Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Cover Design 101: Interview with Cover Artist J. Allen Fielder

It's no secret that I'm in love with my cover for THE BOY WHO LOVED FIRE. When I decided to indie publish, I put feelers out there for a quality cover designer. Gae Polisner referred me to J. Allen Fielder. I'm so glad she did. Jeff is a pleasure to work with, and he creates a great product for a fair price.

I thought it would be fun and informative to take a peek into the world of cover design. Here's a Q and A with my cover designer, Jeff Fielder.

What makes a memorable cover stand out?

There isn't any one thing that makes a great cover, but there are many things first-time self-publishing authors do that can break a cover. A good cover tells a story, piques interest, and grabs the eye, but it shouldn't tell the whole story. You also don't want to mislead the reader. We've all been trained (whether we know it or not) that certain colors on the cover will give you a hint to what's inside. Take for example bright oranges, yellows, greens . . . probably a humorous book. Red? Thriller or military. Soft colors: Romantic. This isn't an always thing, but if you write a thriller and put soft colors and a couple almost kissing a la Nichols Sparks, you're probably going to miss your target audience.

Another common mistake is fonts (really, typefaces, but that's a discussion for another day). Too many authors grab a photo from Shutterstock, place it in Word, use clipart or some other whimsical or scripty font, and call it a day. Nothing says amateur like comic sans.

Look, I'm a graphic designer, and this is how I make my living, but the truth is, you CAN design your own cover, just like you can edit your own book. It CAN be done, but all too often the results are not what you want. Your book can only be born once. Your cover matters. Take the time, invest the money to get it perfect, and take pride in what you've done. Only you know what you want, so don't let your artist stop you from reaching your vision. A good designer will help you and guide you, but won't dictate their vision on your book.

What should authors consider when formulating a cover idea?

You have to be somewhat realistic about your vision. It would be lovely to have the budget to get custom photography, model releases, and hundreds of hours of graphic arts time (often billed hourly) to get Tatum Channing dressed as a clown riding a Mustang over a rainbow of fire, but unless you have deep deep pockets, you're probably going to be be looking at some sort of stock photography. That's just the reality of your budget. Can you take a cool picture of your neighbor kid for $50 and call it good? Absolutely. But those are rare special cases.

One thing I tell my clients is to share their ideas with me, but have an open mind. Typically when I get started on a project, I talk to my clients, get an idea for their vision, and then mock-up 5, 10, 15 concepts. Then I tell my clients to NOT settle. If we're not there, let's mock-up 15 more. Like I said before, your book can only be born once. Take the time to reach YOUR vision.

You may not know what you want until you see what you don't want. Don't be afraid to ask your artist to try something. Any artist worth a damn will mock-up what you've asked for, even if he or she doesn't believe in the concept. It's not our cover. It's yours.

Another tip to save you money is to do some of the background research yourself. I don't charge to hunt through stock photography to find an image, but some artists will. If they bill hourly and you send them on a wild goose chase to find a specific image, you're wasting money. Go on the stock photography sites and find some concepts yourself. Not only will this save you money, but you'll have more ownership in the final piece. You might also find other ideas along the way that you'd like to try.

What do you need from your clients to help you zero in on their vision?

Rule No. 1: Have an open mind.
Rule No. 2: Know what you want.
Rule No. 3: Have an open mind.

It sounds funny, but there's an old Dilbert cartoon I often refer to where the client asks him to build a prototype, he does, and when he brings it back they say, "That's not what we want at all." He asks what they want and they say, "I don't know. You're the expert." Every author out there has an idea for a cover when they're writing their book. At some point, you write a scene and you think, "Oh my God! That would make an AWESOME cover!" That's the point where you need to tell your artist what you want. Is it the right cover? Maybe not, but only you know for sure. However . . . don't get stuck there. Getting the perfect cover is like writing the perfect scene. You may rewrite 50 times before you get it just so. Your cover should get the same respect and treatment. 

How do you and the author know when you've created The One?

At some point, you just know. But let me give this advice: Once you have THE ONE, do a couple more. I LOVE THIS COVER! is great, but I always tell my clients to sleep on it, show it around to a few close friends, take some time to breathe and dream about it. Look at it until you're sick of it. And if you still love it, you've found the one. It doesn't hurt your book to wait a couple days and get feedback from people you trust.

I will tell you this. While not all artists are the same, I can make mock-ups of the same book for eternity. The only time I know we've found the right one is when the client is happy. Personally, I can tinker forever. I have sent mock-ups to clients even after they've said, "THAT'S THE ONE!" and changed their minds. Love is a fickle thing.

What is your biggest challenge with cover designs? Your greatest joy?

Biggest challenge? Clients who don't know what they want, or know what they want and won't budge. There's a fine line between demanding and unreasonable. Clients should be demanding (it's YOUR money!). But you have to be willing to bend or hear other ideas. Just like when your editor tells you to change a scene, if you're rigid and refuse to listen, your book will likely suffer for it. Some things just don't work, no matter how much you want them to. And some people aren't going to be honest with you. As a designer, I've created covers that I'm not proud of because at the end of the day, it's the client's money and the client's cover. As much as I can guide, I simply can't dictate.

