Thursday, February 27, 2020

Getting Over Crushing Disappointment: A how-to guide

Good morning, fine folks. It's KGG, coming atcha from a very dry Poconos. This is the first year in a loooooong time where there is no snow on the ground. Not one flake. Nada. In fact, a few days ago, it was sixty degrees! My kids went out to play. In February. Wearing sweatshirts. I feel bad being so happy about it because of climate change, but man, do I hate snow. Anyway, small pleasures.

So recently, and I mean very recently (like days ago), I received disappointing news. My manuscript had been rejected at the acquisitions stage for a big publisher. I received a lovely email from the editor with praise and an invitation to submit future work, but the news still stung. I wouldn't be a human being if I wasn't massively bummed. No matter how much someone tries to temper expectations, they still can't help but imagine how their Publishers Marketplace announcement will read. Again, I'm human.

Now it's typically not proper etiquette to announce submission rejections, and I certainly don't suggest you do that (especially via Twitter) but I am not on submission. I am not even agented. I was able to submit to the editor directly via referral. It was a special situation, and I am grateful for both my friend and the editor who was willing to take the time to consider my work.

But there is a takeaway here, not just for me, but for you. You see, publishing is a difficult industry. It can make fortunes and break hearts. It can be both elevating and soul crushing. Business and art really are strange bedfellows. It amazes me how any of us end up here at all.

So in light of my blech news, I thought I would share my guide on how to best get over disappointment. Because it isn't the end of the world. It just feels that way.

1. Feel free to wallow

There is no rule that says you can't simmer in self-pity. Can't marinate in melancholy. Can't dabble in doubt. You totally can. I give you permission. Just don't let it take over your life. Mourn your loss for a little while, and then work toward the light.

Speaking of work...

2. Dive back into that project, or start a new one

Work is good for the soul. I took a few months off from writing because of reasons and if I had just kept working, I'd be done by now. It's really hard to dwell on the past when you're moving forward. No better way to get over a breakup then dating someone new. So date that new manuscript. Let it take you out to dinner; tell you you're pretty. Just move on.

3. Remember that all roads are bumpy

Getting turned down by an editor or agent is not failure. It's simply one step in a long journey. Getting to acquisitions is the furthest I have ever gone in a traditional publishing career. And it's a huge accomplishment that signifies I am making great strides. Someone saw potential in my work. Someone else will too one day.

4. Get communal

Oftentimes disappointment is a difficult hurdle to get over because we feel so alone. How can so-and-so understand my struggles when they're published and I'm not? Except we know that is not true. All writers have been told NO countless times. Before you stew in your solitude, jump online and connect with other writers who are going through similar struggles. Batting about your pain with colleagues will eventually lessen it.

5. Take control

One of the most frustrating aspects of the traditional publishing business isn't just the waiting game, but the lack of control. You can write a great story, but you can't make agents and editors read it or consider it faster. Once it's in someone else's inbox, all you can do is wait. [Why is it so slow? And what is everyone doing?] I've self-published quite a few novels and I love the immediacy of getting my work out in the world. If you're committed to traditional publishing, might I suggest self-publishing a short story or two? Or write some fan-fiction and throw it up on AO3. It's rewarding to see your work resonate with readers, especially when you've been rejected.

6. Buy yourself something nice

We often treat ourselves in celebration, but why not buy ourselves something as a pick-me-up? Not gonna lie, I had plans to book myself a facial if I had gotten this deal, but failed to make the appointment when I got the news. But all that does is teach me that I'm only allowed special treats when I have success. Only I did the hard work regardless. So book a massage. Buy those fancy pens. Order that handmade journal off Etsy. Sure hard work is its own reward. But so is a spa day.

7. Embrace the bad

A friend of mine often tells me that there are no absolutes in publishing. One year, an author is a New York Times bestseller; the next, they are being dropped by their publisher. This business is unpredictable, so don't try to predict it. And don't think once you've gotten some success, it will keep. It may not. Be prepared for disappointment and you'll never be disappointed. Huh.

