Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Small Publishers: 3 Steps to Finding the Perfect One For You

Last week WiDo Publishing's managing editor, Karen Gowen, busted some myths for us about small publishers. Check out the helpful interview here.

For many authors, small publishers are the perfect option. Perhaps an author doesn't want to work with a literary agent (not always necessary with a small pub), or pursue one of the Big 5. Maybe they don't want to go indie, or they want to be a hybrid author. If writers are looking for a publishing partner with a personal touch, small publishers can be a great way to pursue a traditional path.

But many authors haven't considered this option, or don't even know where to start. I haven't personally published with a small press, but my friends who've gone with small publishers have enjoyed their experiences. I've considered it and done a lot of research.

So how do you know which small publishers to pursue, and how do you know they'll be with you for the long haul? Hopefully this guide will help you.

1) Find out who they are.

  • If you write for children or teens, I highly recommend subscribing to Children's Writer Newsletter. It's $15 per year but worth every penny. Each issue has excellent articles about the writing craft. It lists publisher's names--the biggies and the small--along with editor names. There are SO many reputable publishers out there that many authors haven't heard of. Plus, they list publishers that might cater to niche markets. Niche markets might be a perfect place for your book.
  • Visit Agent Query for their long list of small presses.
  • Find the publisher's name of the books you're reading. It's possible it's a small publisher. 
  • Since you're reading this blog, it's likely you're a blogger. Many of our author friends, like Anne R. Allen and Alex J. Cavanaugh, have worked well with small presses. Start keeping a list of publishers you've heard about in the blogging community, especially those that match the genre you write in.
  • Google it. Run a search such as small presses for YA books, etc. See what pops up. Add more names to your list.
2) Research, research, research.
  • Visit their web site. Are they still in business? If so, how long have they been in business? Does the site look professional? Does it seem as if your manuscript would fit well with their list? Are their covers eye-catching?
  • Check them out on Preditors and Editors. Most presses are listed there, along with comments such as vanity press, recommended, not recommended, etc.
  • Search for the publisher's name in the Absolute Write forums. What are other authors saying about them? If there's negative chatter, make sure it's legit and not just bitterness being splashed on the web.
  • Contact the small publisher's authors. Most sites will list the books they've published. Google the author's name and send them a message via their contact page. Ask about their overall experience with the publisher. Was the publisher fair? Was the author allowed any creative input? Did the small press pay royalties when promised?
3) Submit.
  • Check each publisher's web site for their submission guidelines.
  • Follow those guidelines exactly.
  • Keep a log of your submissions. My submissions tracking sheets listed the date of submission, the publishing company, the editor's name, what I sent them (according to their guidelines), and a spot for results.
Once you've found the perfect small press, researched the heck out of them, and submitted your work, the best advice is guessed it, write the next book!

Friends, have you submitted to small presses? Published with one? Any advice you'd like to add? Please share!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Small Publishers: Myths Busted Here

Have you ever considered submitting to a small publisher? Were you confused about their place in the industry, or what they bring to the table? Today Karen Gowen, Managing Editor at WiDo Publishing, is here to shed some light on small publishers and bust some myths for us. Here's a Q and A session with Managing Editor Karen Gowen:

Julie Musil: What are some common misconceptions about small publishers? Can you do a little “myth busting" for us?

Karen Gowen:
  1. “A small press can’t do anything for me I can’t do as well or better for myself.” A common misconception, that doesn’t take into consideration the cost of time and money it requires to do it all yourself rather than sharing the load with professionals who are willing to invest in your work.
  2. “Small publishers can’t get my book in a bookstore.” If a small publisher has the right distribution channels then your book can certainly be in a bookstore. However, remember that ultimately the bookstore chooses what it puts on its shelves and with millions of books to choose from, they need to have a reason to stock yours. This is why we encourage our authors to promote themselves and their books the first 90 days of their launch, in partnership with their local bookstores.
  3. “They might go out of business.” Any company, large or small, can fail for any number of reasons. It’s important to do your research and feel confident about the publisher you choose. And be sure there’s a clause in your contract where the rights will revert to you should they go out of business.
  4. “If my book doesn’t do well it will hurt my chances of getting an agent and a big contract later.” This really doesn’t apply in today’s publishing market. Many authors are going hybrid, trying all kinds of ways to publish and market their work, and a savvy publisher will understand this. One of our top-selling books, Waxing Moon by H.S. Kim, was previously self-published with poor rankings and sales. It frustrated the author who decided to submit it to WiDo. Our submissions editor saw how with a better title and cover and professional editing, her book could get another chance, and that’s exactly what happened.
  5. “All publishers are out to cheat the author and make money on their hard work.” Any publisher who cheats their authors will not stay in business long. It’s a partnership, where if the book sells, both parties benefit. If a book does not do well, the publisher has lost money on their investment while the author has lost their investment of time and hope. It is disappointing but there are no guarantees. Ultimately it’s the marketplace that determines how a book will sell. Some think it’s the publisher’s fault if the book doesn’t do well. This is a short-sighted view which won’t help one’s career. Better to just move on and write another book. A legitimate publisher has strong motivation to see a book make money, and both author and publisher will share in the success.
Julie Musil: What are some of the benefits of working with a small press vs. pursuing a Big 5 publisher or going indie?

