Saturday, October 31, 2015

Oh, the haunted places we will go

Happy Halloween, folks! Halloween's on a Saturday this year. Whaaa? That seems weird to me.

Halloween has become kinda lame, hasn't it? Even kids nowadays miss out on the pure essence that is October 31st. You know -- going to school in your costume, walking in the Halloween parade, having a party of cupcakes and candy before heading home and climbing the walls before your parents came home to escort you trick or treating. My son isn't allowed to wear his costume to school. And in my rural area, there's so many Trunk or Treats and harvest festivals that by the time actual Halloween rolls around, everyone is costume and candy'd out. But, I digress.

In the spirit of Halloween, I thought I'd share some of America's most haunted towns. It'll be a fun, frightening trip. Off, we go.

Key West, Florida -- I'm not being specific here because the whole damn island is haunted. The Hard Rock Cafe's second-floor ladies room is supposedly haunted by a wealthy man who hung himself in, what was then, his house. *shudder*. Take a haunted ghost walk when you're there and you'll hear all the stories including Robert the Doll -- the original Chucky.

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania -- Next year, my husband and I plan on going to Gettysburg for a few days for our anniversary -- sans kids. I want to do all the spooky stuff and I can't drag my three kids, who get scared of the Minions movie, along. Gettysburg, most notable for being the sight of the bloodiest Civil War battle (over 50,000 soldiers died) and the Address, is a hot bed of paranormal activity. Maybe I can convince my husband to stay at the haunted Lightner Farmhouse, which was once a hospital for wounded soldiers.

Garnet, Montana -- This is a literal and figurative ghost town. Once a gold mining town that emptied out in the 1940s, the town is now run by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. In fact, the government offers volunteers free housing and a food stipend in exchange for running tours and managing the site. Just don't get freaked out if you hear unexplained piano playing in Kelley's Saloon or see apparitions in the street. Apparently, the ghosts are most active in the winter.

Salem, Massachusetts -- I've been to Salem and all I remember is a lot of kitchy, witchy touristy stuff. But in 1692, 19 people were executed for being witches during the Salem Witch Trials. It's reported that Gallows Hill, the site where many of the 19 were hanged, is haunted with the souls of the condemned. 

Athens, Ohio -- Ohio, a nice Midwestern town, and home to Ohio University and Athens Lunatic Asylum. The Asylum which operated from 1874 to 1993 is a gold mine of creepiness. The hospital performed many lobotomies in its day. Now owned by the university, students report lots of ghostly sightings including seeing faces in the windows and floating figures in the graveyards.

Have you ever been to a haunted city? Where? Give us all the spooky details.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Wimps Can Enjoy Scary Books Too!

If you're like me and scared of pretty much anything that goes bump-in-the-night, then Halloween might not be your favorite holiday. (But the fact that there's free candy and dressing up saves this holiday from being ranked dead last for me.) I hate being scared, I'm not a fan of horror movies, and I'm terrified of the dark and of spiders (both of which are pretty much synonymous with All Hallows Eve). And yet, I love books that are able to put me on edge. I haven't read many "traditional" horror books, but I have read a fair amount of creepy, thrilling, dark books that make you want to look over your shoulder or check under your bed. I'll call them horror-esque. And while some of them aren't considered horror, they still have that element of gore or scare, or "oh my gosh turn around it's right behind you TURN AROUND!" element to them. So here's a short list of books that I've read and liked (but aren't too scary for those wimps out there like me) that you might want to give a try:

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey (Aliens invade! But they look like humans.)
The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton (People suddenly die from a mysterious cause.)
Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer (An environmental anomaly consumes all who enter.)
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn (The only survivor of a mass killing tries to find the real killer.)
Day Four by Sarah Lotz (Cruise ship stops dead in the water. Very strange events begin to happen.)
Fiend by Peter Stenson (The only way to stave off the zombie apocalypse is with... drugs?)
Fragment by Warren Fahy (Jurrasic Park + Reality TV show)
The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey (Young girl wonders why she's hated and why people suddenly smell so tasty.)
The Hot Zone by Richard Preston (Based on real-life events of a close encounter with Ebola in the US.)
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (Family buys house. House reveals terrifying secrets.)
Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist (Scandanavian child vampire seeks a friend.)
One Second After by William R. Forstchen (Scary-real account of what could happen after an EMP detonation.)
The Passage by Justin Cronin (Epic tale of how an immortality experiment turned most of the population into blood-thirsty killers.)
Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson (Exactly what the title sounds like. AI becomes self-aware. Decides to take over.)
The Three by Sarah Lotz (Three children survive unsurvivable plane crashes. That happen at the exact same time in different parts of the world.)
World War Z by Max Brooks (A "first-hand" account of the survivors of the zombie apocalypse.)

