October 30, 2015

Flash! Friday: Prompt #3-47

It's Friday! This week's Flash! Friday prompt was, appropriately, based on the book Frankenstein. Requirements were a 175-word story (+/- 10) with two of the following:

  • Conflict: man v self, man v society
  • Character (choose at least one): a cowardly scientist; a man-made, sentient creature; a hapless fiancee, an oblivious optimist.
  • Theme (choose one): forbidden science, danger of the pursuit of knowledge, fate v free will, secrecy
  • Setting (choose one): Romantic-era Europe, a laboratory, a ship voyaging in the Arctic, ANYWHERE STEAMPUNK!

Thanks as always for your thoughts!

One of a Kind

Neeasha stopped before the mirror in the entryway, settling a purple-and-gold felt hat carefully on her hairdo. She tilted her head this way and that, ensuring today’s choice adequately hid her horns.

Her tail slithered up her back, twining around the spikes between her shoulders. A heavy jacket covered the resulting bulges—and the blinking cuff on her forearm. After a last glance at her reflection, she picked up her bag, stuffed her scaled hands in her pockets, and headed out the door.

“You are not alone!” a flier advertising counseling screamed at her as she walked past chatting groups and entwined couples. She paused at the entrance to Stein’s Science Center, staring for a second at their smiles.

Three stories below, behind seven different locks, the cuff clicked open. She stripped to her underwear, letting her tail unfurl and stretching, maroon claws scratching the ceiling.

Beeping monitors surrounded her, waiting. At least he let her sleep elsewhere now.

“Why can’t I take one of the classes?” she asked the man behind the glass.

“Maybe in the winter,” came the daily reply.

(182 words, using a man-made sentient creature, and secrecy)

October 26, 2015

3 Questions You Might Be Asking About NaNoWriMo

As I wrote last week in a guest post (you should definitely check out) about how National Novel Writing Month helped me become an author:
"National Novel Writing Month is a personal challenge. It’s terrifying and difficult. And in my experience, very rarely is it as exhilarating as other people say. It means sacrificing sleep and sometimes personal relationships (which do recover!), and it’s definitely a battle—not to give up when you don’t meet a word count goal, to push through inevitable bouts of writer’s block, to make those necessary sacrifices. To reach 50,000 words. 
... [But] NaNoWriMo 2012 started me on the path to becoming what I am today: a published author. Most importantly, it proved that this crazy, unthinkable, incredibly intimidating thing—writing 50,000 words but also writing a novel—was something I could do. 
Now when I hesitate, when I struggle, when I feel stuck and hopeless in the middle of a draft, I get to look back and rely on the fact that it’s something I’ve already done."
Trying to write 50,000 words in 30 days is a little crazy, and it's more than a little intimidating. And yet all over the world, on November 1st, people will start doing just that. What about you? Are you considering trying this challenge for the first or tenth (or whichever) time?

If you're not sure, here are three questions you may be asking—and better yet, answers to all three!
  1. Should I participate in NaNoWriMo?
    • Yes. Pretty much, if you're asking yourself if you should try this, the answer is yes. Regardless of if you write 2,000 words total or reach 50,000 in the first two weeks, NaNoWriMo is transformative, whether you treat it as a personal challenge or your goal is to become an author.

      This is the marathon of writing—some do it to prove they can, and some do it because writing is their passion, but whatever your reason, the experience (even if you don't "win") will impact your life, in a great way.
  2. But it starts this weekend. Isn't it too late for this year?
    • No! Unlike running a marathon, you don't have to prepare and train for NaNoWriMo. Some people do, spending the first ten months of each year planning their stories, but many people—including me!—just start typing and see where it takes them.

      If you give yourself the freedom to write, even with no idea of where you want the story to go, you might just discover an incredible world and wonderful characters who've been waiting for you to create them. If you decide to participate at the last minute with no idea where you're going, you're not alone. Join the many pantsers who write just that way, and see what you can create!
  3. I have a bazillion life commitments in November, and there's no way I can hit 50,000 words. Is it even worth it to try?
    • Finishing NaNoWriMo brings with it a sense of accomplishment, absolutely, and looking back at the sometimes grueling month with 50,000 brand new words is incredibly exhilarating. But at its core, NaNoWriMo is more about making the time and commitment to write than it is about your word count. Is it less of an accomplishment to run a 10K than a full marathon? I suppose if you're an Olympic runner, the answer might be yes, but for us mere mortals—definitely not. So does it not count if you write 20,000 or even 10,000 words in November rather than reaching 50,000? Absolutely not! And really, for many of those hesitant to try, the question isn't 20,000 or 50,000. It's 20,000 or none. And 20,000 is infinitely more than none.

