Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Author Interview: Greta van der Rol

I reviewed Greta van der Rol's The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy here last week with much shameless fangirling. I couldn't help it; the book seriously has absolutely everything a science-fiction fan could possibly want. When she sent out the feelers for potential hosts of a blog tour, I jumped. Okay, I nearly tripped over myself trying to get in line. But it worked! Because here she is!

First and foremost, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview!

My pleasure, thanks for asking.

How did you get interested in science fiction?

I started reading SF in my teens, I think. I was always a fantasy fan and then I moved on to Asimov, Clark, Wyndham. I enjoyed science - except for the maths bit - so I didn't want to study physics but the night sky fascinated me. All those pin pricks, all those suns. Awesome.

For your history degree, did you specialize in any specific location and/or era?

I studied mainly European history, with an emphasis on Nazi Germany. I suppose that's a relic of my family past. But I also studied Indian history for 3 years.

Do you think your study of history helped, and if so, how, when you started world- and government-building in your Iron Admiral series?

Most definitely. The opening situation, where 3,000 ptorix miners are murdered in a massacre which is blamed on the Confederacy Starfleet, was based on the very real staged attack on a radio station at Gleiwitz, just on the German side of the German/Polish border, in 1939. The Nazis staged the raid to give Hitler an excuse to attack Poland. I also drew on history to come up with the Ptorix Khophirate (Empire). I imagined an Empire which had expanded as far as it was going to, and then started to crumble at the edges. Examples could be the Romans or the Ottoman Empire. Humans are the encroaching 'barbarians', if you will. And increasingly, the ptorix border governors are flexing their muscles, trying their own bid for power. And, of course, humans are not a unified group. That would be silly. Isaac Asimov took a similar approach in his Foundation series.

What inspired the ptorix?

I really did not want yet another humanoid alien race, like ten foot tall blue humans. I also limited the number of technologically advanced intelligent species to two. The chances of there being scores of them out there, ala Star Wars, is pretty unlikely for lots of reasons. So I deliberately came up with a species based on a set of requirements; smart, able to manipulate tools, come from a similar planet to Earth (so we can share a planet without breathing equipment or physical modification). But I made sure they didn't see the world in the same way. And no, there's no chance of a ptorix/human cross.

Was the combination of romance and science-fiction a conscious decision, or did you just go with what the story demanded?

I never started with the idea of writing a romance. When I first wrote the book, the romance happened, but rather later because Saahren arrived on the scene rather later. Advice from an agent (who passed) led me to rewrite as more of a romance, where Allysha and Saahren meet fairly early in the piece. I confess, I was quite surprised when a romance happened. I've never read a whole Mills and Boon book, so it wasn't my sort of interest.

Please tell me about the new book.

Allysha and Saahren have a way to go. He's managed to persuade her to stay in the Confederacy but she isn't ready to start an intimate relationship with him. The Galactic People's Republic still wants Allysha for some unknown reason and they've recruited her estranged husband, Sean, to deliver her by fair means or foul. Allysha still has many questions about the death of her father, for which she had believed Saahren was responsible. Had Saahren committed an atrocity, as she'd been told? She has to confront the past to find answers; he has to learn to let go. At the end, both of them will be forced to make shattering decisions.

Who is your favorite character? Why?

Saahren. I'm a woman. I like him because he's such a mix of driven brilliance in his job and total insecurity when it comes to women. He's a klutz but he's also a hunk. And he tries very hard to get it right.

Do you have any plans to continue this series beyond the current titles?

There is a third book on the way set in the same universe (ptorix and humans) but with different characters. My publisher has already expressed undying lust for Admiral Hudson. Saahren gets a cameo part in the story, which takes place before the Iron Admiral books. Beyond that - who knows?

Is there anything else you'd like for readers to know?

If you enjoyed the Iron Admiral books you may well like 'Morgan's Choice'. It's a different universe but it has a similar mixture of action, adventure and politics. You'll find more than a hint of my study of Indian history in that one.

Thank you for having me.

No, Ms. van der Rol, thank you!

Buy 'The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy' from Smashwords for Kindle, ePub and more as well as print

Amazon US for Kindle and print


Barnes & Noble for your Nook

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Geek Alert: Why Sci-Fi Is Cool

Tomorrow, you'll get to read an author interview from Greta van der Rol, a fantastic, strong science fiction writer (among other things). Today, in celebration and in anticipation of both the interview and her upcoming new release, I thought we'd discuss what makes great science fiction.

Well, okay, this list is entirely subjective. But this whole blog is subjective.

Science fiction is basically defined as plausible, real-world based fiction. It's different from fantasy; fantasy is more about magic and the supernatural. Science fiction is rational and logical. Like a Vulcan!

The Iron Admiral certainly wasn't my first brush with sci-fi and it won't be my last. I love Star Wars and I've always been a closeted Star Trek fan. (Mostly the Original Series and The Next Generation, much to my father's exasperation; I just can't get into Deep Space Nine.) I spent my teen years reading Elizabeth Moon, David Weber, Orson Scott Card, and Douglas Adams. I still read the Star Wars expanded universe books. I'm actually reading Death Troopers by Joe Schreiber right now. (Zombies. In Star Wars. How much more could I ask for?) Mike Stackpole is the first author who really opened my eyes about the business of being a writer.

A lifetime spent reading the genre has given me some perspective on what makes a great science fiction story. I believe this to be true, anyway. So I'm going to share my list.

Rational science.
You have to make the reader (or viewer) believe that the science in your universe is sound. In the Star Wars movies, space travel is never really explained, but that doesn't matter, because everyone in the Galaxy Far, Far Away takes space flight for granted because they understand it.

Human interest.
When everything else in your new world is strange and unfamiliar, the audience needs to understand your characters. In Tanith Lee's Biting the Sun, virtually nothing about life or society is recognizable--but the protagonist's struggles with her humanity are all to familiar.

