Sunday 11 November 2007

Navigating the Treacherous Waters of Publishing - Part 2


Self-publishing used to be frowned upon as the rejected child of the publishing industry, only to now be celebrated as one of its prodigal children. Many bestselling and well-known authors first undertook the self-publishing road, such as Virginia Woolf and James Joyce and, on a more recent note, Christopher Paolini with Eragon.

Mind you, using these authors as examples portrays the self-publishing industry as simply a road to the world of traditional publishing. And yes, it can be that. But it can also be so much more.

Judge a book by its cover lately? Well, in self-publishing, you get to decide what exactly it is people will be judging. I love this idea. My roomy is a wicked artist (as can be witnessed in the “About the Header” blog entry), and she could make such a wonderful cover. Another of my best friends is an amazing graphic designer, and she could take care of the lay-out, and I’m sure it would be kick some serious butt.

And inside there would be some pictures, like in the old fantasy days. Just quick black and white pen-type sketches. I’ve always loved them, and miss them so in modern fantasy novels.

My sister-in-law is a photographer, so we’re talking book jacket picture right there. And any necessary Photoshop-ing (let’s not fool ourselves here). (See the blog pic? That’s her stuff. Cool, eh?)

So it would be a nice product, something that would stand out on the shelves (should the book get on the shelves). No need for the same old, same old.

And of course they’d all do this for free until I can repay them somehow. I’d throw a party for them, though. With lots of snack foods and properly-themed googly-eyed creatures.

Printing the books would require some capital, which is a bit of a problem for most. But you start with a small run and re-print once you’ve proven to yourself you can sell. There’s not need to go into complete debt over this. And you can set your own cover price, though it’s wiser to aim for the lower end (meaning cutting into your royalties). Customers don’t like taking chances on unknown authors, and they’re more likely to pick up something cheaper and that ends in “.99” (silly, but true).

Then, once the book is out, well, you need to market the little sucker. You prepare your website, and sell your book from there, maybe posting a teaser chapter for fun. You go to talks, bring your printed bookmarks for your book (every author seems to have those), and you become your book’s best champion (you and your mom).

Online marketing is the fastest and cheapest method to start off with, though not necessarily the most efficient at times. Author signings in bookstores are of limited popularity, but I figure one sold book could mean ten, since the best selling method is word of mouth. So time to get out there.

Of course, you also need to distribute it. Online stores are willing to post self-published books, as long as you take the necessary steps with them and pay your fees. Not too shabby, but remember, keep in mind shipping costs! Those will devour your profits real fast!

Even after all that shining on your part, your sales might still not be that great. And you’re having a hard time breaking into even local independent stores. And your mom can only buy so many copies. The cure? Keep writing, keep taking out more stuff, and keep marketing like mad.

It seems that to be successful, self-publishing has to become a full-time gig. Or you wait to be discovered by a traditional publisher. But if that’s your only goal, save yourself the hassle and go straight to the source. Or, if your only goal is to call yourself a published author, well, quit writing. That's just sad. Besides, self-published authors are not technically "published," they're "self-published."

If your goal, however, is to have a product you’re proud to call your own, from every word to every art stroke, and you don’t care about the quantity of sales so much as the quality of the book (or you’re a marketing guru with lots of capital), then this is the road for you.

And during the course of your self-publishing journey, remember that, in the end, it’s the echoes your story will manage to leave in your readers’ minds that will sale your next book.
So make sure, amongst all the marketing and number crunching, that you don’t forget that first and foremost, your job is to write.

Wednesday 3 October 2007

Navigating the Treacherous Waters of Publishing - Part 1

Traditional Publishing

The world of publishing offers many venues for new authors – depending on how much time, money and effort you’re willing to put into getting published. The stigma used to be that traditional publishing was for real authors, and all those self-published authors were poor and possibly crazed writers with too much financial backing.

The tides of the industry are ever changing, and although the shadow of the large publishing houses still looms over most of the book market, there are some gems out there that are definitely worth exploring.

But first, let’s see what the traditional publishing industry has to offer. My disclaimer here is that I fully intend to generalize and lump them all together, and I’m mostly referring to the crushing conglomerates. Every house, every editor and, in fact, every human being is different, and that's what keeps things interesting.

