Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Adventures in Self-Publishing: How Long is a Book?

One of the interesting things about self-publishing is the redefinition of what a "book" is.  Many people are self-publishing short stories, either alone or in collections; people are selling novellas (20,000-40,000 words); they're selling huge 200K-plus works.  Length doesn't really matter in an electronic format.  The pricing is whatever the buyers think is fair. The length is whatever the story needs, no more and no less.  No longer do we need to cut work to fit the page count, or pad with extra scenes because the book is "too short" to be marketable.  It's up to the writer--and the reader--to decide if the story works.

One of the things I am doing now is deciding how to market my "Deeds of the Ariane" stories. These are a series of fantasy stories about a band of magical women swordfighters whose mission is to protect the royal family of the Silver Isle.  I had been trying to write them as a trilogy of novels (about 250,000 words total), but now I'm thinking I might try selling each section as a novella, and releasing them on a monthly or bi-monthly basis (thanks, Genene, for that idea!).

Do you have any pet peeves about story length?  Do you prefer a quick read, or one you can get wrapped up in for a long time?  As an author, how would you feel about doing something like Charles Dickens did, releasing a chapter a week of a book, without fail?  Would you find the idea of writing a serialized novel fun, or scary? (I'd find it both!)


A quick note:  There's a brand-new magazine about indie romance novels, called InD'tale.  They reviewed my book, "The Honeymoon Cottage," for their first issue.  (Yay!)  You can get a free subscription for a limited time at their website.

Happy writing!

Barbara Cool Lee

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What I Love About Writing

Pardon me while I wax philosophical for a moment.

Do you write? Congratulations, you're a writer!

That's one of the many things I love about writing, you see. There is no test, no professional qualification. Intent has nothing to do with it. The act of writing is what makes you a writer, and no one can say you nay.

As writers, our journeys will all be different. We each bring our unique experiences, opinions, and outlooks to our stories. And we're all of us at different places along our writing paths. No matter where you happen to be on your writing journey, I bet you're in a different place today than you were yesterday or last month or last year, and you'll be in a completely different place tomorrow and next month and next year than you are today.

Just remember, there's no official timetable, no deadline by which you must reach specific milestones. Your writing journey is yours alone, and it will be a different journey from mine and from every other writer's. Isn't that exciting? You and I may start with the bones of a similar plot, but I assure you my story will in no way resemble yours. Only you can tell your story, and if you don't, the world will be the poorer.

Writing makes me look at the world in a different way. I'm constantly questioning, asking what if? I notice details I may have skipped over in the past. I see the world through fresh eyes, and that can only be a good thing.

I'd like to leave you with the following thought. In the long run, it doesn't matter whether you're already published, whether you're writing with publication as your end goal, or whether you have no intention of ever being published. At the end of the day, the only thing which matters--the thing which makes you a writer--is that you write. The rest are just details.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Weekly Progress Check-In

Welcome!  This is the Mid-Willamette Valley RWA chapter's weekly progress check-in.

Did you meet your writing goals last week?  What do you plan to accomplish this week?

(The best prize is achieving your writing goals, but as an extra incentive, we will award gift cards from Powell's bookstore to the chapter member and the non-member who check in for the most weeks in 2012.)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Safari Moon

Current Project: untitled
Status: one chapter
Safari Moon

Top attributes of a romance novel that I feel are important and how I used them in Safari Moon.

Romance novels are character driven. To me the characterization of the novel is the single most important element. The next most important is the conflict. There must be internal as well as external conflict.

I spend a great deal of time developing my characters. The characters must have a life before the story. They have birthdays and anniversaries; favorite hobbies and nicknames. Several years ago I attended an inservice/workshop at the school where I worked. It taught how different mind styles affected a character's personality.

When the characters in Safari Moon were created, my intention was to set their mind styles in conflict. A minor thing but a very real beginning to their journey to find love. Nyssa is concrete sequential which means she is organized and has to know the what, when, where, how, and why of every task. To her all she does and plans is clear and precise. Solo, on the other hand, is concrete random. Solo will come up with answers before he even hears the question. He will jump back and forth between fact and theory. This ability often leaves Solo unable to explain his thinking.

These are some of the internal conflicts, which leave the characters breathless but dying to figure out the other person's point of view.

External conflicts are usually more obvious and revolve around the physical actions of the characters. They are on the surface not hidden in the mind. These conflicts can change from scene to scene but the major or elemental conflict is a common theme carried throughout the novel.

