Monday, October 31, 2011

Guest author Kerri Nelson: A legend in my own mind

Kerri Nelson discovered her love of writing at an early age and soon became a columnist for her local newspaper winning the Outstanding Young Journalist of the Year Award for her efforts. After a fifteen year career in the legal field, Kerri fulfilled her lifelong dream of publication and is now an award winning multi-published author of nearly every genre under the sun (and moon) and also writes young adult fiction under the pen name K.G. Summers.  

A true southern belle, she comes complete with a dashing southern gentleman and three adorable children for whom she often bakes homemade treats.  Kerri is an active member of Sisters in Crime and Romance Writers of America as well as numerous chapters including Futuristic Fantasy & Paranormal Writers and Celtic Hearts Romance Writers, of which she is president. 

Kerri is giving away a Fall Goodie Bag to one commenter on this post. For details on entering her GRAND PRIZE Kindle giveaway, see below.  

A Legend in my Own Mind

My latest release entitled Courting Demons is categorized in the Urban Fantasy genre.  What is Urban Fantasy?  Well, by definition, it is a novel set in a city that contains paranormal or fantasy elements.  My book is set in a city (albeit a small city/suburb of Atlanta) and does contain many paranormal and fantasy elements - and some romance too, although the romance elements are secondary to the other story elements.

This is an extremely popular genre in the marketplace these days.  I’m sure that most people can think of several books or movies that fit nicely into this category. But what are these things called…Urban Legends?  Are they somehow connected to Urban Fantasy?

Well, not really…by definition…but in a way—they too are fictional stories or folklore which often contain paranormal or fantasy element although the settings may vary. In fact, when I was doing research for this post, I found pages' worth of websites devoted wholly to Urban Legends. They make the perfect scary story for telling around the good old camp fire. Here are a couple that I found that stood out for me (courtesy of

The Curse of the Faceless Woman

Lost in time, this story is told, about a woman, dark and bold. 
She walks the streets on a foggy night, with a hood on her head to hide from sight.

Her story starts one summer’s eve, beside the lake an evil deed. 
A thief stole her daughter’s life, and filled her soul with pain and strife.

On a moonlit night along the shore, two young lovers walked and more. 
In each other’s arms that night, they talked of love and held on tight.

In the morning they were found, their hands and feet with rope were bound. 
Eyes wide open a vacant stare, their souls are gone and no one’s there.

The police did search for the one, an evil deed to be undone. 
In vain, they search to no avail, their efforts weak, lost, and pale.

A mother’s hear broken and splayed, a debt to justice went unpaid. 
She walked the streets at night alone, to make the sinners pay and atone.

She searched the shores by day and night, a vain attempt to make things right. 
And then one early morning dawn, she was found her spirit gone.

On foggy night’s times untold, she walks the streets dark and bold. 
She only walks the streets at night, within the fog to hide her flight.

All clad in black she walks alone, an evil soul she’ll make atone. 
She walks among the star-less night, sometimes seen beneath the bright streetlight.

All children know to be aware, least they see her standing there. 
They hurry home at the approach of night, sure that they would die at her sight.

So in the night if you should see, a woman in black, listen to me. 
Look not at her face I say, or with your soul you shall pay

Teke Teke

Teke Teke is the ghost of a Japanese schoolgirl who roams the train stations of Japan. In life, this girl was a scaredy cat and people were always playing practical jokes on her. One day at the train station after school, her friends decided to put a cicada, a bug that appears in the summer in Japan, on her shoulder. Sadly, this turned out to be a fatal prank. She was so scared she fell off of the platform and was hit by a shinkansen (the fastest train in Japan) and her body was split in two.

Now she is haunting the train stations of Japan, dragging herself with her elbows and sometimes her hands. She is known to kill people with her scythe and split people in half with the harsh speed of the Shinkansen to make her victims feel her pain. Her name is “Teke Teke” or “Bata Bata” because of the noise she makes when she is dragging herself around.

What do you think of Urban Legends and do you have a fave one you’d like to share?  I’m giving away a Fall Goodie Bag to one commenter. Details on how to enter to win the GRAND PRIZE Kindle at the end of my “Dark Days of Demons Tour” located here.

Thanks for hosting today, Liane.  Hope everyone will chime in with their own fave legends.

©  Kerri Nelson 2011

Courting Demons by Kerri Nelson

Paisley Barton was already having a bad day before she turned her husband into a rat. First, she was fired by her boss and then came home to find hubby in the shower with a naked blonde chick. They say that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned but this break-up may just unleash hell on Earth when Paisley casts a spell of vengeance against her philandering husband.

After her spell casting inadvertently opens a portal between dimensions, Paisley finds her family home transformed into a nightly courtroom for settling disputes between demons of the underworld - and she’s the judge! If that’s not enough, she’s got to deal with a charming, ancient demon named Camden who wants to be her personal bodyguard while trying to explain her husband’s sudden, mysterious disappearance to sexy police Detective Dalton Briggs.

But Paisley will show them all that an everyday working mom is better equipped than most to deal with mystical mayhem…and with a tempting demon hottie and a flirtatious young detective vying for her affection, she soon learns that being single again isn’t so bad after all. 

“When a wronged wife turns her cheating husband into a rat, you know you have to keep reading! Kerri Nelson offers up a lot of fun and wild magic in Courting Demons! --Bestselling author, Linda Wisdom, Demons are a Girl’s Best Friend

Available wherever books are sold!
Publisher link—free gift available with purchase of print copy—while supplies last):
Read more about Kerri’s books at her website: 
Follow her on Twitter here:
Visit her industry blog here:

Best of luck on your book tour, Kerri!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

October giveaways

We're giving away four titles on Novel Spaces this month. To enter, leave a comment on this post indicating which book(s) you're interested in, or alternatively you may leave a comment on our Giveaways! page. Good luck!

October Giveaways

Hot Fun in the Summertime by Chicki Brown (Contemporary women's fiction. Digital - Kindle copy only)
Texas Twilight by Caroline Fyffe (Western historical romance. Digital.)
Tastes of Love and Evil by Barbara Monajem (Paranormal romance. Digital or paperback.)
Hot Girlz by Marissa Monteilh (Mainstream. Trade paperback.)


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Halloween Fiction

With Halloween just a couple of days away, it got me to thinking about some of my favorite Halloween books and others worth noting.

Hallowe'en Party: A Hercule Poirot Mystery by Agatha Christie is certainly I've enjoyed. (Of course, everything Agatha wrote was wonderful). When a teenager is murdered at a Halloween party, Hercule Poirot is asked by a visiting mystery writer to investigate.

The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury is another good Halloween treat. Eight boys are out Halloween night to meet friend at a Haunted House and are taken on journey by mysterious character named Moundshroud.