Out of these, I'd have to say that House of Leaves is the scariest one for me. If you've never heard of it, I urge you to go to your nearest bookstore and just take a look at it. It's unique in that there are stories within stories, footnotes that go on for pages, passages that are written in spirals (literally) and more. It takes commitment to read and is certainly not for everyone. It can be very confusing at times and gives the sense of what "going mad" must feel like. It's a book that stays with the reader (I'm getting goosebumps as I think about it) and has a cult following intent on breaking a supposed code that is written within the stories. It may not sound like a horror book from my description, but it leaves you feeling extremely uneasy every time you put it down.

Have you read any of these? What are some of your favorite horror books and why? What is the scariest book you've ever read?

Monday, October 26, 2015

Happy Birthday To Us!

A Post By Jonathan

Hold the phone everybody 'cause I've got an announcement to make. Drum roll please. More cowbell! Okay, okay, that'll do. Geesh, someone really likes their cowbell... Believe it or not, Across the Board turns a year old today! That's right, cue the confetti, put on your party hats, blow your kazoos (or whatever they call those little curly horn thingies) and celebrate good times, come on!

Technically our first post was on October 6th, 2014, so we're a little late to the party, but since this is my first and only post this month, and no one else has decided to point out this enormously momentous occasion, I wanted to take my time in the spotlight to say Happy Birthday "to us!"

And, like many an awkward office party before it, I thought I'd mark our anniversary by handing out some awards (to give me some more material to work with for October, 2016, I figured I'd recognize our four founding members this year).

The Dear Leader Award: Stephen Kozeniewski

From the outside looking in, Across the Board might seem like a well oiled machine, where our eight bloggers post every Monday and Thursday without the slightest hiccup. But it takes a lot of hard work and dedication, and more than a little coordination, to keep this spiffy little writing site chug-chug-chugging along. Though he likely won't admit it, but I know my fellow Boarders would agree, the glue holding this jalopy together is none other than our dear leader, Stephen Kozeniewski.

With encouraging, weekly emails that never falter, Stephen keeps us on task and on schedule so that we're always providing quality content to our dear readers. So dear readers, thank our dear leader... I know we do.

P.S. North Korea, if you're reading this, please don't threaten to shut us down for using Kim Jung Il-like imagery. Please!


The Longevity Award: Kimberly G. Giarratano

I don't know if you knew this, Kimberly, but you have been posting longer than anyone else on the blog! Your first post (and Across The Board's second post) was on October 13th, 2014, making you the oldest person here.

Congratulations! And nice downward-facing dog, or whatever that pose is...

The Content Queen Award: Carrie Beckort

Carrie, you have posted more words on Across The Board than any other blogger. That makes you a) awesome and b) the Content Queen! Congratulations! Keep calm and post on!

P.S. I have no idea what this image has to do with being the Content Queen (though I feel like there's an Alice in Wonderland reference in there somewhere), but I just had to give it to you. You know, awkward office party and all... Anyway, enjoy the cake!

The Book Worm Award: Brianna Lebrecht

This may seem like an obvious one for our resident reader, but what awkward office party would be complete without a visit from Captain Obvious? You've definitely posted more about books than anyone else on Across The Board, Brianna, but I'm pretty sure you've read more books than any of us too. If not, what kind of resident reader would you be, huh?

Congrats and way to devour those hardbacks!

Thanks for joining me in this celebration, all. Here's to another amazing year. Now back to your cubicles!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Evolution of a Book Cover

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

Howdy, loyal blog readers!  Some exciting news this week.  My newest publisher Mirror Matter Press released the cover for my upcoming novel EVERY KINGDOM DIVIDED (and their flagship novel - ulp!) this week.  And we'll get to that in just a minute, but I thought it might be interesting to look at the covermaking process, which is something I believe we've never covered (ha!) here on Across the Board before.

So, first I should caveat this by saying that my experiences with EVERY KINGDOM DIVIDED are not "typical" for a number of reasons.  First of all, Mirror Matter (a new imprint of Sinister Grin) is a small press.  Now as we have discussed on ATB before, the small press experience is always going to differ from self-publishing or traditional publishing.  For me, pubbing with small presses has been a Goldilocks experience between the control the author must cede to a Big 5 house and the batshit amount of work that an author/publisher has to do.

Covermaking is, in my understanding, much the same.  There are horror stories of big houses totally ignoring the author's wishes in regards to covers, which has resulted in nightmare scenarios like characters being depicted as the wrong race, covers having nothing to do with the content, and so on.  Alternately, as a self-publisher, the cover is completely up to you, but you have to pay for it, and you have to have the eye for it, and that can just be its own nightmare if you don't.  

Now, I should point out that at a recent convention when fellow Boarder Mary Fan and I were outlining this basic breakdown, senior Tor editor Marco Palmieri chimed in to say that we were being a bit harsh on traditional publishing, and that he always tries to take the author's opinion into account and reach a happy level of parity.  Which leads to my second point: Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV.)  Not only is Mirror Matter/Sinister Grin a small press, it's also just one small press.  My covermaking experiences have differed from this one just in my dealings with Severed Press and Red Adept Publishing.

