Monday, December 23, 2013

Editor's Notes #2: The Reader Doesn't Care

I've been stalking the Goodreads forums lately, and having a wonderful time of it. Granted, I don't know about all that many writers' websites, so I'm sure there are great ones out there, but I've found the discussions on GR to be stimulating, sometimes very uncomfortable, and always informative.

One of my favorite threads lately has been going 'round and 'round about self-published authors (SPAs), their problems, and how to get readers to buy their books. I could write a year's worth of blog posts based on any one of those threads, but the SPA thread has me captivated.

This week's topic deals with the not-ready-for-prime-time books out there that are damaging the reputation of those SPAs whose work is as good as—or better than, in some cases—that published by the Big Six. Specifically, we'll talk about excuses given for poor work.

The writers I like to call "premature publishers" (because "author" doesn't really fit their abilities) are the ones who are typically in a rush to get their books published because they want the world to see the results of their hard work. There's no time to wait. That book has to get out there because the world needs them!

The problem lies in the fact that the reader expects a published book to be finished. Completed. Done. As close to "perfect" as possible.

"Finished" to the premature publishers means "I'm done writing." Period.

Having an idea and getting it written on paper (real or virtual) is a wonderful start, but it is exactly that: a start. As S.K. Anthony stated in our second Coffee Chat, after the first draft is written, that's when the real work begins. Revisions, tweaks, overhauls—whatever name you call them, it boils down to the same thing: making your work the best it can be.

One of the things I find frustrating is when an author becomes defensive after receiving a bad review. If someone gives a one-star review based on something dumb, like "I've always hated that color of yellow on a book cover," or "I can't believe someone kicked a kitten in this book!" then yes, the author has every right to be indignant about that review. However, many new authors seem unable to deal with bad reviews that mention editing, immature writing habits or style, plot holes, or pretty much anything that doesn't include the words "OMG I loved it!"

Some of the authors I've conversed with on GR are quick to tell others they learned a lot more from the negative reviews than the positive ones, though they would always prefer good reviews over bad. But it seems those who learn from criticism (even when it's not constructively phrased) are in the minority. Many premature publishers are full of excuses—overflowing with them, really—as to why their book has uncorrected issues.

Guess what? The reader doesn't care what kind of problems you had. Whether your book was offered as a freebie or purchased for whatever amount, the reader has every right to expect it to be complete and polished. Someone (known only as Tura) on the SPA thread on Goodreads put it perfectly:
I think a good thing to remember is the reader does not care. Yes, just writing a book is an achievement, but it doesn't mean everyone has to praise you. So forget the excuses people use when they complain reviews are harsh:
*"It's my first attempt." The reader does not care.
*"I had a really hard time while writing, for one reason or another." The reader does not care.
*"I wrote from my own experience." Well, so did many others. The reader does not care.
*"My family and friends all loved it." The reader... And so on. 
The unknown reader has a million books to choose from, and will go to whatever pleases her/him. You can't really argue anyone into liking your book; you can only show it to them. 
I don't expect every book I pick up to be an instant classic. Nor do I expect every book to have the same level of writing skill. What I do expect is readability and cohesiveness, not excuses.

I've heard many writers talk about the expenses of publishing. Writing costs nothing as long as you have a pencil and paper. Publishing has its costs, though. Content editing. Cover design. Proofreading. Printing. This is all part of the package from the moment the first word hits the page. 

Think of it in terms of purchasing a home. You have the money to buy a house. Do you have the money to live in it? You'll need basic tools, money for utilities, furniture, and groceries. You may need a lawnmower. You need money for taxes. You need more than just the price of a building.

To simplify further, let's say you have the money for the down payment, but no way of paying closing costs. What do you do? You continue to save, cutting expenses for months or even years in order to set the money aside. You don't tell the Realtor he should still give you the house because you've always wanted one, or because you're having another child and need the extra room, or because you've been saving and saving and you just can't wait any longer. 

The Realtor doesn't care about any of those things. If you can't pay, he will find another buyer.

The reader can be thought of in the same way. If you can't produce an adequate product, he'll find another author. I've heard writers talk about eating Ramen noodles, red beans & rice, and peanut butter sandwiches for months so they could save, dollar by dollar, for editing and a decent-quality cover. If you're self-publishing, there's no rush to get your book out there other than your own urgency to get people to read it. You're following no deadline but your own. 

Count the cost. The full cost, from soup to nuts. Save for it and pay for it before hitting that "publish" button. The reader doesn't care what you couldn't do. He only cares about what you did. Why give something other than your best?




Friday, December 20, 2013

Coffee Chat 2.0 with Author S.K. Anthony: Revisions



If you haven't gotten around to reading the first Coffee Chat with S.K. Anthony, I'd suggest you take a moment to do so before even attempting to follow the conversation in this one. It's not easy to keep up with us on a good day; no sense starting off behind the curve.

I'm so thankful to have Stephen King back with me again today. We'll just refer to her as S.K. for ease and clarity, just in case the "other" Stephen King decides to show up. For the record, I did ask him, but he doesn't have a special coffee cup to match ours, and frankly, I think he was a little intimidated at the idea of trying to keep up with two overly-caffeinated women. Either way, S.K. is here and I'm glad she's still willing to talk to me.

ER: So what's been happening since our last interview? I'm asking this as if I don't know, because you and I both know we talk to each other almost every day . . . but for the purposes of Coffee Chat, we can pretend we only talk here on Easy Reader. We'll have to keep that a secret, though, so remind me not to type it in later.

SKA: Okay, if I don't forget to remember, I will remind you to take that bit out. Since the last time we talked . . . let's see, I drank more coffee, I tickled the kids, and I worked on some revisions. I'm so glad no one gets to see my first drafts. Goodness me . . . I'm so talented at making lots of mistakes the first time around that I'm even in awe of myself. What can I say? I'm that good at being bad. What have you been up to? And surprise me; tell me something I don't already know . . . GO!

