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!