So, with all that as a caveat, let's take a look at how the EVERY KINGDOM DIVIDED cover came to be.  First, Matt at Mirror Matter asked me if I had any ideas for the cover.  The truth was I had anticipated this question based on my dealings with my other publishers, so I had, in fact, at some point drafted a rough idea for a cover.  And here it is: 

And this is why I don't trust myself to self-publish and be in charge of my own covers.

"Beautiful," right?  EVERY KINGDOM DIVIDED takes place in 2035, after the Culture Wars have turned hot and the Red States and Blue States have dissolved our glorious union.  By a quirk of fate a Blue and a Red end up travelling together from California to Maryland in an old-fashioned gas-powered car.  Most of the story is a road trip, then, across a dystopian, post-apocalyptic former United States, ravaged not by aliens, zombies, or plague but by politics.

I would forgive you for not getting all of that from my sketch above.

So the concept is basically they're on the road, obviously in the same car, but the scene is metaphorically split.  One half is blue and one is red, and the tear through the United States in the background is also metaphorical.  The stick figure with hair is our heroine (obviously - you can tell because she has hair.)

However, after discussing the matter with Matt and handing over this sketch, by some miracle their cover artist managed to return this:

Quite a leap forward, eh?  Now, first of all, I want to point out that this is original artwork.  None of my covers to date (with the exception of a few of the anthologies that I've contributed to) have featured original artwork.  For cost purposes, covers are usually composed of stock photos, which are purchased very inexpensively by the artist (who usually has an account at Shutterstock or the other various stock photo websites) and then is photomanipulated.  That's why I've seen the cover model for BRAINEATER JONES show up on other books.  Mary Fan and I have even been known to play a game called "Spot Jane" since the cover model for her Jane Colt series is extremely popular.

This cover, though, is original art.  Quite pricey.  Now, I don't discuss bookkeeping with Mirror Matter, as that's none of my business, so I don't know if they have an in-house artist, or if they hire a freelancer who gives them a discount because they order in bulk, or if they simply just splurged on EVERY KINGDOM DIVIDED since it'll be their flagship.  Judging by Sinister Grin's previous covers, I can tell they put a premium on original art, so whatever the case, I'm just delighted that it turned out in my favor.

Now at this point the artist asked everybody's opinion, that is, mine and the owners and editors.  As I pointed out, I have precisely zero eye for this sort of thing so I asked a few friends.  And basically the consensus was that the U.S. in the background needed to pop more.  Matt also pointed out that in the context of the story the convertible was a rustbucket, so that needed to be more obvious.  And the artist came back with these two updates:

So, here you see the U.S. pops more, and the car is obviously a rustbucket.  I like how it didn't really take much for him to change the whole aesthetic.  Adding some dents and some wires holding the hood down are enough to get the whole point across.

You'll also note that in this version, the blue and red split at the top of the page gradually shifts to a more realistic appearance at the bottom of the page.  The car and the road are basically "real."  And as for our heroes, we opted, at Matt's suggestion, to keep them "gray" both in keeping with the color theme and their morally gray behavior in the book.

In fact, the only difference between these two is that the crack is black in one and white in the other.  I think we were all more partial to the white crack due to the color scheme.  (It's not like the U.S. colors are red, black, and blue.)  We briefly toyed with the idea of having something in the white crack, writing perhaps, as though the book were literally split in two.  I briefly wondered if having that be the text of the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence or something might be interesting, but ultimately I think we all agreed the cover was busy enough as is.  So all that was left was to add the title and byline:

Ain't that a beaut?  Quite a change from my original MS Paint design, too, isn't it?  The title coloring re-emphasizes the political themes and also gives it a cohesive look.  Throughout the course of making this cover I've been showing it to people and asking what they think the book's about.  Tonight I showed the final image to someone and they guessed just about on the nose.  And I think at a minimum it's intriguing.

So, how about you, dear readers?  What's been your experience with the covermaking process?  If this topic doesn't get a robust debate going in the comments I'll be very surprised.

Monday, October 19, 2015

How to give your story tension (Story Breakdown, Part 1)

A post by Mary Fan
What keeps a story moving forward? What gives it that pull that makes a reader keep turning the

Answer: Tension. Those little hooks in a novel that give you the urge to find out what happens next. We are hardwired to want answers to questions, and stories with tension are imbedded with them, without offering the answers until the very end.

There are the big, overarching questions: "Will the good guys defeat the bad guys?" "Will the heroine end up with her Prince Charming?" "Will the protagonist choose what's best for herself, or what's best for her community?"

And the more specific ones, surrounding how the plot unfurls, along the way: "How will the good guys escape the dungeon?" "What will happen when the heroine learns that her Prince Charming lied about his identity, and will they be able to recover?" "How will the protagonist arrive at her decision about whether to choose herself over the greater good, and whose influence will she listen to?"