Greatest joy? While I'd love to sound altruistic and say my greatest joy is a happy client, the truth is, my greatest joy is seeing my covers in print. I love being proud of my work. When I see a cover I love and I know I've worked hard and the client is happy and I can put that book on my shelf . . . there's nothing better professionally. Yeah, I'm as narcissistic as the next artist. Writers may say their greatest joy is connecting with a reader, but nothing—NOTHING—feels as good as seeing your book in print that first time. When I create art that can stand on its own . . . Yeah, it's an amazing feeling.

How much should an author expect to pay?

Designers charge either a flat fee or an hourly fee. Some may even charge a combination of the two. Like anything else, you pay for what you get. If you're on a really tight budget (defined as $200 or less), you might consider hiring a high school or college art student. But keep in mind, you're going to get what you pay for. You might get lucky and get a great artist who wows you, but that's not often. Most established cover designers have been doing this a long time and have a better understanding of imagery, typefaces, depth, and they know the rules for bleeds, resolution, and color space. They know how to make covers that work in print and in electronic for Kindle or as a small thumbnail for Amazon . . . there's a LOT to know. Personally, I try to price myself mid-range, because I know most authors are going to struggle to recoup their costs. I would recommend capping any cover project at about $300 in today's market. Don't let someone convince you you need to spend $1,500 on a cover because the chances of you making that back in the self-publishing world is very slim.

You also have to decide how much you want to do yourself, and how much you want to pay someone else to do for you. A good designer should be able to give you print, electronic, interior, and eBook versions of your cover and copy. Some artists ONLY do covers. Some only do interior layout, design, and pagination. I do both, and there are a lot like me. For a full book project, expect to pay between $400-$800. Anything more, and you have to ask yourself if you can make that back in royalties.

And before anyone says "I saw a Web site that says it can do covers for $50!" I'll say again, you get what you pay for. There are a lot of places that will sell you a pre-designed cover. And they'll sell that same cover to the next author. And the next author. And the next author. If you use stock photography, you will probably see that image on another cover someday. Nothing you can realistically do to prevent that. But do you really want a cover that is being sold to 100 other authors and the only difference is the title and author name?

What happens if my artist and I don't agree?

Some relationships don't work out. I have once been fired from a job. It sucks. After 27 revisions, we still couldn't find the author's vision. It was a failure mostly on my part, but the author had a clear vision and didn't know how to articulate it. We both got frustrated and finally decided to go a different route. This was early in my career, and I didn't charge a retainer. Even if I had, I probably would have refunded the money, but had it been all on the author, I might not have. Most designers will charge a small fee up front to make sure they don't do 20 hours of work and then the author takes off never to be heard from again. Likewise, authors need to protect themselves from unscrupulous designers. Don't pay everything up front. Agree to a retainer, pay a small fee to protect both parties, but just like hiring a fence contractor, don't pay the bill until the work is done. If your designer insists on you paying everything up front, find another designer. The short answer here is, don't be afraid to fire your designer. It's your book. It's your cover. If it's not perfect, don't settle. If that means you're out your retainer, find comfort in the fact that you're working toward something perfect, not something that'll just do.

Thanks so much, Jeff! *pets pretty cover*

Friends, what's your experience with covers? Have you ever picked up a book based on the cover alone? Have you set a book aside because you didn't connect with the cover? If you've published a book, how was your experience with the cover designer?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Are you the Tiger Woods of Publishing? Does it matter?

Welcome to this month's IndieLife post. Wanna join the crew at IndieLife? Click here and sign up!

I've blogged before about Hugh Howey, and how much I loved his story WOOL. But his novel isn't the only reason I've become a fangirl. I love his stories and his characters, for sure, but I adore his perspective.

He wrote an article for, "The Best Days of My Life." Do yourself a favor and read the entire article. I guarantee you'll be inspired.

There was one section of the article that made me want to run around my house, holding a bath towel like a super hero's cape. Here's the part that spoke to me:

