the details (it's been that sort of week), but here goes as much as I know about my work-in-progress.
Barberry Hill 
I came across the Japenese Barberry plant (tree? shrub?) in a beautiful garden in Virginia and fell in love. I later found out that it is an invasive plant not recommended for your garden, but even that didn't diminish its appeal. Since then I've been writing a series of books (in my head) set on Barberry Hill, a fictitious place in St. Kitts, and I have several story ideas for the young people who live there. I have actually (and literally) put pen to paper on one of them and I hope to finish it by the middle of next year.

1) What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or historic? 
Marcus is the main character in this Barberry Hill novel. He is fictional.

2) When and where is the story set? 
The story is set in the present day in a fictitious town on the island of St. Kitts.

3) What should we know about him/her? 
Marcus is in his mid-teens. An outdoorsy type of boy. His favorite activity is biking. He has two best friends who really have his back when things get rough during the course of the book.

4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life? 
When we meet Marcus he is going through a difficult time in his life. His brother and his grandmother have both recently passed away, his brother under suspicious circumstances. The police and the community believe that his brother's death was a result of his involvement in a gang. Marcus doesn't believe this and is determined to find out the truth. He's dealing with a few other issues as well including his relationship with his parents, the social stratification on the Hill, and his changing relationship with one of his friends.

5) What is the personal goal of the character? 
He wants to be independent, make his own decisions, and to be free of the social pressures of living on the Hill.

6) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?
In my head it is Barberry Hill, however, since there is another young lady who wants her story on the Hill to be told as well, this will have to change.

7) When can we expect the book to be published?
It should be available late 2015.

I nominate Marissa Monteilh for the next blog hop.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Another (potential) Marketing Resource

This month's column is a few days late because ... Well, insert excuse of your choosing here. Though I'm known for having the organizational habits of a magpie, I hit deadlines – present example excluded – reliably enough to find constant work in the media tie-in and write for hire industries. I'll do a column about time management, deadlines and the hitting thereof in the near future. Right now I want to cue off the second half of that third sentence; the part about writing for hire and media tie-in.

Writing media tie-in, which I usually liken to being one musician in an orchestra, is a specialized field that requires an attitude and skillset quite different from writing original fiction. It also does not require – or teach – skills essential to the career of most writers. Among those neglected skills are self-promotion and marketing; skills I am slowly and awkwardly learning by working with Kevin J. Anderson, his wife Reecca Moesta, and their WordFire Press as they publish – and promote – the novels of my uncle, Allen Drury. (And yes, I know marketing and promotion has more to do with October's theme here at Novel Spaces and that this is November.)

Case in point is Story Bundle, a company that works with indie writers and small publishers to get great books into the hands (okay, e-readers) of people who might not otherwise see them. Rather than sell individual books, Story Bundle, as their name implies, creates "bundles" of novels based around a central theme – whodunit, intrigue, period romance, etc. – that include novels from several authors. Thus followers of one author can discover other writers of similar novels, or someone new to a field can sample a variety of novels and writers for a low price, and in that way broaden both their own reading and the indie writers' market. Pricing is the key, because while each bundle has a "bonus threshold" no bundle has a set price. Readers pay what they think the books are worth and how much they want to encourage and support small publishers and indie writers. They can also designate a charity to receive ten percent of their payment. Pay more than the "bonus threshold" and receive additional books at no extra charge.

I'm a former teacher who worked in community services for decades before becoming a full-time writer, so it's a given that I don't understand how marketing works. I would not expect a business model that depended on the customers' perception of value and sense of fair play to flourish, but Story Bundle seems to be working. At no cost to the writer – other than its percentage of sales that probably would not have been made otherwise – which is important.

I was introduced to Story Bundle by KJA and WordFire when Uncle Al's Advise and Consent was chosen as the political thriller for their 8 Ways to Thrill bundle, but it's a connection I'm going to keep open as I develop my own original and indie writing career. Just as I'm going to be on the lookout for other innovative marketing and promotional opportunities – because none of us knows what might open the doors we want to go through.

(Wait! I forgot the self-promotion bit. Um. "Click on the link above and go buy the bundle with my uncle's book!" How's that? Needs work? Okay. Practice, practice, practice.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Blog hop

Thank you Sunny Frazier for asking me to take part in this blog hop! I've got two works-in-progress and had a hard time deciding which to choose. I decided to go with my new romantic suspense novel, Driving Karina.

Driving Karina
 by Liane Spicer

1) What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or historic? 
Karina is the main character in my WIP. She is an attorney who has just come out of a brutal divorce. She buys a sports car and goes on vacation but is injured and scarred in a car crash. She has to hire a driver when she goes back to work in the city, and to her dismay finds herself becoming attracted to the gruff, former soldier who is nothing like the smooth Ivy League types she has always been attracted to.