Karen Gowen: A major benefit over going indie is you’ve got someone else financing the editing, typesetting, cover design, etc. rather than having to pay for these costs yourself. Plus you’re dealing with professionals who have done it all before. This takes a lot of pressure off the author, allowing you to focus on your own marketing efforts as well as on the next book you want to write. And a small press can have the same distribution channels as a large one—distribution that is not available to the self-published. WiDo distributes worldwide through Ingram and Baker & Taylor, the two largest distributors to bookstores, both brick and mortar and online. 

The benefits over using a Big 5 publisher are personal contact, quick turnaround time, and your book getting a longer chance to find its niche rather than mid-listed after 30 days if it doesn’t sell right out the door. Books submitted to WiDo are often published within a year to 18 months of signing the contract. Our editors don’t have a huge backlog of work and can give personal attention to each author they work with. Each book and author is treated equal to every other one. Some books may do well right after launching, others might take longer, and unfortunately, there are books that never really find an audience. But we never give up on any of them because we know how good they are.

Julie Musil: What should authors look for when researching small presses and ultimately submitting? 

Karen Gowen: The first thing to look for is how the money flows. If the company charges for any services, or deducts production costs from author royalties, then the money flows toward the publisher. If the company takes care of all book production and pays a fair royalty on sales, then it flows toward the author. This is what you are looking for: the money is to flow to you, not to the publisher.

Then there’s the contract. If you don’t feel good about it, don’t sign it. Have a lawyer look it over if you’re not sure. 
Check what kind of books the publisher has released and how well do they fare in the marketplace. Also, how happy are the authors with the publisher? There will always be books that sell better than others and disgruntled writers upset that theirs haven’t done as well as they expected, but the overall picture should be a positive relationship between author and publisher, with both working together to give the book every chance at success.
Julie Musil: What is WiDo on the lookout for? What would you like to see in your inbox?

Karen Gowen: If you’ve checked our submissions guidelines and submitted accordingly, then after that we want to see something fresh and original, either in concept or writing style and preferably both. Some recent examples of work we’ve published which fits into this category are the following:
The Opposite of Everything by David Kalish—dark humor about a man diagnosed with thyroid cancer and fumbling in his relationships. 
Drinking from a Bitter Cup by Angela Jackson-Brown—a young girl with everything going against her finds the inner strength to rise above her challenges.
The Convict, the Rookie Card and the Redemption of Gertie Thump by Becky Lyn Rickman—a hilarious look at a small town busybody who gets caught up in other people’s lives despite her resistance to helping anyone but herself.
The Magic Wakes by Charity Bradford—a well-woven blend of sci fi, magic and romance in the New Adult genre.
Red-tailed Rescue by John Irby—a heart-warming prairie tale about the friendship between a troubled girl and a red-tailed hawk, told from both points of view.

These are just a few of the amazing books we’ve published recently. As you can see, they have one thing in common—fresh and original storylines—with the added bonus of being extremely well-written and having strong, identifiable characters.
Karen, thanks so much for shedding light on WiDo and other small publishers!

Friends, as you can see, there are many great reasons to consider submitting to small publishers. One of Karen's best pieces of advice, in my opinion, is to do a lot of research. In a future post I'll outline resources for researching small publishers.
Have you published with a small publisher? Submitted to some? Any advice you'd like to add?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Perfect Publishing Path #IWSG

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My oldest son recently began applying for early decisions at his top university picks. Amazing that we're at this point in our lives already, but here we are. *sigh*

In high school there's been a lot of chatter about which high schools are superior, which are inferior, blah, blah, blah. Same with college choices. Public, private, JC, small, large, etc. It's a lot of noise for teens to muddle through. Our son has a solid idea of what he wants to do, but we all know how solid those solid ideas can be, right? *ahem*

Anyway, my hubby gave our son great advice. He reminded him that he'll hear a lot about which schools are the best, what he should do, etc. But there's only one perfect school--the school that's right for him.

Hubby's sage advice reminded me of the publishing business. How there's been debate about which path is the perfect publishing path. But the same holds true--the only perfect publishing path is the one that's right for you.

Big publisher, small publisher, indie publishing, hybrid publishing. We're all taking our own twisted paths in this crazy business, and my journey will not--and should not--look like yours.

I don't know about you, but I'm sooooo grateful to be a writer in this day and age. A time when anyone who has the courage to put words to paper can see their work in the marketplace. We are not held back by anyone except ourselves, and wow, what a liberating feeling that is.

Whatever path you take, I hope you'll enjoy the ride. Because you'll be on your own perfect path--the one that's right for you.

Friends, do you get flustered when trying to decide which path to take? Have you set out on one path and changed courses? Please share!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Amuse Your Future Self #NaNoWriMo

Like many of you, I'm deep into my NaNoWriMo manuscript. I've passed the 33,000 word point. Yay! If you want to find me on NaNo, click here.

When I say 33k words, you know that I mean absolutely horrible words, right? Like, toss 'em over the bridge kind of bad.

I used to worry about those horrible first drafts. I no longer worry. I plan my books with a loose outline and use index cards to keep me on track. If I'm inspired to change directions, I do.

Here's the thing. I don't worry about the crappy first drafts because I know they can be fixed. What I'm writing now will be like 50,000 words of detailed plot notes. It's when I work the story out in my head and bring the outline to fruition. Barely any dialogue, world description, etc.

But there's one fun thing that I do that I wanted to share with you. I amuse my future self.