8. Change the system

And lastly, if something is repeatedly not working, then work around it. Make a big change. Be it your agent, genre, writing environment, process--whatever. Remember, we are not helpless. Fix the problem. Don't dwell on it.

I hope this helps someone as much as it helped me writing it. Feel your feelings, but then move on. You've got work to do.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Why Write With Background Music?

I got a dog a few weeks ago. It’s cool to see the world through a puppy’s eyes, wondering how she’ll react to any new thing for the first time—music, for example.

I constantly listen to music, but I hesitated the first time I went to stream some tunes while the dog chomped on a toy beside me. Would it distract her from the important task of beheading her plush pig? Would she like the new Ozzy Osborne album, or prefer his older material (perhaps Bark at the Moon)?

This entire post is an excuse to post this picture of my dog, who lies here while I write. LOOK AT HER.

It turns out that, as with most things, it depends.

Most dogs just ignore music, which says something about their tolerance for our noisy and confusing human antics. There’s a tendency for some dogs to react angrily to metal, be soothed by classical, and have a “meh” reaction to pop—which says something about how dogs aren’t all that different from humans after all.

My dog seemed momentarily confused by Ozzy’s voice magically emanating from the bookshelf, but soon she was back to having a snooze.

That got me thinking about another type of creature that likes naps, is easily distracted, and has mixed reactions to music: the writer.

I know some writers need silence while they’re writing. Others are distracted by words more than the music itself, so it’s instrumental songs only.

Personally, I have music on whenever I’m writing. During the scientific writing of my day job, I’m not picky; usually it’s that meh pop music, or whatever the algorithms decide to deliver to my ears today. When writing novels, it’s different. I like to match the mood of the music to the mood of the story. For example, someone on Spotify created a 20-hour playlist inspired by David Lynch that has been a good fit for my recent writing. My novel Stars and Other Monsters was explicitly influenced by listening to Lady Gaga’s The Fame Monster over and over; it’s a very vampire-y album.

Lyrics are fine for me. Occasionally a line in a song will provide inspiration for a line in the novel, the same way passing strangers can provide inspiration for characters while writing at a coffee shop.

I know others (like friend of the blog Nilah) go so far as to create specific playlists for specific projects, and Mary Fan even wrote a song to include in her novel Windborn! I can’t help but think that a clarity of vision cutting across various media must help the end result feel like its own thing.

What about you? Do you (or your dog) write with music, or let only the tappy-tap of your keyboard accompany your writing?

P.T. Phronk
A post by P.T. Phronk,
of Forest City Pulp fame

Friday, February 21, 2020

A Behind the Scenes Look at Book Covers with Erica Lucke Dean
Today's post is inspired by some sub-tweeting I was following on Twitter. A romance author posted in a vague way about the book cover of an upcoming release from a prominent, traditional romance publisher. This author expressed her dismay about the quality of the new book's cover, saying it looked as though it had been put together in a rush with little thought or consideration and lots of bad photo-shopping.

Those are the kinds of complaints I hear about self-published and indie books all the time (although they're not as true as they used to be), but when a traditional publisher stumbles on cover development, it somehow seems especially egregious and disappointing.

Fortunately, I've been blessed to work with several publishers who do recognize the value of a good cover. One of those publishers is Red Adept Publishing, with whom I've release a trilogy and a stand-alone romance. Today I'm welcoming my friend and fellow author, Erica Lucke Dean, to discuss the book cover design process. Erica primarily writes romance, both for Adults and Young Adults. She is also on Red Adept Publishing's book cover team, and she's an experienced graphic designer of her own, designing ads and book trailers for authors of many genres. (Check out some of her author services here:

Karissa: Welcome Erica!

Erica: Is this mic on? *tap tap* Are we live?

Karissa: We are live, so get ready for me to pelt you with a bunch of questions. So... I've talked with you on and off for a long time about the importance of covers. You're often the person I run to when I see a bad cover in the wild so that you can commiserate with me about all the things that went wrong with it.  What are your thoughts about the importance of a good cover?

