Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Self-Publishing: Free Software Essentials

At the end of January, I bought a new laptop. I'd been using a netbook and so making the switch to a full-size laptop with full capabilities meant that I could download a lot more software and have everything I really needed in order to make my work look as professional as possible. It's a PC, so of course it came with Microsoft products--including, interestingly, an Office Starter program that has actually proved quite useful. I ended up downloading a number of Windows-compatible programs that I've either used in the past and loved or that have come highly recommended and I haven't figured out how to use yet but am excited about.

Open Office
This is a free, open-source office suite comparable to MS Office. You can even save your work in Office-compatible formats. I've used it for years and love it. The word processor is the program I used to write and format my first four books. It's reliable and totally easy to use, especially if you're already familiar with Word.

When I first started poking around the MobileRead forums, I saw that a lot of people were talking about this program. In addition to being a library management program, it can convert ebooks from one format to another. This is going to be useful when I finally get around to formatting my work for sale on AllRomance... I hope. I haven't used it yet, but most users seem pretty happy with it.

MobiPocket Creator
This program is the one I've been using to convert my Word files to Kindle-compatible files for sale on Amazon. I haven't had any problems with it (despite the fact that a lot of users in the KDP forums seem to have trouble). It has been very easy to use and has made nice-looking books each time.

An open-source desktop publishing program, I read about Scribus somewhere online (I'm a bad researcher, I can't remember where) and thought it might be useful for creating book covers whenever I decide to self-publish hardcopies. I haven't really played around with it, but it seems pretty powerful and it looks like it could create professional-looking graphics.

This is free photo editing software with really basic capabilities. It's great for people like me who aren't visually-minded or editing-savvy. I like it a lot--I've used it for all of my covers and I'm happy with the results.

More photo editing software, this free and open-source program is a lot like Photoshop. My dad is a photographer and he likes it. I'm not smart enough for all the tools and potential available in this program, but I hope to be one day. You'll have to go to CNET for the download.

I also downloaded Mozilla Thunderbird with the Lightning add-on for my email and calendar and Intuit's website building program since that's the company I use.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Monday Miscellany: Road Trip, Kids, Books

Unfortunately, we waited too long to book our Paris tickets, so they are prohibitively expensive. It's okay. We're flexible. Instead of heading to Paris, we're going to check out Saarbr├╝cken, Metz, and Luxembourg. I need to pick up my international license and rent a car, but we're planning a day-long road trip for Thursday. My mom is thrilled about Luxembourg but quite unhappy with me since I told her the kid and I are going to Paris on our own in April.

Maybe there will be pictures at some point. I keep forgetting to take them. The kid just hit her eighteen-month mark and I don't know if you know this, but toddlers are quite the handful.

I'm still working on the website update and I'm still working on blog posts. I feel much, much better this week, so I'm hoping to actually get some work done.

Over the weekend, I finished reading Morgan's Choice. You all know I loved it. (Admiral Ravindra. Rawr.) So I'll have reviews for that and Supertech soonish. I'm going to start No Wings Attached this week (probably today during the kid's naptime) and then Candlelight Sinner after that. And after that I'm going to read Starheart because OMGYES.

I think, after that, I'm going to read The Hunger Games. I'm really curious and the more I read about it, the more I think I'd enjoy it. I tend to stay away from wildly popular books like that, but this one is interesting me.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Blog Roundup: February 20 - 26, 2012

Chuck Wendig offered advice to writers for this week's 25 Things post. On the subject of being a writer, not on writing so much. Still worth the read. It illustrates just how unique the writing journey is for each person.

Greta van der Rol's new book is out! She posted about it here and shared the first chapter here. Also, because she is awesome, she talked about the Thrawn Trilogy here. If you're a Star Wars fan and you haven't explored the EU... you are seriously missing out.

Erotic Romance had a brief post on the subject of "barely legal" erotica.

Girl Who Reads did a quick, inteRuresting post outlining various traffic-driving sites for your blog.

Into the Morning offered three tips for new bloggers. I think it's especially important to remember number three.

James Killick wrote about how to surprise your reader.

As usual, you should check out Sierra Godfrey's Google Reader Roundup.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

SitRep Saturday: On Being Sick

As if I didn't have enough excuses, I can add "being terribly sick" to the list. Ugh. I get sick once a year, if that, and this was my week. To make matters worse, the kiddo was sick, too. We were pretty miserable.

I still managed to start work on the website update, though. That's something. I'm much happier with my book cover redesigns--you can see them there on the right side of my blog.