"If you are twelve, and reading this right now, know that I was twelve once, too. I was twelve, and I dreamed of being a writer. I filled composition books with stories, but I never finished them. Part of that was because there was no youth NaNoWriMo group showing me what was possible. And there was no KDP or Smashwords to give me the freedom to turn my stories into books. There was no easy outlet for my rampant imagination. Now there is, but it means ignoring those who say you shouldn't go for it.
Remember that it's okay to write and publish just to make yourself happy, to make yourself fulfilled. There will be authors out there, readers, publishing experts, and booksellers who say that this outpouring of unprofessional drek is ruining the industry, which makes me wonder if these same people drive through neighborhoods yelling and screaming at people gardening in their back yards, shouting at them that, "You'll never be a farmer!" Or if they cruise past community basketball courts where men and women unwind with games of pickup and shout at them, "You'll never make it in the NBA!"
There is a kid learning to dribble a basketball right now who will go on to play shirts-and-skins, lead their high school to a national championship, get drafted in the first round and make millions, and this is no reason for the rest of us to not go out and experience the thrill of a 3-pointer heaved up and swishing right through the net. There is some parent teaching a child how to grip a putter right now and take aim at a clown's mouth, and that kid will get a $50 million endorsement from Nike, and this is no reason not to go whack a bucket of balls after work. Implicit in the message that only some people should publish is the stance that all publishing is commercial, it's all about making money, about being a bestseller, a pro. But that's not the reason I do it. It isn't why I celebrate writing and encourage people to self-publish. I've been doing both for a long time. So if anyone tells you that you can't do it, that you shouldn't do it, that you'll never make a living at it, I urge you to agree with them. And then go do it anyway."
Right? Do you want to run around your house wearing a bath towel like a super hero's cape?

If you're that writer who wins a slot on the New York Times bestseller list, we'll support you. And if you're that writer who relates to the golfer who hits a bucket of balls after work? We'll do the wave with each swing. Pinkie swear.

Have you read this article by Hugh Howey? What's your opinion? I'd love to know!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Run Toward Weakness #IWSG

Welcome, Insecure Writers! If you want to join the Insecure Writers Support Group, created by Alex J. Cavanaugh, click over here and join. Now we're all legit and stuff with a website and Facebook page.

This month I'd like to talk about weaknesses. All writers have them, yes? Whether it's plotting, characterization, time management, or finishing a project—we all struggle with something.

My Super Supportive Hubby, a firefighter—and the bravest man I know—recently graduated from a strenuous leadership class. He was totally inspired by a retired chief who spoke during the class. This chief is a man my hubby has known for maybe 20 years. He's a well-respected guy with a trail of successes during his time on the job.

This chief admitted his weaknesses to the class: spelling, writing, and reading. My hubby's ears perked up; he could relate. Hubby never had a clue that this successful chief had similar doubts and insecurities. Yes, the chief had struggled with spelling his whole life—still struggled with it—but he said, "I've learned to run toward my weaknesses, not away from them."

It reminded me that we should run toward our writing weaknesses—not shy away from them or fear them.

My writing weaknesses? How much time do you have? I'm thankful that I recognize these weaknesses, and focus my learning time toward improving my skills. For instance, I read "The Fire in Fiction," by Donald Maass. The exercises at the end of each chapter are worth the price of the book.

Recognizing a weakness can sometimes be discouraging, especially after I've read a book with killer pacing and jump-off-the-page characters. But recognizing a weakness is a blessing. It's the first step to running toward it, and turning a weakness into a strength.

Some cool quotes to ponder:

"Our strength grows out of weaknesses." — Ralph Waldo Emerson

"The greatest weakness of all is the great fear of appearing weak." — Jacques Benigne Bossuel

"Growth begins when we begin to accept our own weakness." — Jean Vanier

What are your writing weaknesses? Do you turn from them or run toward them? Please share!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Author Interview with Crystal Collier

Friends, today I'd like to welcome Crystal Collier, author of MOONLESS, to the blog! Can't wait to read MOONLESS? Download it right now, right here. Or mark it "to read" on Goodreads here. MOONLESS is described as Jane Eyre meets Supernatural. Cool, right?

Below, Crystal and I chat about writing and publishing. But first, a little about Moonless:

In the English society of 1768 where women are bred to marry, unattractive Alexia, just sixteen, believes she will end up alone. But on the county doorstep of a neighbor’s estate, she meets a man straight out of her nightmares, one whose blue eyes threaten to consume her whole world—especially later when she discovers him standing over her murdered host in the middle of the night. 

Among the many things to change for her that evening are: her physical appearance—from ghastly to breathtaking, an epidemic of night terrors predicting the future, and the blue-eyed man’s unexpected infusion into her life. Not only do his appearances precede tragedies, but they are echoed by the arrival of ravenous, black-robed wraiths on moonless nights.

Unable to decide whether he is one of these monsters or protecting her from them, she uncovers what her father has been concealing: truths about her own identity, about the blue-eyed man, and about love. After an attack close to home, Alexia realizes she cannot keep one foot in her old life and one in this new world. To protect her family she must either be sold into a loveless marriage, or escape with the man of her dreams and risk becoming one of the Soulless.

Yikes! I'm intrigued. And now some Q & A with Crystal Collier:

1. From idea to final product, how did Moonless come to be?

MOONLESS happened. I didn’t have any notions of writing another book, just sat down and it wrote itself in a matter of days. But then, (as with all first drafts,) it went straight into the folder labeled “never to see the light of day.” 

Fast forward several years. I hosted a major beta reading (30+ readers) and my readers pushed me into querying. After winning a couple contests and earning enough attention, Raybourne Publishing picked MOONLESS up. 