Erica: Well, think about it. As much as we’d like to say they don’t, people really do judge a book by the cover. If you see someone walking around in ratty jeans and dirty shoes, you make a snap judgment about them whether you mean to or not. Books are the same thing. If you see a crappy cover, you’re going to assume the same level of attention was given to the contents on the inside.

If the author or publisher doesn’t spend a solid effort on the outside of the book, how can you be sure they’ve spent any effort on the inside?

Karissa: I agree. I think we've come to each other a few times saying, "'Don't judge a book by it's cover' is a lie." 

Erica: The cover is the first thing someone sees when discovering a new book. It has to grab them in order for them to flip it over and read the back.

Karissa: Exactly right. And then writing a blurb to keep them interested long enough to open the book and start reading is another challenge. But we'll save that for another day.

So, I don't know how it works in the big publishing houses, but you and I both have some experience with how it works at a smaller house like Red Adept. We've both been through the process of giving input on covers but you especially get a little more "behind the scenes" than I do as part of Red Adept's cover team. How does it all start?

Erica: It starts with a simple form the author fills out giving us some background on the book—plot, characters, genre—things like that. And what mood or tone the author believes their book should convey. They also add links to a few covers they feel match the genre and tone so the designer has a rough idea where to start.

Karissa: That's also similar to the process I went through not only with Red Adept but with Deranged Doctor Design when I commissioned them to re-do the covers of my Stormbourne Chronicles books. So, what happens next, after the form is submitted?

Erica: The form goes to the designer who comes up with a concept. Sometimes we brainstorm together, sometimes he has something great in mind. And once we have a draft that goes to a focus group for feedback.

Karissa: Tell me more about the focus group. For my Stormbourne Chronicles, I couldn't see what went on behind the scenes at the designer's office, so my focus group was you and Mary Fan. It was important to get feedback from other people who weren't as attached to my books as I was.

Erica: The focus group at Red Adept Publishing is made up of industry professionals... bloggers, editors, etc. People who read a lot. They’re asked to guess the genre based on the cover draft and give feedback on tone, etc. if they hate it, it’s back to the drawing board.

Karissa: And once the focus group approves, it goes back to the author for their feedback, right? This is a part of the process with which I'm a little more familiar. And let me tell you... waiting for that first glimpse of the cover is like being a little kid on Christmas Eve waiting for Santa Claus. The anticipation is intense!

Erica: Once we’re on the right track, we send to the author for their feedback. Sometimes we’ll need a few more tweaks, sometimes we’re good to go.

Karissa: What happens if the author is, let's say, "disappointed"?

Erica: The thing to remember is sometimes the author isn’t the best judge as to what will sell their book. They have an idea in mind, but sometimes that romanticized idea doesn’t match what sells in that genre.

I have had an instance—and keep in mind, this was before the focus group—where the cover really didn’t work, and the author was right to be disappointed. In this case, it was my cover. LOL.

When the first book in my Flames of Time series was in the cover queue, I had an idea for a cover that simply didn’t match the vision the cover team had at the time. And the cover they came up with was beautiful, but I didn’t believe it matched the genre. In the end, I was right, and we came up with a new cover. Enter the focus group and their feedback proved me right. The new cover is stunning, AND perfect for the genre.

"Old Cover"

"New Cover"
It wasn’t at the same time as the old cover was conceptualized. And I wasn’t on the cover team back
then... not that it would have mattered because as the author, I would have been considered biased.

Karissa: It must feel good to have a publisher who listens to their authors about these things. I know it's one of the reasons I love Red Adept so much. So, once the author gives their approval, that's basically it--off to formatting and other behind the scenes work that the publisher takes care of, unless the author is the publisher, of course.

Can you tell me a little more about the design team Red Adept uses? 

Erica: Glendon at Streetlight Graphics is a genius. He really is. He takes the idea and turns it into a dream cover. Just look at some of Red Adept’s fabulous covers.

Erica: When we get the covers right, and they're really good, we say they're worthy of the front table at Barnes and Noble. Quality book, quality cover.