Traditional publishing houses, mostly the ones located in New York (and in Toronto for Canada), have the power that few others have – guaranteed distribution north and south of the border. I mean States and Canada, just to be clear.

An author published by these houses is also secured in the knowledge that their books will hit all the main shelves, from Barnes & Nobles to Chapters-Indigo, as well as be available at the click of a button on the net. It’s across the continent and cyberspace, and it’s big. Wow.

But what else do they do for you? The editors will of course try to make your book better, helping with plot rewrites, language edits and creating more powerful endings. Published authors have various opinions on editors – Terry Brooks edits his own stuff; John Saul is in love with his editor. That’s all about relationships and writing philosophies.

For the Cyrano de Bergerac out there, for whom it would be most difficult to see but a single comma moved, this is definitely not the route to take.

Although I believe good editorial work is most often needed, I’ve heard of authors being burned by the editorial process. A regretful fantasy author once lamented the death of a character where they would have lived, had they but stood their ground with their editor. Having read the book mentioned above (not saying which for fear of spoilers), I have to admit, the death scene added nothing and really kind of sucked (and I usually like death scenes).

Anyways, editing can be bad, but for most first time authors, let’s face it - it’s a good thing.

So traditional publishing houses edit and distribute. What else do they do? (warning – incoming rant!)

Well, they give you absolutely no powers over the cover of your books. I’ve heard from some first time authors that they didn’t even see the cover until they received their contributor’s copies. And, let’s be honest, their most junior and crappiest artists are usually assigned to new authors, or the artists whose only style is, well, the same as everything else out there, at least in popular fiction.

In fantasy, your book is almost guaranteed to have two people (maybe three!) on the edge of a cliff or by a tree staring into the distance with purpose (or straight at the reader – wow!) In romance, you have two intertwined lovers, half naked, sporting dark of red hair, regardless of what the characters actually look like, completely dependent on which dye colour is in at the supermarket right now. Horror is easy: it’s either a solid colour with a stylish icon like a lightning bolt, or there’s a half-shadowed face in there. Be afraid.

And it’ll be mass market format, which is fine. The publisher, after all, has already demonstrated a lot of faith in the first-time author by bringing the book to the presses. Let’s not push our luck.

Marketing? Nah. You do that on your own, honey, so you’d best hope you like the book cover, or come up with another clever way of selling your book. Publishers have limited marketing funds, and most of them are spent advertising the latest John Grisham-esque novel in the New York Times. I work in communications and marketing, and so don’t mind tackling the challenge and would in fact enjoy it, but how many new authors just don’t know what venues are available to them? They might have written the best book of the century, and they’ll barely be read because our media-heavy capitalistic culture is clamoring for attention elsewhere. That ain’t cool. New authors should at least get some guidance. It would only be in the best interest of the publishing house to sell more books, really.

Rights? You retain the copyright, of course, but you’ll have to surrender a slew of other rights. Some publishers now claim in their contract that publishing right remains theirs as long as the book is available in print OR online. That means they can keep a half-hidden link to your masterpiece, amongst the newer, flashier stuff, and no one can buy a copy for years, and still you can’t pitch it elsewhere. Even long after only dust remains of your printed work. Neat, eh?

And even to quote yourself on your own website you have to ask the publisher’s permission. I mean, let’s be serious, what are they going to do, sue you? And many publishers refuse to let authors post a first chapter as a marketing ploy, refusing to let too many words slips through their itching hands. I know many authors, some of them bestselling, who post multiple chapters, and it’s only enticed me to run out and buy the book.

Ok, that was my rant. And my fears with traditional publishing. Not that they’ve proven to be extremely warranted fears with all of these rejections I’m accumulating...

Let me end my (long) piece on traditional publishing by saying this: of all the negatives of traditional publishing, there is something that marks it above all other types (no, not just distribution, though that is nice) – when you’re accepted and published by a traditional house, you already have a team of professionals who believed enough in your words to pick it out of their slew of submissions, put good, long, often thankless hours into it, and then backed it with the capital necessary for your words to find their readers.