2. Can you give us a brief summary of your writing process? Plotter? Pantser? Somewhere in between?

I dream a dream, binge write for 10 to 20 pages, make plot notes, then go away and let it sit. My subconscious is constantly rotating back and building on what I have. By the time I’m ready to seriously plot, I have the beginning, ending, and at least 3 major plot/turning points. From there it’s a question of taking a week to fill in the blanks, then writing a consistent 1,000 to 2,000 words a day until the first draft is done.

3. Moonless is published by Raybourne Publishing. Can you tell us a bit about your experience with a small publisher?

I’ve had a great deal of independence, and WAY too much say in the process. It’s been awesome! 

4. Can you offer us any advice about book promotion? What's working for you and what isn't?

Being a relative newbie at this… I believe book promotion starts with personally inviting those you know to get involved. Ask their opinions on covers, blurbs, taglines, etc. When people are invested, they’re going to share. Your personal reach only goes so far, but the six degrees of separation can extend you to any corner of the world. 

5. Is there any writing or publishing advice you'd like to share with us?

Love what you do. Read, read, read. Do your best, and when all else fails, eat cheese and be happy.

Friends, what do you think of Crystal's book blurb? Her writing process? Her take on book promotion? Her obsession with cheese? Please share!

Want goodies? Click here for a Rafflecopter giveaway

Click here for a peek at the MOONLESS release blog tour.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Characterization 101: Anti-Heroes

Friends, today I have a special treat for you. My new friend, Cassidy Leora, is helping us understand the often misunderstood anti-hero. Before we get to Cassidy's post, please clicky clicky over to her blog and give her a follow. At the end of the post, I have a question to ask you, plus a bonus morsel of useless information. For now, let's learn more about anti-heroes.

Take it away, Cassidy!

Severus Snape.
Jay Gatsby.
Sherlock Holmes.
What do these legendary characters in literature have in common?
Is it that they are all equally mysterious? Non-expressive and somewhat emotionless? Extremely intelligent?
Sure, I suppose they have those things in common, but I’m  actually referring to the fact that they are all anti-heroes.
I have a soft place in my heart for all anti-heroes—they are the characters in the story that often draw you into the words in a deeply meaningful way—who enjoy being rebellious and belligerent, are almost universally mysteriously unique, and are easily captivating.
You may be asking yourself: What’s the difference between a hero and an anti-hero?
It’s really quite simple—a hero is a hero for others, while an anti-hero is a hero for their own personal gain, and generally only a hero when it suits their own mood. They may do the right thing sometimes, but their motives and methods are twisted.
Anti-heroes are usually designed with a heartbreaking history that makes them the way they are. Whatever forces for good and evil exist in their world, they make their choices based almost exclusively on either a traumatic past, or a history of personality flaws that cause them to be socially inept. They are known for being heroes with un-hero like motives.
Anti-heroes can be selfish, deceitful, hateful, condescending, smug, and sometimes the most compulsive of liars. What they do may be the righteous and noble thing to do, but the reader—and the anti-hero’s fellow characters—are not completely sold on the methods they use to get their way.
One of the issues that creates a fondness for the anti-hero is the fact that they’re often without the qualities of typical heroes—such as bravery, courage, idealism, nobility—instead they have an abundance of what would be considered negative qualities—often creating at least a superficial amount of pity for them. They are known to run from authority and would save the damsel in distress, only if they gained something from their good deeds, not solely for the sake of being good. Unlike typical heroes, they are never satisfied with a vague ‘thank you’—if they are involved then they will certainly demand payment of some sort.
They can be reckless in their methods of rescue and it is of little consequence to them if bystanders are killed, monuments destroyed, or cities turned inside out in the process of deliverance. Anti-heroes fight for themselves, to benefit themselves even if it involves another person, and usually are quite opposed to being on a ‘team’ or a ‘side’. They save people only if they WANT to save those people, and that’s that.
And NOW you may be asking: what’s the difference between an anti-hero and a villain?
To be honest, there is a very fine line between the two and it is often very difficult to make the distinction. While heroes and villains see in shades of black and white, your anti-hero tends to see in varying shades of grey. They will do anything to convince you their bad motives are right, and their good deeds wrong. Lines that are very clear to the hero and the villain are quite blurred with your anti-hero.
Just to be perfectly clear: there is a difference between the anti-hero and a villain with a tragic backstory, or the villain you ‘love to hate’.
Both of these characters may suffer the same amount of tragedy and heartbreak, but how they handle their pain is completely different—and it is the way they handle adversity that makes the distinction between the two.
The villain is the hero who has been completely broken and can never work outside of the evil thoughts that consume them. The anti-hero is the hero who is hanging onto their touch of humanity by a thread, turning them often sour, rude, angry, and bitter, but not entirely evil.
Anti-heroes will do anything to distract away from talking about their emotions and their ‘feelings’ and would rather go shoot something for no reason than have to reveal any insight to their past or deep thoughts.
Personally, I love anti-heroes.
They are manipulative, obnoxious, self-centered and sarcastic, but they still have a way of making you root for them, despite their questionable motivations.  Sometimes it just feels right to cheer on the unlikeable character who is, in a way, completely lovable.
The very best anti-heroes will win you over in the end and will find their own happy ending when they are accepted—often changing from the rogue outlaw or outcast to slowly becoming one of the heroes despite their own protests.

