Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Reading Year!

It's that time again! We reflect on all the books we read in 2015 and look ahead to what we can read in 2016! Hopefully you did read something this year. I know my read list was pretty short, even if my page count was high, thanks to George RR Martin. It's also a time to set new reading challenges, in which case I could use your help.

For myself, I'll be doing another reading challenge with my brother, only it looks like the Baron will be setting the rules to even the playing field- audiobooks have previously helped me where graphic novels have helped my brother. But what I really need help with is my daughter.

Lovely will be eight in February and has been reading novels above her grade level for a little over a year now. She's part way into the Harry Potter books and devours Roald Dahl. I'd like to set up a fun reading challenge for her to see how many novels she can get through this year, only I'm having a hard time deciding on incentives. You know, for every three to five books she reads, she gets X (no idea what X is yet). Or she'll receive a different thing for each level- after five books we'll take her out to eat, after ten books we'll take her to the movies, after fifteen books... See? I'm having a hard time deciding. She's a complete nerd (like her parents) and a bookworm (also like her parents) and she's motivated when it comes to reading.

So, any ideas here? I'm sort of running out of time to figure this out with it being New Year's Eve and all.

Speaking of which, I wish you all the best in 2016 in your reading (or writing) ventures!

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Pressure to Produce

It's that time again. Yes, it's the end of the year when everyone's had too much wine, too much food and (maybe) a little too much family togetherness. But it's also the time of year when everyone starts looking ahead, thinking about Goals and Plans. Intentionally capitalized for the importance they take on at this time of year.

I'm all about goals and plans (intentionally NOT capitalized b/c, well, I've got a few more days) and I'm thinking about my publishing schedule for 2016. I want to put out at least two books, with the possibility of a third. I tell non-writer friends this and they say, "Wow. You're really getting them out there." I tell writer friends and and they nod sagely. When they share their own goals and plans, they're almost always more aggressive than mine. For many of my romance writer friends, two books per year is nothing. Even romance writer extraordinaire, Jill Shalvis, published four books in 2015. What am I thinking, settling for only two?

Admittedly, romance isn't the only genre where being prolific is the norm rather than the exception. Mystery writer David Baldacci put out three books last year and I'm not even going to count how many James Patterson has written, although I think he's in a class by himself (and has a team of ghostwriters to boot). Still, for many writers, one book per year (or less) is the norm. I saw a tweet by Sarah Dessen the other night where she was saying she hadn't written anything significant since the release of her last book in May 2015! My first thought -- that would totally stress me out! Following quickly by, "Why?'

Where does this pressure to produce come from? A certain amount of it is self-imposed, and there's definitely a fear of becoming irrelevant. But are fans so fickle that we have to win them back with every new book? Certainly we have to make sure each book is as good as, if not better than, the last, but can we do that and write seven books per year? And, if so, at what cost?

I wish I knew the answers, but this whole topic leads to more questions for me -- especially in regards to Goals and Plans. Should I be more aggressive in my goals? Is two books per year enough? Who decides what enough is, anyway?

I'd love for you to weigh in, both as readers and writers. What do you expect from your favorite authors (assuming quality is a given)? Does the number of books you expect per year differ between genres you read? As a writer, do you feel a pressure to publish or risk extinction and starting from zero if you wait too long? And how long is too long anyway?

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays everyone! This year, here in upstate New York, we’ve been having record high temperatures so it’s been especially difficult to get into the spirit. I’ve had to employ the use of my favorite books, movies, music, and activities to get myself into the celebratory mood. Now I don’t know about you but every year there are some books, movies, and of course music that I have to read, watch, or listen to during the holidays.

First of all, books. I might not get to it every year, but Harry Potter is kind of a must-read for me. The majority of the books came out in the summer but the winter trips to Hogsmeade, the blustery towers, and the homemade sweaters from Mrs. Weasley make me want to curl up next to a fireplace with some hot tea. I also like to read The Polar Express and The Snowman, they might be children’s books, but they are classics.
Next up, movies. There are so many Christmas movies that I really have to pick and choose which ones I want to watch. There are four must-watches, however. Home Alone, Home Alone 2, Elf, and Love, Actually. It just doesn’t feel like Christmas until I watch them.
As for music, while there are hundreds upon hundreds of holiday songs out there sang by just as many artists and bands, I cannot get into the spirit without hearing Dominic the Donkey. Forget Silent Night, Little Saint Nick, Christmastime Is Here, Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree and all the rest. It’s just not Christmas until I hear the joyous bleat of Dominic helping Santa deliver gifts. Often times this means that I have to go searching for the song but I will not rest until I hear it.