ER: No pressure, no pressure. I think you already know I drank more coffee, so I can't use that one. My eighteen-year-old son (Mr. Green Eggs and Ham himself) is the only kid within reach, so I'm not going to risk tickling him. I did some edits this week for a horror story and scared myself. I now have an occasional facial tic and keep seeing odd movements out of my peripheral vision. I can't imagine how much more scared I would have been, had I been reading it straight up and not for edits.

SKA: I think it would be a fun experiment for you to tickle Mr. Green Eggs and Ham (great post, that one!). [laughing] A facial tic . . . scary books would do that to me, also, but then I would have wine and probably forget all about it. Speaking of, imagine if we had "Wine Chats." I'll bet it would like Coffee Chats but on steroids. Oh, my.

ER: I also received a really cool prologue for a new book and edited it by mistake. (Sorry, Stephen. Not my fault. It looked ready.) So I suppose I could use the excuse that I was trying out the Wine Chat all on my own.

SKA: Skipping ahead and having all the fun on your own with the wine. I'm not sure how I feel about this.

ER: [applying diversionary tactics] So let's get down to business! Because I'm fairly sure that was our original intent . . .

How's the new book coming? Do you have Static on the brain these days?

SKA: Okay, so the book. Yes, my hair is very Einstein-like. Not because of intelligence, contrary to my kids' popular belief, but thanks to all the Static-ness going on. The first draft has been read through by Mildred Loudermilk and she left a lot of notes for me. Now the real fun begins!

ER: Well, I already started having fun, so you have some catching up to do.

What's your first step after finishing the first draft? Obviously, you read through it, but do you look for certain things during that first time through, or do you just read it to see if it flows?

SKA: After finishing my first draft, I do a happy dance and I smile. Then I sit and cringe because that's when the real work starts for me. I like to revise a lot, so I focus on different aspects each time. The first time I'm writing I go for the general idea and the characters' journeys. Second time, I focus on the big plot, more detailed descriptions, and character voices. The third time, I try to make sure I have things explained well, and that I have the humor splashed around along with the emotional moments.

I check on facts (dates/timeline/repetition), and from there on, I fix and delete, fix and delete, and fix . . . as much as I can until my wine runs out. Then I send it off to one CP [critique partner] and revise again while hubby gets me more wine—

ER: Good man you've got there.

SKA: —and then I send it to my other CP & revise again while I chat with you. Then it goes to one or two betas and I revise again.

[ER runs off to refill coffee, exhausted from hearing all about the labor of others.]

SKA: Then I have a CP give it another go before I kill myself, and then if I can't do anything else to it, I send it to you so you can do your thing. [Breathes for just a moment.] Yeah . . . that's what I do.


ER: And you know I have to ask: If you read it out loud, do you read each character's dialogue in a different voice? 'Cause I would.

SKA: [laughing again] I "hear" the voices and make up my face according to who is talking and what is being said when I write it. When I'm reading out loud toward the end of the revisions, I actually try (really hard) not to make different voices, because I want to make sure the words themselves work to imply the tone I mean to imply. I'm not sure how to explain that, but I think you'll understand.

ER: I do. If you're able to use the right words, you can eliminate a lot of dialogue tags or adverbs. When McCoy from Star Trek delivers his, "I'm a doctor, not a magician/juggler/garbageman!" line, if it were written in a book, we don't need "he shouted" added to the end. Nor would we need to add any adverbs to clarify. The words themselves show the frustration.

SKA: Every reader has their way of approaching a book and the way the characters sound to them. If I talk to myself as if I'm them [the characters], of course I would think it sounds right, but if I try to speak straight up, I'm more aware of anything that sounds "off."

ER: So let's focus on the revisions for a moment. Unless you want me to do some of my character voices for you, of course. [Begins singing like Mary Poppins, since that's the only accent that works easily. Stops abruptly upon realizing people are home.]

You get asked to read a lot of books/manuscripts for review/advice, it seems. Of the books you find . . . um . . . let's say "lacking" in some way, can you point your finger to a lack of revisions as a running theme? What jumps out at you?

SKA: At the moment, "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" jumps out at me . . . you mentioned Mary Poppins . . . so anyway . . .

Yes, I do beta read a fair amount of manuscripts, but that's before they're published, so revisions would, of course, be lacking. In regards to published books that are also lacking something . . . it's hard to say. I feel like the problem might be revisions, but that's probably because that's my process. For the author, that might just be how they want their stories told, and I'm the one who just didn't connect. Since I can't outline for the life of me—I know how, but I just don't feel free enough to keep writing with a detailed outline; I rather pants around—but if they [other authors] outline and this is their story, I can't say they're wrong. Just that it wasn't for me.

ER: I almost followed that. I do get it, though: you're making allowances for personal writing styles. But what brings the extra "polish," so to speak?

SKA: The biggest mistake I think we can all make is to rush. Yes, we have a deadline. But you know what? At the end of the day, it's better to push back the dates and make sure everything's as good as you can get it, rather than to screw yourself over. Letting your manuscript sit for awhile and then going back to it with a fresh mind helps a lot as well. And I'm not saying I know much about this—I'm still learning—but it's what works for me. 

ER: I think you know more than you realize. When I first read Kinetic, my first thought was that it didn't have the feel of a first-time author. All those revisions pay off. It shouldn't take twenty years to produce a novel, but it shouldn't only take twenty days, either. The reader will notice.

SKA: I know that to the best of my current ability, I gave Kinetic my all, and I'm proud of what I wrote. My sixth-grade teacher once told our class to make sure we were proud of anything that carries our name, and that advice has always stayed with me (I'm sure Stephen King would appreciate that). Maybe I'll look back at it a few years down the road and want to shoot myself, but I will always be able to say confidently that I gave it everything I had. And at the end of the day that's what readers deserve. 

ER: Well, we're out of coffee, so the rest will have to wait until after the holidays. We'll be seeing you in a couple weeks!

You can find S.K. Anthony in a number of places. She's on Twitter @SKathAnthony, her website is www.skanthony.com, her Facebook page is S Katherine Anthony, and on occasional occasions, she'll be right here with me, drinking coffee and laughing it up over our latest plans and schemes. And possibly even talking about books and writing. 