The three example questions I gave above each represent one of three types of stakes: Physical (external), Emotional (internal), and Moral (philosophical). Stakes are the reason a person is reading a story. Something will be gained or lost based on the outcome of the book, and readers read to find out how it will all turn out.

Physical (External) Stakes

Physical stakes are about achieving goals. These are the external circumstances a character must face and overcome. When people think of stakes, usually it's the physical ones, and genre books (thrillers, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, etc.) thrive on upping them to life and death situations. But even less "save the world" type books have physical stakes. For instance, contemporary fiction often includes story lines around surviving in modern society--having enough money for the mortgage or winning a prestigious contest, for instance.

Types of physical stakes include:

  • Survival (of either the individual or a community)
  • Competition (sometimes a particular contest, like an election, or sometimes for general status/position) 
  • Money
Here are some examples of physical stakes:
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson: Lisbeth and Mikael must discover the identity of a ruthless murderer before he kills again.
  • Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson: David seeks to defeat Steelheart, a supervillain with extraordinary powers who rules over a post-apocalyptic Chicago.
  • A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar John Nash battles schizophrenia on his way toward becoming a great academic.
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan: Percy goes on a quest to the Underworld to prevent a war between the Greek gods.
  • Braineater Jones by Stephen Kozeniewski: After waking up a zombie, Braineater Jones must solve his own murder and finds himself at the heart of a much bigger conflict.
Emotional (Internal) Stakes

Emotional stakes are about a character's internal conflicts. In other words, the "feels." Romance novels are all about these emotional stakes. A lot of women's fiction and memoirs center around emotional stakes as well. But even bang-bang-kaboom-type books have emotional stakes... The farmboy who loses his family and sets himself on a dubious path to greatness, the cynical cop struggling to keep her marriage together while hunting a serial killer.

Types of emotional stakes include:
  • Love (romantic or familial)
  • Friendship
  • Sense of self (for example, overcoming self-doubt or existential crises)
Here are some examples of emotional stakes:
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling: Orphaned and treated like garbage by his aunt's family, Harry discovers a new community of friends and faces a Chosen One destiny he's unprepared for.
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green: Two teenagers battling cancer find love and comfort in their shared experiences.
  • Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline: After losing her family, Vivian is sent West to be placed with an adoptive family and must hold on to her sense of self as she's shuffled from home to home.
  • Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell: Left completely isolated after being left behind on her tribe's island, Karana finds meaning and companionship in nature.
  • Grunge Gods and Graveyards by Kimberly G. Giarratano: When the boy Lainey loves returns from the grave as a ghost, Lainey struggles with her feelings for someone she can never touch again.
Moral (Philosophical) Stakes

Moral stakes are about "doing the right thing," even when it comes at a cost for the characters. They're about what separate the bad guys from the good guys: What makes the good guys "good," and why are we rooting for them? Good guys and bad guys are obvious in a lot of genre fiction (plucky rebels vs. evil overlords, scrappy cops vs. depraved criminals, etc.). Sometimes, though, the moral stakes go beyond the obvious. 

Types of moral stakes include:
  • Individual vs. community
  • Freedom vs. control
  • Rules vs. what feels right
  • Self vs. other
  • Doing what's easy vs. doing what's right
Here are some examples of moral stakes:
  • Les Miserables by Victor Hugo: A group of students stage a foolhardy rebellion against overwhelming odds, and Jean Valjean joins them, sacrificing his own safety by entering a can't-win battle, in order to save his daughter's lover.
  • Number the Stars by Lois Lowry: Deep in the shadow of World War II, a Danish family risks everything to help smuggle their Jewish friends to safety.
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: Forced into a dystopian kill-or-be-killed competition, Katniss protects her friends even though their survival could mean her death.
  • Green Angel by Alice Hoffman: After losing her family, Green must learn to let go of her bitterness and accept her sorrow.
  • Oracle of Philadelphia by Elizabeth Corrigan: After meeting a good man who sold his soul to save his sister, the Oracle must decide what lengths she's willing to go to in order to save him.
Combining the three types of stakes

Most books will have some combination of the three types of stakes--or all of them--and most also have more than one of each kind. As you may have noticed, the examples above only talk about one small slice of the books they're from (for instance, Hunger Games, mentioned under Moral, also has obvious physical stakes).