As for activities, there are two that never fail to remind me that it’s Christmas. The first is decorating gingerbread houses with my best friend. We make it into a competition and have our friends vote on Facebook and choose the winner. Loser has to buy the winner a drink. And finally, the Elf on the Shelf. The terrifying, dead-eyed, little mischief maker that haunts my facebook news feed. Starting December 1st, I need to approach Facebook with extreme prejudice. His glazed-over eyes and sociopathic smile never fail to make me wish that Christmas would just hurry up and get here already!
Now that you know mine, what are some of your holiday musts?

Monday, December 21, 2015

Resolution Resolution

As I mentioned in my last post, I haven't been writing much lately. But with the new year quickly approaching, it's time to start thinking about new year's resolutions. My number one resolution in 2016 will be to finish editing my WIP once and for all and send it to some agents already!

As I prepare to get back in the saddle again, I figured I'd get my writing space in order and put up a vision board or two. So here are a few pics of what I've come up with so far. Feel free to let me know if I'm missing something (like a mythical chair that will keep you trapped in it until you've finished your book or maybe a magic editor or something... hey, a guy can wish can't he?).

My writing desk:

Notice that my browser is opened to Across The Board as it should be. Also notice the box of tissues for those occasional crying fits. And I always have to write with a candle for some reason-- and music too.
My dream board:
Complete with $2,000,000 check written out to myself for my first book deal (hey, it's my dream board...) , my dream home and a Writer's Digest cover where I hope to have my face someday. The sticker relates to my current project, which has a lot of NASA stuff in it.

My book all printed out:

It's pretty long right now, but I plan to cut it down. But hey, at least it's a completed book, am I right?  

This is "The Oculus":

I don't know why I'm showing you this. I guess because it's really funky and I wanted you to see it. This is the back wall of my office. My house was built in the 70's and has some quirks. After a full remodel of the upstairs my wife and I decided to keep this thing in the wall, which we affectionately refer to as "The Oculus". We think it's Feng Shui or something, so we didn't want to mess up the flow of the house. Hopefully it works for me!
My writing companion, "Courage":

Every writer should have a dog or cat to keep them company on those lonely nights on the old keyboard. Courage is an oldie but a goody. I woke him up from a nap to take this pic, so you better like it.
That's it. Thanks for taking a look at my writing space, everybody. And wish me luck with my new year's resolution!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Anatomy of a Book Launch

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
So, my new novel launched this week.  ("Yay, hooray, boo, hiss, who said that?")  That's right, for the first time ever you can actually own a copy of EVERY KINGDOM DIVIDED.
Go ahead and click on the cover.  You know you want to...

I was just going to leave it at that and just make this a book release announcement post.  But you know what?  That's boring.  And it's not helping you gain any knowledge.  (Except about the existence of my book, which...did you buy it yet?)  But I digress. 

Let's talk about what to do when you have a book launch.  Now, I don't have all the answers, so this is going to be a bit more of an interactive post than usual.  Let me know in the comments what best practices you've found that work for you.

So here are some of the things you can do to give your new book a happy birthday:

1.)  Book Release Party - If you have a large publisher, they may be throwing this for you.  I attended the book launch for John Dixon's PHOENIX ISLAND and there were hundreds of people there.  There were drinks and hors d'oeuvres and they sold out of copies of the hardback and had to start selling IOUs.  (Don't worry, I got my autographed copy in the mail a few weeks later from John.  Not like that dirty bastard Bill Braddock.  Still waiting to hear back from him.)