You can find me here. I'm always here.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Editor's Notes #1: WHY, Self-pubs, WHY??!?!?

I need to rant a little. Or perhaps a lot.

Not for the first time, I found myself reading a book description that was so poorly written, I wanted to grab the author, shake her, and scream, "THIS is where you're supposed to sell me on the idea that your book is worth reading, and you can't even write a stinkin' description of it without errors?"

One hundred fifty words. That's all you need for a book description. One. Hundred. Fifty. Words.

If a writer is incapable of writing less than two hundred words in a readable manner, then there is nothing—NOTHING—that will convince me to read 70,000 more words penned by that same writer. In the case of this particular book description, only 20,000 more, but even ten more words would have put me over the edge.

OK . . . perhaps my overwhelming sense of curiosity would convince me. For research purposes, you see. After all, what if the author didn't have time to write the (all-important) book description and asked her sibling/cousin/neighbor/babysitter to do it? Maybe someone on Fiverr did it for $5.00 to help pay the rent. I don't know.

Flash forward in time . . .

I have now downloaded the book, free of charge. I have read all of four pages of it and have decided that I can't go on. To clarify: I can go on living; I just can't go on reading. Honestly, two pages were enough, but I wanted to give it a fair shot by reading at least ten percent of the book. I couldn't make it that far, and didn't see any reason why I should force myself to do so.

[Note: I had to pause here for chocolate. That book bothered me in a big way.]

As I lurk and often participate on various Goodreads threads, I'm pleasantly encouraged by the number of authors who actively seek out advice from others (and follow it!) so they can improve their writing. Whether it's a work in progress or a book that's getting not-so-great ratings for whatever reason, they genuinely want to know how to make it better . . . and how to keep the same thing from happening next time.

Conversely, I'm astounded at the number of people who are on Goodreads who have access to these same threads but who don't take advantage of them. If I were an author and I saw a thread titled, "Why don't more people read self-published authors?" or "What's the best way for self-pub authors to get more readers?", my first thought would be to go to those threads and see what kind of advice I could glean, free of charge. There are discussions about editors, book covers, marketing plans, where to self-publish, dos and don'ts . . . you name it, these people have covered it thoroughly. A tremendous AND FREE resource is right there, available with one click.

A writer can put his or her heart and soul into a story—and it can be a wonderful, clever story—but if a reader can't get past the errors that are easily fixable, the story will never be discovered. 





Thursday, December 12, 2013

Coffee Chat with Author S.K. Anthony



ER: Today's interview is with author S.K. Anthony, whose debut novel, Kinetic (The Luminaries) hit the shelves a few months ago. Our mutual love of coffee drew us together, and my life hasn't been the same since our first online chat.

I have many burning questions for her, so this particular interview may end up being a series of events. We'll have to see how much she can handle before she changes her email address, adopts a fake name, and unfriends me on Facebook.

SKA: As long as you keep the coffee coming, I'll keep showing up. Otherwise, prepare to be ignored.

ER: While I'm on the topic of fake names, let's talk about yours. I understand you write under a pseudonym, but don't you think using the name "Stephen King" will be confusing to readers? Some might see it as a shameless way to get instant book sales.

SKA: Congratulations. You are the first clever person to realize my scheme. Luckily, I had an answer prepared in case anyone questioned my motives: I'm doing it for Stephen King's fans. You see, Stephen and I are pretty much the same—but just the opposite—so if they wanted to read more of his work . . . in a much different light . . . they can buy my book.

Speaking of my book, Kinetic is now available on Amazon! Look it up: Stephen King Anthony . . . S.K. Anthony for short.

ER: S.K. Anthony sure beats when you were considering using the name Mildred Loudermilk. I'm glad someone talked you down from that ledge. Not that there's anything wrong with the Mildred Loudermilks of this world . . .

SKA: Well, this is awkward . . . I only considered using Mildred Loudermilk because it's one of my real names. I do suppose it's a good thing I didn't go for it; now I can keep my anonymity intact. I will say, though, that I stand by it. I think it's a very strong name that demands attention, and I might consider using it for my future band. How does The Loudermilks sound?

ER: What inspired the first stirrings of ideas for Kinetic? And did I really give you all your best ideas, or did you come up with any on your own?

SKA: The first stirrings of Kinetic? Probably a coffee stirrer. On coffee, anyone can save the world...and by "anyone," I mean Annie Fox. Also, of course you gave me the best ideas, but I was smart about it. I wanted to make sure you didn't sue me for copyrights and such, so I wrote it directly from your mind before we met. Whatcha think about the Mildred Loudermilks of the world now, huh? We kan be zmarts!

So let me flip this around . . .

How did you come up with all your magnificent ideas for Kinetic? You know, before I stole them.

ER: I was toying with the idea of writing my autobiography, but I didn't think anyone would believe me—especially people who knew me personally. So I wrote out a rough outline and read it silently every night for weeks, hoping that someone, somewhere would "catch" my brain waves.

SKA: I had my wave net waiting . . .

ER: Exactly. And the first words you wrote were . . .?

SKA: "If I gave myself some time, I know I wouldn't have been able to control myself."

ER: Not so coincidentally, the very words I would have written.

I want to know how many rewrites you estimate you went through before you showed it to a critique partner.

SKA: Seven or eight, I think.

ER: Did he/she like it?

SKA: She said she liked it and gave me a bunch of notes. 

ER: Were you prepared to tell her she was full of it if she said anything negative?

SKA: I'd begged her to read it and break my heart. I told her I didn't want praises because that wouldn't help me fix issues; I gave her full permission to rip it apart.

ER: Did you feel broken enough by the time she was done, or did you still feel good, and therefore tell her she needed to re-read it?

SKA: Nah, funny enough, I never felt offended or that she was wrong. Even with the things she misunderstood, it clearly showed that I hadn't explained them enough. The things she did point out? If I agreed with it, I changed it; if I didn't agree, I made sure I fixed the details so they could showcase what I meant.

ER: In Kinetic, the characters have some pretty amazing powers. [Note: accurate to my biographical details so far . . .] Other than the superpower stuff, do your characters say or do things you'd never do in real life?