This next week is going to be a slacker week, too. My mother and sister are still here and we have travel plans.

Maybe the distance from the story is good for me? Maybe it'll make editing a lot easier when I finally get the chance to sit down and work.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Monday Miscellany: Family, Blogging, and Breakfast

My mother came to visit! She's here for two weeks and we're planning things like a day trip to Paris, another to Idar-Oberstein, bowling, swimming, and tomorrow we're going to the Fasching parade in a local village. Maybe I'll have some pictures to share next Monday. I enjoy my mother's visits. So, too, does my husband. Don't worry--I told him that it's weird. He said, and I quote, "But she cleans the house!" We all got a good laugh out of that. (My sister's husband is the same way. Something about Mom having an extra thirty years of experience keeping house and looking after kids means she's better at it.)

Needless to say, I'm not expecting to get much "work" done, but I am certainly hoping to. I have two posts in the pipeline: one on the reader as as customer, and one on self-publishing software essentials. These are both drafted, they just need some editing and links thrown in. I know I've been a bad blogger lately. I've been a bad writer and pretty much everything. Things will be back to normal soon, though.

In the meantime, I'm going to point you in the direction of a brunch cake recipe. I made this one last night and it is delicious. Light, not too sweet, and I am pretty sure the strawberry can be replaced with blueberry, blackberry, or apricot with results just as delicious.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Blog Roundup: February 13 - 19, 2012

Chuck Wendig delivered again with yet another list of 25, this time on the things you should know about protagonists.

Greta van der Rol hosted a guest post by Michael Combes on the subject of suspense of information in fiction. I also enjoyed her look at "hard" SF.

Laura Bradford hosted K. M. Parr, who wrote about writing as serious (frustrating, rewarding) business.

I thought this post from Girl Who Reads on the influence of blog reviews for self-published books was interesting.

Aimee Salter's self-publishing #10 went up here.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

SitRep Saturday: One Good Cowboy and Book Covers

I actually did get a little bit done this week on One Good Cowboy. I did about a page and a half of editing, wrote out several pages of meta, and redesigned the book cover.

It needed some work since the story is no longer a novelette.

In that vein, in order to prepare my work for upload to AllRomance (a goal I had for the week, a goal I completely missed), I did a little bit of work to the cover for Cass Gets Her Kicks, too.

I felt like the cover needed a little more information for potential readers. 

The Cowboy Next Door also needs some cover work, and I hope to add taglines to the covers of both Please, Sir and Better with You before I upload to AllRomance.

Self-publishing is a learn-as-you-go business, no matter how much research you do beforehand, but I really enjoy the experience I get these days.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Monday Miscellany: Romance, Stress, and Why I Love Greta van der Rol

Tomorrow is Valentine's, in case you forgot. I have already gotten my sweetheart his present and card; "he" has already gotten my gift, too. (I bought some dishes for the house and told him that's what he got me--yes, I really am that romantic.) The funny thing is that my husband is actually quite wonderful at romance and remembering special occasions and he puts up with my surly attitude toward those things.

Yes, it's true. I read romance novels and write romantic stories, but I am quite possibly the least romantic person I know. Shh. Don't tell anyone.

I try for him. I really do. It's just easier for me to be loving in little ways throughout the year. I leave notes for him on Post-Its in his wallet or on the car steering wheel, I try to make sure we never run out of his favorite drinks in the refrigerator, I learned to properly use spices in my cooking for him, I don't pitch a fit when he wants to have boys' nights out, I take care of things he doesn't like or doesn't have time to do. Like right now, I'm working on a spreadsheet for him that he needs for work. I have to input roughly 1500 pages of data, then email it to him. I do not miss my days of spreadsheet maintenance. But if I don't do it, he'd be stuck at the office until God-knows-when all week. He'd be grumpy, the kid would be grumpy (she likes him or something--I don't get it, either), and I'd rather have both of them happy. To me, this is true love. It's the daily grind, the bad days and the low points that melt away in the memories of the great days and the high points. It's hearing him walk through the door at the end of the day and feeling like everything is okay because we're together. It's knowing that I'm better off with him than without him.

Okay, so maybe I am a tiny bit romantic. Please don't tell.

I've been under a great deal of stress over the last few months and late last week, I had a "screw everything" moment. I'm clearly not going to finish One Good Cowboy if I keep pushing myself. I can make slow and steady progress, but if progress is what I want, I need to find it in other places, too. Places like drafting other stories, getting my books formatted for AllRomance, outlining my website redesign, revisiting The Guest, reading, taking on household projects I've been putting off. So when I sit down at night, I still open up One Good Cowboy and I still work on it. I got a page done last night and I'm hoping for another page tonight. But I'm trying not to stress out about it.