Here are a few examples of books broken down by their stakes:

  • The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
    • Physical stakes
      • Get the One Ring to Mordor and destroy it
      • Fight back armies of Orcs to protect the people
      • Defeat adversaries along the way (Shelob, Balrog, Ring Wraiths, etc.)
      • Restore order to the realm of Man
    • Emotional stakes
      • Call to greatness--Ordinary vs. extraordinary life (Frodo, a humble Hobbit, sets off on a destiny he's unprepared for when he becomes the Ring Bearer and faces self-doubt along the way)
      • Fulfilling a destiny (After hiding from his destiny for years, Aragorn rises up as the true king of Gondor)
      • Friendship--Loyalty vs. betrayal (Frodo and Sam's tension as the Ring starts corrupting Frodo)
    • Moral stakes
      • Selfishness vs. altruism (Frodo struggles with whether to fulfill his mission or keep the One Ring for himself; Aragorn chooses to help the kingdom of Rohan fight back the Orcs; Theoden, king of Rohan, sends his armies to aid Gondor even though Gondor didn't help Rohan previously)
      • What's right vs. what's easy (Frodo sets off to destroy the Ring knowing how dangerous it will be)
      • Power vs. freedom (Sauron desires control over Middle Earth and power for himself, while the heroes fight to keep Middle Earth free from his control)

  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel
    • Physical stakes
      • Cross the ocean in a lifeboat
      • Keep the tiger fed so he won't eat Pi
    • Emotional stakes
      • Faith vs. doubt--Pi wrestles with his belief in God
      • After losing his family, Pi's only companion on his journey is the tiger
    • Moral stakes
      • Determination vs. giving up--As days drag on and there's no rescue in sight, Pi struggles to keep going even though his fate seems grim
      • How far is Pi willing to go to survive? Will he kill the tiger to save himself?

  • Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
    • Physical stakes
      • Survive the Civil War
      • Save the family plantation
      • Rebuild life after the war tears it apart
    • Emotional stakes
      • Romantic love: Scarlet is in love with Ashley, a married man, while engaging in a tumultuous romance with the roguish Rhett
      • Familial love: Scarlet takes care of her father and two sisters after her mother's death
      • Call to greatness: Scarlet must take charge after her mother's death drives her father to madness, overcoming her upbringing as a decorative Southern belle
    • Moral stakes
      • Selfishness vs. altruism: Scarlet protects Melanie even though she's married to the man Scarlet loves, and Melanie's death would mean that he's available
      • Determination vs. giving up: Scarlet goes to great lengths to protect the family plantation while others in her situation accept defeat
      • Holding true vs. selling out: Scarlet fails on this one because she chooses to do business with morally dubious individuals, including those who would have been her enemies during the war
Keeping these three types of stakes in mind while plotting your novel will help you craft the kind of story that keeps readers reading. Knowing what's at stake--what's to be gained and what's could be lost--is what keeps us wanting to know how things turn out.

Just for fun, I've done a breakdown of my own book, Artificial Absolutes:
  • Physical stakes
    • Jane must find her friend, Adam, after witnessing his kidnapping
    • Jane must prove her brother's innocence after he's framed for shooting their father
    • Jane has to escape various adversaries who pursue her across the galaxy (she's a fugitive from the law and also the target of a powerful criminal)
  • Emotional stakes
    • Familial love: Jane's loyalty to her brother and desire to see her father's attacker brought to justice
    • Romantic love: Jane and Adam's budding relationship
    • Call to greatness: Jane doubts her ability to save the day as she faces circumstances she could never have prepared for
  • Moral stakes
    • Selfishness vs. altruism: Though Jane herself isn't the villain's target, she chooses to leave her own life behind to save her brother and Adam
    • Determination vs. giving up: When all seems lost, Jane must decide how far she's willing to go
    • Freedom vs. control: The enemy Jane faces desires control over the fate of humanity in order to instill order
This is Part 1 of my Story Breakdown series of posts... Tune in next month for Part 2, which will be about how to keep the pages turning.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Running a collective giveaway

What up, guys! Are you in for an informative treat today. This post is all about running a collective giveaway. But before I begin, I must thank my author BFF, Kate Moretti, for her wisdom in all things marketing. She is Mr. Miyagi to my Danielson. Anyhoo, moving on...

I'm currently running a YA collective giveaway that ends today and I want to talk about how to set up a collective giveaway and why you should bother doing it -- cuz' you really should.

What is a collective giveaway? 
It's when a group of authors donate prizes and promote the giveaway to their respective readerships. Giveaways can last anywhere from days to weeks -- although a shorter time period is best (I'll explain why in a bit), have 8-10 authors participating, and award one mega prize for one winner.

Why participate in a collective giveaway? 
Two words: visibility and access. I've tried to run one-author giveaways on my website and I've gotten zero traction. And that's after I contacted my Facebook friends and subscriber list. Last month, I gave away five hot YA books (by big name YA authors -- not me) and I had only 12 entrants.
If you want to be seen, you need a large group of people willing to participate and share the giveaway. One author screaming into the void isn't going to cut it.

How do you set up a collective giveaway?
Someone needs to volunteer to organize and host the giveaway. This is work, but the organizer reaps the benefits.

1. Set up the parameters. If you're running the show, you need to figure out some details. Is the giveaway global? In which case, are your participants willing to ship books overseas? If not, can everyone contribute an ebook? If you're doing ebooks, can multiple ebook formats be offered? If you're going to limit your giveaway to the U.S. to keep shipping costs down, signed paperbacks and swag can increase interest. But, it also limits entrants to being U.S. residents -- so there's that. How long will you run the giveaway for? A month is too long. A few days too short. The biggest spike of entries come in on the first few days and the last. I'd say no shorter than a week, no longer than two weeks.