And that's great work if you can get it.  My own launch party for BRAINEATER JONES was considerable more modest.  Maybe two dozen of my good friends and some chili.  Still, everybody there wanted to buy an autographed book, so I did get some paper in mitts that way.  And then either way when you post photos of your party on Facebook it's not marketing, it's just sharing your life, right?  :)

2.)  Spam Your Mailing List - You do have a mailing list, right?  As much as I despise mailing lists and ignore newsletters myself, all the experts agree that there is no replacement for a traditional, old fashioned mailing list.  Although I can (and have) written whole blogposts on the subject, what it boils down to is this: social media comes and goes but e-mail addresses almost never change.  Think about what value having a million fans on MySpace is doing you now.  On the other hand, I have the same e-mail address I've had since middle school.

Mailchimp and Campayn are two free services that can help you build your e-mail list and there are plenty of paid services that'll help you get started.  Remember to build your list in your off time.  Share it and offer incentives for joining.  I've heard the statistic that all you need is ten thousand people willing to buy your every release for you to make a living as an author.  Imagine if every time you had a release you could e-mail ten thousand people about it directly.  Or a hundred thousand.  Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?  Well, you'd better get started now then.

3.)  Hit Up Social Media - Sometimes I stagger this.  Maybe I'll tweet one day, post to my FB author page the next, then share from my author page to my personal page the next.  And don't forget if you are a member of any Facebook groups you can share your good news there (if it's appropriate - don't spam your dachshund lover group with your erotic robot novel.)  What about you?  Do you shotgun blast all your social media outlets at once?  Or stagger it?

4.)  Thunderclap - I've seen a lot of people recently using Thunderclap lately to garner a little interest for their releases.  Basically Thunderclap lets your friends sign up to all share a tweet and/or FB post on your behalf.  It's usually canned, but, of course, your friends have the option to modify it.  If you want to get a hashtag trending and you're not Ashton Kutcher or Taylor Swift this is probably your best bet.

5.)  Goodreads Events - Goodreads won't let you suggest your own books to your friends.  Kind of lame, right?  Well, it is a rule that saves you from endless, endless promotional spam, so I don't object to it too strongly.  Besides, there's an easy way around it.  Assuming you don't abuse this privilege (although I guess people will find ways to abuse anything) you can invite all of your Goodreads friends to an "event" - that is, your virtual book release.  When folks say "yes" they're attending it shows up on their feeds, which gets you more exposure, but even if they just ignore the notification at a minimum you got your release in front of eyes.

6.)  Virtual Launch Party - Shana Festa wrote a pamphlet about this which I suggest you check out for best practices.  Even if you don't, though, you've probably been invited to, if not participated in enough of these on Facebook to at least have an inkling of what they are.  For a few hours on FB there are games, prizes, caption contests, memes, all that kind of stuff.  (Whenever I'm giving away gifts for someone else's virtual launch party I always make sure that signing up for my mailing list is a prerequisite.  :) )  These take quite a bit of effort to put together, but if you're an author with any kind of a foot in the community you should be able to get plenty of participants to offer their books as prizes.

7.)  Gladhanding - When all else the flesh.  Tell your co-workers.  (Are you "out" as an author at work?  I could write another blogpost about that and probably should.)  Did you tell your family?  Call Grandma?  "Conveniently" PM or text a friend you haven't in a while?

"Whtz up w/ u?"
"NM.  New book out.  U?"

And so forth.

8.)  Post About it on Your Group Blog - Tee hee.

So how about it?  What are your methods for a successful book launch?

Monday, December 14, 2015

Back Jacket Hack-Job #7: Artificial Absolutes

A post by Mary Fan
My turn to do a Back Jacket Hack-Job! For those of you just tuning in, this is our monthly segment in
which we purposely write atrocious back cover copy for books. Picking a book was harder than I thought! Since the new Star Wars movie is coming out at the end of the week (yes, I already have my tickets, and yes, they're for the midnight show, and yes, I was one of the crazies who bought them right when they went on sale), I thought about doing one of the Star Wars Expanded Universe novels. But mocking them felt like sacrilege, especially since they've all been blown away from the canon, just as Alderaan was blown away. Sad times...

Anyway, there's only one space-related book I knew I wouldn't offend anyone by mocking, and that is my own, ARTIFICIAL ABSOLUTES. So here goes...