One thing that is stressing me out, in the best possible way, is Morgan's Choice. Ugh, it's so action-packed. But I'm going to take a moment here (again) to flail my arms and deteriorate into asdjfk. Archaeology. Archaeology in science fiction. Real archaeology done by a real academic. I keep having to take moments in order to flail my hands around for real. I mean, let's just completely ignore Ravindra and Morgan, let's ignore the politics and the technology. Let's just for a moment look at the fact that archaeology as a practice plays a significant role in this science fiction novel and let's for a moment completely geek out about that fact.

As if I needed another reason to love Ms. van der Rol. I cannot wait for her next book.

I have to go flail again.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Blog Roundup: February 6 - 12, 2012

I guess this kind of goes along with my Ten Things I Have Learned From The Muse post: Chuck Wendig wrote about 25 Reasons That Writers Are Bug-Fuck Nuts. I also enjoyed his Flash Fiction Challenge: The Unlikable Protagonist. I'm sure regular readers are well aware of my fondness for unlikable characters by now.

Um, so this isn't so much about writing as it is me fangirling, but Greta van der Rol posted that her next book, Starheart, is due out about nine days from now. Who else is excited? Because I sure am!

Roni Loren posted about 5 Muse Abusers over at her new blog. Her Fill-Me-In Friday was also full of useful writing links. I think that this will be the last week I check her blog. All of the advertising is kind of getting to me. I wish her success, but I go to read her blog, not to be reminded six or more times on a single page that her book is available.

Emily Veinglory's post about Cogwheel Press over at Erotic Romance caught my eye.

Have you checked out Kindle Author? In particular, I'm quite fond of the heads up on free books.

R. S. Guthrie hosted a guest post from Sevastian Winters about the price point. I really enjoy posts like these because they treat self-publishing as a business. It's not going to make me raise my prices on my current books--I have a reason for pricing things the way I have--but I do find it encouraging.

Check out Aimee Salter's continuation of her self-editing posts: #8, #9.

Sierra Godfrey, as always, made her Google Reader Roundup post. (Does anyone else picture the Google logo wearing a cowboy hat? No? Just me, then?)

Stella Deleuze's tip of the week was especially useful to me this week. I'm still in the process of editing and, man, I am wordy and repetitive.

This guest post over at Written Words made me smile. We're all a little mad here...

Saturday, February 11, 2012

SitRep Saturday: Slow Going on One Good Cowboy

I'm almost embarrassed to make this post. This week, I've only managed to edit up to page five (of fourteen) of One Good Cowboy. I could offer up a bunch of reasons but, really, they're just excuses. I'm plugging away. I'm determined to finish.

The cover is going to need some work. The story is no longer a novelette. Word count and flow is placing it firmly in short story category. Which is fine. As I was explaining to my sister this week, I'm not out to write the Great American Novel. I'm just hoping to offer people like me a few minutes or half an hour of entertainment throughout the course of their days.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

On Writing: Ten Things I Have Learned From The Muse

Like most authors, I have a muse. He has come and gone in various incarnations since I was about eleven, which was when I started taking writing seriously. (I wrote series of stories about a team of marine biologists in southern California. I drew book covers, printed the stories, and even bound them with glue and ribbon.) For a while, the muse was a marine biology grad student, then he was a vampire, then he was a Rebel Alliance pilot, and now he's a sloppy, honest punk with a penchant for red sheets and whiskey. He's a lot like the invisible friend most of us had as kids. (This is probably why that famous quote about writing being a "socially acceptable form of schizophrenia" exists.) I know my mother thought I was crazy for many years. She still thinks I'm a little off, but I have letters from several doctors saying that I'm not crazy, so. Anyway, the muse has been valuable throughout my pursuit of this writing thing. He has taught me a lot. Following are ten of the lessons he keeps having to re-teach me.

1. Take chances.
You will not always be successful, but you're far more likely to regret not doing something that you really wanted to do than you are to regret doing something you really wanted to do that didn't work out the way you hoped.

2. Be honest.
With yourself and with your audience. Mostly with yourself. Readers can sense when you don't believe in what you're writing. Fiction writers lie for a living, but you have to believe your lie and you can't half-ass it and only tell half-lies.