Sound politics and war strategy.
Whether your antagonists are human, alien, robot, or hybrid, if you're writing political maneuvering, you need to make it believable. In Star Wars, The Empire is based on the Roman Empire and the Nazis (something you didn't see much in the films was the Empire's utter disdain for non-humans and women). In Star Trek, you have the Borg (and the Klingons, and the Romulans). If you're writing a war, you need to make that strategy believable, too. How we fight wars has evolved from literal sticks and stones to tanks and sniper rifles that can take out an enemy from several kilometers away. Strategies, like chess strategies, have remained largely the same. In your future war-torn galaxy, your protagonists might have fancy new weapons and brilliant leaders, but their strategy won't change too much.

Alien life.
What good is science fiction without aliens? The ptorix are easily a new favorite of mine, but I'm also a fan of Wookiees, pretty much every alien mentioned in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and--despite the fact that they were the antagonists in one of the most heart-breaking book series' I've ever read--the Yuuzhan Vong. The thing about aliens is that you can come up with whatever you want and your audience will generally buy it.

Cool technology.
Hyperdrives. Faster-than-light travel. Flying cars. Underwater cities. Floating cities. Datapads. Portable communicators. All right, so we have those last two (tablet computers and cell phones), but my point remains valid. The best sci-fi has some seriously cool gadgets.

Bonus: Planet hopping.
Most of my favorite stories take place on more than one planet. I blame this on my fascination with anthropology. I absolutely love the idea of other inhabitable worlds that are sort of like Earth but not really at all.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Monday Miscellany

I will never, ever underestimate the combination of Twitter, a limited-time offer, and a very helpful fellow author.

My first-day "sales" of The Cowboy Next Door were far and away more than I expected. Most sales were free downloads, but I had an outright shocking number of paid downloads between Smashwords and Amazon. Shocking to me, anyway, because when I published on Saturday I was hoping for maybe a combined total of seven sales or downloads before I let my friends and family know. That number was blown out of the water. Repeatedly. That poor seven. Let's have a moment of silence for him, shall we?

Now, my biggest concern is that the people who downloaded it enjoy it.

That, and trying not to be sick from the overwhelm.

In other news, my daughter has slept alone in her crib for two hours at a time two nights in a row. This is huge! She hasn't done that since she was eight months old. I'm incredibly hopeful that she'll be a lonely sleeper by the end of the year. I think a lot of new things happening at once (new teeth, new skills, new shots, new friends, new schedule) shook her confidence. I will be very glad when she gets her confidence back.

My friend and I actually have a shopping date set for this week! The kiddo needs some shoes, a sweater, and a jacket, and I am going to try very hard not to buy the adorable sweater and pencil skirt at H&M, because I am saving for my other friend's trip over here in a couple of months and I need to go to Sedlec more than I need a new sweater and skirt. No matter how cute the clothes are.

You guys. This week, I will be posting an author interview with Greta van der Rol. I am so excited about this. I am so excited for her new book. Seriously. My inner fangirl is squeeing so hard.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Blog Roundup: September 19 - 25, 2011

Chuck Wendig made yet another "25" post, this time about the virtues writers should possess. As long as you have 13 and 21, you can fake the rest if you have to.

Avery Olive had a nice little nugget of advice in a post this week on blog hopping. I'm part of Greta van der Rol's blog tour to promote the next Iron Admiral book and I'm watching carefully how it's done at other blogs. I need to start devoting more time to commenting and reading during the week because I'm hoping that when I'm ready to release the vampire novel, I can do some kind of blog tour.

James Killick made a very interesting post about writing for the right medium. I think it's worth looking at and asking yourself the questions he poses, especially if you're feeling stuck.

Aimee Salter's blog is worth following and reading regularly. Her recent posts on critical plot elements alone are great.

If you need a trait defined, weather analyzed, or just a hint about where to go on your bookshelf for specific inspiration, The Bookshelf Muse should be on your blogroll.

This post over at the Feckless Goblin made me laugh. I don't know if I necessarily believe the facts, but it did remind me that when I start with pen and paper, I do tend to follow through.

Your Cover Uncovered reviewed a new book cover. A good thought process for designing your own book cover should be, "What would Ms. Melville say?"

Saturday, September 24, 2011

SitRep Saturday: The Cowboy Next Door and Strawberry Moon

First, news on The Cowboy Next Door: it is now available at Smashwords. Use coupon code HY66N to download it for free until Monday, September 26th.

I have action-drafted the rewrite of chapter one of Strawberry Moon. I am also pretty sure that I'm getting rid of that title, but it will suffice as the working title. Instead of the slow build up until we meet Vincent, the book now opens with a conflict that is going to let the readers know where each character stands, and Vincent will come into the picture much, much sooner. I have made massive changes to the outline and to the plot, and the subplots have been better-defined. Vincent's backstory is different, too. He's just kind of a dick.

The changes have me re-thinking the story's classification as "young adult," but for now, I'm not going to worry about it. I'm going to write, edit, rewrite, revise, edit, and get input and critique, and then I'll worry about its genre.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Self-Publishing: Cover Image Resources

If you're selling a book, it needs a cover. People like pictures. (Or paintings. Or crudely-drawn, suggestive sketches. Whatever.) If you're a talented visual artist--like my dad, who is a fantastic photographer; or my friend Kelsey, who is an amazing painter--then good for you! You don't need to hire an artist or buy stock photos. But if you're like me, stock photography websites are going to be your new best friends. has a resource page with a list of free stock photo websites. The list is pretty good, complete with comments on content and quality.

I like the best. Specifically, I like their free photo section. These images are royalty-free and free for use online. They're also free for commercial use for up to 10,000 copies. The free images section is enormous. It's where I got my cover photo for The Cowboy Next Door and where I got the photos for the original mock-ups of Cass Gets Her Kicks. I love the place.

A genre-specific option is, where you can even get premade covers. I'm not sure I would ever use a premade cover, but it's nice to know that option is available. (I wanted to link you to the premade covers, but as of this writing, the site seems to be having some problems.) is a stock photo website geared specifically toward the publishing industry. Like RNC, they also have premade covers.