SKA: Yes, I'm a chicken. I wouldn't be running into the line of fire like they do.

ER: When you're writing controversial scenes, do you have a voice in the back of your mind that says, "Remember, your boss/neighbor/friend/pastor is going to see this and think you're a drug addict/pervert/big meanie"?

SKA: Yes! Kinetic was darker, actually. I deleted a lot of things, and in the end, I'm happy I did. Looking back now they were stupid. 

ER: How do you make that voice shut up?

SKA: I give it wine.

ER: Is it hard to get rid of things you've written? Put another way, have you ever had to sacrifice something cool for the sake of the story?

SKA: It's so odd . . . I find it difficult to sacrifice things I like but I have no problem hitting that "delete" button. I have a matter-of-fact way of looking at it: if it doesn't help or work, it has to go. I should say I copy/paste and hope I can use the ideas in the future, but I've also just deleted a lot. 

ER: Besides, it's not like I'm—I mean, you're—going to write only one book.

SKA: Exactly! I had already started Kevin's [book 2] last year, but I made changes to Kinetic that would come across here, so I had to delete stuff. Then I got close to 40k words and I got another idea—and out of that, I barely kept 7k. The rest is all new.

ER: Does it even resemble the original idea at all?

SKA: [laughs] Barely. I tell you, I like to delete. Ahem, YOU like to delete. By the way, take it easy on the deletions. My brain can hardly keep up with your changes, Lynda.

ER: You're so obedient to my brain wavy-ness. How about if I allow you to choose the title? After all, your name . . . one of your names . . . is going to be on the front.

SKA: Oh, can I? Can I?

ER: Unless you want me to call it Telepathic: Mildred Speaks

SKA: Hang on, I think I feel the brain waves doing something to me; it's almost electrifying and white-noise-ish. I am at a standstill . . . hold on . . .

I think: STATIC.

ER: That was my second choice, I swear!

SKA: I'll bet! So, dear Annie Fox . . . I mean, Lynda . . . does Static (The Luminaries #2) work for you?

ER: Yes, indeed, it does.

You can find S.K. Anthony in a number of places. She's on Twitter @SKathAnthony, her website is www.skanthony.com, her Facebook page is S Katherine Anthony, and on occasional occasions, she'll be right here with me, drinking coffee and laughing it up over our latest plans and schemes. And possibly even talking about books and writing. Her band, The Loudermilks, will be posting videos to YouTube at a future date.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Author Interview with Stephen Fender

Believe it or not, this is still my blog; I just happen to have a lot to say about Stephen Fender lately. Contrary to rumor, he has not instigated a hostile (or friendly) takeover. He has his own blog, and it's nicer than mine, so if anyone is going to seize anything, I'm going over there and taking his, as soon as I figure out how to change the photo of him to a photo of me. But that's not why I've brought you here today.

Today, I'm happy to tell you a little more about Stephen Fender. Stephen is the author of The Kestrel Saga, a space military science fiction series, and has published three books in the series so far: The Army of Light, Icarus, and now Second Earth, which was released on December 1st. All are available through Amazon, in print form as well as electronic.




ER: Give us a brief rundown of the series.
SF: To be brief, the series follows Shawn Kestrel as he searches for his former commanding officer, Admiral William Graves. Along for the ride is William's beautiful but enigmatic daughter, Melissa. In the process of finding the whereabouts of William, Shawn and Melissa stumble upon a well-guarded secret the government has been trying desperately to keep under wraps.

ER: Tell us a little bit about when you caught the writing bug.
SF: I think it started when I joined the journalism staff for my high school newspaper. When I was offered the opinion page, I don't think I ever looked back.

ER: As a child, did you have a favorite book or genre, and did that influence your writing today?
SF: I've been a big fan of science fiction since I was a small boy. Growing up with amazing shows like Star Trek, Doctor Who, and The Twilight Zone, I was always enamored with other worlds and alien points of view.

ER: What cemented your decision to publish? Was it a natural progression for you, a life-altering Big Deal, or did you flip a coin?
SF: Well, I think it was from the family and friends' reviews of my work. The old "Hey, you should put this out there. I think people will buy it."  I recall being nervous about putting it out there, but considering I'd already pseudo-published some fan fiction work a few years earlier, I was only a bit hesitant. I think once I started getting positive reviews, it cemented the fact that I would continue to publish this series.

ER: So, the pseudo-published fan fiction . . . have you ever entertained the idea of going back and rewriting that someday, or do you just consider it to have been good practice?
SF: As far as the fan fiction is concerned, I found myself going back to it a few weeks ago. It'd been over a year since I'd done anything with that, and it was fun to get back into it. It was a lot like re-watching your favorite TV show from when you were a child. It's still on my plate, as I had committed myself to writing a series of four novels. Book 3 is halfway done, so I may finish it at some point. As far as practice, I found that it was extremely helpful. I'd recommend it [fan fic] to anyone who wants to pursue writing as a career. It's a good way to break your personal ice, considering you probably know enough about the established story to create your own interpretation.

ER: What type of atmosphere do you prefer when writing? Do you need peace and quiet? An empty house?
SF: When it comes to atmosphere, I've found that I can write just about anywhere. The first three novels of The Kestrel Saga were written while I commuted on a ferry to and from work. It's much like trying to write a novel while riding a city bus. You get the screaming children, the people who talk entirely too loud on their cell phones, and the rowdy football fans heading to and from the stadium. If you can write in a place like that, I'd think you can write anywhere. Lately I've been looking for more solitude, but since it's fleeting, I shrug it off and write wherever I can find the time.

ER: Do you play the Star Trek theme song when you're writing battle scenes? And do you have a playlist (mental or physical) that helps to put you in the right frame of mind for writing?
SF: I don't have a playlist in my mind—a musical one, anyway. I tend to think of epic scenes from movies, like the battle scenes in The Last of the Mohicans.

[ER pauses for  two hours to run off and watch The Last of the Mohicans before continuing to type.]