3. Don't hold back.
Writing is not the place to be reserved. Reservations make boring writing. So don't half-ass it, no matter what it is. Don't censor yourself out of fear of audience opinion.

4. Write what you really want to read.
Not what you think some vague idea of an audience wants to read. It will be unsatisfying and if you're unsatisfied you're unmotivated. Lack of motivation leads to lack of writing, which leads to writers' hearts withering and dying in their chests. True story.

5. Accept that you're not always going to succeed the way you want.
Your splatterpunk humor series might fail. And that's okay. But you never know if you don't try. Especially when it comes to something new or extreme--or new and extreme--you have to be aware of the potential for "failure." How you define success and failure is up to you.

6. Be yourself.
You are unique and special, like a snowflake. Don't melt into a puddle of boring old water just to fit in. It's your uniqueness that makes you interesting and helps you stand out from the crowd.

7. Remember that you are not special.
There is at least one other person out in the world with a similar set of interests, likes, and dislikes as you. You are not alone. If you're lucky, you'll find that person and you'll really know how not-alone you are. If you haven't found that person yet, don't worry about it. They're out there. (Even if they're not, it helps to tell yourself this.)

8. You are not an island.
Particularly if you hope to have people read what you write, you need a network. You need readers, you need critics, and sometimes you just need to get out of your own head and talk about things. People are good for this. Animals and inanimate objects can be sounding boards in a pinch. (I use my kid to talk things out when I'm stuck. Only appropriate things, though.)

9. Less is more unless you really need more.
Don't mince words. Use the words you need, even if your head tells you that there are too many. Words aren't just about connotation. They're about denotation, setting the tone, showing the story. Words are the brick and mortar of story-building. Use enough of them!

10. Never give up, never give in, never give out.
Keep writing, keep writing what you like, and keep writing even when your fingers won't move anymore. Remember what I said about hearts withering and dying? That.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Monday Miscellany: What I'm Reading, the New Kindle, One Good Cowboy

I am currently working my way through Greta van der Rol's Morgan's Choice whenever I get a few free minutes to read. I already read Supertech (more on that in a minute) and I just have to say: Ms. van der Rol, where have you been all my life?! I read some great books last year and discovered some pretty great independent authors, but--and no offense to the others, this is purely a matter of personal taste--she's my favorite. I loved the Iron Admiral books. I'm loving the Morgan Selwood books. (OMG, Morgan! I love how feisty and smart she is!) If I finish this one before Starheart comes out, and I might, I'm so going to read To Die a Dry Death. I would read that book even if history wasn't one of my Things. Seriously, she's really stinking good. If you like science fiction at all (she's in the same vein as Star Wars and Star Trek and I enjoy her work just as much as I enjoy Elizabeth Moon's and slightly more than I enjoy David Weber's) her books should be in your to-be-read pile. Especially if you're the sort of person who likes attractive men.

Supertech is the first book I read on my new Kindle. Yes, my new one. My old one--the one that kickstarted my self-publishing career move--died on me. I was pretty upset. Okay, I was beyond upset; no one should be that attached to an electronic device. I ignored that it wasn't working for several days and then I called Amazon customer support. We ran through all of the troubleshooting attempts I had already tried and then, because it was out of warranty, they offered me the option of a $65 replacement. I declined because, well, what was the point? So I went to order a new one (the introductory model) only to discover that Amazon doesn't ship that one to APO addresses. That's okay. The post exchange sells the one I wanted, anyway. So now I have a new Kindle and I have to say that even though I was wary of it (I may or may not have thrown a First World Problems fit over not wanting a new Kindle; I'm not proud of myself) I'm very, very happy with it. It's lighter, it's faster, and even with no keyboard, no speakers, and special offers, I still love it.

I read Supertech, as I mentioned. I bought Supertech and Morgan's Choice for myself for my birthday back at the beginning of December and then life happened and I didn't get a chance to read them. I also re-downloaded Stella Deleuze's Candlelight Sinner, which is next on my to-read list. Maybe. I could have sworn that I already bought No Wings Attached but I couldn't find it in my archived items at all, so I may have to get that one first and just read them back-to-back. And once I'm done with those, I think, I'm going to see about the new Dexter book. I know it's not indie, but... Dexter. Jeff Lindsay is so deliciously, deviously talented.

On Saturday, I mentioned that One Good Cowboy has been drafted. I've jumped straight into editing with my new perspective on writing and I have to say that things are going so much better now than they were before. I'm still shooting to be done by the end of the week, but we'll see how that goes. I have a lot of faith in myself--it's the housework I don't have faith in.