      So while life absolutely gets in the way, and only you can decide if attempting NaNoWriMo will make you committed to your writing or so stressed jumping off a bridge sounds like a good idea*, don't let the fear of not "winning" prevent you from participating.

      Whether you write 10,000 words or 150,000 (yep, a NaNo writer in my region bangs out about that much each November, making the rest of us feel woefully inadequate), the reminder to prioritize your writing, to give yourself permission to carve out time for it amid all those other responsibilities, will still be worth it.
      • *If attempting to squeeze NaNoWriMo into your life will make you so stressed that you'd rather jump off a bridge or something similar, please take November to carve out some time to relax and do something to restore your sanity instead. Read a book, go have drinks with some friends, go for a hike, get a massage—make time for you!

*Bonus* Now that you know why you should participate,
check out my 9 Tips for NaNoWriMo!

October 19, 2015

Marketing is My Achilles' Heel or: Help, Please!

I am horrible at marketing. I try, really I do, to fake the confidence and push past my introverted side to promote my work. Because I've learned, like many authors lately, that if I don't do it, no one will. Not my publisher (for my first book), and not my friends (unless I pester them incessantly, which I don't feel comfortable doing). Sometimes it seems that even paying for marketing pros doesn't get me anywhere. 

I'm so used to staying quiet—at work, in school, anywhere—and letting my work speak for itself. Historically, that has sometimes meant even putting my job in jeopardy, when people would lie about me to my bosses. Idealistically, I kept on believing that the truth will out (and in some cases it did), and that my passion and dedication would see me through. 

Until I became an author. I know I have to do more than put my book out there, and I'm trying, truly. But I haven't learned to be an effective marketer yet, it seems. So I'm asking for your help!

To celebrate the 2-month anniversary of Mortal Musings, I'm running two special offers, and I'd really appreciate it if you could spread the word. And thank you in advance!!
  1. Mortal Musings is available for just $0.99 on Amazon for this week only (through Oct 25)
  2. Autographed print copies of Mortal Musings are for a limited time available with free shipping via my Selz store!
    Use coupon code: 4IGS5RU2 or this direct link: http://selz.co/1QxpFsB

October 16, 2015

Flash! Friday: Prompt #3-45

Rare but not impossible to spot: a Flash! Friday story by your truly!

This week's inspirational novel was Moby Dick, in a 100-word story (+/- 25) with two required story elements from among:
  • Conflict: man v self, man v nature (not gender specific)
  • Character (choose at least one): a wooden-legged sea captain, a pacifist forced to help with someone else’s revenge, an easygoing storyteller oblivious to danger, a chief’s son/prince working on a ship, a mighty whale.
  • Theme (choose one): revenge, fate v free will, the power of Nature, friendship, the cost of obsession
  • Setting (choose one): a whaling ship, a sea port, an island, the middle of the ocean
Added inspiration is offered in the form of this photo (though its use is not required):
Naufragos/Shipwrecked. CC2.0 photo by Luis Marina.

My story is below, but you also have time to write your own! Check out all the guidelines here, and let me know what you think!

At Any Cost

They left me.

Dozens of years of research brought my team here. The sound of the ocean, the sandy beaches and devastating cliff faces, the squawks of local avifauna… None of that matters.

They followed me, yes, but they couldn’t see that.

The Fibonacci sequence, Occam’s razor, Knot theory—it’s all about the numbers. They did it for credit, for research…for resumes, or a trip to the island.

Blind, oh so blind.

Vines bend to my fingers’ will, and I etch my numbers into the sand, surrounded by the stench of flesh.

I’m always there—almost there. I’ll find it.

They didn’t believe.