Karissa: I totally agree, and think it's especially important to have a quality cover to stand out among the competition. And there's so much competition!

This would be a good time to mention that Streetlight Graphics is also the designer that helped fellow ATB Blogger, Mary Fan create her Starswept Trilogy covers. She has just this week revealed the cover for her final book Seize the Stars, coming August 2020. Aren't her covers gorgeous? Mary is an expert herself in book covers and she did a lot of work bringing these covers to life. Find out more about her cover shoot process, here:

Thanks for joining me today, Erica, and sharing your thoughts on the importance of a professional book cover and for giving us a little glimpse "behind the scenes" at the process of developing a cover.

More about today's guest:

After walking away from her career as a business banker to pursue writing full-time, Erica moved from the hustle and bustle of the big city to a small tourist town in the North Georgia Mountains where she lives in a 90-year-old haunted farmhouse with her workaholic husband, her 180lb lap dog, and at least one ghost.

When she’s not busy writing or tending to her collection of crazy chickens, diabolical ducks, and a quintet of piglets, hell bent on having her for dinner, she’s either reading bad fan fiction or singing karaoke in the local pub. Much like the characters in her books, Erica is a magnet for disaster, and has been known to trip on air while walking across flat surfaces.

How she’s managed to survive this long is one of life’s great mysteries.

Erica is represented by Kelly Peterson of Rees Literary Agency in New York.

Follow her on:

Monday, February 17, 2020

Women in Horror Month #8: Carmilla Voiez
Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

Hi, everybody!  For those of you who don't know, February is Women in Horror Month.  If you haven't been following along, I've been doing an interview series over on my personal blog.  But I thought today's guest was so exciting, that I had to introduce her to all of you fine people as well.  So let's get to it!

About Carmilla Voiez:

Carmilla Voiez is a proudly bisexual and mildly autistic introvert who finds writing much easier than verbal communication. A life long Goth, living with two kids, two cats and a poet by the sea.
She is passionate about horror, the alt scene, intersectional feminism, art, nature and animals. When not writing, she gets paid to hang out in a stately home and entertain tourists.

Carmilla grew up on a varied diet of horror. Her earliest influences as a teenage reader were Graham Masterton, Brian Lumley, and Clive Barker mixed with the romance of Hammer Horror and the visceral violence of the first wave of video nasties. Fascinated by the Goth aesthetic and enchanted by threnodies of eighties Goth and post-punk music she evolved into the creature of darkness we find today.

Her books are both extraordinarily personal and universally challenging. As Jef Withonef of Houston Press once said - "You do not read her books, you survive them."


SK:  How are you involved in the world of horror?

CV:  I write horror stories, usually with a dark fantasy slant. I have a series of novels and a collection of short stories already published, plus two graphic novels. I've also had short stories included in anthologies ranging from ZOMBIE PUNKS FUCK OFF (Weirdpunk Books) to ELEMENTS OF HORROR: WATER (Red Cape Publishing.) 

SK: Who or what terrifies you?

CV:  Fire. I suspect because it seduces and kills. When I was young, my uncle had an accident with a barbecue and a lot of paraffin, and the results were terrifying to behold. 

SK: Are there unique challenges to being a woman in horror or do you feel like gender is irrelevant?

CV:  I think women have unique stories to tell based on the experience of growing up female, just as people of colour have their own stories due to racism or cultural influences. Throughout literature men's voices have been historically prominent. That's certainly not exclusive to horror, but I feel the balance is shifting and that previous silenced voices are being heard, and that change is particularly exciting in horror. 

SK:  Who are your favorite female horror icons?

CV:  Barbie Wilde, The Soska Twins, Toni Morrison, Vampira and goddesses like Lilith and Kali.

SK:  What are you working on/promoting currently? Why should folks check it out?

CV:  I'm working on the final book of the STARBLOOD series, so I'm promoting the novels to anyone who hasn't started reading them yet. It's female driven, with bisexual main characters who are Gothic and messed up, strong and highly intelligent, yet fragile, complicated and frequently stupid. It's an adult read for mature audiences. Mixed in with plenty of visceral violence and psychological conflict, it deals with sex and sexuality, love, obsession and the idealisation of the objects of our desires. It's a massive story with a wide range of characters, and the first book won a few awards when it came out.