Romantic conflict is a third conflict one can find in a romance novel. They struggle to come to terms with their emotions. And raw emotions can get in the way of love scenes. When, where, why, and how they occur. Of course all three conflicts tend to merge and separate as the novel is created.

Turning points are also essential to a good romance. Every scene must have some kind of turning point. The first kiss, the moment the protagonists meet, any decision they make which will effect the outcome of the story. In the first chapter, when Solo decides to call Nyssa and ask for her help concerning his 'willing, eager and able women is an example. Their needs to be at least three major turning points as well as a black moment when it appears all will be lost.

Theme, motivation, tone and tension are other elements which I incorporate in the novel. I try to put each of these into each scene. And to keep the reader turning the pages when I write a scene, I plot to a twist. So the last sentence in the scene compels the reader to continue.

Oh, and did I forget point of view. Point of view is incredibly important to creating tension in a story. Each scene should be in only one of the protagonist's point of view.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Current Project: LEGACY SERIES
Status: Book #5 to beta reader & cover finished!
Posted by: Genene Valleau, writing as Genie Gabriel

I got to "The End" of edits of the fifth book of my LEGACY series on Sunday and sent it to a beta reader. 

As Chris mentioned in her post last Friday about how many times a writer should edit, there's no "rule" for me either. I edit until it feels right--or deadlines force me to let go of the manuscript. :)

I'll probably make a few tweaks when the manuscript comes back from the beta reader. Then it will go to my publisher, who will have more tweaks, then the copy and line edits.   

So The End isn't really The End. LOL!  

Besides, I have several more books of my LEGACY series to edit and write before the big THE END. :)

It felt good to reach that milestone in producing LEGACY book #5. And I realized it's important for me to pause before going back to the "to do" list and celebrate these kind of milestones. That may be something as simple as basking in the feeling of accomplishment and taking a few days to catch up on other things before diving into edits of the next book. But celebrating is good. (In celebration, I also finished the cover for this book. :)

How do you celebrate your accomplishments--whether small or something major?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Weekly Progress Check-In

Welcome!  This is the Mid-Willamette Valley RWA chapter's weekly progress check-in.

Did you meet your writing goals last week?  What do you plan to accomplish this week?

(The best prize is achieving your writing goals, but as an extra incentive, we will award gift cards from Powell's bookstore to the chapter member and the non-member who check in for the most weeks in 2012.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Adventures in Self-Publishing: POD

Hi, all.  Was gonna write a long, involved explanation of POD (print on demand), and how I came to choose CreateSpace to print the paperback versions of my ebooks, but, alas, this guy has not visited me:

So I am way behind on my writing.

The lesson:  trying to be your own author, editor, designer and publisher is like, totally, time-consuming.

Short summary of the CreateSpace thing:  it's easy (just pick a book size, download their book template and format your text to match, save as pdf, upload, proof), it's fairly quick (they take a couple of days to review your submitted text before approving it), and it's cheap (I'll be able to sell paperback versions of my Pajaro Bay novels for $7.99, the same price as a typical New York-published mass-market paperback).  What's not to like?

Eventually I'd like to offer a hardcover large-print edition of the books as well. For that I'll try Lulu. They offer hardcovers, which CreateSpace does not, and my understanding is that they are a better choice for worldwide distribution, while CS seems more U.S.-based.

There's also LightningSource, a subsidiary of Ingram (the giant book distributor). They are definitely not user friendly, but do appear to have the best distribution options available.

So that's all on the POD subject for today.  Happy writing, everyone!

Barbara Cool Lee

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What's It All About?

In my last post I promised to tell you about THE LAZARUS GAMBIT—the story, that is. I don't know about you, but one of the hardest things I've ever had to do was to create a short description of what the book is about. I mean, how hard could it be? I wrote the darn thing! You'd think that would make it easy, right? Ha!

I think part of my problem stems from being too close to it. I simply find it difficult to boil the story down to its essence. Well, that, and I'm, you know...wordy. I have a tendency to want to throw in everything, including the kitchen sink.

Here's a version of the brief description I provided for my blog post at The Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood:

THE LAZARUS GAMBIT is a Steampunk Romance set in New Amsterdam, an alternate version of Manhattan, and features ley lines and aether, a secret society of aether users, a clockwork dragon, a mysterious death, a heroine who’s aetheric abilities are on the fritz, and a pragmatic cop who doesn’t believe in magic.