And that’s why I believe , regardless of everything else, that traditional publishing is still the best way to go. Once you make it past all those judges and get approved, you can be confident your first book is as good as it’s likely to get, and it’s already been championed.

And isn’t it nice to be believed in?

Monday 1 October 2007

September Post-Mortem and October Goals

Every month is like an event – you set and reach your goals (mostly), you get acceptances and rejections (ok, mostly rejections. Almost exclusively rejections. It’ll be a small party!), and you hope to find a sponsor or two along the way (meals are sponsorships, right?)

At the end of each month, I look back and see how much I’ve accomplished with my writing and telling, if I’m where I wanted to be at the end of the month, and if not, then why not?

For September, I had planned to:
  • Write 15,000 words of Warrior of Darkness
  • Write and send 2 short stories
  • Send off Bergamont’s Journey (a story of about 17,500 words – will make chart soon of all stories...)

Did I meet my goals? Alas, no. I did meet my short stories goal, and Bergamont is ready to be mailed today, but I missed my target for Warrior of Darkness. The problem was that, at the beginning of the month, I received my tenth rejection for Destiny’s Blood. I’m pretty fussy over my writing, and this is the first of my manuscripts I actually believe might get published.

But there were still a few plot points and character traits I wasn’t sold on. I had sent it out into the world because, well, I really needed to wean that manuscript. So when it came back, I decided to sit down and re-visit those problem spots. It took a lot of work, but it was worth it. I still managed to write 5,000 words of Warrior of Darkness, so that’s not too bad. Still, next month, I’ll try to hit my goals.

Speaking of which, here are my October goals:
  • Finish language edits on Destiny’s Blood and re-read to make sure I make sense
  • Write 5,000 words of Warrior of Darkness
  • Send off one short story
  • Write two ghost stories for October 23 telling

We’ll see how it goes!

Saturday 29 September 2007

First Short Story Published! WOOOOOO!

A friend e-mailed me a day ago to tell me she had just picked up the latest copy of The Voice, and that my first sold short story was in it! I would have rushed out to pick up a copy right away, but I was stuck out of town overnight, and it's a local magazine. But it was even better with the wait!

I picked up a copy the next day (well, ok, I illegally parked, threw my friend out of the car and she ran into a store and picked up a copy while I hunched behind the wheel and kept an eye out for by-law officers), and got to see my words in print for the first time (after making a clean getaway).

That was so cool! I feel the best part is seeing a quote from the story, selected by the editor, placed in a box in bigger font to act as a draw to readers. That makes it official!

The story is entitled The Taste of Sand, and tells of Maribel, an abused woman who believes a better life and lover awaits for her within the nearby borders of the forest. Her struggles transcend her physical pain as reality and expectations collide with her dreams and beliefs.

I want him to come to me, to come get me, to carry me and let my weary body rest, but he just stands there, as still as the trees around him, and my tongue is still too thick to speak.

The magazine is available in several stores in Ottawa, and all proceeds go to women's events and initiatives in the Ottawa area and beyond. It's a good magazine AND a good cause. Feel free to send me feedback on the story. I love feedback! (Particularly good feedback. Go fig.) Check out their website at

Now I've just got to use the momentum to write, send and sale! I hope there will be more posts like this one very soon!

Sunday 23 September 2007

About the Header

The header is based on my current writing project, a yet-to-be-named trilogy. The trilogy itself isn't named, but the three books are plotted out, the first fully written (though still in need of editing), and they each have a title to call their very own.

Ages ago, two lovers were spurned so deeply their fate of forever remaining apart still divides the lands that bear their names - Graydon and Elihor. For over a thousand years the Circle of Magic has reinforced and maintained the wall that separates the lands of light and darkness, but now
the Circle's powers are failing and demons from the land of Elihor are feeding on the scorned tribes of the West, and the children of Graydon must face judgment or annihilation.

Princess of Light

Cassara Edoline loves her small, forgotten kingdom, wasting her nights playing her flute to inspire her people and mourn her loss. Hers is the choice to marry the prince of her dreams or to become one of the most powerful sorceresses of her world. But the Fates have a different, more dangerous plan for the
Princess of Light. Should she fail, all of Graydon will fall with her.