The rum bar seems a cosy setting to wait out the apocalypse. When the rain stops falling those who are still breathing are forced to reevaluate their lives. Edensun, The Bringer of Chaos, and Freya’s paths are destined to cross, but when they come face to face who will be the hero and who the villain? The Morrigu gather; they are told their fate is to save the world from Chaos, but they worship a goddess of war whose intentions are dubious. Only the witch in the tower block seems to know the truth and she is unwilling to share.

RIBBONS is the fourth book in the STARBLOOD series and an LGBT love story full of horror and dark fantasy

Friday, February 7, 2020

(Mostly) FREE Graphics Tools to Make Your Life Easier

Writers - especially indie writers - are busy multi-taskers. There are things we have to do - like write our books - and then things we also we have to do - like social media and advertising. Today I'm here with some tools to make your life easier on the social media/advertising front.

Graphics? Love to hate them, right? Canva's templates makes graphics easy, and if you're a graphics newbie I highly recommend. There are templates for Instagram, Facebook, even book covers. (I'm still all about a professional book cover, but if you want to do a mock up for your designer, this is a great resource.)

But wait...I need images, you say. Got you covered. I love Pexels for free stock images. They even have free stock video. Unsplash is another great one and the categories are very well organized.

Let's say you find the perfect image, but you hate the background. Remove it easy peasy with this tool. 

If you're a romance writer, I highly recommend the Tease Me Images Facebook group for paid images. Michelle, the owner of the group, crops and curates collections of images in both Facebook ad size and Instagram size that are both eye-catching and super reasonably priced.

Need a book cover mock-up? Or maybe your book cover on an iPhone? This is the best free tool I've found.  You can also do a cool composite of two or three styles together - e.g., paperback, iPhone, iPad.

Ok, you've got your graphics. Now you need to post them. I'm a big fan of scheduling my posts with Buffer. The free version works well for me. They do have a paid version, but I'm cheap and have never tried it. The benefit that Buffer has over a lot of the competition is that it posts directly to Instagram without having to go through an app. I don't know about you, but an extra step to me just means another step I can forget.

To liven up a post or two, sometimes I use Text Waves to bring attention to the post. There's also Emojipedia for including emojis in your posts, although did you know that if you're on a Mac, you only need to hit Command + Control + space bar to bring up the emoji menu? 😮 

I bet you're trying that now on your Mac, aren't you? Try out some of the others, too, and let me know what you think. And if you've got any other free graphics resources, share in the comments!

Monday, February 3, 2020

The Making of Windborn

A post by Mary Fan
I went back and forth for a spell on just what I wanted to write for my post this week. Should I talk about the two anthologies I'm editing,  BAD ASS MOMS (which I'll be Kickstarting very shortly!) and the fifth BRAVE NEW GIRLS (which just wrapped up submissions)? Or maybe the third and final book in the STARSWEPT trilogy, which I'm in the middle of drafting? Then I was like -- oh wait, I have a new book coming out next week! I should talk about that!

Poor Windborn. Of all my books, its journey has been the longest so far (though if Midnight Swan ever gets published, it'll probably take the title). The overarching ideas for the Fated Stars series, of which Windborn is the first full-length novel, have been in my head for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, I started making up my own bedtime stories in the moments while waiting to fall asleep. It was always a huge sprawling epic fantasy full of magic and epic battles between good and evil, but the details morphed so much over the years, I have no idea what came from where anymore. I'd tell it and retell it, pull out pieces and twist them into something else, expand the timeline to years and years then go back and retcon the whole thing... it didn't really matter because the point was just to entertain myself.

When I started writing, part of me was like, "Hey, I've got all these ideas... maybe I can turn them into a book." But part of me was also like, "Nah, it's too cheesy and self-indulgent, full of the tropes I like an with an audience appeal of exactly one person: me." So I tucked the thought away.