Ultimately, whether you view a character as an anti-hero is just a matter of opinion based on how you personally interpret their actions, behaviors, and personality traits. 

Thanks, Cassidy!

I don't know about you guys, but I sure learned a lot from this post. Have you ever written an anti-hero? Do you have a favorite anti-hero from books you've read? I recently watched The Great Gatsby, with Leo Di Caprio, so he's on my mind :)

And now a fun fact and useless information:

After reading this post, can you guess how old Cassidy is? 25? 30? 35? Nope. Fun fact: She's 14! Talk about a bright future ahead of her.

Useless information: The name Cassidy was on our short list of girl names if my husband and I had a girl. Boy. Boy. Boy. No Cassidy!

"Cassidy Leora: I'm a writer, a Hobbit, a Demigod, a Wizard, a Sun Summoner, an Elf, and a Shadow Hunter who enjoys Winter and Fall, sleeping, and marshmallows. I suppose you could say I'm a dreamer in many more ways than one. I'm really a total nerd and speak cat fluently, scarves and boots are my favorite for no apparent reason, my favorite language is Italian and Sarcasm, I like to laugh at my own jokes, and dance clumsily when no one is watching. I have been writing since I was eight years old, and now at fourteen I have written more novels than I can count. I hope to be published one day, but until then I will continue to do what I love."

You can also follow Cassidy on Tumblr and Twitter!


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Marketing Your Independently-Published Novel

Friends, for today's IndieLife installment, I'm happy to share a guest post by fellow author and blogger, Rachel McCoy! You can connect with Rachel on her blog, on Facebook, and on Figment.

Rachel is tackling the subject of marketing our indie work. Take it away, Rachel!

Getting Out There: Marketing Your Independently-Published Novel

You’ve slaved away for months or maybe even years to develop your baby from notepad scribbles to polished gem. You’ve had it proofread, edited, reviewed and wrapped in a show-stopping cover. You published it through one of the many self-publishing venues. But so far the only sales are the three copies your mom bought. Here are the quick and dirty tips to developing a reader platform and creating visibility for your novel.

Starting and maintaining a quality blog is your first line to reach readers. Identify a topic to concentrate on. Releasing a cookbook? Blog about recipes and restaurants. Did you write a book about the Civil War? Focus your blog on military history, weapons technologies and soldier biographies. A well thought out blog with a specific topic will earn more followers than a jumbled mess of daily musings.

Some other tips to keep in mind:

                         1.       Blog well and blog often
                         2.       Post links to related blogs
                         3.       Invite guest blog posters and make yourself available to guest post on other blogs

Author Website
A website is a must-have for any author. You have a defined space to promote your novel, offer promotions and even make sales. Unfortunately, unless you are a true tech expert, you’ll need to hire a copywriter to get the site up and running, which is often more than aspiring authors can or will spend.

(Julie's note: Some alternatives to consider--For my web site, I use web hosting by Yahoo. Cheap and easy to use. Other people have had success using WordPress, which is free)

These and other forms of social media are easy ways to keep in touch with established readers and maintain visibility, but do not offer much in terms of gaining quality contacts. You may get hundreds to follow you on Facebook, but if they haven’t read your work, they are unlikely to go buy your book based solely on a status update.

Writing Forums
Forums are great for authors who are still at the writing, editing, or reviewing stages. Members can post excerpts or whole chapters to receive feedback, get reviews and helpful suggestions. The key to these sites is to go often and participate in meaningful discussions. Critique the work of others. Offer feedback. Let the other members get to know you as an author. When the time comes, the announcement of a book release will be met with support and interest.

Some forums to consider:


If in doubt, a quick Google search will give you a long list of forums that focus on virtually any topic you can imagine.

Writing Contests
While these may take a bit of time and initial financial investment, entering, and hopefully winning writing contests can be your best ally in selling your next book. Contest winners receive a wide range of prizes often including cash, gift cards, interviews, guest appearances and even publication. Aside from the prizes themselves, you can market your book as an award-winning author, and who wouldn’t buy that?

Above all, marketing for any product cannot be accomplished in a day or a week. It takes time to build up blog followers, get to know authors on other sites and develop a network of contacts. So you need to start soon. Better yet, start now. Ideally, marketing for your book will begin in earnest no less than six months prior to publication. That means you have to work on marketing even while you work on your novel, but in the end, marketing your book early will pay dividends. Good luck!

Rachel, thanks so much for these tips!