(103 words)

October 12, 2015

Print On Demand: Why I Chose IngramSpark

This post has been a long time coming, and it's quite long itself, but choosing a Print On Demand (POD) provider for your book, if that's a route you want to go, is a bit complicated. Many posts exist comparing the two largest (but by no means only) options for independent authors: CreateSpace and IngramSpark. Some have slightly outdated information (e.g. about wholesale discounts on IngramSpark), but the general overview is solid. 

So rather than rehash information available elsewhere, I want to discuss some of the misinformation out there and the reasons why I personally chose IngramSpark.

There are a few reasons commonly cited for why indie publishers "should" choose CreateSpace, including: 
  • Claim: CreateSpace is free to use. IngramSpark charges a $49 setup fee.
    • On the surface, this is true. But IngramSpark actually refunds your setup fee if you place an order for 50 print copies within the first 60 days. Believe me, with giveaways, contest entries, review copies, sales directly through you, etc., 50 copies isn't much at all. You'll likely be buying them anyway, so you may as well put that initial investment into your budget and stop worrying about the setup fee.
  • Claim: IngramSpark only allows a 40% or 55% discount. (Outdated)
    • Given that CreateSpace requires a 40% discount for Amazon, but a 60% discount for books sold elsewhere, I'm not sure why this is used to support publishing on CreateSpace. Regardless, the current reality is you can set your discount anywhere from 30%-55% on IngramSpark, including random numbers like 47%.
  • Claim: File revision on CreateSpace is free. File revision on IngramSpark costs $25 each time.
    • Again, on the surface this is true. Sort of. People are afraid of IngramSpark because this makes it sound as though there's a high cost for making a mistake of any kind. What actually happens is this:
      • When you upload your files to IngramSpark (an interior file and a cover design file, separately), each of those is both automatically vetted and then manually vetted, as in by a human being who checks for any problems. If there are no problems, your file is accepted. If there are problems, you are notified.

        If you are notified that there is a problem, you have to upload an entire new file (or files, if there are problems in both). There is no charge for this (at least in my experience). Of course, this is only about technical problems with the files, e.g. size being off on the cover file, not issues such as typos or corrections to the text. So while you do have to make sure your files are as spotless as you can get them the first time around, since you can't correct them willy-nilly, you don't have to worry about being charged because of a technical mistake. They simply won't accept your file unless it satisfies their high standards.

        For me, as a first-time independent publisher, this was actually rather reassuring—someone who knows what they're doing double-checking that I hadn't made some huge error.
  • Claim: CreateSpace gets books to market "more quickly." IngramSpark takes up to about 4 weeks (or up to 8 with your first book), and sometimes there are delays specifically with Amazon.
    • This information is actually provided by IngramSpark, so it must be true for some people's experiences.
    • My print book was available for sale through retailers, including Amazon, within 4 days. Lucky me! (Seriously.) But also, maybe there is just a buffer in case of unforeseen problems, or maybe the process is continuing to be streamlined and that information is also a bit out of date. 
      • I did have to upload my cover to Amazon separately through Author Central, but that takes about 2 minutes.
      • On Amazon, my print copy was simultaneously available in the US and UK! And it quickly became available globally, though the rest of the Amazon sites added it gradually.
  • Claim: Customer service is better on CreateSpace than IngramSpark.
    • Maybe. I haven't dealt with CreateSpace, but in order to receive my $49 refund to my credit card, I did have to deal with IngramSpark's customer service. While I quickly received an invoice promising the credit, in order for the credit to go to my card and not my IngramSpark account, I had to call. The person I spoke to honestly was clueless and a tad rude. He'd never heard of the promotion (despite it being on their website) and couldn't seem to understand that I was referring to a specific invoice until I repeated that about 6 times. But once we were on the same page, I quickly received my rebate.
    • I mentioned this above, but it bears repeating: IngramSpark manually vetted each of my files. As far as I know, CreateSpace doesn't do that. I can deal with some less-than-stellar customer service in exchange for an expert set of eyes on my files before I pay for print proofs (or the file revision fees).