2. Pick a theme. If you're running your giveaway in October (as I am), then it makes sense to do spooky reads for Halloween. This would be be great for speculative fiction or horror writers. Romance writers would do better around Valentine's Day. Cozy mystery writers might do well during Christmas. It doesn't mean you have to wait until a holiday to roll out a giveaway, but using a theme will make your giveaway cohesive. Last year, I organized a YA giveaway for the 'Back to School' season. A SciFi giveaway would be cool to coincide with the new Star Wars movie release. The possibilities are endless.

3. Gather thee author buddies. Put out a call to your author friends. You want around 8-10 authors. Too few and the prize isn't big enough to draw interest. Too many and it becomes unwieldy. In my opinion, 8-10 is a good number. There are plenty of larger giveaways (YA Scavenger Hunt comes to mind), but I could not imagine the organizational undertaking. Ask your author friends for their cover art, website, and what they'll be donating to the giveaway. Ebook only. Signed paperbacks. Swag. Boxed set. In the current giveaway, I have two generous authors offering up boxed sets.

4. Set up a prize widget like Rafflecopter or Gleam. Gleam is awesome and I'm currently using it for the Halloween giveaway. I think it offers more than Rafflecopter and allows entrants to use their Facebook, Instagram, Twitter accounts to enter. Everyone can gain one entry with just an email. Nice and easy. But you can gain more entries by tweeting the giveaway, viral sharing, liking a photo on Instagram, or pinning a photo on Pinterest. It's not about following social media accounts. It's more about sharing your book covers and having readers interact with the giveaway and spreading the news. Check it out! We have over 1350 entries!!!

I asked the authors what they hoped to get out of the giveaway and everyone said newsletter subscribers. Of course. We indie authors need to expand our lists,'s the rub. One, the free versions of Rafflecopter and Gleam do not offer adding newsletter subscribers as an option and two, asking contest entrants to sign up for 9 newsletters as a way to gain entries is tedious. And a turn-off. The goal here is visibility. Readers need to know who we are and they need to see our book covers. That's not going to happen if people are bogged down by the contest itself.

5. Get graphic! Go to Canva and make something pretty with all the book covers. You need this graphic for several reasons. First, you put it on your website above the Rafflecopter or Gleam widget. This shows readers exactly what they'll win (all these jazzy books). Second, you'll be using this graphic to advertise the giveaway -- for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, your newsletter. And third, you'll need this graphic for the Gleam widget where readers can gain entries by pinning the graphic or liking it on Instagram. Below is the one I made. See? Nothing fancy. You can do it.

6. Build the giveaway on your website. I made a separate page on my website for giveaways and all traffic is being directed there. Include the graphic, contest widget, links to all the authors' websites, and any other pertinent information.

7. Advertise the giveaway. On opening day, every author should be promoting this via their subscriber list, Twitter, Facebook page, etc. I checked my website stats and saw referrals coming from the authors' newsletters and Twitter accounts.

8. Let the contest run. Eight days into our Halloween giveaway, we have over 1200 entries. I could continue to promote it, but things seem to be moving nicely on their own. I'll do one big push on the last day or two.

9. Let the contest widget pick a winner. Pretty self-explanatory. Email the winner to let them know they won this awesome contest. I don't think it's uncalled for to also ask the winner to review the books they read. Maybe, if the winner is willing, interview the winner for a blog post.

What kind of results can one expect?
Well, your miles may vary on this, but here are the results I'm seeing.
  • A huge uptick in web traffic. One the first day of the giveaway launch, I had 251 views on my website. (That's unheard of for me. My website normally gets no more than 10 views a day.) It dropped off the next day, netting me 84 views. Then on the 6th day, I had 163 views. Not sure why. Perhaps, newsletters went out (mine did the day before). This means new eyeballs on my books page, blog, and writers resource page (which I spent a long time cultivating). 

  • An uptick in newsletter subscribers. With that new web traffic comes an influx of readers voluntarily signing up for my newsletter so make sure your newsletter sign-up is visible on your website. One week into the giveaway, I had 27 new subscribers. I only started with 70. Because of this, it is only fair that authors take turns hosting and organizing the giveaway. I did ask the other authors if they had seen an uptick in newsletter subscribers and one author replied that she had gotten a couple of new subscribers and some sales on a short story she hadn't advertised. Another author said her blog post about the giveaway got "great reader interaction." So even if you're not the organizer, you will gain reader attention by participating.
  • A slight uptick in Instagram followers. Since liking the graphic on Instagram was a way to gain entries, it's no wonder a few readers decided to follow my feed as well (although it certainly was not a requirement on the widget). Honestly, I'm terrible at marketing my authorness via IG. It's mostly photos of my kids. 

So that's it, folks. Phew! I'm done.