How about you, fellow writers? Do these marketing tips jive with what you've done in the past? Anything different you've learned through trial and error? Please share!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Weirdo Writer Insecure About...Readers? #IWSG

Welcome, Insecure Writers Support Group friends! I love this amazing group, which was formed by the awesomely fantastic Alex J. Cavanaugh. If you'd like to join, click here. Your insecure writer self will thank you for it!

This month, as I prepare to release my YA novel, I'm insecure about...Readers.

But wait. We're writers, right? What is our goal? Readers! How in the heck can it be that I'm insecure about that? I mean, having readers is what we want most. It's what we strive for. It's the end game.

I'll tell you why I'm insecure about Readers. Because I'm insecure about what they'll think. Will they like my story? Hate it? Will they be inspired by my words? Roll their eyes? What? WHAT?

Here's the deal: I know my stories will not be loved by everyone who reads them. I know that some readers will give me a shot, but will be disappointed. What else do I know? There will be someone out there who connects. Someone out there who will be inspired. Someone out there who will come back for more.

Stories can't please everyone. We've seen examples of one star ratings for favorites such as The Help, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Hunger Games. Thankfully, those authors wrote the stories within them, without censoring themselves based on this fear.

As author Kurt Vonnegut said, "Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia."

Let's write the stories within us. If it's a story we love, there is someone out there who will love it, too. We shouldn't fear Readers. We should embrace them and their outspoken opinions, even if their opinions don't work in our favor.

Do you share this fear? Have you overcome it? Have you ever let this fear alter your writing? Please share!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Interview & Publishing Tips With Author Nicole Zoltack

It's the day before Halloween--time for a spooktacular story! What could be better than chatting with Nicole Zoltack, author of Black Hellebore? After all, her book has a witch, and magic, and murder, and romance.

Before we get to my interview with Nicole, here's a quick summary of Black Hellebore:

Once a year for the past decade, Nicholas Adams returns to Falledge and leaves a black hellebore on his girlfriend's grave. While fleeing Falledge, he spies a shady man sneaking into the laboratory. Nicholas chases after him and dies for his trouble. A witch brings him back to life, only Nicholas is not the same man. Turns out, magic combined with a black hellebore in his pocket changed him into a kind of a super man.
Julianna Paige, his girlfriend's twin and deputy of Falledge, struggles to solve several murders. Nicholas, and his alter ego the Black Hellebore, helps her, even as she helps him move on and start to truly live again.
Unfortunately, Nicholas wasn't the only one changed in the laboratory explosion, and now a super villain is bent on destroying Falledge, and killing the Black Hellebore. But falling in love might prove more dangerous than any super villain.
Dark and intriguing, right?

And now a few questions with author Nicole Zoltack:

1. From idea to final product, how did Black Hellebore come to be?

Gail Delaney, the EIC of Desert Breeze Publishing, mentioned to her authors about how she thought superhero romances should be a thing. With how popular they are in comics and movies, why not books? And so I immediately started to think up a hero and mentioned to her it would be right up my alley, and here we are!

2. Can you give us a brief summary of your writing process? Plotter? Pantser? Somewhere in between?

I am a pantser, although I am starting to kinda outline if having one sentence or a phrase for a few chapters ahead counts. :) I doubt I'll ever be a heavy duty plotter, but I must say, even that brief outline is helping me tremendously with writing White Hellebore.

3. Black Hellebore is published by Desert Breeze Publishing. Can you tell us a bit about your experience with a small publisher?

I'm very happy with Desert Breeze. They published my Kingdom of Arnhem trilogy and now they are publishing my Heroes of Falledge trilogy. I love their covers. Amazing! And there's editing and they supply the ISBNs and the file conversion and the uploading. I love that I have to fill out a long form for the cover art. That I have input. Covers are huge with selling books. 

4. Can you offer us any advice about book promotion? What's working for you and what isn't?

Ah, book promotion! So important and yet not easy at all to know what works and what doesn't. The best means of promoting is to first learn who your target audience is and to then find them without being all "buy my book." For instance, if you write about pets, go onto pet message boards and be an active participant and reach out to people that way. If you become friends with the other people on the forum, they'll check out your profile and learn about your books. Word of mouth is key, but finding those people who will spread the word about you in the first place can sometimes take some time, but it's so worth it. 

5. Is there any writing or publishing advice you'd like to share with us?

Never stop writing. Never stop reading. Never give up.

Excellent advice, Nicole!

Friends, do you love superhero stories? Creepy cool mysteries? Have you worked with a small publisher? If so, did you have a similar experience? Please share!

Connect with Nicole at the usual haunts: Blog, Facebook, TwitterGoodreads

Want to win Black Hellebore goodies? Enter here for a Rafflecopter giveaway.