Other than the first two points, though, I couldn't have known that popular wisdom was wrong without having gone through the process with IngramSpark. So why did I choose them in the first place?
  1. Quality:
    • Ingram distributes for major publishing houses and, with IngramSpark, for indie publishers. (CreateSpace actually uses Ingram to distribute internationally.) Everyone seems to agree that their books are higher quality in terms of durability, paper quality, etc. Independent publishing is a serious investment, in terms of both time and money, and I didn't want that investment wasted on low-quality printed books.
    • Both providers offer two color choices for paper, but traditionally, white paper is only used for text books and nonfiction. I actually own a book from Entangled Publishing printed by CreateSpace that used white paper, and it looks plain strange. However, CreateSpace's "cream" paper is apparently actually yellow. So for a professional and habitual (aka "traditional") look, IngramSpark it was.
  2. Royalty structure
    • The actual numbers depend on the format and length of your book, but it's true that CreateSpace books earn a few cents per copy more on Amazon than IngramSpark books do (at the same 40% wholesale discount). However, CreateSpace books earn drastically less (almost 75% less) if distributed anywhere else, like Barnes & Noble, internationally, or through a bookstore.
      • This is a major reason some people recommend distributing to Amazon through CreateSpace, and everywhere else through IngramSpark. Personally, this didn't overshadow my many other reasons for choosing IngramSpark.
      • Yes, bookstores will order your book if someone personally goes in and asks them to! Or if you can get your local stores to stock it. And if that does happen, you'll earn a lot more per copy through IngramSpark.
  3. Trim size
    • Both POD providers offer a variety of trim sizes, but the smallest size offered by CreateSpace is 5"x8". I actually like my books small and easily portable, so I was initially considering printing in mass market paperback (like many romances are), which already would have limited me to IngramSpark. After many side-by-side comparisons of real books in my home, I  decided on 5"x7"—which still left me at IngramSpark.
      • I found this size comfortable to hold, while simultaneously fitting (height-wise) on the same shelf as mass market paperbacks. Shelf space is important to readers! And books that don't fit often get tucked somewhere out of the way—and out of sight.
      • Bizarrely, Amazon still lists my print book as 5"x8", though other sites list the right size. I have no idea why and have not found a way to fix it.
    • Related to trim size is format: IngramSpark offers hardback options. CreateSpace does not. While Mortal Musings is currently only available in paperback, it's nice to know that if I did want to release another edition in hardback, I easily could.
  4. Cover style
    • CreateSpace prints all covers with a laminate finish, which I find uncomfortable to the touch. Plus the laminate shows every fingerprint. It just wasn't what I wanted.
    • IngramSpark offers a matte finish as well—meaning you as the author get to choose. I love the soft feel of my matte cover; it's almost velvety.
    • UPDATE: CreateSpace now offers matte covers as well (this is listed under their "what's new" section on the home page). And they do have the added bonus that you can switch between a matte and laminate cover with no charge even when your book is already for sale. IngramSpark would, as far as I know, charge for changing the cover style. So in this category, CreateSpace may now have an edge if you just aren't sure which option you prefer.

So that's a bit about my experience and decision-making process with Print On Demand publishing. Have you looked into POD providers? What do you think about IngramSpark vs. CreateSpace?

And if you want to check out that super soft cover I mentioned, and the quality of the resulting book itself, you can always order a copy! ;)

October 6, 2015

Back Up Your Files!

The post title pretty much says it all, but I'll expound:

Back up your files much more often than you think you need to. Because something will go wrong, and unless you have a backup copy of your file that is ideally stored in an entirely unrelated place (different hard drive, cloud storage if that's your preference, etc.) you could very well be SOL. All those things you think will save you (auto-save, manually saving every few minutes or every few changes, etc.) might very well basically laugh at you as you cry. In other words, they won't work. So I repeat: backing up your files, ideally somewhere other than where the main file is, might be the only thing that saves you.

If your time and work and heartache and tears matter to you, back up your file every single time you work with it.

Why am I writing about this? Because it turns out MS Word has a "known issue" where sometimes, just because it feels like it, it transforms your document into asterisks. The whole thing. Pages and pages and pages of asterisks. You want to see what my most recent version of G&H looks like? Here's a sneak peek: 

Thankfully, I haven't lost the entire manuscript, just the most recent revisions, but honestly that is heartbreaking because I was finally on a roll with really fixing the current problems in the story. And now, I have to start over, and I just know the "how did I fix this last time?" version won't be as good. 

So don't be me. Back up your files. Go now.