You see, when I read through this for the first time (which will be weeks, maybe even months from now) I'll need a chuckle. I'll be convinced that I'm the worst writer ever, and how did I ever think I could shape that fuzzy idea into a full-length novel? (Note: the manuscript is never as bad as I think it will be)

So what do I do? I write notes to myself. Sometimes it'll be as simple as (dumb). Or sometimes I'll question myself (didn't I write this a few pages ago?). But sometimes my notes will make my future self smile. I might type (lame) or (is that the best you can do?) or (crappity crap crap). I might even type (this is where I felt like throwing my laptop at the wall. but i didn't. i kept going. now fix this mess)

This way I don't take myself too seriously. I'll remember that what I accomplished during the month of November was capture a story on the page. Nothing more. When revision time comes, I'll flesh out the characters, add dialogue, and ground the reader with sensory details.

First drafts are the toughest part for me, so right now I must focus on getting the story from my brain to the laptop. No looking back. And if I can make my future self smile in the process, I'm all good.

How about you, writers? Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Do you have any tips you can share with the rest of us?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Writing lessons learned from THE LONGEST RIDE

I'm a huge Nicholas Sparks fan, so I was excited to read The Longest Ride. Of course I learned some helpful writing lessons!

First, a little about The Longest Ride:

Ira Levinson is in trouble. Ninety-one years old and stranded and injured after a car crash, he struggles to retain consciousness until a blurry image materializes beside him: his beloved wife Ruth, who passed away nine years ago. Urging him to hang on, she forces him to remain alert by recounting the stories of their lifetime together--how they met, the precious paintings they collected together, the dark days of WWII and its effect on them and their families. Ira knows that Ruth can't possibly be in the car with him, but he clings to her words and his memories, reliving the sorrows and everyday joys that defined their marriage.

A few miles away, at a local bull-riding event, a Wake Forest College senior's life is about to change. Recovering from a recent break-up, Sophia Danko meets a young cowboy named Luke, who bears little resemblance to the privileged frat boys she has encountered at school. Through Luke, Sophia is introduced to a world in which the stakes of survival and success, ruin and reward--even life and death--loom large in everyday life. As she and Luke fall in love, Sophia finds herself imagining a future far removed from her plans--a future that Luke has the power to rewrite...if the secret he's keeping doesn't destroy it first.

Ira and Ruth. Sophia and Luke. Two couples who have little in common, and who are separated by years and experience. Yet their lives will converge with unexpected poignancy, reminding us all that even the most difficult decisions can yield extraordinary journeys.

Ok, and now for some writing lessons learned. Warning! If you haven't yet read The Longest Ride, and don't want to know any plot points, read no further:

  • Open with detailed character information--the book opens with Ira's pov like this: I sometimes think to myself that I'm the last of my kind. He's an old man who's been in a car crash. He reflects on early lessons his dad had taught him, such as never count money in public, hold doors open for women and children, and always give a customer more than expected. These life lessons tell us a lot about the type of man who's been in a car crash. I immediately liked him.
  • Remind the reader of the character's predicament--Ira is injured, cold and thirsty. He reminisces with his long-dead wife, recalling their love story. Every few paragraphs the author brings us back to the present, by injecting lines about Ira's pain, the falling snow, and the oncoming night.
  • Reference a life-saving anecdote early--Ira likes to watch TheWeather Channel. He recalls a story where a man survived a crash for over 60 days by eating snow. This memory comes into play later in the book, but it makes sense because it was established early.
  • Embed threads between two alternating stories--we have two parallel stories happening. Ira and Ruth. Sophia and Luke. I wondered how these two stories would connect, and paid attention to details that would finally bring them together. The author did a great job of keeping me curious, while also planting clues along the way.
  • Stupid makes sense--if the character has to do something stupid, like ride an angry bull even though he doesn't want to, give him a moral reason to do it. Luke shouldn't ride bulls anymore (I won't spoil the story here) but he does it anyway. Why? Not for fame or accolades, but to help his mom.
  • Eliminate short, choppy scenes--I actually got this tip from one of my beta readers for my own book. I had tied up the book with a few short scenes at the end. She suggested I pull what I needed from those scenes and write one significant scene. So I did. I was surprised by the amount of short, choppy scenes at the end of this book. It's still amazing, but that ending could've included one significant scene with the details from the short scenes.
What do you think of these writing lessons? Have you used any of them in your own fiction? Are you a Nicholas Sparks fan? Do you like stories with old/young points of view or parallel stories that merge at the end?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Not a Failure--A Learner #IWSG

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Side note: my ebook "The Boy Who Loved Fire" is free today! Clicky here to download a copy :)

Recently I was listening to a very successful person talking about failure and making mistakes. He suggested that people take this attitude: "I'm not a failure, I'm a learner." 

This person had tried new things and failed. He'd tried some things and succeeded. His perspective was this: keep trying new things, even if you're scared. You will NOT fail, because even if things don't go your way, you've still learned something new. There's immeasurable value in that.

His statement really resonated with me. As a matter of fact, I'm about to do a whole lot of learning. I'm participating in NaNoWriMo again this year (my sixth!), but I'm trying something completely new. I'm using my beloved characters from my novel The Boy Who Loved Fire. Not a sequel, but more like a companion book. Plus I'm writing in dueling points of view. I've never done that before. Oh, and this will be more like a thriller. So yes, there will be plenty of on.