What say you, dear readers and writers? Do you like collective giveaways? Do you have any tips or tricks that I've neglected to mention? Please sound off in the comments.

Monday, October 12, 2015


It seems that I’m up for the next installment of the Back Jacket Hack-Job. I decided to take Tara’s approach and use one of the most recent books I’ve read -- The Martian. So here we go.

5 . . . 4 . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1

Mark Watney is no Neil Armstrong.
Armstrong only had about 2.5 hours on the moon. Watney is trying to find a way to stay alive on Mars for 4 years.

Mark Watney is no Christopher Columbus.
Columbus had three ships, with a full crew each, designed to sail long distances. Watney is alone and only has two land rovers that were designed for short excursions.

Mark Watney is no Angus MacGyver.
MacGyver had a variety of random materials to hack together a solution. And his Swiss Army Knife. Watney pretty much only has duct tape. And his own bodily excrements.

Mark Watney is no E.T.
E.T. had the tasty Reese’s Pieces. Watney only has a few potatoes.

Mark Watney is no John Travolta.
Travolta knows how to disco with the best of them. While Watney’s theme song could be Stayin’ Alive, he hates disco.

So who is Mark Watney?
Well, according to Watney, he’s f***ed.


~ Carrie

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Fall Equals Book Sales


Fall is my favorite season. What's better than snuggling up with a blanket and a book in front of the woodstove?

Well, I'll tell you. Book sales.

Every spring and fall my local library has a book sale. I'm always too busy in the spring with gardening, writing (remember the Seasons of Writing post by Beth?), and a few volunteer projects that I never end up making it to the spring sale, much to my wallet's approval. But I happened to be in the vicinity of the sale last weekend after work, which meant I also didn't have my kiddos in tow.

So, of course, I stopped. And I spent some money.

I mostly spent money on books for my homeschoolers, including Charlotte's Web and a few junior novels for Disney Channel movies my daughter loves. But I also bought these:

I happen to be a HUGE Cassandra Clare fan, so I snagged the book without a second thought. And it's in amazing condition! I could stare at it all day if I wasn't so interested in actually reading it...

I also picked up The Giver, which I read in elementary school years ago, because I figured it would be a great discussion book for my daughter and me. Also, I feel like I'd appreciate this book much more as an adult choosing to read it, rather than a child being told I have to read it, especially because I have a special appreciation for dystopia now.

And because I'm also an audiobook lover, I had to grab these:

I haven't actually started the Dresden Files yet, but my brother insists I need to and the first book glares at me every time I step into my office. I took proactive measures in buying it, knowing I'll get there at some point. And Neil Gaiman...I don't believe he requires an explanation.

I feel like I lucked out. My daughter would actually say the best find was Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on DVD (she reminded me almost daily that we didn't have it).

Do you visit book sales? If you do, what's the first thing you look for?

Monday, October 5, 2015

Eeek! Put Some Pages Up For Critique!

Yikes! My turn to put some pages up for critique! I'm not usually shy about critiques, because other people instantly see things I can't, but the below cartoon made me smile.

Here are a few pages of a YA work in progress I'm dying to dive back into. It's a big departure for me, so be merciless!