Whichever site you use, even if you do a search on Google or Flickr or something, be sure that you read the terms of use. Give credit. Pay for the photo of necessary. (Industry standard seems to be about $10 for royalty-free use up to a certain number of copies sold.) Don't steal. Seriously. Not only is that bad manners, but you don't need a lawsuit on your hands.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Book Review: The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy by Greta van der Rol

Today, I finished reading Greta van der Rol's The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy and I have to admit that I am seriously displeased that I finished it because I wanted to jump straight from it into the next one (which comes out October 4th!). Yes, it is that good.

The quick version: If you're a Star Wars/Star Trek/Battlestar Gallactica/science-fiction fan in general, this book is for you. If you've ever read a sci-fi book and thought, "Man, I really wish the Hero and the Heroine would get it on," this book is for you. If you like really good stories with lots of danger, twists, action, and politics, this book is for you.

I. Loved. It. 

I loved Allysha, who is smart and strong and capable and has the very believable flaw of falling for shady men. I loved her mad computer skills and her humanity and her compassion and her stubbornness and her practicality. I loved her special skills (I'm not giving it away, but it is super cool) and I loved her morality. 

I loved Saahren. I loved him in his Brad Stone guise and I loved him as an Admiral. He's hot. He's smart. He's practical. He's thoughtful and he's good at thinking on his feet. He's a bit of a caveman--he has decided that Allysha will be his wife and he can get bossy at times--but it totally works for him. I may or may not have a huge just a wee bit of a crush on him and want to see him naked

I loved the plot. I loved all the supporting characters--Allysha's husband, his problems, the gangsters. I loved the ptorix. Okay, I really loved the ptorix. The anthropologist in me wants an entire book on ptorix culture, art, society, history, and myth. I am absolutely fascinated by them. I loved the politics and the political tension. In my opinion, good sci-fi requires good political tension. Ms. van der Rol delivers. 

The only thing about the book that I didn't like is that it cuts off right when things are picking up again! I understand that the author made that choice deliberately, but it still gave me the same feeling I had at the end of A Tale of Two Cities the first time I read it. (Namely, "Where is the rest?!"). But it's okay, because the next book comes out in just a few days. 

I guess I can survive until then. 

If you're looking for some good science fiction, go get this book. It's available at Amazon as an ebook and as a print book. It's at Smashwords. It's at OmniLit. And it's at B&N for the NOOK and paperback.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Don't Be A Twit When You Tweet

After reading about automated Tweets and Facebook status updates, and deciding that I'd like to have a few days off from maintaining my online presence, I looked up automation software. What I found first was Hootsuite, so I signed up and I haven't looked back.

It took me several days to learn how to use it, but once I figured out the basics, it was very easy. It makes scheduling tweets and status updates so very easy. This came in especially useful in the last few days before my coupon for Cass Gets Her Kicks expired. I scheduled promotional tweets to post every few hours and it worked beautifully.

Here are three of my tips for using Hootsuite, or any other automated posting software, effectively.

All promotion all the time is a good way to get yourself unliked and unfollowed.
Seriously, no one wants to see their news feed full of "Buy my book! Read my blog!" No one wants "Hello, buy my book/read my blog/check out my website" messages when they first like or follow you. Whenever I schedule tweets, I schedule one "human" tweet for every promotional tweet. I don't want to spam my followers' timeline with buy buy buy. My eyes skate right over most promo tweets, especially when they come from Twits who rarely, if ever, post anything else. I want eyes to see my tweets and brains to read them.

You're human, so act like it.
Whenever I decide to follow someone, I read through a bit of their timeline first. If every single tweet is a link to their book, blog, or site, I skip it. I follow people because I find them interesting or useful or both. Both is the best. I also like to talk to the people I follow. I like to know there's a human on the other end of our exchange. Don't be a bot. Bots are everyone's least favorite thing (except for maybe those trending topics that sometimes rise to the top ten or whatever, like #youshouldbeembarrassedif and #wifeymaterial and BS like that). Make sure you actually visit your home feed and mentions screens. You should also check on the "your tweets, retweeted" screen. Say thanks. Acknowledge your followers. Have conversations. If you're going to automate, say so, and let people know when you'll be back "in the flesh," so to speak.

Remember that you're a professional.
It's okay to get a little bit personal, but remember that your image is first and foremost one of a professional. Try to check your spelling (everyone is going to make typos), keep your tweets and status updates consistent with the image you are trying to cultivate, and if you're going to share anything personal, make sure it's consistent, too. I talk about my daughter and my husband sometimes and even my fannish interests. I feel that adding personal updates gives followers and friends some insight. I know that when the people I follow share something personal--a story about a husband, a mention of a kid, capslock of doom over something exciting--I like them a little more. Your professional Twitter and Facebook are probably not the places for your five-thousand-word-rant on people who can't park. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Monday Miscellany

Last night, I finished my "last" round of edits on The Cowboy Next Door. I then transferred the text to a new document and started the formatting process. I'm still waiting on four betas to get back to me with their notes, so I'll make changes once I get that crit; I'll also read it out loud one last time and make final line edits and change anything that sounds awkward. Right now, I'm pretty proud of it.

This article on Facebook statuses do-and-don't is pretty good. I think it goes along with something I tweeted last night. There's an author on Twitter--there may be more than one, but I have only encountered the one--who tweets at me with a link to his book. We've never interacted in any other way. That just seems like a huge NO to me.

I am so excited! Next Wednesday, September 28, I'm going to post an interview with the fantastic Ms. Greta van der Rol to help celebrate the release of her new book, The Iron Admiral: Deception. Here's what you should do to prepare: go download The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy, read it, and fangirl (or boy).

In my quest to incorporate new dishes into our dinner menu, I made beef fajita soup last night. It actually turned out pretty well. I winged it, but here's a recipe that looks pretty easy if you're interested.