Halloween Night by R.L Stine. A killer is on loose on this scariest of nights. Part of Stine's Point Horror Series.

Ghost Girl in Shadow Bay by my alter ego R. Barri Flowers, is not a Halloween novel per se, but is does contain ghosts, a haunted house, nightmares, a killer, and plenty of scary moments. It is now an audiobook, along with eBook and in print.

Other Halloweenish books I'd recommend, include the Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer and the Frankenstein Series by Dean Koontz.

What are your favorite Halloween novels?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Show the love

There are three reviews on Amazon for my first book, Adventure at Brimstone Hill.

I am painfully aware of this because I just released the third edition and spent some quality time with Amazon getting the reviews moved from the old to the new edition and also linked to the Kindle edition. The folks at Amazon were probably wondering why I even bothered!

Having come face-to-face with the paucity of the reviews on my books, I have begun a major campaign to get more reviewers to make their comments online.

Why is this so important? Liane Spicer has discussed this before and a friend of mine who is an author claims that reviews are how readers show their love for authors.

There are millions of books available on Amazon. Readers need some way to make that decision to take a chance on an unknown author. One thing that persuades me to try a new book, apart from recommendations from a friend and a price that is low enough to seem risk free is a thoughtful review with an honest ring. Even negative reviews are useful as what someone else finds unappealing (for example, a strong Christian message), I may think is just the right thing. If I come across a book with no reviews, I am likely to move on without buying it.

So, how am I (clearly unsuccessfully) working to get more reviews?

Well, there is the obvious, Whenever someone makes a positive comment on my books by email or verbally, I try to get them to put it in writing on Amazon. Clearly this is not working!

I tried a giveaway, a free copy of my Adventure At Brimstone Hill Activity Guide to anyone posting a comment. This has yielded me one comment, which is actually not so bad in the scheme of things.

I have also been working on getting "professional" reviewers to comment on the book. At first I would look on Amazon for reviewers who clearly gave thoughtful reviews of similar children's books, look at their other reviews as an indication of whether they wrote frequent reviews and if so, to try to find a way to contact them. This was a time-consuming process as you can imagine, but thankfully I also found an interesting (I am not yet able to comment on the effectiveness) blog which lists reviewers along with some information on their preferred genre and other details. The list is long and many reviewers do not accept electronic copies of the books so I will have to mail a physical copy, however, it is certainly more effective than my first approach!

How do reviews sway your buying decisions? Have you found a successful method to increase the number of reviews on your book?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Research in motion

Researching for a novel today is much different from a few decades ago. Back then an author had to travel to the physical location. He/she had to learn the cultures, customs, and language of the people where the novel was set. Researching involved spending days in the stacks at the library combing through books and papers, or reading several different encyclopedias.

Today, with the easy access of the internet, research is much different….easier, cheaper. A simple Google search can gain an author access to many things the encyclopedia could not. With Google Earth, an author could get a street view of a location with amazing details—no travel necessary. Pictures could provide settings with one click and blogs and local radio broadcasts via the internet can give a realistic assessment of the day to day lives of people in many places. Yes the possibilities are endless.

In spite of that, there are times when research is needed. Dan Brown, author of blockbusters like “The DaVinci Code” and “Angels and Demons”, does painstaking research for his books. The internet cannot fill in the gap for the types of books he writes. There are many books that deal with topics that require much more than an internet search can provide … even romance books.

For me, a romance writer, I have kept my research rather simple by writing about contemporary people in contemporary settings. I have stuck to familiar occupations and cultures, and kept settings in places that I have lived or visited for extended periods of time. My reason for that is simple: I have read novels set in the Caribbean that just did not ring true for me, a native of the Caribbean. They didn’t capture the spirit of the place and were filled with stereotypes.

So for my current WIP I chose a place that I was already familiar with. It is set in a Dominica, a Caribbean island that I have visited on numerous occasions for extended periods of time. Being married to a native of that country, I am familiar with the customs and cultures, and even though I cannot speak the local language, I am familiar with it.

I began writing that novel late this summer, though I’ve had the outline for almost a year. My timing was no coincidence. It was carefully planned to coincide with my pending visit to that country. You see, I am going to do some research on location. No Google Earth or blog sites or tourist sites for me. I intend to verify locations, places, and capture the essence of the island … the feelings the place invokes. Now my trip wasn’t designed for research. It was simply a visit to my husband’s home country to celebrate his parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary. But the timing is ideal for this current WIP, and by beginning the novel before I visit the island I can identify the voids and shortcomings in the manuscript and fill them in when I get there.

So yes, in a short while, I’ll be making that journey to do “research”, the type of research that’s best done on location. In my next blog post, I’ll let you know how my research went.

How do you conduct research for your novels?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Purposeful Art

I've decided to take fellow Novelnaut Shauna up on the invitation in her last post to further explore the blog's theme for this month: Should fiction have a purpose?

Last week I attended a lecture where that question was thrown out to the class in a slightly different form: Should art have a purpose? At one point the lecturer urged me to decide one way or another. I could not. Initially I found the ideal of Aestheticism, or art for art's sake, profoundly appealing. Why should art, including fiction, have any underlying purpose? Why set out to be didactic, or political, or moralistic? Why not just be wildly or quietly creative with no motive but to express an innate impulse to make something new, beautiful and utterly useless?

As the discussion progressed and I gave the issue more thought I decided that whether the artist/writer intends it or not, all art has purpose intrinsically: entertainment, yes, but also humour, exploration of ideas, places, eras and peoples, "life, the universe and everything" - or to put it succinctly, it explores all of what it means to be human. The audience brings myriad reference points to the story and each member takes away something unique and lasting. Every book I've read has made an impression, even the ones I've flung against the wall.

What makes a creative piece 'fluff'? The fact that a book was written for entertainment alone does not devalue it; I've found value in some of the most light-hearted, frivolous, agenda-free stories. So here I go, trotting over to the Aestheticist aisle once again. I submit that what debases a work of fiction is not the absence of an overt purpose on the part of the writer but whether, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, the story is well or badly written.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Purpose-driven Novel

The theme at Novel Spaces this month is, "Should novels have a purpose beyond entertaining the reader?" My answer is an unqualified, "Yes!"

It's not that I'm against novels entertaining people. In fact, I believe the most important function of a novel is to entertain. A novel that doesn't is a failure.

But a novel that does nothing but entertain is like cotton candy—without substance and a waste of time and money.


At minimum, I believe a book should have a theme. It can be as simple as "Love conquers all" or "Justice wins in the end " or "Honor above all," themes that run, respectively, through many romance novels, mysteries, and Westerns. It can be something controversial, such as "Fate controls one's destiny" or "People control their own destinies." Without theme, a book has no meaning or resonance, no power to last.