Jane is bored. Bored, bored, bored. She's stuck in a boring office job, where she has to deal with boring office tasks. She barely talks to her boring older brother. Not because she doesn't like him or anything, but because they're both so boring, they have nothing to talk about. And she's dating a boring seminary student. Well, that last part isn't a bad thing. She actually kind of likes Adam. Even though he spends all day talking about boring philosophical stuff, like "Do AIs count as people?" Anyway, you'd think living in a far-future space opera world, with Star Wars-y spaceships and Matrix-y virtual reality, would be exciting, but Jane doesn't get to do any of the fun stuff.

And then everything goes to hell.

Her boyfriend gets his ass kidnapped and her brother gets his ass framed for murder all within twenty-four topsy-turvy hours. So it's up to Jane to save both their asses. Except she has no idea how to do any of the badass stuff usually required for ass-saving. Her aim sucks, her piloting skills are eh, and her idea of a strategy is "screw it, let's just go!" Things only get worse when she stumbles into a bigger conspiracy that requires that she and her brother save the entire galaxy's collective ass.

Well, at least she's not bored anymore.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Scouting the possibilities on Kindle Scout

Happy Chanukkah, everyone! What are you doing on this fifth night? Me? I'll be continually refreshing my Kindle Scout campaign.

As if I don't have enough to obsess about, I went and submitted my YA mystery, Dead and Breakfast, to Kindle Scout in hopes of getting an Amazon publishing contract. As of a week ago, this had not been my plan. I was finishing up edits and had been all ready to self-publish the novel before Christmas. But then my writer amiga, Alison, had her romance novel selected by Kindle Press and I decided to give Kindle Scout a try. It means delaying publishing six weeks, but I think that's worth the risk. If selected, I get a $1500 advance and Amazon's marketing support -- both of which I need.

Here's how it works:

You upload your completed, and professionally edited manuscript with your cover art, bio, and author photo to Kindle Scout. Once approved, Amazon will email you a link and a campaign start date. This happens quickly. I uploaded my manuscript on Dec. 8th and my campaign went live on the 10th. This gives you time to notify your newsletter subscribers, create jazzy graphics in Canva, and develop a marketing plan.

See, it's not enough to upload your manuscript and forget about it -- you need nominations to get on Amazon's radar. And to get nominations, people need to know your work is there. My plan is to tell my newsletter subscribers and scream it out on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Nominations and page views help get your book on the Hot and Trending List, which gets the attention of passer-byers. Perhaps, random readers take a look at your excerpt and cover and nominate your book too. What's in it for them? A free book. Any title selected by Kindle Press is gifted to those who nominated it. Campaigns last 30 days.

Kindle Press is not to be mistaken for Amazon's publishing imprints such as 47North, Thomas & Mercer, or Montlake. Those who do get selected shouldn't expect that kind of marketing attention either. But a $1500 advance is nothing to sneeze at. I haven't made $1500 on all my novels combined. (That's an advance against royalties.) The money would enable me to pay for the covers and editing for the other two books in the trilogy.

There's a fine print you must read before submitting. Please do so before considering Kindle Scout. Information on print, audio, and international rights are explained.You can also read Amy Jarecki's post on ATB about her Kindle Scout experience. Her book was picked up by Kindle Press last year.

YA is a tough market for indies, but I'm hoping that by submitting to Kindle Scout, I have a shot at gaining more visibility for my books. And if I'm not selected, that's okay. I'll go ahead and self-publish Dead and Breakfast in January -- just slightly behind schedule.
If you're feeling generous this holiday season, please check out my Kindle Scout campaign. I can use all the help I can get. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Eek! Put Some Pages Up For Criteek! #5

Yikes, it's my turn to put up some pages! This is from my current work in process. Writing in the voice of a 15-year-old boy has made me nervous, but I'm also excited about the challenge. As always on these eek! segments, don't hold back on your comments!