This week, look for another post on writer's resources and one on Hootsuite. I'm still trying to decide what the others should be.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Blog Roundup: September 12 - 18, 2011

Chuck Wendig made another "25" post, this time on plotting, planning, and prepping your story. He says he's a pantser. I'm beginning to understand his crazy.

This week, I discovered a thoughtful, interesting blog called Read, React, Review. The blogger teaches an ethics in fiction course and in her posts displays an insight and curiosity I find absolutely fascinating.

Thanks to a link from someone I follow on Twitter, I came across Aimee Salter's blog and this post on self-publishers and value pricing. I also read this post and this post on why she doesn't believe self-publishing works yet. I think these sorts of posts are extremely important for self-publishing authors--or writers considering self-publication--to read. I think it's important to know what you're up against and to think about your business model. I think it's important to remember to think like a reader and blog posts like these help remind you to do that. As a bonus, check out this post of hers on self-editing.

Isis Rushdan posted on the four essential elements of good storytelling. It's a good read, especially if you're struggling with your story's direction.

Stella Deleuze has some sound advice on the "never give up" advice. Sometimes, you have to give up. She also has some sound advice regarding conflicting advice. I think confidence and humility are key to a healthy attitude about writing. Confidence because you need to trust yourself and your voice. Humility because you need to learn to accept criticism. Constructive criticism can only make you a better writer. Criticism that offers nothing else at least helps you grow a thicker skin.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

SitRep Saturday: The Cowboy Next Door

I'm still in the process of making the last round of self-edits while I wait for my beta readers to get back to me with their comments. Right now, I'm looking at a release date between September 23 and September 30.

However, you can now read an excerpt from chapter one here at my website... or click below and read it here on my blog!

Friday, September 16, 2011

On Writing: Resources To Help You Plot

Piggybacking on yesterday's post, I thought I'd offer up some resources for the plotter. (You pantsers are on your own. I have no idea how your brain works, so I don't understand what kind of resources you'd want. Well, I can at least direct you toward Bad Ass Coffee and Gentleman Jack, because I'm pretty sure you all drink a lot of coffee and a lot of booze, but that's it.)

Brainstorming is an excellent way to begin work on your novel. Or novella, or novelette, or short story, or comic book, or whatever. Have a seat, pull up a cup of coffee or a glass of whiskey (or a cup of coffee made with whiskey), and just start writing things down. Character names. Settings. Bits of dialogue. Events. Worry about making it coherent later. For now, just write.

Personally, I am a fan of what I have recently discovered is called the "snowflake method." (I use it in conjunction with outlining.) Start with one sentence, then one paragraph, then one page. Keep building until you have what you want. I keep the original single sentences to help me keep my focus. Whenever I feel like I'm losing sight of the point of whatever scene I'm writing, I refer back to that single sentence. As a bonus, by the time I'm done, the summaries are already written.

Plot points are another way to go. These can be written on index cards and then rearranged until you have a progressive, cohesive plot progression. If you don't want to use index cards, a spreadsheet or possibly FreeMind might work well.

Remember outlines from school papers? Of course you do. Those suckers are useful. I love outlining. I break out the college-rule notebook paper and a bunch of colored pens and I scribble until I have several pages of bare bones storytelling.

Quick Google searches for phrases like "how to plot a novel" and "how to write a novel" will return a wealth of sites, posts, and book suggestions. Wade through them if you must (if you're stuck, it certainly may help to see how other writers plot) but remember that no one knows how you write better than you do. Go with your own instincts.

Or scoot on over to Terrible Minds and pick one of Chuck Wendig's 25 suggestions.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

On Writing: Pants or Plots or Both, Oh My!

There are two types of writers: pantsers and plotters.

Pantsers sit down and start writing. They may have an idea for a story, they may even have some kind of plan for it, or characters or a setting or situations or a line of dialogue or something, but for the most part, they write like they fly: by the seat of their pants.

Plotters don't sit down to write until they've finished plotting. They have an idea, a plan, characters, settings, situations, dialogue, an outline. These people probably map out their road trips and stick to itineraries and only shop with grocery lists. Dweebs.

I'm a plotter.

Each method has its merits. Pantsers get all the excitement of being a reader with all the power of being God. Plotters don't end up in the ER with heart palpitations because some new character popped out of the snow and scared them into a heart attack. Each method has drawbacks. Pantsers don't always know when and where to end a story and plotters get sick-to-death of the painstaking attention to minutiae required from the very beginning. 

Of course, most writers probably incorporate a little of both into how they write. Pantsers start off with vague ideas of what happens when and to whom and plotters allow new characters and situations they didn't originally plan for.

Regardless of what type of writer you are, you absolutely must have a clear idea of the story you're telling. If you don't know what you're trying to say, your writing won't be clear. If your writing isn't clear, your readers end up confused. Confused readers are unhappy readers. Unhappy readers are not regular readers.

You probably want regular readers.

One thing to keep in mind is that clarity of prose can be achieved in editing. So write, and be as messy and verbose as you need to be, but always always write toward the point.

And always edit.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Free Alternatives to MS Word

In the years I spent as a student monkey and as a corporate monkey, MS Word was the go-to word processing software. Before that, from when I was about eleven, I used MS Works, or Notepad or WordPad. After my first couple of laptops crashed and died on me, I decided that I needed a cheaper alternative to Word that would still give me more features and better control than Works. I hadn't even started looking for word-processing software when I stumbled across a link for

I love it. When I did my initial research on self-publishing, I thought that I would have to shell out for a new copy of Word, or at the very least dig out my old copy. But once I carefully read the Smashwords Style Guide and used OpenOffice to implement the instructions successfully, I realized that I didn't need Word at all. 

When I format The Cowboy Next Door, I'll be sure to do screenshots so I can share how to format in OpenOffice. It's so easy that I got it right in one try.

There is another free alternative out there called LibreOffice. I've read some good things about it but I haven't switched.

OpenOffice and LibreOffice are both Mac-compatible. I've never used them on a Mac, but I have a friend (and phenomenal beta reader) who has; she has never reported any problems.