But books can offer a much richer experience than mere entertainment and a theme that satisfies. I have conscious purposes for almost every story and book I write. I put in situations to make my readers think, as well as messages, ideas, or information. Sometimes themes show up on their own, and when they do, I go back and develop them further.

Here are five of my several purposes for my 2009 novel Like Mayflies in a Stream.

1. Like Mayflies in a Stream is set in ancient Mesopotamia about 2750 B.C.E. Most historical fiction readers, like most fantasy and science fiction readers, want to know what it's like to live in another place, time, or society. I obliged them by having scenes set in the city, the wilderness, and a farming village. The characters are as true to their time as I could make them, as are the customs and physical settings. The reader both has an excellent time reading about the characters' adventures (I hope) and learns something about the world's first city and its people.

2. My book was inspired by the world's first epic poem, "The Epic of Gilgamesh," which is about the world's first superhero and his exploits. The tension between wildness and civilization is a thread woven intricately throughout the poem. This theme deeply resonated with me: I am only happy when living in a city with lots of music, good food, and art, yet I am also only happy when I am part of the natural world. I have never completely reconciled those two sides of my nature.

I put into my novel conflicts between wildness and civilization at several levels: between wilderness and village; between wilderness and big city; between Gilgamesh, the world's greatest king, and Enkidu, a wild man brought up by gazelles; between the sophisticated priestess Shamhat and the rustic trapper Zaidu; and within the complex man Gilgamesh himself.

The reader gradually realizes (again, this is my hope)  that we 21st-century Americans are not so different. We still struggle with civilization. We want civic order and prosperity, but we want to do our own thing and make our own rules. We want to breathe clean air and hear birds sing, but we also want to live near our jobs and enjoy the safety of having our houses behind flood walls and wolves well away from our backyards.

3. Shamhat, priestess of Inanna (the goddess of love), only appears in a few lines in the "Epic of Gilgamesh." I made her the heroine of Like Mayflies in a Stream and gave her many ethical dilemmas. Her duties conflict, and she has to puzzle out whether she owes her greatest loyalty to her king, her city, her temple, her family, or herself. She makes choices—but I am still pondering whether they were the right choices. I hope readers are too; I hope reading about Shamhat's decisions will help readers when they have to make similar ethical choices.

4. I have a pet peeve: The collateral damage left behind by macho heroes in books and movies is often glossed over or even presented as entertainment. Audiences cheer, for example, when a movie has a car chase or an explosion that kills many people. Gilgamesh is the prototype for this style of hero.

I thought the world needed a feminist perspective on the epic's portrayal of Gilgamesh as a hero worthy of honor, as well as on his many modern-day successors. (Why do I consider this a feminist issue? Women usually suffer the most in stories with these kind of heroes.) In Like Mayflies in a Stream, Shamhat witnesses the destruction Gilgamesh causes, and she takes on the heavy burden of trying to protect her family, her friends, and her temple.

5. I have another pet peeve: Some authors who want a  woman character to be strong make her rude and sarcastic and bossy, put her in black leather boots (high-heeled, of course), arm her heavily, deprive her of female friends, and have her be as violent and create as much havoc as Gilgamesh and other macho heroes.

I am a strong woman and I am (almost) nothing like that, and I worry about the influence of so-called "kick-ass heroines" on young people's self-concepts and on perceptions and expectations of women. So I  write heroines who are strong in the way real women are strong and who are true to their societies and times. That's how I wrote Shamhat. Hadley Rille Books specializes in fantasy novels and historical fiction with strong, realistic heroines, and Shamhat and Like Mayflies in a Stream found a welcoming home there.

I invite more Novelnauts in their October posts to take up the question of whether fiction should have purpose. I have strong opinions that it should, and I believe that done well, purpose in fiction makes  fiction stronger, not weaker.

What do you Novel Spaces readers think?

I'll be blogging again at Novel Spaces on November 6. Between now and then, I'll be attending the World Fantasy Convention. I hope to tell you a bit about it on November 6 and more in my November 21 post.

If you've read this far, thank you. This post was long, and I appreciate your reading it to the end. I hope it gave you much food for thought.

—Shauna Roberts

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Guest Author Pamela D. Rice: What's In A Name?

Pamela D. Rice is an author at Peace In The Storm Publishing. Her debut novel, The Sunday Morning Wife, was nominated for Breakout Author of the Year by the African American Literary Awards Show in 2010. She has also enjoyed a consistent place in the top ten on the Black Christian News Network Independent Publishers list for Christian Fiction. Her next novel, The Monday Night Mistress, is due late winter. In her spare time, Pamela enjoys reading, spending time with her family, and exploring other cultures.

What's In A Name? Choosing Your Characters Wisely

When readers pick up a book, the first thing most of them notice is the book cover. The next thing they look at is the synopsis and the names of the characters. Contrary to popular belief, both play a part in the reader purchasing the book.

For instance, a reader loves to read Historical Fiction. They pick up a book with a great cover, depicting a female runaway slave. They excitedly turn the book over to read the synopsis, and the main characters name is Ciara. The book is placed back on the shelf, and the reader continues to peruse the book shelves. The writer missed a great opportunity for purchase by placing a modern name in Historical Fiction. Choosing a name that is appropriate for the era which you are in is vitally important.

Another faux pas in choosing names is not researching the meanings of the names when choosing characters. For example, a writer completes an Inspirational Fiction novel in which the main character Morana overcomes many obstacles by speaking life and believing God to be her sole deliverer. Sounds good doesn’t it? Except the name Morana means death. Or, what about a main character named Mortimer, who vows to keep baptizing parishioners in spite of a new law banning baptism? Mortimer is on a mission, except his name means Dead Sea. How’s that for an irony? You should always do your research and choose names that match your characters.

In addition, make the names of your characters easy to pronounce. The reader should not have to stop reading the story to decipher a name. The characters names should roll off their tongues as they read. Names like La'Quishraniqua, and De’Trontavarius, are hard to pronounce, and the reader will spend more time trying to decide on the correct pronunciation when they should be reading and enjoying the story. (It is not my intention to poke fun at anyone’s name. The above names are used for illustrative points only).

Writers have many resources to choose from when seeking names for characters. I have prepared a small list as follows:

Internet - The internet has a plethora of names to choose from. Google “African-American names, popular names, baby names”, etc.

Library - The historical section in the library offers a great place to research names.

Movie Credits - You will find interesting names if you wait a few minutes after the movie is over. The people behind the scenes often have some very fascinating names.

Genealogy searches - When searching your family tree, you may find suitable names for your characters.

Old church records - If you have access to historical church records, you are sure to find some unique names.

Graveyards - Although it sounds morbid, graveyards offer a great wealth of names. If you need a strong name for a male character, a trip to a graveyard would find you a name like Judson Prelo Foster, who happens to be my grandfather. He was as imposing as his name sounds.