I'm also studying ideas about releasing books as serials, podiobooks, and all kinds of fun stuff. One thing I've learned about this publishing business, especially indie publishing, is there are so many cool things to try.

What if something doesn't work out? I'll learn from it and move on to the next thing. And I won't consider it a failure...I'll consider it a learning experience.

Friends, what's your take on failure? Do you consider it a bad thing, or do you find value when things don't go the way you'd imagined? Are you afraid to try new things because of the fear of failure? Please share!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Writing lessons learned from GONE GIRL

Quick...before the regular post, are you participating in NaNoWriMo? I am! You can find me here.

As you probably learned in my post Unredeemable Characters and Unhappy Endings, I absolutely loved Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Like, I'm obsessed. As a reader, I was entertained. As a writer, I was blown away by the author's skill.

It was tough to whittle down the lessons learned to a manageable list, without giving too much away. Fair warning...if you haven't read the book yet, and don't want to know anything about the story, stop!

First, about Gone Girl:

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick Dunne’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick Dunne isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but hearing from Amy through flashbacks in her diary reveal the perky perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer? As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister Margo at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was left in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?

What writing lessons did I learn from this book? Too many to list in this post, but here are my favorites:
  • Get to know the missing person. How? In Gone Girl, we get to know Amy, the missing wife, through a series of journal entries. Early entries describe a wonderful romance, but soon the entries become dark and fearful. In my guest post on Traci Kenworth's blog, I listed ways for readers to care about an absent character.
  • Unreliable narrator. Nick, the husband/suspect, confuses the reader. Is he concerned about his missing wife? Sometimes. And sometimes it seems his concern is just for show. When he's interrogated by the police he tells us, "It was my fifth lie to the police. I was just starting." After that, I kept wondering if he was lying or telling the truth. I tell ya, this book is filled with liars, cheaters, and psychos. I mean that as a compliment.
  • Add personality to the prose. In Amy's diary, she tells how she used to write quizzes for women's magazines. When at a crossroad in her life, she'd write a quiz about it in her diary with multiple choice answers. It was a cute way to get to know the character better.
  • If there's a gun on the wall, use it. Remember that saying? If there's a gun on the wall, the writer had better use it? I can't remember who said it. Anyway, there was a couple of clues I picked up on that didn't go further. Nick and his sister Margo are twins. They'd even experienced telepathy. I expected the author to explore that in the story. If it was explored, it was done in a way that I didn't catch. It seemed like a missed opportunity.
  • List of suspects. Nick soon becomes the main suspect in Amy's disappearance. He does show signs of innocence, though, like occasional shock and worry. But there are also other characters who could be involved. There's a roving band of homeless men in the town, and there are old flames and stalkers who might have motive to harm Amy.
  • Unexpected character backstory. Most protagonists come from messed up families. After all, how interesting are characters who have wonderful lives and come from wonderful families? Amy's parents seem to have the perfect marriage and a charmed life. This made Amy uncomfortable about being single at 31. This perfect marriage also played into the story in unexpected ways. It went against type and also caused problems.
  • Treasure hunt for clues. In this story, there was literally a treasure hunt. Amy's anniversary tradition was to send Nick on a treasure hunt, with gifts planted along the trail. She goes missing on her anniversary, and yep, a treasure hunt had already been planned. Cops find clue #1 and gift #1 before Nick does. The gift has been carefully opened. This was a clever way to weave mystery and suspense into the story.

Have you read Gone Girl? Seen the movie? What's your opinion? What do you think of these writing lessons? Are you participating in NaNo? If so, good luck!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

On Sequels and Juggling Chainsaws: Interview with Crystal Collier

Today we have Super Mom and Super Author Crystal Collier here to shed light on writing sequels and juggling chainsaws. Her latest release, SOULLESS, is available now!

Q and A with Crystal Collier:

1. SOULLESS is the sequel to MOONLESS. Had you written a sequel before? How did you prepare for the process of writing a sequel?

I have actually written a couple other sequels. Great practice. SOULLESS wrote itself for the first 50 pages, then I told it to stop and plotted out the rest. If you want a solid story that carries specific themes and character arcs, you do have to slow down the muse sometimes.

2. What were your main writing lessons learned from writing a sequel? Continuity of story arc? Character arc? Adding new plot elements? None of the above?

It was somewhere between character arc and plot arc. I had to push my characters harder and into more difficult moments/decisions than in book 1. I agonized with them. It hurt.

3. Which marketing tasks worked best for MOONLESS? Which did not? Are you trying anything new with SOULLESS?

Because we home school, I’m pretty much confined to digital marketing for now. In that vein, the blog tour worked great. Goodreads giveaways expanded exposure, and getting featured on a ton of review blogs brought in significant traffic. With Soulless I’m being slightly less aggressive, focused on spreading the campaign out. I’ll be trying a facebook party and a live reading via youtube. We’ll see how they go.

4. Now that you have two books out, how do you balance being a busy wife, mother, author, marketer, and juggler of chainsaws?

I eat cheese, of course.

There is no balance. Some days I tip one way, the next, another. My weekly calendar is plotted out with a balance of tasks, one major thing to be done each day with writing, marketing, chores, family events, and whatever else comes along. Sometimes the planning even works, but effort over time (even with disruption,) equals eventual accomplishment.