~ Carrie

I stared at her eyes, framed by the rearview mirror, and tried to remember the way I used to feel when she looked at me. My first memory was of those hazel eyes staring down at me. They were the eyes that had comforted me my whole life. One look in them and I knew that, no matter what, at least one person in this world loved me.
     Somehow I had gotten to a point where I felt a strong urge to punch the face those eyes belonged to. It was probably a good thing she no longer looked at me for longer than a millisecond. It made it easier to resist the urge. Not that I would have actually punched her, regardless of how angry I felt. It was one of my dad’s ‘real men’ rules.
     A real man never hits a woman—especially his mother.
     I’d learned all about that lesson when I was about eleven. I was mad because my mom had taken my game away, and I pushed her while trying to get it back. I didn’t mean to do it so hard, but I had forgotten that when I became as tall as her I also became stronger than her. That night, my dad lit up my butt as he delivered his lesson.
     My mom’s eyes finally flicked in my direction, and I didn’t miss my opportunity to repeat myself.
     “One hundred and thirteen!” I said each syllable slowly, making sure she’d heard me correctly. She only rolled her eyes before concentrating on the road in front of her. “Mom! Did you hear me? Make her stop.”
     “Make me stop what?”
     I glanced at Molly, irritated. “You know what.”
     Mom let out a loud sigh from the driver’s seat. I crossed my arms, letting out my own sigh, and stared out my window. The sun was fading in the distance, casting a strange orange glow on the clouds near the horizon. It was the same sun and the same sky, yet somehow the sunset looked different than it did back home.
     I was lost in my memories of home when Molly’s voice cut in. “Are we there yet?”
     I looked at my watch. Only five minutes had passed. “One hundred and fourteen!”
     “Benjamin Riley Franklin, if you don’t stop counting I’m going to ground you for the entire summer!”
     “Ground me from what? I’ve already lost everything.” I wanted to say that she already took everything, because that was the truth. I didn’t lose my dad, my home, my baseball team, my friends. All those things were taken from me, without warning.
     “I’m sure I can figure something out.”
     “Seriously, Mom. How can you be annoyed by my counting, but not her constantly asking when we’re going to be there?”
     “She’s eight. You’re fifteen.”
     I hated that answer. It wasn’t even an answer, but it was the same one she gave for just about every reason why Molly could do something I couldn’t.
     “If you let me sit up front, I’ll stop counting.”
     She looked at me through the mirror again. I could see that I had pushed her too far, making her angry. I felt a satisfied grin try to surface. Not because I was happy that I had upset her—I actually didn’t like doing that—but because she had finally looked at me for longer than a millisecond. I turned back to my window when the only feeling I could find reflected in her eyes was disappointment.
     “Is it too much to ask for you to sit back there and entertain your sister? If you would pay attention to her, she’d probably stop asking when we’ll be there.”
     I had no idea what she expected me to do, and it pushed my anger to the limit. I had to clench my fists to keep from striking the back of her set. “How am I supposed to entertain her? She just plays on the tablet and she won’t share it!”
     “Then do something else and ignore her.”
     “Like what? There’s nothing for me to do except read. Yet I can’t read because it’s getting too dark out, and my reading light distracts you. Why can’t I just sit up front?”
     Mom shook her head. “How would sitting up front improve your situation? The lighting up here is the same as back there.”
     “My situation would be improved because I’d be more comfortable! My legs are practically numb from being cramped back here—because I had to sit behind you so Molly didn’t have to sit in the sun—and her stupid tutu keeps scratching my leg!”
     “Hey, my tutu isn’t stupid!”
     “Benjamin, last warning! Just stop, please!” Mom hit the steering wheel with the heel of her hand a few times.
     “Mommy, Ben called my tutu stupid!” Molly sounded like she was about to cry. I cringed, certain that I’d be the one to blame for her tears.
     “It’s okay, honey. It’s just because he’s a boy. All boys think tutus are stupid. Why don’t you start a movie? We should be at the hotel in the time it takes you to watch one movie.”
     Molly sniffed hard and wiped her eyes before pulling up a movie on the tablet. It was the most annoying one she had, made even more annoying by the fact that she’d already watched it twice on the trip. I pulled on my headphones, even though the battery on my phone had died a few hours before. I became frustrated again at Mom’s insistence that I didn’t need to get a car charger for it. At least she let me get the good headphones I wanted, and they slightly muffled the noise from Molly’s movie. I glanced at my little sister, her face lit up with a rainbow of colors projecting from the tablet.
     I knew I shouldn’t be mad at her. She was just as affected as me by everything that had happened. But I couldn’t help feeling the opposite. I was jealous of how everyone treated her through the whole ordeal.
     Molly needs extra attention right now.
     Molly doesn’t fully understand what’s happening.
     If that was the case, then why had my parents told her the truth when they didn’t tell me anything?
     As I watched Molly smile at her movie, I thought about the night my dad left. He looked at me and said what he always said before he left for a business trip.
     “Don’t forget, you’re the man of the house while I’m gone. Look out for your mother and sister.”
     That was it. Then he turned and walked out the door. I hadn’t learned the truth until the next day at dinner when I asked Mom when he’d be back.
     Mom had said nothing.
     It was Molly who said, “He’s not coming back. He doesn’t live here any more, remember?”
     Her words hit me like a brick right in the chest. I could feel tears start to prick at my eyes as she continued to talk, but I forced them back. Crying would have been a violation of another of my dad’s ‘real men’ rules.
     Real men don’t cry, especially in front of other people.
     That was the moment I started resenting Molly. She received a full on good-bye conversation with an explanation, a new stuffed animal, hugs and kisses, and promises of sleepovers in his new apartment.
     All I got was his standard ‘be the man’ good-bye message.
     It drove me crazy that Molly could view the entire situation as an adventure. She was actually excited about moving to Podunk, Indiana. She thought it would be cool to have two homes with a bedroom in each—one room would be painted pink and the other purple. She loved the idea of having two birthday parties and two Christmas trees—and the presents that would come with each. She talked incessantly about all the new friends she was going to meet and how she was certain her new school would be better than the old one. She thought living with Grandma and Grandpa Asher for the summer would be “so fun.”
     I had always thought siblings were supposed to fight on the same side in the war against the stupid crap that parents did. She should have been angry. Like me.
     She was upset for about a day when she learned that she would miss her dance recital because of the move. When Mom told her she could wear the stupid tutu for as long as she wanted, her world wasn’t only back to normal it was better than ever.
     Molly got to wear the tutu, use the tablet exclusively, and ask annoying questions as many times as she wanted. She got extra hugs, ice cream sundaes, bedtime stories, and the truth.
     I got to be a man.
     But I didn’t want to be a man. I wanted to be a teenager who was angry because his parents got divorced. And I wanted my mom to love me despite my anger. I wanted her to remember that she promised she would always love me—no matter what.
     It hadn’t taken me long to realize that divorce was strong enough to break any promise.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Holiday Shopping for the Bookworm