In 2013, I was signed to a small press for the Flynn Nightsider books, and the editor and I had a cordial relationship. An artist she worked with (and that I was following as a result) posted a premade book cover that we both absolutely loved, and I persuaded her to let me write a story to match. To me, it felt like a fantasy cover, and my head went back to that mishmash of magic and mayhem that had been in my head forever. So I finally sat down to sculpt those ideas into a cohesive story and wrote up a series proposal, and the Fated Stars universe was born.

I still love this cover
At the time, the press was working on a marketing initiative to put out e-book only prequel/spinoff novellas to drum up interest in a full-length book. Originally, Windborn was meant to be such a prequel, and it would have been the story that matched the premade cover we liked. But after discussing it with the editor, I realized that the story was too large to fit inside 25,000 words. So after we decided to turn the opening few chapters of Windborn (which was not yet written but existed in outline form) and turn them into a novella (Tell Me My Name), and the rest of Windborn would be Book 1.

It wasn't until after Tell Me My Name came out in 2014 that I even started writing Windborn itself. I still remember what a struggle it was though, to finally put down on a page what had been an abstract swirl for so much of my life. I turned in the full manuscript in late 2014/early 2015. Due to competing priorities, it sat in edits for months and months without word (I kept myself busy with other projects). Then later in 2015 (or maybe it was early 2016), we decided to do another novella, this time a standalone about a character who appears only briefly in Windborn (Let Me Fly Free).

More time passed. I stepped into the world of self-publishing with Starswept (with indie publishing collective Snowy Wings Publishing) and got a taste of independence. In late 2017, I decided I wanted to go full indie with my existing unpublished manuscripts (which were still sitting in edits with that small press) and asked for the rights to be reverted. Life happened, I worked on other stuff, and poor, poor Windborn then sat with me, neglected and unedited, until 2019, when I finally decided to put it out with Snowy Wings (actually, I'd decided that a while before... it just took till 2019 to take action because, well, life).

In the meanwhile, though, I did manage to commission a cover from artist Anne Drury and designer StoryWrappers. I gave Anne basic descriptions of the three POV characters in Windborn -- air nymph Kiri, magician's apprentice Darien, and budding prophetess Arrin -- and she proposed a wraparound layout with a close-up of Kiri, whose life is at the center of the plot, and the background in her hair. I loved the idea, and we ran with it. Then StoryWrappers proposed a windblown look for the title, which I thought was fantastic.

The editing process was... quite something. I hadn't looked at the manuscript since maybe 2016, and I'd completely forgotten how some of the plot points played out. It was kind of nice, going in with fresh eyes, and also somewhat disconcerting. The biggest thing I noticed was that I'd majorly overwritten some parts. By the time I was finsihed, I'd cut about 30,000 words from the manuscript.

Next came the question of who would do the interior formatting. Since I'd already had some experience from doing Starswept, I decided to do it myself again. And, of course, I had to do something fancier than simply making the words fit neatly on a page. So I commissioned Sean "MunkyWrench" Eddingfield to create page frames for the chapters -- one for each POV character. Since I decided to include Tell Me My Name in the final book (since by that point, so much time had passed that I doubted even those who read it would remember what happened), I asked him to do one for the novella as well. And there's also a prologue from a different character's POV, making for five chapter frames total.

Finally, there's a song that Kiri sings in the book. I originally came up with the melody back in college, then fitted lyrics to it for the novel. But I never wrote it down until it was time to finalize the formatting.

To make sure everything looked the way it was supposed to, I printed out the pages to proofread:

Was all that a bit extravagant? Sure. But the great thing about self-publishing is that you can be extravagant if you feel like it. As I once heard at a concert, "It's my cabaret, and I can sing whatever I want."

After all that -- 7 years, 3 artists (4 if you count the artist who designed the stock art I used for the  page decorations, 5 if you count me as well), and lord-knows-how-many revisions -- here's what the finished book looks like. Coming your way February 11... and currently up for preorder ;-)

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