Documents can be saved in Word's .doc and .docx formats and you can create HTML and XML files, which makes them easier to share. You can do almost everything in these programs that you can do in Word, they're free, they're easy to download, and they have tons of excellent reviews. If you're programming-inclined, you can even help to update it.

If you're wanting to self-publish with little-to-no startup cost and you don't have Word already, these programs are worth downloading and learning to use. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Self-Publishing: Why And How You Should Start Marketing Yourself First

If you have something to sell, you have to be aggressive about your marketing and promotion. By "aggressive" I don't mean "launch full scale promotion attack on unsuspecting customers," I mean that you have to be proactive, have a plan, and follow through.

So you've decided to self-publish. Good for you! The first thing you need to know is that the astounding successes of Amanda Hocking and John Locke are not the norm. The second thing you need to know is that you are solely responsible for all of your marketing and promotion, so if your book doesn't sell, it's your own fault.

Even before you put out your first book, you need to get your name out there. People need to know who you are and what you're offering. By starting your self-promotion early, you'll also have time for trial and error. You'll be able to learn what works and what doesn't. You'll make connections--and in this business, just as in any other, connections can have a huge impact on your success rate. (It certainly doesn't hurt to make new friends, either.)

I suggest starting with a website, a blog, Twitter, and Facebook.

You need a base of operations. A home. Get a domain name and start your website. I like Intuit's website building software. When I worked as a bookkeeper and staff accountant, I used their bookkeeping software QuickBooks. It was so very user-friendly and they had great customer support, so when I decided to get a website--and knowing that I have zero graphic design skill--I went to them. When I signed up, they had a free trial offer. It looks to still be running. Their prices are reasonable, too. I signed up for a business website (which means I can have a store if I want one, which I do plan for) and privacy protection (because I used my parents' address in the States and I didn't want that information to show up on any WHOIS lookups) and it costs me $21 a month. This may not be reasonable for you; a regular personal website is $4.99 a month, and I believe you can upgrade at any time.

But for the sake of argument, let's say that you don't want to pay anything at all. Which is fine, because there are free alternatives!

Get a blog. Services like Blogger and WordPress even allow you to have separate pages in addition to your blog page, so you can set up a book page, a profile page, or anything you want. I think the main difference between the two is that WordPress is easier to customize, but I'm not sure, I don't have a WordPress. (It's on my to-do list.) You could also use LiveJournal or tumblr. Whichever service you choose, make sure you use it. Blogging is one great way to get your name out there and let people know what you're all about. Visitors and readers turn into customers, or they can turn other people into customers. Here on my blog, I try to offer my visitors things they'll find useful, so I typically blog about writing tips and self-publishing tips, and I point toward other blog posts I think are also useful. I also have a regular Monday Miscellany post, which I use for personal updates and non-writing discussion. Try to define what your blog is about and be consistent, both in content and in posting schedule. Also keep in mind that you're unlikely to be an overnight success. Just work to steadily build your readership.

Become a Twit. Twitter is one of the very best marketing tools on the web right now. It's a fantastic way to share information, interact with colleagues and customers, and show off your personality. Messages are limited to 140 characters, so you're forced to be creative and concise. I love it. But don't only use it for outright marketing and self-promotion. Let your followers get to know you. Interact with other authors, with book reviewers, with bloggers. Really use it.

As much as I hate to admit this, Facebook is important. You probably have a personal profile. I do, despite disliking the site (it's so unsafe) because we live so far from our family and friends and they all want pictures of the baby. I also have a public author page. Just type "create page" into the search bar at the top of the site and go from there. Use it. Update your status, share pictures, share links to your blog posts and to your website and to your book when it's for sale.

If this seems overwhelming, pick one thing at a time, get used to it and get good at it, and then incorporate another site. Eventually, you'll become efficient and proficient.

The Cowboy Next Door: "Back Cover" Summary

Last night, I finally drafted the "back cover" summary for The Cowboy Next Door and this morning I polished it. I also discovered that, based on its word count and according to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, it is a novelette

Lilah Thompson has returned home to Colorado as a Navy widow with an ugly secret. It has been six years since she escaped her parents' expectations and Clay Bradford's hopes. Now, all she wants is to hold it together and bide her time in her father's carpentry workshop until she decides what to do next.
But Clay has other plans. Six years has been time enough as far as he's concerned and Lilah's widowhood is less of an obstacle than she thinks it should be. He wants her back, regardless of her ugly secrets and her aimlessness. He knows exactly what her next move should be.
The Cowboy Next Door is a romance novelette incorporating a little bit of angst and a little bit of erotica for the enjoyment of adults.
I expect to be finished and ready to upload within the next two weeks. This is very exciting!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Monday Miscellany

Seeing all the swapping of guest blogging, and submitting questions to author Greta van der Rol for an author interview, has me seriously considering inviting guest bloggers. I can think of four fellow writers I would like to ask, and that's just off the top of my head. I even have vague ideas for what I would like to ask them to blog about. I just lack the courage. I'm sure that one night soon I'll have a couple of drinks and think, "To hell with it! The worst that can happen is they say no!" and I'll shoot off some emails or DMs. Alcoholism is bad, kids. But losing a few of your inhibitions isn't always a bad thing.

My writing goals this week are as follows: I want to finish the final round of pre-beta'd edits of Cowboy, finish the interview questions for my artist friend Kelsey and get those to her, and start the blog post series on self-publishing. I also want to work up a few more elevator pitches and pick out at least two more lines from Cass Gets Her Kicks to make my Twitter promotion slightly more successful. I would really love to see at least one Smashwords book page hit a day. (By the way, coupon code TS42L is good for another three days!)

Setting reasonable goals and taking baby steps are probably my top two tips for being productive.

Speaking of baby steps, my baby took two steps last night. The kid can walk, she just won't. She did the same thing when she was learning to crawl. And when she learned to roll over. She has it so good, what with being carried all over whenever she wants, that I can't really blame her.