2) When and where is the story set? 
The story is set in Fort Lauderdale and a Caribbean island.

3) What should we know about him/her? 
Karina is a high achiever from a comfortable background for whom life has been smooth-sailing and success came easily. She is a woman of integrity but is ambitious and more than a little spoiled--until her husband drops his facade and her entire world crashes. She finds out she never really knew the man she thought she loved; that he has been unfaithful throughout their relationship; that he does not wish her well. She can't find reprieve in work because she and her ex co-owned the firm and the staff now has divided loyalties. She feels friendless and betrayed; her secure world has become an alien place where she feels she can't trust anyone.

4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life? 
Karina's ex is a nasty piece of work, and he is determined to wrest the company from her. She is forced to rely on her driver more and more as the sand keeps shifting under her feet. There are problems with a client, and she suspects her husband of tampering with her cases. Having to cope with her injury while working through all of the above is extremely challenging for her as she has no patience with weakness, especially her own.

5) What is the personal goal of the character? 
After all the subterfuges, betrayals and illusions of the past, she wants to discover what is real and valuable in herself and in her life.

6) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?
Driving Karina is the title, and this is about all I'll say about the story at this time!

7) When can we expect the book to be published? 
It should be available in stores Spring 2015.

And now, to continue the blog hop, I nominate Jewel Amethyst and Carol Mitchell.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Taking the Plunge

I haven’t been without some sort of regular paid job since I was 16 years old. In the thirty odd years since then, I’ve worked as a groundskeeper at a swim and tennis club until after the summer I graduated high school. After that, I was in the service for eleven years and racked up quite an eclectic collection of job titles and work experience, and then I spent the next eighteen years in the private sector, working for a handful of different companies as a software developer.

I didn’t get serious about writing with an eye toward publication until my late twenties, and even after I sold my first short stories and started writing novels on a consistent basis, it was still something I did “on the side.” Writing was always “the other job,” which I fit around my normal work schedule, and it bent even more once my wife and I had our two kids. There were lots of late nights and early mornings, or weekends squirreled away at the library or some other place of refuge as I worked to meet this or that deadline. If I slept more than four or five hours a night, it was a cause for celebration. Still, I was making it work. I’d reached a point where I was almost always working on a novel and maybe a few other things like short stories or magazine articles, and the money earned from these projects was going toward my kids’ school tuition and college funds, or our retirement nest egg.

Then, earlier this year, I got word that I probably would be laid off from my “real” job.

Naturally, I was at first gripped by uncertainty. I’d been dancing in the layoff minefield for the better part of a decade at this point, surviving IT outsourcing, mergers and workforce reductions of one sort or another across three different companies. I’d known for years that my number, sooner or later, would come up, and that was the major reason that my “day job” had ceased being a career and had instead become just a job. I’d been in IT for almost thirty years, and I was good at what I did, but I didn’t really love it anymore. That wasn’t always the case, of course. As a developer, I relished the challenge of figuring out how to create software to meet a client’s needs, or just to see if something harebrained could be done.

With the ever-present fear of layoffs, that enthusiasm had started to wane, replaced by the need to just hang on by any means necessary. I no longer had any real passion for the work, and it certainly wasn’t creatively fulfilling. Writing had already long since moved in to fill that void, and for years I’d been wondering and dreaming about the idea of writing full time. However, it was hard to walk away from steady employment that paid extremely well, and once our kids came along the idea of abandoning that to chase a dream seemed ludicrous. I was supposed to be an adult with responsibilities, right? The time for running off on some crazy quest had passed, perhaps not to return until after my children were in college, and maybe not even then.

It’s amazing how the prospect of being laid off changes your perspective.

With the decision now at least partially made for me, pondering my options became a lot easier. As I began perusing want ads and job listings and updating my resume, all while less than enthused by the idea of “starting over” at another company with all my seniority a thing of the past, I knew that I was doing it because I “had to” and not because I wanted to. Thankfully, my wife—who is much smarter than I am—saw in my face that if left to my own devices, I would eventually find some other IT job that might pay our bills, and I’d do it because I thought it was what I had to do, and continue on as I’d been doing the last several years. It was she who said to me, “You should just write full time.”

Wait. What?

“You’re happier doing that, anyway. You’ll be able to turn your full energy to it and write more, and faster. You’ll get more sleep, you’ll have more time for me and the kids, and you won’t be so grumpy all the time. Let me emphasize that I’m very much on board with the whole being less grumpy thing.”

After a long conversation one night after dinner, we weighed the pros and cons of this bold idea. Could I do it? Sure. More time to write is more to time to write, right? What about the money? That part would be a little tricky, but the upside to having written professionally for fifteen years is that I’ve had those fifteen years to build something of a reputation and a network of contacts. Reaching out to a few of those contacts was enough to tell me that the opportunities were there. I just had to seize them.