SF: If I need to draw inspiration in the form of banter, I tend to think of movies like Lethal Weapon. Basically, the concept of every scene in my book has been played out in a movie somewhere. I think it's that way for almost anyone who writes a book, whether they know it or not. I draw upon the creations of others, sort of like standing on the shoulders of giants, and inject my own story into memorable scenes from various motion pictures.

ER: Have you ever had a terrific scene in your head with no possible way to adequately describe it so others can "see" it as you do?
SF: I don't think I've ever not been able to describe a scene to my readers. Sometimes I can falter on specific details of my own imagination, however. Usually it's like, "I know what I want to describe, but it hasn't been invented yet. How do I cross that bridge? I'm not an engineer or a designer." That's usually when I turn to internet research. Chances are, someone has gotten close to what I want in the form of artwork. I blend their image with my imagination, and the scene is born.

ER: Who is the first person to ever read your work? Were you nervous about having someone read it in case they hated it, or did you choose someone safe who would be supportive no matter what?
SF: My wife has always been my first reader. She's my sounding board. Since she knows me, then I trust that she knows where I'm coming from in relation to certain scenes or characters. Her honesty, while sometimes brutal, is gloriously helpful.

ER: Do you use beta readers, and if so, how did you find people whose opinion you'd trust?
SF: The only beta readers I've gotten so far are family and the very closest of friends. I trust their opinions implicitly. Having said that, now that more of my work is out there and I have a fan base, I may begin to pull from my own readers for upcoming titles . . . if they're interested.

ER: How many times would you estimate you end up reading through your manuscript before you decide it's as good as you're going to get it on your own?
SF: I give it at least two reads before I make my editor suffer through all my missed mistakes.

ER: When people find out you're an author, do they treat you differently? Ask what your "real" job is? Fawn over you and ask for free books? Try to sell you their "sure thing" idea for your next book?
SF: When I tell people I'm an author, they have always assumed it's my primary job. Their next question is, "What have you written?" which is followed by, "Can I get it on Amazon?"

ER: Has anyone you know ever seen themselves in one of your characters, and been flattered (or accused you of maligning their character)?
SF: I'm not sure if people can see parts of themselves. At least, they've never told me so. I would hope that they do, if even just a little. As far as my characters are concerned, I've already put people I know in my novels; they just don't know it.

ER: Has self-publishing been a big learning curve for you, or fairly simple?
SF: Self-publishing has definitely been a learning curve. I'm constantly learning something new about owning my own business. 

ER: Where do you see your writing headed? I know you have a few books in the works right now, so this would be the place to get us psyched about those.
SF: I have a new novel planned which falls outside of this series. It deals with an alternate version of history and the events leading up to World War II. I'm hoping to have it done by mid-2014, but we'll see. I've also got a few more novels planned for The Kestrel Saga, both in terms of continuing the story as well as a few prequel-types.

ER: Do you have plans for novels outside your favorite genre, or does it all keep coming back to science fiction for you? 
SF: I don't plan on going outside of science fiction at this point. It's what I love to write. 

ER: What's the one question you wish an interviewer would ask, but they never do?
SF: Most interviewers never ask about my hobbies outside of writing. I have a few, but I can't currently think of them without placing them in some sort of science fiction setting. 

ER: Do you ever wish your editor would go back to calling you Mr. Fender and finally give you the respect you deserve?
SF: I like my editor just the way she is, and I'm glad she's still calling me anything . . . just as long as she keeps calling. 

You can find Stephen Fender at his website: www.StephenFender.com
He's also on Twitter @StephenAFender
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Stephen-Fender/144771018947485?ref=br_tf
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7122975.Stephen_A_Fender
Amazon author page: http://amzn.com/e/B00E9X1CNS

Friday, November 29, 2013

Do You Have a Library?

My dream house—or even my current house, remodeled by someone with far more money than I have—includes a library. A real library, defined as a separate room or nook or designated space, solely for book storage and comfortable reading.

My library will have a fireplace for atmosphere and cozy warmth; overstuffed, oversized chairs in which I can lose myself while reading; lots of natural light as well as different lighting options; a tin ceiling with a cool design; a coffeemaker (of course!); my laptop; a desk . . . and books. Everywhere, books. 

Hardcover and softcover. Old and new. Uniform sets and mismatched thrift-store finds. Fiction and non-fiction. Children's and adult.

I don't need them to look pretty; I only need to know that I've read them and I like them. We currently have 21 sets of bookshelves in our house, tall and short—a total of 75 shelves—and they are jam-packed full. I also currently have a couple of large boxes of books in the attic that we're saving for the grandkids (very distant future) and a few boxes full of sell/give (near future). I'm serious about wanting a library. I can't imagine how tidy the rest of my house would look if all the books were in one room. Plus, I could have one of those cool ladders to ride around the room.

When I was a little girl, my mom would take us to the local library—the same library she grew up using—on a regular basis. As an adult looking back, I realize our library was a treasure of old-style architectural beauty, with wide, curved staircases, marble floors, and lots of gorgeous wood. As a kid, all I knew was that I could find Nancy Drew in the kids' section off to the right of the front entrance. I often worried back then that I would read through all the age-appropriate selections and run out of books; and then what would I do? Thankfully, that never happened, and my love of the library never diminished.

When my own kids were younger, I took them to the library every week. We'd walk in, and regardless of which librarian was at the counter, we were greeted with, "Hello, Dietzes!" The kids each got their own library cards when they turned five years old, and loved it that the librarians knew them by name and always had book recommendations for them. As homeschoolers, we could go during the earlier part of the day when there weren't as many people around, which was wonderful during checkout time because we each had huge stacks of books that took up all the space on the counter.

One of my biggest thrills two years ago was seeing the ruins at Ephesus during a trip to Turkey. My favorite part, on that trip and on the same trip the following year, was this:



Yep, it's a library. THE library. Five stories high by modern standards. I could not tear myself away from this place, even during my second visit. Here's some perspective on the height:



Every detail drew me in, from floor to beautiful ceiling.



I wandered around inside for the longest time, imagining a time when it was filled with people, meeting and discussing the latest happenings. Talking was allowed in the library in those days, I'm sure.