Just before bed last night, I tweeted about wanting a vacation. I may queue some posts and take a few days off from the computer in the near future. This morning, I signed up for Hootsuite. Automating promotion-only tweets is, of course, a bad idea, but I'm hoping I can figure out how to use it and automate several days' worth of personal and professional tweets. That way, I won't feel guilty when I do take a few days off.

Blog Roundup: September 5 - 11, 2011

This week, I discovered Avery Olive, an author with a name I think is too cool for words. I enjoyed the tips posts on naming characters and editing because I thought they were both concise and useful. Even if you're familiar with the points brought up, it's worth it to revisit the tips in someone else's voice.

I don't know if I've mentioned the Erotic Romance blog before, but it's worth checking out for up-to-date information on the erotic and romance publishing industry/ies. There's no bullshit over there, something I find quite refreshing.

Rik Davnall's post on marketing is worth recommending again. I found it very useful.

I'm a big fan of learning things no one told you. James Killick's post on five things writing experts won't tell you is a good example of why. Particularly the second, third, and fourth things catch me up. In the process of editing chapter one of my current WIP, I found several lines that made me stop and smile because they were just so me. If I always followed the rules, I would have deleted them--and killed any originality I might have.

Rob On Writing's post about being needles in a stack of needles just reinforces what I've been telling myself all week: just keep working. Any day I get over ten blog hits or one hit on my book page at Smashwords is a good day as far as I'm concerned.

Sirra did her post on standard manuscript format! Go read it!

Ciara Ballintyne posted on the etiquette of self-promotion on Twitter. I think her list is more along the lines of things not to do rather than a question of etiquette, but it's worth reading regardless.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

SitRep Saturday: The Cowboy Next Door

All right, I know it's late, but that's not because I've been slacking. I actually have productivity to report.

This week, I finished the first and the cursory second round of edits. Then I got so sick of looking at it that I sent it off to five beta readers. It's with them now, and most of them have promised to have it back by next Friday or so, so now it's a waiting game. I'll do another round of edits on my own before I go over their notes, but we're getting close!

I also have to finish up the "bonus" chapter, write the "back cover" summary, and work up the layout. I'm not too worried. Formatting was kind of a breeze last time (a time-consuming breeze, but a breeze nonetheless) and I made it into the Smashwords premium catalog on my second try.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Free Books!

You know what's awesome about ereaders? Free books! For those of us who have debilitating book-buying habits, being able to download free electronic books is one of the very best things about having an ereader. Well, it is for me. Once a month, I hit up the Kindle Top 100 Free list and I go download-crazy. I have a bunch of books I haven't read yet, but it's nice to have that stockpile. (So I'm preparing for the apocalypse. An apocalypse in which I still have electricity to charge my Kindle.) I don't worry about being stuck with nothing to read.

That might be something I actually worry about. Maybe.

Anyway, there are more places online that offer free books legally.

You weren't planning to be productive or anything this weekend, were you? I hope not.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Throwing Things In Elevators

An elevator pitch is a concise summary of what you're selling. Everyone from entrepreneurs to potential dates uses them and I've seen them discussed several times by authors talking about self-promotion. In fact, I most recently read about them in this blog post by Rik Davnall.

Self-promotion is something I struggle with. It's not that I don't want to sell copies of my book. I do! I just don't want to annoy people into ignoring me. I've come across so many overly aggressive self-promoters and they don't make me want to buy their books or read their blogs. They make me want to ignore them. So I do. That's not good for them and there's a chance I'm missing out on something great, so it's not good for me, either.

I've been working on my elevator pitches. Especially as I draw closer to finishing my next story, I want to get into the habit of self-promoting. I have no problem tweeting and Facebooking links to my blog posts, and that earned me to 421 hits last month. (I want to make it to 500 this month.) Getting links out there works. When I posted the link to my website on that local classifieds site, I got seventy hits on the ad, ten hits on my site, three hits on my blog, and one book sale. To me, that's not bad. It's a solid start.

But it's just that. A start. I'm in this for the long haul. I have to start implementing what I learn. And that means using elevator pitches.

So far, these are the ones I have for Cass Gets Her Kicks:
Like road trips? Like classic cars? Like sex? Then you might like Cass Gets Her Kicks. Just 99 cents from [insert bookseller here, followed by link]. 
Cass Gets Her Kicks received its first five-star review on Smashwords!
Plain old Cass with the widening ass of rapidly-approaching middle age was Cass With the Great Ass to this man-child?
They're not bad, but they could be better. And I definitely need more of them.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Five Stars

Cass Gets Her Kicks got its very first review at Smashwords. Five stars!

The Blog Post That Is Not A Blog Post

So I'll come out and confess here that I'm kind of having a rough day (the baby didn't fall asleep until the husband woke up, the weather is weird, and we were supposed to have dinner guests who canceled at the last minute) and blogging is the last thing I really want to be doing. However, I want to make it to 500 blog hits this month and that won't happen unless I actually, you know, blog.

This is where the "now with 100% more filler" tag comes in.

Last night, I opened up a new word processor file (I don't use MS Word, I use Open Office--I do plan to post about it at some point) and wrote up some meta on Lilah Thompson, my heroine from the current WIP. Because I've been editing line-by-line, I've lost sight of the big picture. I needed to step back and look at it. I also needed to work out Lilah's motivation. She's not exactly the most likable character (I'm hoping she comes off sort of like Scarlett O'Hara, a character I always thought was unlikable but still appealing), but I don't think it's necessary for a heroine to be a likable character. After all, not everyone is a likable person. I do hope that readers can identify with her, which to me is more important.

Meta is telling in the way that the actual story is showing. It isn't ever meant to be shared, but it can be very useful. I write meta for original characters when I'm having a difficult time sticking to their characterization (characterization is something I'm fabulous at--when I write fanfiction; I struggle when I write original fiction, mostly because character-building is something I have to work at) or when I'm having trouble with the evolution of a character.