5. What is the most important writing advice you’ve ever received? Why did it resonate with you?

I don’t know that it was an exact piece of advice. It was more an encouragement to study my industry and know what’s out there, what’s selling, and what publishers were looking for (both in technique and plot). That included reading all the time—industry books and popular fiction. Mostly it was that light bulb moment when I realized I needed to treat this job like a profession, not a hobby.

6. What’s next for the wonderful Crystal Collier?

(You called me wonderful! Yippee!) A baby. A serial story (Bellezza). The third book in the Maiden of Time trilogy (Timeless). TONZ of cheese. Survival.

Survival is good! Crystal, thanks so much for hanging out with us here on the blog.

Friends, have you ever written a sequel? What's your favorite writing advice? There are prizes! Want to enter? a Rafflecopter giveaway


The Soulless are coming... 

Alexia manipulated time to save the man of her dreams, and lost her best friend to red-eyed wraiths. Still grieving, she struggles to reconcile her loss with what was gained: her impending marriage. But when her wedding is destroyed by the Soulless—who then steal the only protection her people have—she’s forced to unleash her true power. 

And risk losing everything. 

Connect with Crystal:

Blog | Twitter | Goodreads | Facebook | Website

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Unredeemable Characters and Unhappy Endings

Friends, I must brainstorm with you. I have this strange need to just chat about a book with book lovers, and try to understand a couple of things.

I just finished reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

Mind. Blown.

I'd heard the book was good, twisted, and dark. It was all of those things and more. I literally could not put it down. When I began Part Two, my eyes bugged at the twists. I shook my head in wonder at the author's brilliance.

After reading the final words, I wrote this on Facebook:

Just finished reading "Gone Girl." Holy cow. Wicked, twisted, and totally entertaining. I hope the movie is half as good. Who's read it?

The responses I got were fascinating. Most readers agreed it was dark and twisted. Most agreed it was good. Many had seen the movie and said it followed the book closely and was excellent.

But a couple of responses surprised me and really made me think.

My cousin Marcia said this:

"I didn't like it. It was well written but I don't enjoy stories where there is not a single redeeming character."

She's right! Except for maybe the sister and one of the cops, these characters were awful people. Selfish, manipulative, spoiled. Why in the heck did I care what happened to them? Morbid curiosity? What had the author done that made me turn the pages when I should've been cooking dinner? And why did I love a book that was peopled with unlikeable characters? WHY?

I'm still pondering that one. My writing lessons learned post about this book is coming soon.

My friend Kris said this:

"Totally sick and twisted! I really disliked the ending!!"

She's also right! The ending was NOT happy. It wasn't even satisfying. It was frustrating. I wanted to chuck the book at the wall and scream "NOOOOO!" I gravitate toward satisfying endings. After spending so much time with characters, I want to turn the final page and know that things are going to be ok--that these people will go on to live normal lives. This is SO not the case with Gone Girl.

As a reader, I didn't love the ending. As a writer, I admired it. Maybe that's why this book still haunts me. Maybe because I was reading it as a reader, while also marveling at the writer's skill. I'm rarely this surprised by twists, and believe me, this one has some gems. I can't even hint at them without giving away the story.

If you've read the book or seen the movie, and want to read an entertaining thread, there's a fascinating conversation over at Book Journey. Warning! Serious spoiler alert. I mean, they're talking about the twists and the ending.

Whether people like the book or not, it's definitely had an impact.

This book reminded me why we love books. They're entertaining. They make us think. They make us happy and afraid. Gosh, I love reading.

Can I understand why I sometimes love a disturbing book? No. But I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Have you read Gone Girl? Seen the movie? Have you ever thought about a book long after you've turned the final page? Have you ever loved a book with twisted characters? Have you ever enjoyed an unhappy ending and wondered why? Friends, help me understand!! 

(No spoilers, please! I don't want to ruin it for anyone else)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Writing About Personal Trials: Interview With Author Elizabeth Heins

Friends, today I'm honored that Elizabeth Hein, author of the newly released How To Climb The Eiffel Tower, is here to chat about her story and offer advice to new writers. But first, a bit about Elizabeth's book:

Lara Blaine believes that she can hide from her past by clinging to a rigid routine of work and exercise. She endures her self-imposed isolation until a cancer diagnosis cracks her hard exterior. Lara’s journey through cancer treatment should be the worst year of her life. Instead, it is the year that she learns how to live. She befriends Jane, another cancer patient who teaches her how to be powerful even in the face of death. Accepting help from the people around her allows Lara to confront the past and discover that she is not alone in the world. With the support of her new friends, Lara gains the courage to love and embrace life. Like climbing the Eiffel Tower, the year Lara meets Jane is tough, painful, and totally worth it.

What first inspired you to write How To Climb The Eiffel Tower?

When I was in the throes of my own cancer treatment, I met several people who told me that getting cancer was the best thing that ever happened to them. I found that hard to believe at the time. Still, that statement was a seed of an idea. I wanted to give voice to those women’s lives, so I imagined scenarios for how getting cancer could lead to a positive life transformation. After a few false starts, Lara began talking to me.

Who was your inspiration for the characters of Lara and Jane?

Neither Lara nor Jane is entirely based on a real person. The character of Lara is an amalgamation of several young women I have known over the years. Unfortunately, abuse and neglect are far more common than many people would like to believe. I grew up a loving family. Girls in need of a safe place seemed to follow me home on a regular basis.  I knew several girls that were exceedingly bright, but were made to feel stupid by the adults in their lives. Others were mistreated so much that they had no self-esteem left to carry them into adulthood. Even as a child, I was outraged at the way these girls had to live. I guess that indignation stuck with me and came out when I sat down to write this novel.