Libraries are essential, whether public or private. Books are too important. And a well-stocked home library should be filled not with books that look good, but books that have been read. An online acquaintance was once discussing her home library and told of a time when a guest at their house, impressed with the sheer number of books, asked, "So . . . how many of these have you read?" He was astounded when she answered, "All of them." In her opinion, it was not worth owning the books if their purpose was ignored.

With this thought in mind, I've spent the last couple days going through my Kindle library in my spare time. I've deleted hundreds of books from the thousands stored there, and will probably continue to delete hundreds more. When I first got my Kindle, it was a real kick for me to be able to download books with a simple click and ten seconds of my time. I started with the classics, even the ones I had in physical form, because they're all free. Then I started browsing through the unknowns, and would frequently get books from the Top 100 Free category. Before I knew it, I had hundreds, and then thousands, of books. 

Over 2000 books on a portable device, and I've read only about 700 of them in the past three years, according to the number in my "ok/keepers" category and my "archived" section (top of the line at the time of purchase, my Kindle is now the-one-that-looks-like-a-DX-but-is-as-small-as-a-Paperwhite). The other 1000+ are in various categories such as "cookbooks," "how-to," and "misc. unknown," which is pretty much the same as saying I haven't gotten to them yet. And that's what prompted The Purge.

Even considering how fast I read, there is no way I have enough time to read all the books I've downloaded unless I completely stop getting any new books and concentrate solely on plowing through the list for the next few years. The rate of one book every couple days worked for awhile (I read most often at night, so there have been many times I've skipped a few sleeping hours to finish a book I liked), but the only reason I was able to keep up that pace was because a good number of those books were fluff, pure and simple. It was entertaining for awhile, but my brain got tired of not having to be involved. There were times when I'd find myself skimming through pages, knowing where the whole thing was leading and hoping for something surprising to catch my eye. I even caught myself finishing books and not remember the main characters' names five minutes later.

After recently reading a decently long streak of self-published authors whose books were of good quality, I decided I'm not wasting my time anymore on fluff. I've also gotten over my policy of always finishing a book, no matter how bad. It was really more of a guideline anyway. Nowadays, if a book doesn't have me interested by the third chapter, I assume it's never going to happen. It doesn't have to start with a bang, but if three chapters go by and I'm still not anxious to find out what happens next, then I stop and delete it.

My library, whether virtual or hold-'em-in-my-hands real books, is going to be full of the stories I enjoy enough to reread or hand down to my kids. I have books from my childhood (thank you, Mom, for holding on to them for me) that my children have enjoyed, and when I look through them I have very specific memories of how old I was or what I was doing when reading them for the first time. Harvey's Hideout, The Magic Spectacles or Miss Suzy might not be classics in the truest sense, but I remember every illustration with fondness.

What's your idea of a well-stocked library?



Thursday, November 21, 2013

Free Book + Honest Review = Another Free Book

Author Stephen Fender is offering a great deal for those who have not yet read the first two of his military space science fiction novels in The Kestrel Saga. First, let me tell you why you want to take advantage of this (it's my blog, after all—not his) and then we'll get back to the Fabulous Mr. Fender.

Last month, I wrote a blog post about the importance of leaving a review after finishing a book. Although technically, reviews are for the benefit of future readers, they also help indie authors in many ways.

Self-publishing gives a lot of freedom for authors, in the form of creative rights, editing options, cover design, and more. However, the downside to having all that freedom comes in the form of self-promotion.

If you're an author who's been fortunate enough to work with a publishing house, the publishers do the promoting for you. I'm sure the author doesn't sit back and wait for the big bucks to come rolling in, but face it: the big-name publishers have connections and know how to use them. This adds up to lots of exposure in very visible places.

Indie authors not only write the book, but they scrape up the money for an editor. They are then expected to format the book themselves, and either design their own cover or hire an artist to design one. By the time the book is ready to launch, the hard part is just getting started: making people see it.

With thousands of new books released each month, I'm amazed anyone gets noticed amid the sheer volume. There are promoters out there who, for a price, will get your book synopsis (and perhaps an interview) posted on a variety of blogs. Good stuff, all of it, but once again, the average reader may still not run into these sites unless they're already immersed in all things bibliophilic. What does the average book purchaser look at?

Amazon. Smashwords. Goodreads. Nook.

Yep, they look at reviews. An indie author can be selling thousands of books, but if there are only a handful of reviews posted for each title, a purchaser may hesitate to try out an unfamiliar name.

So here's the fun deal (since, when all is said and done, Stephen Fender is a fun guy):

Contact Mr. Fender through his website, www.stephenfender.com on his "About" page and he'll provide you with a copy of the first Kestrel book, The Army of Light, free of charge in exchange for an honest review. You can post your review on Amazon or Goodreads (or both), and he'll provide the second book, Icarus, with the same deal. Free book for honest review. If you haven't read either of them, you have the opportunity to read them at no cost to you. If you've read the first one and haven't left a review, do it. Then get the second one free and review it, too.

And that's not all! Stephen Fender will send you a primo set of Ginsu knives—

No, wait. He won't do that. BUT if you, the reader, post reviews for both books prior to December 15, he will provide you with an early (and—yes—FREE) copy of Second Earth, the third installment in the series. There is pretty much no way you're going to get the short end of this deal. I've read all three (multiple times, in fact) and I can tell you in all honesty that I'm already anxiously awaiting the next one, because I've enjoyed Shawn Kestrel's world so much. (See my earlier post that tells a little bit about Mr. Kestrel.)

Good deal? Good deal. Go get 'em.

Literally.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Book Review: This Changes Everything

I was recently given a pre-pub e-copy of This Changes Everything (Volume 1 of The Spanners Series) by Sally Ember, Ed. D., in exchange for an honest review.

What if the world as we know it isn’t exactly as we’d always believed? What if we’re not the only sentient beings in the universe? What if the universe were not “only” a universe, but a “multi-verse” where many timelines occurred simultaneously?

The book’s title really says it all: this changes everything. Clara Branon is visited by the holograms of alien beings one night in her home, and her life from that point on is forever changed. She’s chosen as Chief Communicator, the contact person between the Many Worlds Collective and the Earthers, as they’re known by other species; it becomes her job to tell the rest of the world about the MWC and to help them accept it in order to transform our world into a better place for future generations.