Knowing that no one is going to read it is liberating. Knowing that it's a useful tool for helping me focus and settling my brain makes me want to do it.

Lilah has her reasons for doing what she does, and I explored those. She gets her happy ending, but not before she makes a mess of everything. I think her situation is something most of us can identify with. We may not have dead spouses or high school sweethearts who waited for us, we may not have distant-but-loving fathers and sweet-but-demanding mothers, but I think that most people will understand Lilah.

I like this story. Which is good, because if I don't like it, how can I expect anyone else to like it? I like the emotional conflict Lilah feels and I like the physical manifestation of the Clay/Lilah conflict. I like that I got to write humor (the book cover is a result of the funniest scene in the story, I think) and that I got to write banter. Cass's story was sex with minor character development; Lilah's story is character development with sex thrown in for fun.

Now all I have to do is finish the second editing pass and send it off to beta readers and, maybe, advance readers.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Monday Miscellany

My Plug Your Book post is still open and my indiereleaseparty email is still accepting messages. I figure I'll give this venture another week before I make any decisions.

Last night, I finally made it into chapter four of editing! I've realized that it will definitely need another pass, which is cool, but I'm still hoping to send it off to beta readers by the end of the week. If you're interested in an advance reader copy of a short (roughly 15,000 words) romance, please let me know, either in a comment here or an email.

I'm almost halfway done with The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy by Greta van der Rol and I. am. in. love. The last time I read a non-Star Wars book that hooked me so completely was Elizabeth Moon's Once A Hero. The worldbuilding is masterful, the characters are wonderful (and the author does not succumb to the impulse to make them Mary Sue and Gary Stu), the mystery is exciting, and--in my opinion, the best part--the action sequences are just perfect! As if all of that wasn't awesome enough, the sex is great, too! Seriously. I keep having full-on fangirl attacks.

Today, I'm baking bread and dinner rolls. It's cool enough and I felt like it, so I figured, why not?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Blog Roundup: August 29 - September 4, 2011

My crush on Chuck Wendig just keeps getting bigger. He had two fantastic posts this week. "25 Things You Should Know About Self-Publishing" is part of his "25" series and, of course, is full of good points to get your brain working. "Making Sense of Ninety-Nine Cents" is about the $0.99 price and how to use it.

Last week, I posted about ebook covers. This week, The Passive Voice had a post on terrible covers and asked if they could kill book sales. (Yes. Yes, they can.)

Greta van der Rol wrote about building better websites. It went up as a companion piece to her post on what she hates about websites. If you have a site, it's worth checking out what people dislike. You want people to visit your site and stick around, not click back home because they're frustrated. (Even though it's old, I'm going to suggest this post, too, because book covers are apparently Theme Of The Week in my world.)

James Killick blogged about how to build a loyal Twitter following. I particularly agree with not block-tweeting for Follow Friday. I like it when the people I follow tell me why they think I should follow someone else, too.

The question of how much self-promotion is too much is addressed in this Keystrokes & Word Counts post. Self-promotion is something I struggle with. Oh, I have no problem sharing a link a day to whichever blog post I've just put up, but that's because I try to write posts I think will be helpful to others. Promoting my book... that's something else.

A new blog launched this week, and I can't pick just one post to link to. I liked the first one, the one on clichés, the one about Stephen King, the one about not being a dick on Twitter, and the one about bestsellers. Just go read it. It looks really promising.

Sirra posted another roundup of her #writetips from Twitter. You should listen to her. She's smart. Also, she's kind of stabby, so... yeah. (I understand she's considering a post on manuscript format. I hope she does one. Apparently, double spaces after a period are only standard in academic writing.)

A new cover was reviewed over at Your Cover Uncovered. Check it out and absorb some knowledge! Or possibly I mean wisdom. Maybe I mean both.

In The Real World, Yoda, We Try

Yesterday, a writer I follow on Twitter and here on Blogger released his first book: Heaven Can Wait by R. J. Davnall. I did what I could with a Facebook share and a retweet, but it occurred to me that it would be nice to have a place to go where I could read about all new indie releases.

So I went to my BFF, Google, and I asked it where I could find a list or schedule of new indie releases. I found Release Notes, but that wasn't exactly what I was looking for. (It's a good blog and I promptly started following it, though.) Goodreads has a self-promotion thread, but, again, not exactly what I was looking for. There's the Indie Book Collective. That looks like a great blog, too. I knew about the .99 Cent Network (which reminds me that I need to sign up; I knew I was forgetting something). I looked through several pages of results from Google, and I did not find what I wanted.

What I want is something like this: New Book Release Dates. Something like this in list form or this would also do, but indie (self-published and small publishers) books only. Nothing fancy. Just a cover image, title, author, summary, price, and link(s) to where the book is for sale.

So I created a new email address at and I created a new blog and I put the initial feeler out on Twitter last night. I didn't receive much of a response, to be honest, but I don't think that means this is a failure. I want to give it a little more time.

In order for this to work, though, I need indie authors to submit their information. Like short press releases, I guess. You can email the address above, DM me on Twitter with a link to your book or webpage about the book, or leave a comment here or in last night's Plug Your Book post.

I think this could be really useful. If nothing else, it could be one more promo tool for indie authors, and, let's face it, we need all the help we can get.

Plug Your Book

That's it. That's the whole point of this post. I want you to leave a comment plugging your book. Give me the title, tell me what it's about, and link me to where you have it for sale.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

SitRep Saturday: The Cowboy Next Door, Interviews, and Other Projects

I am here to admit, sheepishly, that I have only edited the first two chapters and the first page of the third chapter of Cowboy. I hit kind of a slump this week. I did, however, start work on the "bonus" chapter. It's not part of the story, but I thought the characters deserved some fun.

Greta van der Rol has agreed to be interviewed for From the Writer's Desk very soon. I am very, very excited about this. I've had The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy on my to-read list for several weeks. I just started it last night and I am not disappointed. I love science fiction.