Nicole Zoltack loves to write fantasy/paranormal, romances, horror, historical, for adults and young adults, novels, short stories, and flash pieces. She doesn't want to get boxed in by genre -- she might be claustrophobic! She's also an editor for MuseItUp Publishing and works as a freelance editor.
When she isn't writing about girls wanting to be knights, talking unicorns, and zombies, she spends time with her loving family. She loves to ride horses (pretending they're unicorns, of course!) and going to the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, dressed in period garb. Her favorite current TV show is The Walking Dead.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Ta Da! Cover Reveal for "The Boy Who Loved Fire"

Friends, I'm soooo excited to reveal the cover of my upcoming YA novel, THE BOY WHO LOVED FIRE!


This cool cover was designed by Jeff Allen Fielder, who was referred to me by YA author Gae Polisner.

Love, love, love it.

I'll dig in to more details about the cover design in a future post. For now, I'm honored to leave you with a few words about THE BOY WHO LOVED FIRE:

Manny O’Donnell revels in his status at the top of his high school food chain. He and his friends party in the mountains on a blustery night, sharing liquor and lame ghost stories around a campfire. The next morning, as a wild fire rages in those same mountains, Manny experiences doubt. He was the last of the drunken crew to leave the cave, and he’s uncertain if he extinguished the flames. Within hours, he becomes the number one arson suspect.

Santa Ana winds + matches = disaster. You’d think he would've learned that the first time he started a fire.

As he evades a determined arson investigator, Manny, a modern-day Scrooge, is visited by ghosts of the past, present, and future. He’s forced to witness the fate of his inadvertent victims, including Abigail, the scarred beauty who softens his heart. Manny must choose between turning around his callous, self-centered attitude, or protecting his own skin at the expense of anyone who gets in his way.

Find it on Goodreads here!

If you'd like to help me launch this baby into the world, please leave a note in the comments or email me directly at julie at juliemusil dot com. 

Thanks so much for your continued support!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The WHW Amazing Race: OPEN CALL for Submissions!

Friends, there's a super cool event taking place. Don't miss out!

Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi at Writers Helping Writers (formerly The Bookshelf Muse) have added two more books to their Descriptive Thesaurus Collection: The Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Attributes and The Negative Trait Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Flaws. To celebrate, they are hosting a race, and not just any old race, either. It's the...

Writing is hard, isn't it? Create the perfect hook. Make your first page compelling. Craft an amazing 25 word pitch. Knock out a query that will blow an agent's mind. On and on it goes. And sometimes, well, you just wish someone would help.


From October 21st until October 27th, Writers Helping Writers is posting an OPEN CALL for writers. You can fill out a form, requesting help with critiques, book visibility, social media sharing, blog diagnostics, advice and more.

An army of Amazing Racers are standing by (ME INCLUDED!) waiting to help with your submissions. How many people can we help in a week? Let's find out! Did I mention there are Celebrity Racers too--amazing authors and editors who know their way around a first page. Maybe one of them will pick your submission to help with!

Each day this week, there's an AMAZING giveaway, too. So stop in at Angela & Becca's new Writers Helping Writers website and find out how to take advantage of this unique, pay-it-forward event for writers. I'll see you there! 

Now go, go, go!

Isn't this a fun idea? Have you already submitted to the Amazing Race? Are you one of the racers?

Side note: I've used The Positive Trait Thesaurus and The Negative Trait Thesaurus. Both are seriously AWESOME!

Photo Credit: Tharrin

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Our Protagonists Must Need...

Our protagonists must need...

Chocolate? Mango margaritas on the rocks? Seinfeld reruns?

No, not what does a writer need. What does the protagonist need?

I've heard such great things about the craft book Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass. I'm finally giving it a try. In his section about Stakes, he writes that each of our protagonists must need the following:

A torturous need
A consuming fear
An aching regret
A visible dream
A passionate longing
An inescapable ambition
An exquisite lust
An inner lack
A fatal weakness
An unavoidable obligation
An iron instinct
An irresistible plan
A noble idea
An undying hope

Personal stakes. As I plot my next book and create characters, I've had an easy time with some of these needs. Others were not so easy and will require me to dig deeper. That's a good thing. Maass suggests we "Dramatize the inner struggle. Bring its changes home in key moments of high drama."

When escalating the stakes, he says we should ask these two questions: "How could things get worse?" and, "When would be the worst moment for them to get worse?"

Maass encourages writers to dig deeper and get mean. For instance, he suggests the following (quoted from his book):
  1. Who is the one ally your protagonist cannot afford to lose? Kill that character.
  2. What is your protagonist's greatest physical asset? Take it away.
  3. What is the one article of faith that for your protagonist is sacred? Undermine it.
  4. How much time does your protagonist have to solve his main problem? Shorten it.
As he asks these questions, I'm taking copious notes. Brainstorming. He's helping me search for stronger trials and higher personal stakes. If the main character doesn't reach their story goal, does it matter?

He suggests we ask ourselves why should readers care? Why are we writing this book? He also says this: "High stakes ultimately come from your own high commitment, either to moral truth or to truth in the telling of your tale. In writing the breakout novel, it does not matter which purpose motivates you. It matters only that you have a purpose. Without it, your novel has little chance of breaking out. Its stakes will be too low."