Finally, have fun. Choosing a name, while important, should never become an arduous task. If you are having problems choosing a name for a main character, insert your own name until you find one. Never let a name keep you from writing a fantastic story that is waiting to be told. You could be holding the next New York Times Bestseller. Visit Pamela at

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Write Proudly!

“Hey, Dayton, when are you going to give up that Star Trek nonsense and do some real writing? Why do you even bother with that stuff?”

I field some variation of this question on an irregular though not infrequent basis. Most of the time, it’s from someone who’s read my original fiction, and wants to know why I’m not devoting more time to that instead of Star Trek or media tie-ins in general.

My all-time favorite example of being confronted with this topic is from several years ago. Along with my frequent writing partner, Kevin Dilmore, I attended a writing conference hosted by a decent-sized writer’s association (of which I was a member) here in my home state. The conference’s aim was to give writers of varying experience a chance to interact with editors, agents, and other publishing professionals. Most of the people who had paid to attend the conference were new to the writing game, many of them still hunting for that first sale to a professional market. We accepted invitations from a friend on the planning committee, who wanted us to chair a discussion about the business and craft of writing for licensed properties. The opening night’s introductory session featured all of the conference’s “faculty members” for the weekend, seated at a long table atop a raised dais. Seated at a table on the floor, next to the dais? Kevin and me. Yep, we were at the kids’ table, unambiguously segregated from the “real writers.”

Though we exchanged knowing glances with each other, Kevin and I, being professionals, put on our game faces and took our seats, and waited for our turn to speak. We didn’t have to wait long, as the person chairing the discussion turned to us and offered what I’m sure was the opening zinger she’d been refining and rehearsing for weeks: “I was hoping you’d be wearing your [Star Trek] costumes.” Her comment garnered some few chuckles, after which she asked, “So, tell us, why do you write those Star Trek stories, anyway?”

Kevin will tell you that it took me somewhere between two and three tenths of a second to formulate and deliver my answer: “Because they pay us.”

The response earned me a nice round of applause from the audience, a look of contempt from the conference chair, and various offers to buy me and Kevin drinks for the remainder of the weekend. For the next two days, conference attendees and even other members of the "faculty" approached us--coming out of the closet, to borrow an expression--and asked about how they, too, could get in on that tie-in action. Only a few seemed put off when I told them that, contrary to popular myth and legend, one does not first have to be bitten by another media tie-in writer in order to become one. We even sat and talked with the conference’s keynote speaker, the wonderful, incomparable, totally awesome and equally sweet Leslie Banks. After blowing the doors and windows out of the joint with her riveting address to the conference, she wanted to pick our brains about writing tie-ins, as she had recently signed a contract to write such a book.

So, why do I write tie-ins? As I elaborated after offering that conference chair my initial (and admittedly flippant) answer, and aside from the fact that it can pay rather well, I do it for the same reason I like to write science fiction, horror and the odd mystery now and then, and why other writers craft romances, or westerns, or vampire stories: because it’s fun. Writing for hire has also presented me with other opportunities I otherwise might not have enjoyed, such as writing for magazines and certain high-profile websites. In the case of writing Star Trek fiction, it helps that I’ve been a fan of the original series since my diaper days. What’s that old adage about writing what you love? Well, that applies here, too. Getting to write all-new adventures for characters I’ve loved all my life? And they pay me? Are you kidding?

Yes, there’s a stigma attached to media tie-in writing. Many people believe such books are cranked out by hacks looking for a quick, easy paycheck. At one time, that might well have been true to a large extent, and I can’t say for certain that there aren’t still writers who take on such projects for similar reasons. On the other hand, the people I know who do this with any regularity invest the same sort of time and effort into their tie-in projects as they do their own original works. As for me, I don’t even know how not to do that. When I was a kid, my father taught me that I should carry out every task in such a way that I’d never hesitate to sign my name to the final product or result. Since that’s something I literally do every time a fan hands me their copy of one of my books, I want to be able to look that person in the eye and tell them I had fun writing the novel they bought with their hard-earned money, and that I’m proud of the work I did.

Don’t ever feel ashamed for writing what you love. Don’t ever apologize for it, either. Write proudly!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Guest author Nuala Ní Chonchúir: Language, Leisure and a Place to Sit

Born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1970, Nuala Ní Chonchúir lives in Galway County. Her début novel You (New Island, 2010) was called ‘a heart-warmer’ by The Irish Times and ‘a gem’ by The Irish Examiner. Her third short story collection Nude (Salt, 2009)) was shortlisted for the UK’s Edge Hill Prize; her third poetry collection The Juno Charm is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry. Her second short story collection To The World of Men, Welcome has just been re-issued by Arlen House in an expanded paperback edition. Nuala has recently completed her second novel.

At a short story conference in Toronto in 2010, I heard the supreme Canadian novelist and short story writer Alistair MacLeod say this: ‘In order to write you have to have language and you have to have leisure. You have to have a place to sit.’

Well, we all have language and, as writers, we are probably in love with it on many levels: as readers, as observers and as people who like to bend it to our own use. My childhood was steeped in language – my father was (and is) an accomplished oral storyteller. He was unafraid of both the colloquial and the learned phrase, and all of it was put to use in the stories he told and invented.

And I read, hungrily and without discrimination. All of the good writers I know are readers. Big readers. They read like vultures, devouring the words and picking out the juiciest bits to savour. Writers delight in language, whether they are stylists like Annie Proulx, or fans of the clean, clear sentence like Yiyun Li.

Leisure. It’s a word that has connotations of idleness which I know Alistair MacLeod did not mean. What he meant was you have to either find, or create, space to write. If you want to succeed as a writer and by that I mean if you hope to get the words down and get them published, you have to make the time to write. Novels are written one word at a time, over long periods of time. It generally takes me about a year to complete a novel; it took Arundhati Roy ten years to write The God of Small Things.

I always tell my Creative Writing students that writing is a vocation and you have to be dedicated. The nuns who taught me at secondary school often talked to us about vocations; they were hoping, I suppose, that some of us would veil up and replace them. One nun told us you would know you had a vocation because it would be whispered in your ear. I waited for that whisper: the idea of being a nun appealed to me as much as it appalled me. All that solitude! All that solitude…The call from Jesus or whomever never did come my way, but from a young age, someone or something persistently whispered in my ear: ‘You want to write’. Someone or something was handing me my vocation: ‘You want to write’.

And because I wanted to write, I had to find a way to gain leisure. A soon as I realised this was what I wanted to do, I switched to part-time work. When I had two books published, I left the workplace and began to write full-time. Well, as full-time as you can with two kids. Now with a third child, I have to buy my leisure. Ten and a half hours of it a week, at a cost of €208 a month. That’s the price of my daughter’s three-morning-a-week crèche place and that is what we as a family can afford for me to write.