That description lists the main elements, but doesn't really give you a feel for what the story's about. Here's a longer, back-of-the-book type of blurb:

Tess Faraday wants her life back as a Fixer for the Aetherium, a secret society dedicated to protecting the world from the misuse of aetheric magic. Most of all, she wants revenge on Garrett Norwood, the man who seduced and betrayed her by stealing the Lazarus Precept, one of the Aetherium's most closely guarded secrets. When Tess discovers a mummified corpse at the center of an aetheric disturbance, she's convinced Norwood is involved. And if that weren't enough, she finds something else she can't explain--a cop who's unaware that he's surrounded by an unusual aetheric aura...

Chief Inspector Jack Kilgaard is a pragmatic, down-to-earth copper who's dedicated his life to making New Amsterdam a safe place to raise his younger sister. He wants nothing to do with aether and thinks anyone who believes in aetheric magic is delusional. Though he can't deny his growing attraction for a certain crazy aether-chaser...

Norwood's playing a dangerous game with New Amsterdam's aether, and the corpse is only the beginning. Tess is on her own in a strange city without Aetherium backing, her aetheric powers are on the fritz, and if she's to stop Norwood from destroying them all, she'll need the help of a man who refuses to believe in his own aetheric abilities...

So, what do you think? Is there enough description? Too much? Does it intrigue you? Exhausted minds want to know!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Weekly Progress Check-In

Welcome!  This is the Mid-Willamette Valley RWA chapter's weekly progress check-in.

Did you meet your writing goals last week?  What do you plan to accomplish this week?

(The best prize is achieving your writing goals, but as an extra incentive, we will award gift cards from Powell's bookstore to the chapter member and the non-member who check in for the most weeks in 2012.)

Friday, May 11, 2012

How Many Times Do I Need to Edit?

Current Project: Rebel Heart
Status: Editing one more time

I think I have become paranoid. Rebel Heart is one of my favorite books. (that I have written) And now that it is about to be rereleased, I can't stop going over it, changing it, making over the heroine and the hero. I was such a different person when I first wrote the book. Historical romance had a little bit different tone. I'm hoping I have updated this book to 2012. 

For those of you who were at the last MWV meeting you will understand completely when I thank Genene once again for my new cover. 

Thank you Genene!

So I've told myself this is the last edit, the last run through. I have approximately 100 pages left. I have actually made very few changes, thank goodness. 

Happy writing and editing to all.

Oh and happy promoting because that is the next stage of the game for Rebel Heart and me.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Current Project: Book #5 of LEGACY series
Status: Going to beta reader this week
Posted by: Genene Valleau, writing as Genie Gabriel

On Monday, I started another blog tour to promote my latest release, LEGACY OF ANGELS. 

Some authors have gone wild and crazy and hit a different blog every day for twenty or thirty days. The very idea of doing that had my eyes rolling back in my head. At 750 to 1000 words per blog, that's enough words to write a novella!

So I found a more sane (for me) schedule--a different blog once a week for four weeks. That I can handle! I did this kind of tour with my March 1 release and thought it worked well. I got a mix of comments from my loops and new-to-me readers. I've also heard not everyone who reads a blog leaves a comment, so there could be masses out there lining up to buy my books. :)

Which leads to the question: how does this translate into sales? Not sure. It would be wonderful to have hourly rankings as on the Amazon web site. However, I'd probably be spending time checking stats instead of writing. 

So for now, I see blog tours as an investment to build readership over the release schedule of my series. I'm getting my name out to potential readers and will consider sales as I get statistics for them.

As a reader and/or writer, how do you feel about blog tours? Is this something you do or will consider for promotion? And have you ever bought a book from reading about an author who is touring?

Monday, May 07, 2012

Weekly Progress Check-In

Welcome!  This is the Mid-Willamette Valley RWA chapter's weekly progress check-in.

Did you meet your writing goals last week?  What do you plan to accomplish this week?

(The best prize is achieving your writing goals, but as an extra incentive, we will award gift cards from Powell's bookstore to the chapter member and the non-member who check in for the most weeks in 2012.)

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Adventures in Self-Publishing: Facebook Ads

Last week I got a coupon offering $50 worth of advertising on Facebook for only $7.95.  I was really busy, but I wanted to give it a try.

So I quickly made up an ad, targeted it, and set it to run until I used up $50 worth of credit.