On Monday, Brenda shared with us the only holiday book-giving guide you'll ever need this year. As a follow-up, I'm here to help with holiday shopping for all the bookworms in your life. You know, besides just giving them more books or money for books.

1. Book-inspired jewelry. One of my favorite things about being a bookworm is connecting with other bookworms. How are we to connect without some sort of Bat Signal? Book jewelry. Check out BlueLambCreations (also on Facebook!) for all your book-inspired jewelry needs! For example, check out these awesome necklaces!

2. Bookmarks. I know some people call these quitter strips, but, hey, sometimes real life must go on. You know, work, food, children, etc. So give the gift of never having to lose your place again. A trusted book friend suggested custom bookmarks by DesignsbyLeesa. I also have some gorgeous bookmarks made by BlueLambCreations. Also, a wonderfully geeky mama like myself suggested DIY Benedict Cumberbatch and David Tennant bookmarks. 

3. T-shirts. I have this goal of one day making myself a bookworm t-shirt quilt, which led me to create a Pinterest board to save all the shirts I'd love to feature in this quilt. Some examples (1, 2, 3): 


4. Book lights. Most of my reading is done after dark, once my kiddos are sleeping and can't interrupt me. I'm fortunate that my Kindle Paperwhite is backlit, but my daughter doesn't have the same luxury while reading her physical books. 

5. Personal Library Kit, like this one from Knock Knock (thanks, Tara, for the recommendation!). If your bookworm loves to share their beloved books, they need this. 

6. Bookshelves. This is likely so obvious, most people don't think about it. But we book hoarders are forever trying to find space for our babies. The struggle is real and I'm sure your bookworm would be appreciative of nifty floating shelves. Also, book ends for those shelves would be a fantastic add-on! 

Anything I missed? I'd love to know what you're gifting to the bookworms in your life! 

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