So what of a place to sit? Well, for me, novel writing means routine – welcome routine – and in order to use my precious ten and a half hours a week fruitfully, I like to come back to the same place, so that I can pick up where I left off with ease. I have a study but it is the coldest room in the house so I abandoned it in favour of a warm corner of the dining room. Here sits my desk and computer, bookshelf, printer and lamp, and that’s pretty much all I need.

It sounds so simple: ‘language, leisure and a place to sit’ and it is simple in that it makes absolute sense. For novelists starting out their biggest complaint is always the lack of leisure time, time to get the work done. But I urge anyone who is serious about writing that first novel to carve out time from their life by any means – the language and the place to sit will fall into place, once you create the leisure.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Spoken Word in Fiction

As an author, I have had a number of my novels turned into what I call "audio movies." That is, they have all the characteristics of a movie, only you use your mind's eye to depict what the narrator reads.

My latest novels to audio include KILLER IN THE WOODS, DEAD IN THE ROSE CITY, and GHOST GIRL IN SHADOW BAY. It is the closest I have come, thus far, to having my books adapted to the silver or small screen. Hopefully, it is a step in the right direction in that regard.

But what I really want to talk about are other great audio novels out there. Before I became a novelist, I was a big fan of audio fiction. I remain one and am always looking for great audio novels to listen to while traveling or even during a meal at home with my wife, also a huge fan of great audio books.

There appears to be a resurgence in the popularity of audio books with digital downloads, CDs, iPads, etc. As a result, there are any number of means to listen to your favorite authors and more authors available in audio format in recent times.

As with books adapted to screenplay and then produced, the quality of the audio book depends largely on the actor/narrator/producer. Even if the novel is unabridged, which is often the case these days, or spoken word for word from a great novel in eBook or print, if the narrator seems to be sleepwalking through it or reading as if an article from the newspaper, most listeners will be able to tell and could mean the difference in listening to the entire book or not.

Fortunately, most audio novels I have listened to of late have been well written and well read, making all the more enjoyable. A few that come to mind are KILL ME IF YOU CAN by James Patterson, THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett (haven't seen the movie version yet, but plan to), THE ROSE GARDEN by Susanna Kearsley, and THE NIGHT STRANGERS by Chris Bohjalian.

Have you read any good audio books lately?

What are your favorites?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Reader's Challenge

Christopher Morley, not the actor or rugby player but an American journalist who lived from 1890-1957, is known to have said: "The real purpose of books is to trap the mind into doing its own thinking."

I agree with this quote, and I believe that one of the side effects is that, despite every intention by the author, good novels intrinsically have a purpose beyond entertaining the reader.

There are the obvious examples. I met a woman today who is doing a Phd on the role of women in peace keeping. She is a lawyer who was influenced by a book called "Half the Sky" by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, about the oppression of women and girls worldwide. It is clear that the writers intended to spur their readers into action.

In other cases, writers have a purpose, however, the books may have other unexpected consequences. Enid Blyton's books have a clear message to children - school is fun, play fair, there is no reward in being a bully, and so on. When I had to read them to my children, the effect was for me to consider writing books of my own.

Finally, there are the books written simply for entertainment. But I believe that it is impossible to read a good book and walk away unchanged. Well-written action scenes may be stored away in your subconscious and cause you to react if you are threatened. A romance may change the way that you behave in your relationships, even for a short while. We learn life lessons when bad guys end up in jail and also when the good guys end up with the short end of the stick.

So, a challenge: Show me a book - with a well-developed story line and at least one multi-dimensional character - which you have read, purely for entertainment, closed it and never gave a second thought to it beyond, "that was a fun read".

Monday, October 10, 2011

What does Your Writing Say about You?

I had a big debate a few years ago with a fellow who apparently believed that writers only express their real life viewpoints in their fiction. We were particularly arguing over whether a particular writer was “racist” because of a racist character in his story. As a writer of horror fiction who often features less than savory characters in my stories, I find this kind of thinking really disturbing. I wonder what conclusions readers are drawing about me because of the views and actions of specific characters in my fiction.

It has already happened to me twice. Back in the early 1990s I wrote a piece called “Turnabout is Fair Play” in which the “monsters” could only possess human females. It had to do with my idea of the hormone responses of the creatures. The possessed females were then very vicious. The first magazine I sent the story to promptly rejected it for being sexist. I revised it to make half the nasty characters male and it sold immediately to the next magazine I sent it to.

Why did I write a story with only female “bad guys” in the first place? I did it on purpose because by that time I’d sold about 20 short stories, and every single one had featured primarily male bad guys. I’d had only one female bad guy at all in any of these stories and she was a vampire. In a fun kind of way, I felt I’d been unfair to the male side of the species and wanted to spread around the evil. Even the title, “Turnabout is Fair Play,” suggested my intent, but my desire to be a bit more fair backfired. And it bothered me a lot because to this day there is at least one person out there who thinks I’m a sexist.

The second time it happened, I’d sent a kid’s story entitled “The Great Cookie Caper” to a magazine. In the story, someone is stealing the cookies mom is making and at one point mom laughingly teases her son about it being him because he’s getting a little “fat.” The “fat” was a mistake. I got a mini lecture in the editor’s response letter about being more considerate of larger sized individuals. Both of these incidents involved “editors,” not just your general reader.

This kind of misunderstanding is one reason I’ve never had a realistically portrayed human character utter a racist comment against another human group. It’s not very realistic because racist people really exist, but I don’t want my own personal feelings to be misjudged on the basis of what one of my characters might say. And I’m reminded of some criticism I’ve heard of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn for being racist because of certain words used in dialogue in the book.

The Mark Twain situation brings up the issue of “tone.” I’ve heard people say that one writer’s use of racist characters is OK because the writer’s “tone” clearly indicates that he or she is not racist in their personal feelings. Wow! That really opens up a can of worms for me. I have a feeling that Huckleberry Finn is actually an anti-racist story, and it’s because of the tone I sense in the work. But I don’t consider myself sensitive enough to judge a writer’s racism, or other “ism,” purely from “tone.” Consider satire. A satirical story might feature characters who show exactly the opposite feelings from those the writer actually holds. But, 1) is everyone going to know the story is satire, and 2) what if a writer gets called on their story for being negative in some way and then promptly claims, “Oh, I was being satirical.” Do you know the difference? I don’t feel like I’m always going to make the correct judgment in such cases.

Personally, I try not to judge a “writer’s” character or personality from the fictional characters they put on the page. Now, I may not read a story that expresses certain types of thoughts or actions. For example, I generally don’t enjoy a story that features major characters who are overtly racist, but I don’t go from there to assuming that the writer feels the same way as the characters.