Here's how it went:

Although they recommend that you link your ad to your Facebook page, I linked it to my sale page, since I really haven't got much of a presence on Facebook. 

So in a few minutes I made up an ad:

You'll notice the picture's tiny, and the headline and description have very few words. I actually used every character allowed in the title and description, so that gives you some idea how cryptic you have to be.  I later figured out that the experienced advertisers use the rectangular space where the picture goes more efficiently than I did.  But this is what I went with for my little experiment.

Next, targeting. One of the big advantages of advertising on Facebook (and this also applies to Goodreads ads) is how narrowly you can target your ad.

Say you're a hairdresser with a hip, young clientele, based in Portland, Oregon. You can have your ad only appear to women in your zip code, who are between the ages of 16 and 30, and who are interested in fashion. You can go that narrow in your targeting.

I looked at targeting to women in the US, UK, and Australia (since those are the countries where I've had sales), and then looked for women interested in romance novels.  Nope, that was too broad. That group was millions of people.  So I started typing in names of famous authors who write stories in some way similar to mine: Debbie Macomber, Sherryl Woods, Susan Mallery, JoAnn Ross, Kristin Hannah, Susan Wiggs. That narrowed it way down, to 160,760 people who could potentially be interested in my sweet, small-town romance.

(Interestingly, I couldn't find a keyword for Barbara Freethy, who is one of the most successful romance authors, has sold millions of Kindle books, and who writes romantic suspense a lot like I do.  Maybe she doesn't have a fan page set up on Facebook?  I didn't have time to look into it, but it was interesting that I couldn't find her quickly like I did the others.)

So, I've got $50 worth of credit. I've got an ad. I've got a target audience. I said go!

What happened?

In one day (one day, mind you): 9874 people saw the ad an average of 5 times each, for a total number of "impressions" (page views, basically) of 51,096.  Of those 9874 people, .139% clicked on the ad, for a total of 71 clicks.  I spent $49.97 to get those 71 clicks. (I really spent under $8, like I said, but it was $50 worth of advertising.) So if I paid full price, I would have spent about 70¢ for each time someone clicked through the ad to get to my sale page.

I looked up what a normal Click Through Rate is for Facebook ads, and found that my ad results were at the top of the range ("optimal"), so I think the ad was surprisingly effective.

But was it worth it?  That's the part that's hard to tell.  Theoretically, if you earn over $2 per book (like I do), you would need to make 25 additional sales to justify spending $50.  That's the break-even point.

My sales go up and down daily, and they did go up that day, but not by much (certainly not 71 sales more, and I don't think even 25 sales).  But, my book was only available on the Kindle, so a lot of people who like romance novels, and liked the ad enough to click on it, might have said, Oh. It's on the Kindle and I don't have a Kindle. Never mind.  I think that's a common problem, since many people don't realize that if you're surfing the web, you probably already have all the technology you need to read a Kindle book.

One thing I did see was in the next few days I was getting a lot more people who bought this book also bought the following links that connected me to NYT bestselling authors. Not sure if that was related or not.

Would I have had a more dramatic "conversion rate" (meaning people who not only clicked on the ad but actually took the next step to buy the book) if I'd linked to a paperback version of the book instead?  I don't know.

Next month I'll release The Honeymoon Cottage in paperback.  Perhaps I'll try another ad at that time and see if I get a different result.

In the meantime, here's the link to a blog talking about all the various coupons for advertising on Facebook (WARNING: you must read all the fine print and follow the instructions exactly and make sure you qualify for a coupon before you buy it--the one I got was only for new advertisers and gave absolutely no refunds.).

My questions for you:
As a reader, have you ever clicked on an ad for a book?
If you're published, do you ever do paid advertising?

Happy writing, all.


Tuesday, May 01, 2012

World-Building: It's Never Just One Thing

In my last post I promised I'd write about my Golden Heart® finalist manuscript: THE LAZARUS GAMBIT. TLG is a finalist in the Novel with Strong Romantic Elements category, which, frankly, doesn't tell you anything at all about the story or genre, except that the romance portion is a (major) sub-plot.

In this post I'm going to start with the foundation of the book: genre and world-building. I promise to get to the actual, you know, story in my next post. THE LAZARUS GAMBIT is a STEAMPUNK novel set in New Amsterdam, an alternate version of Manhattan. Before I wrote a single sentence of the story, I spent a great deal of time world-building (though hopefully most of that world-building lurks below the surface in the book). My goal was to create a world which was "similar but different" from our own.