A friend of mine who is part of Marginalia Studios has also agreed to be interviewed. I'm stoked about this, too, because I've been wanting to feature her since the blog was new. She's a fantastic artist.

Yesterday's post on why self-publishing isn't career suicide got me thinking about the guide to self-publishing I've been wanting to work on. September may be the month for that.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Self-Publishing Isn't Career Suicide

When I offered a coupon code for Cass Gets Her Kicks on a local website used most often by military spouses, one person downloaded the book--and one person sent me an email that said no publisher was going to take me seriously now that I've self-published. I didn't respond privately to the email because I didn't see the point (I won't change her mind, regardless of the evidence) but it did make me think. I'm willing to bet that there are writers out there who want to self-publish but are unsure. I bet they think the same thing: that by self-publishing, traditional publishers won't take them seriously. They probably think that self-publishing means you've achieved less and they aren't sure they're willing to settle for less.

I don't think self-publishing is career suicide. I don't think it's right for everyone, but I don't think it's the worst idea, even if you haven't submitted manuscripts to a traditional publisher.

Self-publishing has been around since the invention of the printing press. Apparently, most publications in the early days were self-published. When most people hear "self-published" they assume that it means "vanity press." Sometimes, this is true; vanity presses still operate and you have to watch it if you go that route. The self-publishing I'm talking about is a growing industry. It's digital. It's print-on-demand. It's cheap. It's easy.

I think that self-publishing gets a bad rap for those last two things.

You can self-publish with no start-up cost even if you have no talent and no skill. I plan to do a post or a series of posts on this in the future, so I'll give you a brief overview. You don't have to pay for word processing software because there's a great free one. You don't have to pay for a website because you can use Blogger or WordPress or any other desktop publishing site. You don't have to pay for a cover photo because you can use free royalty-free stock photos. You don't have to pay for the photo editing software because there's a decent free alternative to PhotoShop, or you can use a free online book cover designer. You don't have to pay for an editor--a copyeditor or a content editor--because there's no real vetting process. The next person to read your work is the consumer, not a gatekeeper.

Because all of this is possible, work that would make it to the slush pile makes it out into the world. Writers who don't spell-check or edit make us all look bad. Recently, I've read a number of posts--on Twitter, in blogs, and on message boards--by people claiming they'll never try another self-published book again because they've been burned. I can't blame them. It makes me sad, but I honestly do not blame them. It doesn't matter if they only lost $0.99. That was their hard-earned money and they were hoping for some decent entertainment. Probably they even wanted to support the independent arts. And what did they get? Something that was less readable than a message board post. It isn't fair to the consumer and it isn't fair to other self-published authors.

So I understand that people are wary of self-publishing. There's a lot that can go very, very wrong. But it doesn't have to go wrong.

Back in March, I bought Amanda Hocking's Hollowland. I had no idea it was self-published. I only learned that when I did some Google searching on her to find out what else she had written (I was looking for more zombie books). Suddenly, the book seemed that much more impressive to me. Her cover design, her summary, her whole book was so professional. Sure, there were some minor errors, but so what? I've read traditionally-published books that had more errors. I did a little more research on her and read about her success. Copies sold. Revenue earned. Her deal with a traditional publisher.

Yep. Amanda Hocking got a deal with a traditional publisher. Self-publishing didn't kill her career.

She isn't the only one. John Locke did the same thing. Understand that these two authors represent the extreme success the rest of us only dream of. They were wildly successful on their own, and traditional publishers sat up and took notice.

Successful self-published authors develop a fan base. They sell. This is attractive to publishers. Self-publishing is a lot of work, but it's only slightly more work than traditional publishing.

You still have to write your very best work. It doesn't matter if you send your manuscript off to an agent, a publisher, or your grandmother. If you have any respect for yourself as a writer or your audience, you'll do your best. Writing is hard (I believe I've discussed this before) and writing well is even harder. Then, even if you get that book deal, you still have changes to make. (Or not, I guess.) And if you think your publisher will do all of your book promotion, you are mistaken.

What appealed to me the most about self-publishing was the complete control. I, as the writer, have total control over my work. I decide what to write. I decide how to edit it. I decide what the book cover looks like. I decide when it gets released. I succeed or fail by my own hand. I'm not at the mercy of anyone but the consumer. That was something I could live with. That is something I can live with.

Authors like Amanda Hocking and John Locke have proven that it is possible to succeed at self-publishing and land traditional publishing deals in the process. Even if you aren't as wildly successful as either of them, it's still possible to make a living as a self-published ebook author.

Just don't slack.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Book Review: Anathema (Cloud Prophet Trilogy: Book One) by Megg Jensen

Anathema by Megg Jensen is a prime example of what a good book cover can do for your sales. I bought this book purely on impulse because I liked the cover. It didn't matter to me (because it didn't occur to me, the cover really did that) that I have enjoyed only a handful of YA fantasy novels and almost all of them were written by Madeleine L'Engle. I wanted to read this book.

It wasn't bad. I was really interested in the Malborn/Serenian struggle, and I kind of hope that she has plans to write the initial Malborn takeover, because I'd really like to read that. Reychel, the main character, was quite compelling; I just do not like her name at all. (In all fairness, I just came off of several months examining baby names, so "unique" spellings make me cringe. It's a personal issue, not a book issue. Her name actually makes sense in light of some revelations at the end.) She's a good girl with a good heart. Her "gift" is pretty awesome, and her ignorance was, I thought, sensible. I feel like Ms. Jensen wrote a pretty solid character. Reychel made sense to me. The way she thought and felt about her position, the way she went about learning new things, and her transformation in the end seemed plausible.

There were so many twists at the end I felt like my head was spinning, but it was a good kind of spinning. It made me curious about the second book, which I think is the point of a well-done first book ending. The little love triangle even appealed to my inner teen girl.

I think my favorite thing, though, was the villain. I'm not going to give it away, but I really, really liked that particular twist.

If you're the sort of person who reads and likes young adult fantasy, this book is worth checking out. I'm really glad I read it.