I like the way opportunities for “re-sets” are available—how many of us would go back and change certain events if we could?—but are also shown as not always being the best option. Our life experiences shape us into who we are, after all, and if one or more of those is altered, we may not get what we want in the way we think we want it. I also appreciate the nods to authors like Douglas Adams, with the language-interpreting “fish” reminiscent of the Babel fish in his Hitchhiker’s Guide books.

Because Clara is writing/telling of the events occurring in multiple timelines, all the narrative is in the present tense, even for past or future events, which, as an editor, drove me crazy at first. Eventually, I got used to it, but it was occasionally a distraction…after all, past events require past tense verbs, unless the past is happening during the present or the future, in which case...oh, forget it. You’ll get used to it too, after a few pages.

Since the book is essentially a documentation of the initial visitation and transition time, there’s a lot of narrative with little dialogue, which slows down the pace in many spots. I’m a dialogue person, so the long stretches of complex details in the form of transcripts were a lot to absorb and at times felt like too much for one book. [Note: after contacting the author about this, I was informed that the manuscript had been revised and more dialogue had been added to the version that will be published in December.]

At times it felt like it had a definite political slant, with a lot of liberal push, demonizing those who are staunch in their religious or moral beliefs as inflexible and unenlightened, classifying the wealthy as greedy, etc.  I have to admit, I didn’t really care for that aspect of it, but that reflects my own personal beliefs and has nothing to do with the quality of the book itself. The novel also has a lot of Buddhist practices and teachings in it, including reincarnation (or ReInvolvement, as the MWC refers to it). I feel the need to mention these things because they’re so present within the book, and many readers prefer to be made aware of any controversial topics or religious leanings prior to reading.

There were parts that really tickled me, such as the explanation of crop circles: teenage alien graffiti, not much different than Earth teens taking a joyride and spray-painting the sides of bridges or boxcars, then racing back home before the authorities catch them.  A recounting of an exchange between Clara and her son, Zephyr, over speakerphone had me giggling out loud, because it reminded me so much of phone conversations with my own mother.

The writing is complex and done extremely well. I didn't see an editor listed, and I’m happy to say that Ms. Ember is excellent at self-editing. Grammar, punctuation, and spelling were non-issues, which was very refreshing in an indie book. There were times when I almost forgot I was reading a work of fiction and not a news account of real events, and I would consider that to be skilled writing indeed.

Because different book sites have different meanings to their ratings, I think of the star system as looking at a scale: did I enjoy more of it than not? Yes. Four stars. Did I like the overall content? Most of the time. Three stars. Was the writing of good quality? Oh, definitely yes. Five stars.


My overall rating: four of five stars.

Ms. Ember's book will be available for pre-orders next week via Smashwordsnook, iBooks and Kobo through December 19, with release date planned for sales December 20, 2013.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Green Eggs and Ham: A Fresh Look at a Dark Book

I've been between book edits recently. This can be a productive "down" time if I use it wisely, taking the opportunity to work on the never-ending house projects that seem to be . . . well, never ending. Living in a house built in the 1920s can do that. More often than not, though, I find myself anxious for the next round of edits to begin, whether with a new book or second-round revisions of a current WIP. I would much rather be editing than washing windows or decluttering (as my windows and clutter will attest).

Homeschooling provides me with numerous editing opportunities; the disadvantage to this is that my kids refuse to pay me for my services. Huh. 

In honor of not really having anything new to say, I thought today's blog post could feature my 18-year-old son's most recent English paper . . . kind of like when that Family Circus cartoon guy lets his son, Billy, take over. Without further ado . . .



The Real Green Eggs and Ham
Many consider it to be a normal children’s book, with little purpose other than to entertain with its rhyming, humorous illustrations, et cetera; any deeper meaning that may be found is generally cast aside, or perhaps watered down to a simple moral: “You never know you don’t like something until you’ve tried it.”  This is, of course, not the entire meaning that Seuss intended, and to say so would be an insult to the Doctor’s intentions.  The printed version of Green Eggs and Ham is a very selective telling of a much darker story, of harassment and kidnapping.
In the beginning of the book, a nameless character (assumed to be the protagonist) expresses an extreme dislike for a character named “Sam,” and rightly so, for Sam is notably narcissistic, parading about with a sign which reads, “I Am Sam” and, on the opposite side, “Sam I Am.”
 In the particular incident recorded at the start of the book, Sam has been riding strange animals through the protagonist’s house, waving his signs shamelessly, while the protagonist is minding his own business, attempting to read the morning paper. It is at this point that he expresses his dislike for Sam, and Sam, seeking further attention, inquires as to whether the man enjoys eating green eggs and ham, offering a plate of the stuff.  The protagonist, understandably enough, states that he does not, and refuses the offer. He does not mention a reason for disliking these foods; no doubt he assumed there was no need to do so. I mean, would you eat ham that had sat out long enough to turn green?  And there’s no knowing what was added to the eggs to cause them to be such a color.
Sam, of course, does not accept such a simple answer, and inquires further, asking whether he might enjoy them in a different location. The protagonist explains that the location makes no difference: it is the food to which he objects. Sam, undeterred, continues with his questions, asking if he might like the food better in a house, or perhaps with a mouse. The protagonist explains again that it is not the location, nor the company kept during the meal, but the food itself which puts him off from such a thing.
After this, the story begins to turn dark. Sam asks if the man would eat his food in a box, with a feral canine for company, and the man, not understanding the veiled threat, declines again. It is at this point that Sam abducts the man, throwing him into his car and driving off recklessly, all the while continuing to offer the food. He is quoted as saying, “Eat them! Eat them! Here they are.”
The man continuously begs Sam to let him go and leave him alone, but Sam does not heed his pleas. He drags the man onto a train—no doubt to escape the authorities more quickly—and from the train, to a boat, all the while urging the man to eat the food offered to him. It should also be noted that Sam keeps a live goat in his car, and it may be best not to speculate as to why. Shortly after they board the boat, it goes down—a direct result of Sam’s recklessness—and they are left swimming toward the nearest land mass; yet even while swimming for his life, Sam holds the eggs and rancid ham aloft, telling the insistently refusing man to eat it, because he may like it, if only he would try it.
The man is tired: he has been harassed, threatened, kidnapped and terrorized, and it has been the longest day of his life. He asks Sam if he will be released and left alone if he eats this food which Sam is so obsessively eager to share. Sam tells him that he will let him go if his conditions are met, so the man eats the food and pretends to enjoy it so as not to anger Sam by disliking what is apparently his favorite food. He even goes so far as to thank Sam for putting him through all this. After counseling, the man is able to eat normal ham again; however, he cannot bring himself to try eggs in most forms. 