While I love the late Victorian/Edwardian era, I wanted the freedom to make the differences in my world from that era pronounced. I was struck by something I read on Wikipedia while researching Queen Victoria (about her suitors): "William IV, however, disapproved of any match with the Coburgs, and instead favoured the suit of Prince Alexander of the Netherlands, second son of the Prince of Orange." It turns out Victoria made the better choice; Prince Alexander died at the age of 29.

Just like that, I had my hook for the differences I wanted to make in my world. I went all the way back to William and Mary (1600s) and created new royal alliances and genealogical charts, removing the Hanoverian Georges from the line of British kings and creating a succession which culminated in Alexander, Prince of Orange-Nassau (of the Netherlands) becoming King Alexander I of Great Britain. And, Alexander I marries...Victoria of Hanover (in my world, Alexander dies at 52). I still get my Queen Victoria, but in my world, she's queen through marriage and her role, while important, is diminished.

Of course, once you make such a major change, it's like starting off knocking down a long line of dominoes. The face of Europe--scratch that--the entire world changed, as well. Different rulers, different alliances, different decisions. I ended up having to create an historical timeline of events, just to keep track of everything.

There's one event that plays a major role in the history of this world, and which forms the underpinnings of the plot of THE LAZARUS GAMBIT. In the 1700s, this Earth has a close encounter with a mysterious comet, which changes the Earth forever. At one point I wrote a prologue to TLG explaining the Comet. I ultimately discarded the prologue, but here's an excerpt from it, to give you an idea of the Comet's importance:

The comet appeared as a tiny speck of light among the northern stars. Over the course of months it grew bigger and brighter until it dominated the night, a cold fireball with a glowing tail stretching halfway across the sky. The superstitious called it a harbinger of doom and believed the end of the world was nigh. The rational-minded saw it for the rare astronomical event it was and marveled at its unearthly beauty. Scientists worked feverishly to accurately predict its path and privately wondered if the superstitious might not be right after all.

For six months the earth traveled through the comet’s tail. The sky blazed with an aurora from exotic gases streaming into the atmosphere, and cometary debris flamed across the sky in a nightly spectacle. At first only the occasional larger bit of rock survived the journey through the atmosphere, but over time the meteorites increased in size and frequency, often impacting with devastating results. The worst event occurred in mid-October in the early morning hours when hundreds of meteorites bombarded the northern hemisphere, leaving more than just death and destruction in their wake.

The meteorites contained Carolinium, a previously undiscovered element named in honor of Caroline Herschel, the astronomer who first discovered the comet. Carolinium combined with the aurora gases in a volatile reaction that charged particles lying dormant in the earth, creating a new substance. While scientists raced to investigate these new phenomena, the more romantic thinkers of the day named the new substance Aether. And since the charged particles tended to collect in narrow bands that criss-crossed the globe, they were dubbed Ley Lines. To the chagrin of the scientific community, those terms stuck.

Many believed aether had a dual nature: one part science and one part magic. Bizarre comet cults sprang up overnight around charismatic charlatans, attracting thousands of followers despite fierce condemnation from world and religious leaders. For weeks rioting by panic stricken citizens, inflamed by end-of-the-world rhetoric, swept through the capitals of the world. Only the inevitable and inexorable retreat of the comet allowed the world’s governments to promote calm and restore order and stability.

The vast majority of the Carolinium vaporized in the reaction that charged the ley lines and created aether. Approximately seven percent was out of reach, lost somewhere in the great plains of North America behind an impenetrable barrier, dubbed the Great Aetheric Curtain. The Curtain appeared without warning on the night of the first winter solstice after the meteorites fell, cutting off the middle of the continent from further European encroachment. The remainder of the Carolinium was scattered across the northern hemisphere.

This rare element was said to have amazing properties that scientists couldn’t measure in their laboratories or test tubes. Carolinium, true believers whispered, was beyond the ken of science; it belonged to those individuals who possessed an innate affinity for aether. For those few, Carolinium enhanced the ability to manipulate aether, making even the smallest of talents great. And the person who could control and manipulate aether, could control the world.

So, that's a tiny look behind the world-building curtain of THE LAZARUS GAMBIT. I tried to create a world which was rich in its own history, but familiar and recognizable at the same time. In addition, I wanted a world which I could possibly re-visit in a sequel (or prequel). I guess time will tell if I was successful!

Twitter: @DeborahBWright