Jane, on the other hand, is a completely invented character. I was writing what became the first scene of the novel and she walked into the room. From there, the character developed a life of her own on the page.

How is this book different from other books about cancer?

I feel How To Climb The Eiffel Tower is unique because Lara is not a typical “cancer book” protagonist. Many of the other books I read as research for this book had protagonists that were leading charmed lives that were halted by a cancer diagnosis. Lara Blaine’s life was not great before she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Cancer could have been just another awful thing for her to withstand. Fortunately, she meets Jane and the other women that teach her to use her cancer experience to reframe her life. Few of the other books I read used cancer as a psychological tool that the main character can use to transform her life.

 What advice do you have for new writers?
  • Learn everything you can about the trade of writing. Read books of the craft of writing. Read books to learn how books are structured. Learn, learn, and then learn some more.
  • Write at least something every day so you stay in touch with the story. Once you get in the habit of writing every day, it is just that – a habit.
  • Writing is not a pursuit for the faint of heart. It is difficult. Don't give up. I have seen tremendously talented writers stop writing because it stopped being easy. Even more people walked away after a handful of rejections.
  • Follow your gut. You really do know what you are doing.
  • Allow yourself to write terrible first drafts; just don’t mistake them for final drafts. Get your ideas down on the page, then edit. Then edit again. Rest. Then edit again.
  • Find some writer friends. They will keep you going when the going gets tough.
Great advice, Elizabeth! Thank you.

Writers, have you ever written about your own personal trials? Was writing the story therapeutic? Do you write every day? Do you power through terrible first drafts? Please share!

Buy links:
Amazon UK 

Twitter: @_ElizabethHein

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Cover reveal! Gears of Brass

Gear up for GEARS OF BRASS! 

It's cover reveal day for Gears of Brass! Sheri Larsen, a good friend of this blog, is one of the contributing authors to this anthology (TIME SPUN SOULS). Best of luck to Sheri and all her co-authors!

A few words about Gears of Brass:

A world like ours, but filled with gears of brass, where the beating heart is fueled by steam and the simplest creation is a complex clockwork device.  

Within this tome, you’ll find steampunk fairy tale re-tellings, as well as original stories that will send your gears turning.  

Welcome to the steampunk realm, with eleven authors guiding your path. 

GEARS OF BRASS is a steampunk anthology published through Curiosity Quills.  It will be available for purchase on November 10, 2014.  Within the pages, you’ll come across clockwork inventions and steampunk-ified fairy tale retellings.  Eleven authors will guide you through worlds filled with airships, top hats, and corsets. 

Meet the authors:
Jordan Elizabeth writes young adult fantasy for Curiosity Quills, including ESCAPE FROM WITCHWOOD HOLLOW which was published in October and the upcoming TREASURE DARKLY; she’s represented by the Belcastro Agency.

J. Million is the author of Last of the Giants and can always be found reading or writing.

Lorna MacDonald Czarnota is a professional storyteller and author of several books including, Medieval Tales That Kids Can Read and Tell, Breadline Blue, Legends Lore and Secrets of Western New York, Wicked Niagara, Native American and Pioneer Sites of Upstate New York, and Dancing at the Crossroads: Stories and Activities for At-Risk Youth Programming.

SA Larsen is represented by Paula Munier of Talcott Notch Literary and is the author of published short stories, community-interest stories, and magazine articles focused on children. 

Grant Eagar is an Engineer who would take the tales he told his children at bed time, and transform them into fantasy stories. 

Clare Weze is the author of The House of Ash (forthcoming) and the co-author and editor of Cloudscapes over the Lune.

Eliza Tilton: gamer, writer and lover of dark chocolate; author of the YA Fantasy, BROKEN FOREST, published by Curiosity Quills Press.

Heather Talty's stories have been featured in Enchanted Conversation, as well as her own fractured fairy tale site, Mythopoetical (

W.K. Pomeroy is a third generation writer who has published more than 70 short stories/articles/poems across many genres and styles, which now includes Steampunk.

Christine Baker is the author of Lana's End, The Guild of Dagda, and many more. 

Natalia Darcy: a bookilicious reader, tea drinker and Zumba aficionado who enjoys playing cards against humanity and washing her hair with ice cold water. 

You can get your steampunk fix before GEARS OF BRASS is released in November.  To enter for your chance to win a copy of GEARS OF BRASS, you will need to share the cover.  This can be on your blog, Facebook, Twitter… Each time you share the cover image, log it into Rafflecoper to record it.  It will give you more chances to win.  The drawing for the winner will be held on October 27th

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Hey, writer! Cross that finish line! #IWSG

Welcome to the October installment of the Insecure Writer's Support Group. *gasp* It's October already! If you want to be a part of this amazing group (inspired by the ninja himself, Alex J. Cavanaugh) click here.

I'm big into podcasts now (I blogged about podcasts for authors here). I recently listened to Joanna Penn's interview with Orna Ross. Lots of good info packed into the interview, but one thing stood out to me: "Finish, even if it's not good."