So, with my wife’s backing and support, I’ve cast aside caution, dared to spit into the wind, and taken the plunge into writing full-time. After taking a week off to recharge following my last day of “regular employment,” I hit the ground running and completed a couple of contracted writing assignments while laying out plans for future work. As November approached, I elected to double down and take on National Novel Writing Month, with an eye toward completing at least half of my next contracted novel during these insane thirty days. I've been contracted to write three novels after that, along with a handful of other projects, and things farther down the road are starting to come into focus, too.

It’s early yet, and in many ways I’m still undergoing the transition, but there already have been tangible benefits. Remember what I said about sleeping more (and better), having more free time for the family, and generally being less grumpy? It’s all true. Am I nervous about the future? Absolutely. Then again, I was nervous about the future at the other job, too. At least now I’m doing something I truly love doing, and I feel reenergized and ready to take on all comers.

I guess we’ll see what we’ll see.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Let's Hop Around Novel Spaces!

I was asked to do a blog hop and then nominate two other authors to carry it forward. I nominated Liane and hopefully we can hop around Novel Spaces to talk about Works In Progress (WIP). Would love to know what all of you are working on!

I've been pretty mum about my third novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries. Time to let the rabbit out of the hat! 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Judging a Book

I'm going to repost from the "Heard on the Backseat" section of my much ignored blog.

Me: You can't judge a book by it's cover.
Eleven year old daughter: Unless it's the back cover.

This comment was timely because it came at a time when a slew of emails were going back and forth about the blurb of the upcoming book Musical Youth. The blurb is one of the more important components of a published novel. First the reader checks out the cover and if that intrigues them enough, they flip it (whether in reality or online) and read the back. If you can't hook them with the blurb then you may as well give up right away.

So I'm going to write about what I've learnt about writing a blurb and how we constructed the Musical Youth blurb.

1. (Optional) An eye-catching header. We went with "Music, Discovery, Love"  centered and large at the top.

2. (Optional) A Tag line. This can be in question form, something that intrigues the reader. For Musical Youth we asked the reader their opinion "Can one summer make the difference of a lifetime?"

3. Then we briefly introduce the protagonist and characters. It's a good idea to introduce them by name, so that the reader connects to them right away. Give a bit of their essence and the relationships that make them interesting. With Musical Youth the name of the protagonist is interesting in and of itself, so we're already way ahead of the game.

Zahara is a loner. She's brilliant on the guitar but in everyday life she doesn't really fit in. Then she meets Shaka, himself a musical genius and the first boy who really gets her. They discover that they share a special bond, their passion for music, and Zahara finds herself a part, not just of Shaka's life, but also that of his boys, the Lion Crew.

4. The Problem statement. What is a book without a problem, something which affects and fundamentally changes the protagonist? The blurb should give an idea of what the protagonist has to overcome so that the reader (who now considers the protagonist among their best friends) is drawn in to the meat of the book. This was the biggest challenge in the development of the Musical Youth blurb. It was difficult to balance giving away enough to create interest and not giving away too much of the plot. Check out the end result on Amazon. #MusicalYouth

5. Finally, there is the conclusion that gives the readers an idea of the type of book that they are about to read. We could have gone with something like "Musical Youth is a beautifully crafted novel with a musical thread running through it" but someone beat us to that, unfortunately.

And that's the end of that. Of course this is just one approach. Tell me about your experience with blurb writing? How important is it in the process to publication?

Friday, November 7, 2014

NaNoWriMo No

This month, if you are an author, a lot of people are probably asking you if you are participating in NaNoWriMo, AKA National Novel Writing Month.

My reply is an inevitable "No." It's not that I don't think it's a good idea, or that it's a waste of time. I just know how I work. For starters I hand write my manuscripts which is slower in and of itself. Then I just work slowly. I tend to write a bit in the morning and then do other things the rest of the day. I don't spend hours writing. I'm not sure I could. 

None of that adds up to 50,000 words in 30 days. But it does add up to the occasional novel and or novella. 

But it does leave me on the outside for an entire month while other people freak out over word counts and plot problems. 

Sometimes, just sometimes, I wish I could participate. I can see the appeal of the challenge. And it must be satisfying to see the words rack up and have something to show for a month of hard work. At the same time, most of the authors I know reach the end of NaNoWriMo, and promptly metaphorically shelve their NaNo novels in perpetuity, never to see the light of day.

So what exactly is there at the end of all that stress? Bragging rights? A sense of accomplishment? Well, I don't exactly know. But I do know that if you get to the end and make word count, have yourself a treat! You've done something at least. You wrote.