I used racism for most of my illustrations in this piece because I think folks understand the issue. However, humans are an opinionated group and the same issue can apply in multiple situations. Imagine a writer’s liberal character making negative comments about conservatives, or an atheist character making snide remarks about religious believers, or a bully character saying something insulting to a physically challenged character. The potential for misunderstandings is rampant.

I don’t imagine there is any way to avoid occasional misunderstandings of this type. I’ve probably made the same mistake myself. How about you? Do you make judgments about writers from their fictional characters? Are there times when it seems correct to do so? How do you know? And what does your writing say about you?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Purpose Driven Novel

It’s 3am. My blog post is due, and I hadn’t a clue what to write about. So I did what I should have done nine days ago: I visited the Novelspaces Authors' private blog to view the theme for this month. The theme is totally optional, and most novelnaughts thus far have elected to ignore the themes. But right now, it is serving the purpose it was intended for. It is giving me a topic to blog about when my mind is drawing a blank.

The theme for this month is: “Should novels have a purpose beyond entertaining the reader?”

The short answer is, it depends.

There are many different types of novels. Some have the deliberate purpose of educating the reader. Case in point, Carol Mitchell’s “Caribbean Adventure Series.” They are a series of very entertaining children’s novels set in different Caribbean Islands. It is quite clear that they are meant to expose children to the history and to some extent geography of the Caribbean islands. I myself have embarked on a similar project but with the aim of exposing elementary to middle school students to cell and microbiology through a series of science adventure novels. For children’s books especially, the list of novels that make deliberate attempts to educate is extensive.

Even for adult novels, education is often a secondary (if not primary) purpose of many novels. Some bring awareness to the struggles of racism, classism, discrimination in an entertaining manner. One of my favorite books, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, does just that. Others expose life in certain eras, uplift women, or men or some country. The much talked about book, “The Help” brings to light the life and times of women of color working as home domestics in segregated America. And we cannot forget the timeless classic, “Roots” and its historical impact.

Some books push an agenda or a political opinion. John Grisham’s “The Chamber,” and “A Time to Kill” very entertainingly address some pressing issues like the death penalty. Time won’t permit me to list even 0.00001% of the fiction novels (and I won’t even go into the creative non-fiction genre) that pushes an agenda, political, social, or economic opinion.

But then there are some books whose sole purpose is to entertain. Many romances, horror, sci-fi and yes erotica, fall into that category. Yet even these books can unwittingly educate or promote an agenda. Even when the author’s aim is strictly to entertain the reader, there is still often a secondary purpose, subtle though it may be. Whether that purpose is to inspire, or teach, or expose something, it is there.

So in my opinion, it does not matter whether or not a novel is written solely for the entertainment of the reader. It will still serve a secondary purpose of educating the reader in some fashion. Furthermore, the readers will take away more from the book that the author even intended.

What do you think? Should novels have a purpose beyond entertaining the reader?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Free fiction on Novel Spaces

In the current perplexing publishing climate when authors are urged to utilize all means at their disposal to promote their products, giving away free books is proving to be a solid marketing strategy. According to Motoko Rich of NY Times: "How do you make your book a best seller on the Kindle? The answer: Give copies away."

Ms. Rich observes that although some publishers, notably Penguin, do not give away free books on principle, others including Harlequin, Random House and Scholastic offer free versions of digital books to e-retailers and on author websites. This is purely promotional in intent as the rationale is that doing so creates attention and buzz for the authors. E-retailers like Amazon and Barnes and Noble make no money on these giveaways, but the payoff is that they lure customers to their e-readers - Kindle, Nook et al.

More and more individual authors are embracing the free giveaway in order to increase visibility, increase sales and create goodwill. Of ten authors interviewed in one study, all were "glad they had made their work available for free, and most reported it had increased the reach of their work. Nobody perceived that sales had decreased as a result."

One author, according to the study, reported that his book sales were double the publisher’s initial estimates. Another said that many readers wrote to tell him that they liked his free e-book so much that they bought the paper book. A number of authors from my old house, Dorchester, have published their backlist and new work themselves; making free books available at some point is an important part of their marketing strategy.

Here on Novel Spaces we have dedicated the following dates for free fiction giveaways. These dates are open to group members, guest authors, visiting authors and publishers who would like to increase their reach, visibility and goodwill among readers.

October 30, 2011
December 30, 2011
January 30, 2012 
March 30, 2012 
April 30, 2012
May 30, 2012
June 30, 2012

Several authors may book on the same day: the bigger the giveaway, the bigger the buzz! To participate, leave a comment on this article stating:
  • Your preferred date
  • The title, author and genre of the novel(s)
  • Hard copy or digital
The featured titles will be displayed in the sidebar on the Novel Spaces blog for the month of the giveaway.

Please note that although Novel Spaces will host the giveaways, individual authors whose books are featured on free fiction days will be responsible for contacting winners and either mailing paper books to them or providing guidelines / coupon codes for downloading e-books. So what are we waiting for? Let the giveaways begin!

Thursday, October 6, 2011


"This process should take no longer than 30 minutes to an hour." So said one of the sets of instructions I read on preparing one's kitchen for termite fumigation.

The reality was far different. The tall, skinny nyloform bags had be double-bagged, and because they were floppy, I had to wrestle a paper bag or box into each to support the contents. After the bags were half full, the inside bag had to be sealed in a special way, then the outside bag. It took nineteen double-bagged to hold our nonrefrigerated kitchen items that needed protection from the gas. It was a full day's worth of work. Clearly, the person writing the instructions had never packed for a termite tenting.

We have moved many times, so we know packing. When we learned our house had to be tented and the scheduler wanted to sign us up for the following week, we knew to say "no." There were several dozens bushes and trees to be trimmed or cut down; valuables to be packed and taken elsewhere; hotels to be researched and reservations to be booked; suitcases for our time away to be packed; hundreds of items in the kitchen and bathrooms to be put into nyloform bags; get work done ahead of time; and the ground around the house to be soaked with water for several hours. We scheduled it four weeks out, and we could have used a little more time.

Similarly, I've had clients who were clueless how long their projects would take, usually because they did not understand the steps involved. "Big-picture people" have a hard time breaking down projects into the component actions. They assume drone work takes little time and base their guess of the total time on the amount of creative work needed, when in fact chasing down contact information, lining up interviews, collecting data and doing research, checking facts and spellings, finding photos and getting rights to use them, creating spreadsheets, and all the other foundation work often takes longer than writing the article or book.

As writers and editors, we need to develop the skill to estimate the time a project will take. Otherwise, we will sign on to projects we don't have time to do or get paid a pittance for a huge project.

Here are some tips I've learned.

Stick with the same clients. There are many good reasons to have low turnover in your client list, but one of the most important is that you and your client learn what's involved in a typical project and how long it takes. You can then set a per-project or per-hour rate that both of you are happy with.