Jimmy Jay is f-ing crazy.
Jimmy runs her red-painted fingernail over the “c”, written in green crayon on the dull grey door. The wax flakes off, covering her middle finger like Christmas confetti.
“Gemmaline, you about finished in there?” Momma pounds on the metal door. She’s the only person on the planet who calls Jimmy Gemmaline. It’s a pretty name, but it sure doesn’t sound pretty coming from Momma’s mouth when she’s annoyed. “I swear to God, I’m gonna’ get the extra key from Sal if you don’t open this damn door. You know I gotta’ be to work.”
“I’m coming,” Jimmy says, her voice dull, still distracted by the writing on the wall. It looks like it was written by someone in elementary school. Third grade, if she had to guess, when girls are still too timid to say the F-word out loud, but not afraid to be mean. She wishes she could scrape it off before Momma sees. Before she uses it against her.
“I mean it, Gemmaline. I’m about two seconds away from…”
Jimmy shoves the metal lock across with a thwack and swings open the door, letting it bang against the dingy tile wall. Momma’s standing there, eyes blazing, hands on hips. “I’m done, alright? Keep your pants on.”
Momma laughs. The sound is deep and comes out more like a bark than a laugh. “That’s rich.”
Coming from you. That’s what Momma means, even if she doesn’t say it.
Jimmy rolls her eyes, but doesn’t say anything as Momma hoists her duffel over her shoulder and slams the bathroom door behind her. The “L” in “Ladies” is mostly faded away. Jimmy’s pretty sure it was that way when Momma moved them into Birch Meadow, and that has to be ten years ago now. Jimmy sometimes wishes she had a better memory for when she was little so at least she could remember her father a little bit, but it’s probably a blessing she doesn’t. It’d be damn depressing to know how long exactly they’d been living in the tiny one-bedroom “guest house” on the Pepperdine estate that was only ever meant to be a place for stopping off until Momma got her shit together.
Jimmy knows exactly how long they’ve been without hot water, though. Seventeen days. Seventeen days they’ve been hauling their stuff to Sal’s Truck Stop to wash their identical dishwater-blonde hair. Sal’s only got one ladies’ shower. There aren’t that many lady truckers when it comes down to it, Sal says, and Jimmy figures he’s right, since the only people she’s ever seen in the showers are her and Momma. Still, it’d sure be nice to take a shower without Momma banging down the door.
Not that she can’t come on her own, but there’s something skeevy about showering in a truck stop, no matter how you look at it and Momma on the other side of that door is better than the alternative. Whatever that might be. Jimmy doesn’t let herself think about that much.
Sometimes she skips out. Boils water on the little two-burner stovetop and fills up the bath, but that takes forever and she can’t condition her hair because it just ends up looking stringy. Last week she seriously thought about knocking on the door of the big house and seeing if she could use a shower. Momma says they’ve got seven bathrooms. What would be the harm?
But then if Regina Pepperdine told Momma, there’d be hell to pay. Cause even though they “go way back” it’s clear their history is mostly that. History. Otherwise, Momma would insist someone fix the hot water instead of giving that fake laugh and the “oh, whenever you get around to it” she gave to Mr. Pepperdine when he knocked on their door seventeen days ago and told her they’d be out of hot water for a spell because a main had burst. Or something.
Jimmy doesn’t know the exact problem. She just knows it’s been seventeen days.
Jimmy fixes the straps on her backpack over her shoulders and pulls her wet hair from underneath, letting it fan across the top of the pack. There’s a breeze tonight. It’ll be dry before she meets Rex, so she’ll be able to pull it up. He likes it off her neck, says she has a neck like a gazelle. She’s pretty sure he means giraffe, but maybe not. Rex has some weird ideas, but she’s learned not to ask because God forbid, he’ll try to explain and Rex is definitely at his best when he’s not talking.

It’s her turn to bring snacks, so she veers across the parking lot towards the shop. She’s got five dollars she pinched from Momma’s dresser, which is enough for some Slim Jim’s – Rex’s favourite – and a bag of Frito’s to share. If she takes the Slim Jim’s without paying, she’ll have enough for two Mountain Dews too, but she feels bad lifting stuff from Sal when they’re using his shower. Sometimes when she takes stuff, she tells herself she’ll pay Sal back when she gets some money of her own. Come in and drop a load of cash on the counter on her way out of town, kind of silent thank you and so long. Assuming she makes it out of town before she ends up dead or pregnant. She’s taking precautions against both, but things happen.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Banned Book Week

While banned book week is nearly over, it’s still a very important topic to mention. In a world where a large portion of the population seems to be offended by one thing or another, tensions (and opinions) can run high when discussing anything from politics to baby names and religion to what we choose to eat. Thankfully, we (well those of us in the U.S. and parts of Europe) are lucky to live in a place where we can exercise our freedom of speech. Mostly.
I say “mostly” because there are still parts of this country (referring to the U.S. from here on out) where it is thought to be acceptable to ban or prohibit people from reading certain books and learning about certain topics. And while there’s a wide spectrum on how people feel about banning books, reading and writing books regardless of content is protected under the first amendment of the constitution.
Many books are banned because the behavior and language is incongruent with the personal beliefs of the group that is doing the banning. Banning typically means that the book is not to be made readily available to community members via schools or libraries. Most of these challenges/bannings are initiated by parents or guardians and for reasons pertaining to sexual explicitness or offensive language. And since 1990, the year of 1995 had the most challenges/bannings with a total of 762 books. Below is a list of frequently challenged or banned books in the U.S. and their reason(s)...

Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl (Anne Frank) - Too Depressing
Harry Potter Series (J.K. Rowling) - Witchcraft, Bad Behavior
Howl (Allen Ginsberg) - Homosexuality
Eleanor & Park (Rainbow Rowell) - Profanity, Sexual Content
And Tango Makes Three (J. Richardson, P. Parnell) - Homosexuality
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky) - Inappropriate Behavior, Sexual Content, Offensive Language
Lady Chatterley's Lover (DH Lawrence) - Sexual Content
Brave New World (Aldous Huxley) - Sexual Content
Tropic of Cancer (Henry Miller) - Sexual Content, Homosexuality
The Satanic Verses (Salman Rushdie) - Blasphemy
Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov) - Sexual Content
Animal Farm (George Orwell) - Goes Against God (talking animals is unnatural)

...and perhaps the most ridiculous of all…

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (Bill Martin Jr.) - Banned because an author with the same name as this book’s author (Bill Martin, no relation)—who, to be clear, is an entirely different person—was a Marxist who wrote a different book about Marxism and people don’t know how to check their facts.

For more information on banned books please see

How do feel about banning books? Which banned books have you read and do you agree or disagree with their decision to be banned? Remember to please keep the conversation friendly and respectful!

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