His advice really resonated with me. My books aren't usually about literal life and death. The stakes are different...more personal. But those stakes are significant in real life. Now I need to take his advice and continue to dig deep. Otherwise, why should anyone care about my book?

Have you read Writing the Breakout Novel? How do you decide which internal and external stakes you'll weave into your stories? Why are you writing your current novel?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Newbie's Baby Steps Toward Self Publishing

Friends, welcome to my first Indie Life post! I'm like the new kid who joins an AP English class mid-semester and has to catch up to the smart kids. Bonus: those smart kids are super helpful and share tons of info online. Wanna join the class late with me? Sign up for Indie Life here!

My journey into self publishing began with the HUGE decision to go indie. You can read about it here.

Decision made. Now what?

I started here...

Step 1--Get Acquainted With the Process
In my opinion, the best place to start is Susan Kaye Quinn's blog. She's chronicled her experiences as a self-published author, and these posts are golden. She's also written the book, Indie Author Survival Guide. Totally packed with meaty information. I'm reading it right now!

Step 2--Hire an Editor
My manuscript had been edited like crazy, using my agent's keen eye for plot holes and grammar, but still, it's not ready. I hired a freelance editor to help me polish it up and make it stronger. This part is what made me the most nervous about self-publishing. I went through the manuscript once more then sent it off to the editor. That way she could be working through it while I progressed in other areas. More about the editor and the editing process in another post.

Step 3--Hire a Cover Designer
Covers sell books. If a cover is cheesy, it's not likely I'd pick up the book. Judgmental, I know, but it's the truth. I want to have a quality cover. I asked around and got names of cover designers. I connected with one who I hope will deliver a great image. More on cover design in another post.

Step4--Prep for Formatting
I'm going to try formatting my own book. If I become overwhelmed and it takes over my life, I'll hire someone to do it for me.

Referring to Susan's blog again...she suggests reading Smashwords Style Guide, by Smashwords creator Mark Coker (free!). This step-by-step instruction guide to formatting is great for those who use Word.

I don't use Word. I use Apple Pages. I downloaded From Pages '09 to Kindle Format in Minutes. Best $.99 I've ever spent. It's like flipping a switch, and the guy who speaks Portuguese suddenly speaks English.

Step 5--Prep for Success
When I downloaded the Style Guide to my Kindle, another Mark Coker book popped up: Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success (free!). This book goes into detail about how to make the self-publishing experience great for the author and their readers.

From what I've read, success can be boiled down to this: great story, great editing, great cover, reasonable price, word of mouth, luck.

Step 6--Learn About Marketing
I'm reading Mark Coker's Smashwords Book Marketing Guide (free!). Still so much for me to learn in this area, but Coker lists lots of ideas to help spread the word.

As you can see, I've been a busy girl! But I tell ya, I'm having so much fun with this. 

So? What do you think of my newbie steps? Am I missing something gigantic? Indie authors, how did you get started? Traditionally published authors, how does this compare to your own steps? Please share!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Quality vs. Perfection #IWSG

Welcome, Insecure Writer's Support Group peeps! If you aren't yet a part of this awesomely supportive group, clicky clicky here and sign up!

This month I'm insecure about perfection. Tell me if this sounds familiar: before you send your manuscript off to your critique partners, beta readers, an agent, or an editor, you read and re-read it, knowing it's still not perfect.

Super Supportive Hubby recently teased me about this. He knows I'll never reach that point when I feel my books are good enough...perfect.

In my head, I know perfection isn't possible. But that doesn't keep me from striving for it. Especially now that I've decided to self publish. The good and the bad of the book will reflect directly on me. Oh, the pressure!

Super Supportive Hubby recently said, "At some point, you have to let this one go and move on to the next book." Dang. For a non-writer, he sure gives great writing advice.

Still, in my effort to make my books the best they can be, I continue to learn. I'm reading Writing the Breakout Novel, and will soon read The Fire in Fiction, both by Donald Maass. There's so much I don't know, and I soak up each bit of wisdom.

Readers deserve the very best we can give them--quality books at a fair price. I've never expected perfection from my favorite authors (although some of them came super close), but I do expect quality.

As writers, we can learn and grow and dig deeper. We can read and study and try new things. We can proofread our work, make major plot changes, or tweak sentence structure and grammar. In the end, we must take Super Supportive Hubby's advice and let this one go.

We can't deliver perfection, but we can deliver quality.

Check out these cool quotes about perfection:

Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing. -- Harriet Braiker

A man would do nothing if he waited until he could do it so well that no one could find fault. -- John Henry Newman

To escape criticism - do nothing, say nothing, be nothing. -- Elbert Hubbard

Do you battle with perfectionism when it comes to your writing? Do you struggle with letting your manuscript go? How do you ensure quality for your readers? Please share!