Do part of the project before bidding to find out what's involved, and keep track of how long the different tasks take. You will then be able to guess how long the full project will take and bid accordingly. There's the risk that the client won't hire you if you bid too high, but that's better than being the winning low bidder stuck with a nightmare project.

Ask for an hourly rate, not a project rate. Doing so gives the client most of the risk, so they may object. But with a new client or a client who seems particularly big-picture-oriented, an hourly rate may be the only way to get a fair deal.

Assume that you will spend 25% (for a regular client) to 100% (for a new or ditzy client) more time on a writing or editing project that you estimate. Set your project fee and plan your calendar accordingly.

Writing projects are usually paid by the project, not the hours worked. Some of the information you need to know before making a bid or deciding to accept the offered fee are:
  • Word count
  • Reading level (lower reading levels take longer to write)
  • Audience
  • Nature of project
  • Date due
  • Number of people who will review your work and ask for changes
  • Whether your deadlines will be extended if the client is late getting info or feedback to you
  • What background material you will be given and what do you need to find on your own
  • A guess about the likelihood that the editor will keep their word
Editing projects are usually billed by the hour. Clients, not surprisingly, often want a guess ahead of time of how many hours you'll need if the project is large or unusual. Sometimes they need to get approval from a higher-up or look at their budget to see whether the project can be done or must be scaled back. Most of the information above for writers is useful to know before giving your editing client a guesstimate. Here are some other things to find out.
  • Whether the authors are native English speakers
  • Whether the authors were given a common style guide 
  • Whether the authors followed that style guide
  • Whether you may query the authors directly when passages are obtuse or calculations seem wrong, or whether you have to go through the editor
  • Whether you have to check and correct the references
  • Whether you will receive complete materials or whether you'll have to write abstracts or do research to complete the chapters or articles yourself
  • Whether your client wants a light edit that merely corrects spelling, grammar, and house style errors or a heavy edit that also includes correcting factual errors and rewriting badly written sentences so the authors don't look like idiots
What tips for estimating time for writing or editing projects have I missed? Do you have any horror stories about times you estimated the time needed for a project poorly?

I'll be blogging again at Novel Spaces on October 21. See you then!

—Shauna Roberts

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

It's all a blur!

Help! What has happened to my eyes? I have five pair of reading glasses, two that are hiding from me (guess I need my glasses on to find them) and three that I have either on my desk, in my purse, or on my nightstand. I'm far sighted - I can see the very top of the roof across the street and tell you if there's a dime or a nickel on the third shingle from the right. But close up - please!

My granddaughter actually reads the price tags for me when we shop - how sad/cute is that? Now, I am glad to have my eyes and my sight and I'm happy to be able to see at all, far away especially - I don't need glasses when I drive, so yes, I am blessed. I love my eyes. Don't get me wrong.

I just can't help but to wonder if I would need to rummage through the dollar store eyeglass section (1.75 to 2.00) as often (and yes, I have gone to the eye doctor for prescription glasses, I lose those, too) if I weren't a writer. Also, these days we all use computers so much and the strain we put on our eyes is worse than ever.

I watched a report on CNN that said young children are in need of glasses at a younger age now because they're playing games on small screens and using computers. We use our cell phones and that adds to the problem. And yes, we're reading books on devices, many on screens that are smaller than actual books themselves.

After four to six hours of writing (sometimes more) I force myself to stop and give my eyes a rest. My eyes can get red and dry, so I use eye drops often, but my eye doctor told me that our eyes can get addicted to the drops and we shouldn't use them too often. If we do use drops, the artificial tears type brands are better.

So, this post is a way of checking in with my fellow writers to see if I'm in the minority on this or not. I've had great 20/20 vision for years - this just started about six years ago, though it is also true that I'm no spring chicken so maybe this would've happened anyway.

All of you young folks who laugh when grandma pulls out her spectacles, beware! You, too, could one day have five pair, three that you can find and two that are hiding from you! I'm just saying!

Authors, don't sit too long, stand up and stretch out those legs, and don't stare too long, give those precious eyes a rest!


Monday, October 3, 2011

As My Smashwords Page Lies a-Mouldering…

On July 29, 2011, with very little fanfare, I launched Kvaad Press. The launch was not unexpected. The timing was. And I've learned (and am learning) a few things in the process.

Full-time writing has always been my goal. Up until a year or so ago I saw traditional publishing as the only professional route to that objective. That was until I noticed the publishing industry doing its impression of Michael Landon turning into a teenage werewolf. I began to think seriously about publishing independently at that time and began exploring options in earnest around the first of this year – anticipating a mid-January, 2012, launch. The writers to whom I was looking as role models fell into two broad groups: A) Those with established reputations, loyal followings, and a significant stockpile of stories and/or novels published years ago to which they had the rights; and 2) Those who were easing into the marketplace, were building their inventory and their reader base, and had other sources of income to support their project until it was self-supporting.

I'm not a member of Group A. Because I've been a writer-for-hire fully half my published words have appeared without my name anywhere near them. And those works with my name attached are the property of BBC, Paramount, Catalyst Game Labs, Smith & Tinker, and others. I don't have an inventory I can call my own – or in some cases even mention. For that reason, my plan was modeled on Group 2.

Dealing with deadlines has taught me to write both quickly and well and to juggle projects; using that skill set I intended to produce inventory through the summer and fall. Kvaad Press would launch with two original novels and a dozen short stories. The Press would have PoD capability (with the physical printing contracted out), an interactive web site, and a stock of thoughtful essays on the art and craft of writing (to be posted as blog entries every week or so). From that point I was confident I could maintain a schedule of one new short story a week and a new novel each quarter (that's the pace I maintained while writing To Ride the Chimera).

From the beginning I did not intend Kvaad Press to be the Kevin K show. I knew I would need an editor (knowing what one meant to say limits one's ability to see what one actually wrote) and had a short list of editors with whom I'd like to contract. I also knew that keeping PoD cost-effective meant handling art, layout, and mss prep in-house: sending the PoD provider a file ready for the presses rather than a word processor doc saves an average of $400. Professional grade software is expensive and learning how to use it takes money and time, but the investment takes only four novels to pay for itself. Kvaad Press would thus be in a position to work with other writers who were as leery of traditional houses as I but didn't have the resources/inclination to do a professional job of going independent.

Projecting sales was pretty much blind guessing, but expenses and business plan milestones were easy to map. All things considered, I thought Kvaad Press could be in the black in twelve months. My accountant was in qualified agreement. She and my mentor at SCORE were particularly excited about the commercial possibilities of editing, formatting, and midwifing publication for other writers. As a menu service they thought it would be the quickest way to earn back the expenses of software, training, and dedicated computer I needed.