You see, I'm deep in a tough revision right now. Like, a gut-the-opening and drop-useless-characters kind of revision. There have been days when I've opened the manuscript, revised one page, and then closed the laptop. It's overwhelming. My next step is to use Janice Hardy's tip to create an editorial map.

Orna Ross's advice reminded me that I just need to cross a finish line, even if the finish line is small. Finished one chapter? That's a finish line. Erased one whole character from the manuscript? That's a finish line. Even if those chapters aren't good, the simple act of finishing something is positive. It's one step closer to the ultimate finish line...creating a wonderful story.

I have a lot of hard work ahead of me. But should we ignore something just because it's hard? No. As Susan Kaye Quinn said on her blog, "It will always be hard."

Are you with me, fellow writers? Let's finish, even if it's bad. We can go back and make it good.

Have you ever been mired in a tough revision? Were you tempted to close the manuscript and not finish? Are you ever intimidated by the amount of work that needs to be done?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Audiobooks: How To? Interview With A Narrator

Guys, I'm soooo excited to announce that my YA novel, The Boy Who Loved Fire, is now available in audiobook!

Audiobooks are a fun way to reach readers. If you're interested in creating your own audiobook, or if your publisher is looking for a how-to, check out this great tutorial by Elizabeth Craig.

The narrator of The Boy Who Loved Fire, Neal West (who did an amazing job, by the way), has kindly answered a few questions about how to begin the process and what to look for in a narrator.

Neal, thanks so much for stopping by my blog. What made you decide to narrate audiobooks?

I guess the truth is it was a pretty natural progression. I had done a lot of acting when I was in high school, and I followed that into radio. I began to cut commercials and I did a lot of volunteer work. I was also a big listener of audiobooks, my favorite being Stephen King at the time. I got to a point in my professional broadcast career where I was left a bit unchallenged, so I took on working with audiobooks as a way to expand my skill set, and to make a little side money.

Why should authors work with professional narrators instead of creating their own audio?

The main difference between a professional narrator and an author who would record their own book is that I have spent 16 years developing this talent. To assume what I do when I sit in front of a microphone is the same as what someone who has never done this before will do in front of a microphone is just simply not true. As the saying goes, those who are the best at it make it look the easiest.

And you have to define the word professional. For instance the starting quarterback for the Green Bay Packers makes a heck of a lot more money than a guy who warms the bench for the Bears, although both players are still considered professional. And the same can be true with professional narrators. Some of them work on much bigger projects and demand a lot more money, and others will work with smaller authors on independent projects.

And there are a variety of reasons for that as well. With me, for instance, it's a side job. For others they're just starting out. Generally speaking I think it's better to leave it to the professionals when you want to job done right, and that's why I stopped working on my own cars years ago! A mechanic I am not.

When authors listen to audio auditions, what should they be on the lookout for?

The first has to be technical quality. That's your number one goal, to find a narrator with a professional audio setup that can create sweet audio. You have to remember when you're dealing with an audiobook it's as if I am speaking to you, right in your ear...just you...and me (the narrator)'s a very intimate experience!

The next step should be finding a voice that fits the kind of book that you've written. There are a variety of standards for's pretty much based on what you think is best. When the book is read in your head...who does it? How does it sound? Male? Or female? Young? Old? Accent? Are there characters in your book? How should they be done? 

I would also say that before an author starts the process of hiring the narrator, they should have spent at least some time listening to several different audiobooks. My best advice is get a feel for what you think your book should sound like and then find the narrator who can achieve that.

When authors listen to the final audio, what should they be on the lookout for?

My advice during the quality control process is first make sure that the audio is up to your standards. There should be a very consistent feel to the tone and pace of the read. It should be the same at the beginning as it is at the end.

It's helpful to listen to the book with a notepad and a copy of the manuscript. Make notes as you go along. Pronunciation of names and places, or just screwed up words, rooms noises or noises in the recording should all be noted. 

Generally if you've done a good job of selecting a professional narrator, most of this should not be an issue. But there are almost always some changes to be made. Remember, once it's done, it's done.

If someone is interested in narrating audiobooks, what do they need? Where do they begin?

Well, first they're going to need to invest some money in gear. There are some really good entry-level broadcast microphones that would do well in an audio narration environment. You also need to invest a little bit in some sort of room treatment... believe me if you've ever heard a tape recorded in a room with bare walls, you'll hear the voice and then on a delay of several milliseconds, hear the voice reverberating from the wall back into the microphone on a's very distracting.

A good audio interface and then some recording software should be your next buy. And then practice practice practice. Just find some books and tear into to them. And make sure to listen to yourself.
There are quite a few independent voiceover exchanges on the Internet. is an example of one. Voice 123 or are other examples. Get yourself an account set up at some of these sites (depending on the kind of work you want to do), then audition audition audition! You won't get the job you haven't auditioned for.

Remember, above all it's a craft. Practice, network, grow. And never get to big to listen to advice... You will never hear yourself the way someone else can, so it's always good to incorporate some level of feedback into the process.

Neal, you're a superstar! Thanks so much for giving us the lowdown on narrating audiobooks.

Friends, do you listen to audiobooks? If you're published, is there an audiobook available for your book? Feel free to share your link in the comments!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Podcasts for Indie Authors

My new favorite thing? Podcasts.

Holy cow, there is so much information available for writers on podcasts. Call me a slow learner, but before reading a post by another blogger, I hadn't considered podcasts as a learning tool for writers. (I wish I could remember the blogger's name who turned me on to podcasts for indie authors. If I ever find out his name, I'll be sure to update this post.)