I'm trying not to think too much of the project to come after that. What I can tell you is what I'm hoping to complete for this week's blog schedule. I've been kicking around two blog post ideas: one on treating our audience as customers and one on the things I've learned from my muse.

Next week, in honor of Valentine's Day, I think I'm going to do an all about romance week. We'll see if I can get my act together in order to do it!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Blog Roundup: January 30 - February 5, 2012

Chuck Wendig wrote about the 25 Things You Should Know About Story Structure. Sometimes I diagram my stories. If they look like the graph he used as an article photo, I feel confident. I recommend it to other plotters.

Greta van der Rol wrote about an author who "breaks the rules" and how that works out for him (it's an excellent read if you're wondering which rules you can break and how). If you'll excuse my fangirl, she also wrote about a glowing review she received. If you're going to talk about your reviews, this is the way to do it. (Also: you should read her books. You really should.) (Also also: I'm currently reading Morgan's Choice and I cannot recommend it enough.)

Roni Loren hosted a guest post from Claire Ashgrove on the subject of developing subplots. She also asked if blog tours sell books. (I disagree to an extent. I think that you have to reach out to new audiences. I think sticking with blogs you know, blogs you know your audience reads or blogs that target the same audience you do, is where the danger in not selling books lies.) And she wrote about moving her blog to her main website and why.

Angel Zapata posted about severing her ties with Trestle Press due to copyright infringement issues. (Trestle Press, it seems, has been using copyrighted images on their book covers without permission or compensation or credit. Wow.)

Avery Olive posted definitions and explanations of ARCs and Galleys. If you're new to publishing terminology, it's a good post.

Keystrokes and Word Counts had a nice post on why writers do what we do. I complain about writing more often than I should, but I can't imagine life without it.

This post at McQuestionable Musings shares writing advice from Ira Glass. Read it. Especially if you're a "new" writer and even if you aren't. It's good to put things in perspective sometimes.

The Rapidly Evolving Role of Agent was posted over at Pub Rants. I frequently read about this phenomenon, but it's nice to see some specifics straight from an agent.

Aimee Salter continued her self-editing series with posts #6 and #7. If you've missed any posts, check out her self-editing tag.

When you're done here, head over to Sierra Godfrey's Google Reader Roundup.

Stella Deleuze wrote about proofreading as an underestimated profession; if you're hiring out the editing and proofreading of your manuscript, read that post. She also posted a tip of the week, this one on Twitter. I don't know about you, but everyone I follow on Twitter has been interesting or useful or entertaining to me in one way or another. I recommend that as the way to go. (And talk to them more. I should talk to the people I follow more often, I know.)

The Feckless Goblin asks if you should hire an editor to look at your book. (I agree, to an extent. If you can afford it or work a trade + have no experience in editing, then yes, absolutely.)

And in case you missed it, here on my blog, I interviewed Stella Deleuze to help celebrate the release of her new book, Candlelight Sinner.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

SitRep Saturday: One Good Cowboy and This Time Around

One Good Cowboy is completely drafted--again--and I've started the editing process--again. I feel much better about the story this time. The characters are right, the situation is right, the setting is right, the development is right. It's open-ended and the prospect of a longer sequel featuring a bigger conflict looms. So, too, does the prospect of a spin-off sequel featuring Heather's first target. I'm shooting to have it finished by next week, but you know how best intentions go.

Last night (okay, early this morning), I ended up listening to my muse and wrote the 3700 word action draft of a story tentatively titled This Time Around. Eric and Cynthia are thirty-somethings getting a second chance at intimate relationships. I really love their characters. It's a departure from my normal work just a bit, but I'm pleased with it. I'm pretty excited about getting the chance to finish it.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Self-Publishing: On Sales (December 2011)

At the end of December, I posted about my sales data. I included data through November of 2011 since December's sales figures were not yet final. Now that January is over, December's sales figures are final and I thought, hey, why not share them again.

As before, I'm not sure this will be a regular thing, but for now, it seems useful to share my information with fellow self-published authors.

First, my last sales snapshot:

I put my first book out in August and my fourth in December. All four of my available titles are around 10,000 words, so I've priced them at $0.99. I've also run several free promotions at Smashwords.

Here are my numbers for November and December:

I would credit adding the fourth book for nearly doubling my sales, but the fact is that the bulk of all sales between November and December actually came from just one book. That one book definitely affected the rest of my book sales, but I suspect that even without the other three, that book would be selling.