So with all this nifty groundwork and planning, why did Kvaad Press launch six months early? Why leap from the precipice without the computer, software, training, interactive site, inventory of novels and short stories, or even an arsenal of pithy blog entries? Medicaid. With regulations changing almost weekly and funding spiraling downward there is less and less money available for community mental health providers. Twice in 2010 agencies I was with went under; both times I had a position with a new agency within the month. But when something similar happened in 2011, Valerie and I took a look at our options and our dreams and decided the risks in launching our dream early were worth it.

We decided Kvaad Press would begin by marketing short stories and novels in e-formats on the web while getting all the other necessary components in place and would adjust plans and timetables as we learned. A soft launch in preparation for the hard launch in January, to misuse some of the business jargon I'd learned in my research. To that end I formed a duly licensed company, complete with tax number and bank and PayPal accounts; established a presence on Smashwords and elsewhere, (including a Kvaad Press blog that is currently empty); studied up on social media/marketing; and began making contacts with other publishers and ancillary services to lay the groundwork for establishing a network.

With less than a month to create inventory, Kvaad Press launched on Smashwords with six short stories and no novels. I backed away from my initial plan to upload a new story every week when I learned there are other markets for short fiction that pay as well or better. I'm giving some thought to putting short fiction on Smashwords only as promotional tie-ins to my novels (a model many novelists use effectively). I've storyboarded two novels (a mystery and a fantasy), the first should be ready for an editor around December 1. I've also taken on a couple of write-for-hire projects, which don't help my inventory issues but are rendering cash more quickly than other options. Beyond that I have popcorn kittens – so many ideas and options it's taking extraordinary measures to keep them all moving in the same direction.

Where I am now is not where I planned on being at this point. However, given the options I was handed in June, I think I've made the wiser choice. Certainly the more exciting one. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

This Much I Know

Okay, so I did a sharp left turn away from talking about the writing biz with that last post. Still I couldn't help but feel that my thoughts about The Help was related. Sort of. The discussions about the book and movie made me think about why I became a writer in the first place, which had a lot to do with my family. Little did I know that that one simple wish at age eleven would one day lead me down the rabbit hole called "The World of Being A Published Author."
At first I was going to describe a few of my adventures and misadventures after I sold my first book. As entertaining as I've been told those stories are, let's get to what I've learned. So this much I now know:

Writers should relentlessly network with other professional authors. That's the best advice I can give. Don't confine yourself to local group only, or even just one group. There is a reason self-help groups are so popular in every area of life. There simply is no substitute for talking to people who are going where you want to go, or have been there and come back with war stories.

I tell this to aspiring writers all the time, and mostly their eyes glaze over or they look disappointed. I tell this to a couple of my seasoned published authors pals who tend to be loners. Self-published, indie published, traditionally published, and any combination of all three, should network. Be selective though. Start with the major professional organizations. Why? They go after information from knowledgeable sources. Then plug in to author groups that grow out of relationships that started in RWA, MWA, Novelists, Inc, etc. These authors know their stuff. Seriously. There is way too much to learn for you to rely on a few people. Cast your net wide.

Everything I learned about indie publishing, including resources that saved me money, came from networking with other authors. More $$$ in my pocket.

So let's talk about money and indie writing. I know there is debate about authors pricing their indie eBook titles too low. Some contend that books should never be priced below $3.99. That does make sense. Authors make 70% of each sale at $2.99 and above. So why did I price A Darker Shade of Midnight at .99? Well, I wanted to give readers an incentive to try out a Lynn Emery novel. It's not, as some suggest, because I don't value my writing or lack confidence in my storytelling. Sales through retail sites give me 35%, and sales from my website give me 100%. All the money comes to me. Traditional publishing gave me 8-10% of each sale (depending on which contract I'm talking about).  Add in the 15% cut to the agent, and 35% looks good to me. (Aside: God looked out for me - I made tidy $$$ on two books that were un-agented purely by chance. This planted the seed of not wanting an agent). If I wasn't selling anything I'd get 0%.

Not all of my books are .99. I have a plan. No, you can't know my plan until it's launched.

Covers. As a new author I learned the conventional wisdom, via local and national RWA (Romance Writers of America) meetings. Authors know nothing about cover design. Nothing. Sure, we know elements we'd like to see on our covers. Yet basically the advice was publishers know best. Authors simply waited, sometimes with dread based on past covers, to see what their new covers would look like. Then on author loops writers would announce the results: the thrill of victory- "They listened to me!", or the agony of defeat "Oh dear God, no-ooo!"

With my indie covers I chose the art and described how I wanted the elements arranged, then hired someone with skills to design them. I'm still no good with Photoshop, and what is exactly is a vector? You get the picture. Since writing is my top priority for now I'm keeping to that approach. But together Pati Nagle and I made a great team coming up with the covers for A Darker Shade of Midnight (the hint of blood on the letters was my idea) and Best Enemies (the gun behind the title? Yep, my idea).

Back to money. Recently on another blog this new author talked about spending $5000 or more publishing an indie eBook. There is so much you can learn from proven authors in the groups I mentioned before. There is absolutely no reason to spend that kind of money. $5000. Please.

Book Trailers - my experience is this: I had fun coming up with the ideas (colors, photos, etc.). A guy I dated even let me use his original music. We're still friends, so I might ask to use his excellent music again. A solid reason to have good break-ups if you can, but I digress. Book trailers didn't result in book sales. I'd say don't even waste  the time to do one yourself, much less major $$$ paying for one.

Promotion in General - Nothing is certain. Do what makes sense, and what you enjoy. Since no one can say, "This is definitely going to sell books!", doing what you enjoy is my best advice of the two. Be willing to try ads, interviews, guest blog posts, etc. But don't spend big $$$, or eat too much into time you should be writing. Repeat - no one knows which of the various promotional/marketing efforts work best. None are sure fire for every writer anyway. What worked like magic for one author may do nothing for you.

If you have a traditional book deal:
  • Once again you need to network with other authors, including those that write for the same publishing house as you.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for stuff - like if your publisher is willing to split the cost of a promotional effort. You might be surprised. If they say "No" you haven't lost anything.
  • Know what every clause of your contract means, including the long-term implications. Get help from a good literary attorney if necessary. See a list provided by author Laura Resnick (scroll down).
  • Agents are not attorneys! Believe it or not, they don't always know the implications of every contract clause.
  • Agents are not always looking out for you. They are looking out for themselves. If your book deal will mess up another deal worth more, they'll choose to drop kick you. They also won't risk their relationships with editors because of something you want in a contract.
  • Negotiate. You probably won't get what you want each time, but go after it anyway.
  • Kenny Rogers was right- know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em. Don't bluff unless you're willing to walk away from a deal. Decide what you can live with, but do it based on as much knowledge as possible about the contract clause in question.
Any questions? Feel free to drop me a line at

Visit to learn more about my books and other interests like forensics, voodoo and other stuff.