Sam disappeared shortly after the incident and has not been heard from since.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Should You Be Afraid to Review?

Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? In the big, wide world of semi-anonymity we call the internet, it seems at times that people are afraid of nothing. Strangers say things online that they'd never say if looking someone in the eye.

As tempting as it is to tell people where to get off—especially when they're being obnoxious or unfair—I still feel awkward saying something online that I wouldn't normally say when talking to somebody face to face. I've gotten into a few online discussions where I've tried to explain the other side's view in a rational manner, but it seems that people don't want to debate rationally; they only want to shout insults and belittle those who don't agree. If you don't believe me, try explaining to a gang of vehement Teachers' Union supporters that all homeschoolers are not, in fact, "inbred, narrow-minded, homophobic hypocrites." Wow. And those were the ones who didn't refer to a variety of body parts and animal acts. That was one "discussion" from which I removed myself after only one sentence. I never said anything critical about non-homeschoolers; I only tried to explain my own position.

It's not worth my time to argue with people who don't want to hear someone else's point of view, especially if those people are strangers who don't ultimately affect my real, flesh-and-blood life in any way.  

But what if those strangers could, in fact, affect your real life? Would you still feel free to express your honest thoughts?

I've been exploring a variety of threads on Goodreads lately, and a disturbing number of authors mention unwarranted attacks by other authors who don't agree with someone's review of their book. Researching further, I even found a website devoted to outing the attackers,  http://www.stopthegrbullies.com/. Evidently, author/reviewer bullying is a pretty big thing. On the STGRB site, I read through quite a few of the stories, and was thankful that some of them ended happily, though it doesn't appear to be the case for the majority of the incidents.

Since when did an honest opinion become a bad thing? There are tactful ways to say the negative things that need to be said, like when my husband says, "Well, I know it's a comfortable outfit you like to wear, but it's not the most flattering thing you own." I'd rather hear that than overhear someone whisper, "Does she know what she looks like in that outfit?" In the case of a book review, I would expect an author to be prepared for the occasional negative. No one likes to hear that what they've worked on for months (sometimes years) isn't loved by one and all, but it should at least be expected once in awhile. I've perhaps not always used the most delicate phrasing when leaving reviews, but if confronted by an author, I am prepared to stand by my words and would (if the opportunity presented itself) say those words while meeting the author's eyes. 

I can think of one instance where I ended up wondering if I'd overstepped my bounds. A book I'd edited had gotten a two-star review from someone who admitted she didn't finish the book, it was not her typical genre, and in fact, anything to do with that particular genre really "didn't do anything for" her. So I asked her why she'd bothered to read or review the book, when all those factors would never have led her to a favorable review. I was polite, I clearly stated that I was the book's editor (which I didn't have to disclose) and wasn't asking so I could jump to the author's defense, but was genuinely curious. The reviewer didn't reply, but another GR person did, accusing me of being unprofessional by telling someone what a review should be, on a book which I "helped to create."

Well, first of all, I didn't create the book. I didn't help to create it. The novel was the author's hard work, not mine. I edited it. As much as I'd love to take credit for a book's success—and I do celebrate with them!—my work is the equivalent of adding gravy, not the meat & potatoes of the deal. I don't even have to like the books I work with, I suppose; I only have to correct them. So of course, I felt that was a moot point. However, the person who criticized me was polite, and I responded with equal politeness, and we went our separate ways. I'd intended no harm, she said her piece, and I realized it was probably not my business to ask the original poster anything at all. But I'm curious like that, and now I know that curiosity is not always appreciated. I'm thankful that my post didn't do any damage to the author, but I didn't feel it was right to remove it, either. After all, I said it, and I need to stand by my words, lest they cease to mean anything anymore.

A close relative of mine once decided she was going to be an author. She's not a reader, has never been a reader, and her reading attention span is about the length of a People Magazine article. However, she is creative. She wrote a bunch of children's stories in rhyme, and they were silly and could have been wonderful. 

Could have been. 

She asked me to look at them, and said, "Tell me what you think. Aren't they great?" Well . . . yes, they were. Mostly. But each time I'd ask her about something that needed to be adjusted (hard and fast rules, like not saying, "Dad and her went to the store . . ."), or questioned randomly capitalized words, or the way she forced the rhyming meter by accenting words on the incorrect syllable, she became irritated and say, "Well, that's the author's prerogative," and dismiss my concerns. I finally realized she only wanted pats on the back and no real help, and stopped bothering. Her books never got the polish they needed and never got off the ground, and that's a shame, because the eight stories she'd put together were pretty clever. 

My point, if I can still get back around to it, is this: if an honest opinion is wanted, then prepare for it to be honest. "Honest" does not always mean "favorable." And if your loyal fans jump to your defense, please make it clear to them that bullying your naysayers is NOT acceptable. Some of the articles I read left me incredulous that people would be so vicious to strangers over a book review, methodically stalking them across the social networks. In some of the cases I read, the author and the reviewer blamed each other for attacks launched by friends; once the true culprits were revealed, apologies were made and all was made as right as it could be, considering the emotional trauma each side was put through.

In a previous post, I stressed that most authors desire honest reviews. Reviews are the things that encourage people to purchase a book, and they allow authors to know their work is noticed. The relative obscurity provided by the internet should not ever be used as an excuse to lash out at anyone who doesn't happen to agree with us.