New to podcasts? Here's what you can do:
  • Go to or download the free Stitcher app from the app store
  • Create a Stitcher account
  • Browse shows based on your interests (publishing, writing children's books, current events, whatever)
  • Sift through the many choices (I typed in "Indie Publishing" and over 500 shows popped up)
  • Add interesting shows to your list
  • When you're ready to listen, download a show and play
The blogger-I-can't-remember had given a few suggestions, and so far I've tried four. I like them all and would highly recommend them. Here they are in the order of my preference:
  1. Joanna Penn from the Creative Penn--Most of us have read Joanna's blog, The Creative Penn. Her podcasts are produced with the same topics in mind. She asks pointed questions in her interviews and boils it down for all authors--the small time and big time. Her podcasts focus on indie publishing, but there's plenty of information for all writers and publishers. Plus she has a cool accent.
  2. Rocking Self Publishing--Simon, a guy who also has a cool British accent, has great interviews with successful indie authors who offer inspiration and nuts and bolts ideas. His style is relaxed and friendly. He has a great way of turning the conversation back to the topic at hand.
  3. Sell More Books Show--This weekly podcast, hosted by Jim Kukral and Bryan Cohen, has a nice back and forth style. They go through the top five publishing news events from the week and offer their opinions. It's interesting to see their take on current publishing news, like Amazon's new preorder option for indies.
  4. Self Publishing Podcast--This podcast, hosted by Johnny, Sean and Dave, is entertaining but packed full of colorful language--just a warning. They do a bit of self promo, but it's done in a way that gives authors ideas of what can work and what's worth trying. These guys are fearless and innovative.
Listening to podcasts is an entertaining and productive thing to do while walking or hiking. I simply download a show before my workout, then learn while I'm on the go.

Do you listen to podcasts? If so, are there any you can add to the list? Do you listen to other podcasts? Please share!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Writing lessons learned from CAPTURED BY LOVE

Time to share some important writing lessons I've learned from reading great books! This time it's all about Captured by Love, by Jody Hedlund.

It is 1814 and the British have taken hold of Mackinac Island and its fort. American residents were forced to swear an oath of loyalty to the British crown in order to retain their land. Pierre Durant is a voyageur--a fur trader who left his family home to find freedom and adventure. He's been gone five years and when he returns, his family's farm is at the mercy of the British invaders.

Torn between the life he's grown used to and guilt over leaving his brother and mother, he's drawn back into the loyalist fight against the British--and into a relationship with Angelique MacKenzie, a beautiful local girl who's been befriended by the daughter of the British commander. As tensions mount and the threat of violence increases, both Angelique and Pierre must decide where their loyalties rest, how far they will go to find freedom, and how much they will risk to find love.

Warning: if you haven't yet read Captured by Love, and don't want to know any plot points, read no further!

  • Open with intriguing action: The novel opens with Angelique on the run. She's barefoot, at night. The reader is instantly curious. Where is this girl going? Why is she barefoot? Who's chasing her?
  • Reveal character with early action: Angelique is running because she's sneaking coveted food to an ill friend. This shows bravery and kindness from the very beginning.
  • Bring on the love triangle: I'm a sucker for love triangles. In this case, two brothers care for the same childhood friend. If one of them was a bad person, it would be easy to choose sides. But that's not the case. They're all likable. Tough choices are inevitable.
  • Love interest isn't just a pretty face: Too often romance novels feature a hunky love interest who's just eye candy without any depth. Not so in this story. Pierre is a nice person with conflicting loyalties. He's a double agent who's helping the Americans. His good character adds another layer to the love story because it's not just about love. It's also about duty and country.
  • Create an anchor: Pierre is a young man who wishes to come and go as he pleases. But now he has an obligation at home--his ailing mother and her decrepit farm. This binds him to the island long enough to fall in love.
  • Tighten the noose: Hedlund does a great job of creating several ticking clocks for Pierre and Angelique. The oncoming winter, when Pierre must leave to do his work. The threat of an American invasion of the island. The imminent arrival of Pierre's brother, Angelique's fiancee. These multiple ticking clocks add tension throughout the book.
I love Hedlund's books, and Captured by Love was no exception.

What do you think of these writing lessons? Have you tried any of them yourself? Do you like reading historical inspirational romance?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Grateful for Gratitude #IWSG

Welcome Insecure Writers! Big thanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh and his crew for giving us this awesome group hug called Insecure Writers Support Group. Click here to sign up.

Keeping it short this month. When things get crazy, I like to take a moment and focus on what I'm grateful for.

Besides family and good health, which I'm thankful for every day, I'm grateful for:
  1. Opportunities. I love that we're writers in this day and age. Opportunities and choices abound.
  2. Skill. My writing abilities have come a loooong way, and they still have a looooong way to go. But I'm so thankful for writing skills.
  3. Sales. When even one person buys one of my books, I'm so thankful. I'd write them for free, without ever receiving payment, so I'm extra grateful when someone puts faith in me.
  4. Mentors. I'm thankful for brave writers who try new things and tell others about it. 
  5. Gratitude. Sounds weird to be grateful for gratitude, but I am. It's easy to dwell on all you don't have, but I like to dwell on what I do.
How about you, fellow writers? What are you grateful for today? Please share!