Her carriage crossed the orchard, the blooms falling around her like a thousand tears, the petals trod upon by the horses the only sign of the passage of the last princess of Edoline.

Warrior of Darkness

Death stalks Avarielle Grayloft away from the West and across the forsaken lands of the East. To wash the blood from her hands and find the answer to her family's fate, the
Warrior of Darkness teams up with Cassara Edoline. But the price of knowledge and loyalty proves much, much higher than she had ever imagined possible.

She felt the familiar warm sensation of magic course through her arm and raised her head, knowing she would see nothing, knowing that the magic was only responding to the Eloms hiding in the darkness below her.

Sorceress of Shadows

Although stolen from her family by them when just a child, Shirina never questioned her allegiance to the Circle. Skilled in the ways of magic, she is assigned the difficult mission of capturing the magic and last descendant of the Graylofts: Avarielle. But when her mentor is sent to the fiery depths of Siabala's Rage and the Elders of the Circle seem to harbour a traitor, the Sorceress of Shadows must form an uneasy alliance with Cassara and Avarielle, knowing the time would come when she must choose between their lives and the Circle's survival.

It was the Circle's bidding and therefore her will.

... now, doesn't that just sound like a good read??

The header to my blog was created by my talented graphic artist friend, Karen Force (who will get roped into creating all future headers. Mwa ha.) The character pics were drawn by my other good friend, Kerri Elizabeth Melchior, at the very reasonable price of one My Little Pony per picture (that's a friend/roomie price - FYI). You can see more of Kerri's work at I have another friend who is a photographer and another who paints, and I will eventually work their stuff in as well. It's wonderful to have talented and generous friends.

Wednesday 19 September 2007

How to Massacre your Completed Manuscript

  • Take a complete manuscript (yours, preferably).
  • Choose a starting point (endings are my faves).
  • Move scenes around.
  • Write new emotional scenes, like death scenes. Let us focus on death of cannon fodder 1 (CF).
  • Move scenes around again as CF is still chatting after death. That ain’t cool. Or normal. Unless writing weird paranormal undead romance novel. Then it’s ok (though still kind of weird).
  • Write other scenes to explain death further.
  • Delete old scenes so dead person will no longer speak.
  • Realize old scenes necessary for little thing called plot.
  • Swear once.
  • Swear again.
  • Bring back old scenes.
  • Bring CF back to life.
  • Miss emotional impact of CF’s death.
  • Kill CF off again midway through the manuscript, for no better reason than “because.”
  • Shed a tear at genius of death scene.
  • Realize with some distraught that mid-point death means more removal of CF from end.
  • Swear and swig coffee.
  • Do “Word Find” for CF’s name.
  • Count 15 more re-appearances after death.
  • Break into a sweat.
  • Create secondary character (CF2) in scene before death scene, change name of dying person from CF to CF2, and kill newly create cannon fodder.
  • Delete all occurrences in manuscript of CF out of anger at non-death-cooperation.
  • Stare stunned at own stupidity at having deleted CF completely.
  • Stare stunned some more.
  • Copy death scene into other file, save for a later story, go back to manuscript and don’t save any of the day’s changes.
  • Feel odd sense of accomplishment despite not having actually changed anything in manuscript.
  • Analyze whether need good counseling – seem to like death scenes too much.
  • Shrug and finish coffee.
Of note: Swearing is preferably uttered (or shouted) in the privacy of one's own home and away from innocent ears. Let us be couth about this manuscript massacre.

Tuesday 18 September 2007

What is this storytelling thing, anyways?

We are all storytellers. Whether we’re retelling our shoe shopping escapade or our journey up the tallest hill in the area, we’re telling a story and, therefore, are storytellers.

Now, when I say I’m a storyteller, I mean that not only do I regale my friends with stories of why I chose to buy socks with angel pigs instead of devil cows (I dislike bad meat), I also enjoy telling a set tale, preferably before an audience (for some tellers, that involves singing or a musical instrument - think bard).

I mean telling, not reading. It’s a performance, not a static display. Storytellers like making eye contact with their audience, making sure their tale is riveting and that tears turn the eyes to glass when love interests meet an unfortunate end.

Storytellers tell many different types of stories – from traditional folktales and fairy stories to myths and legends, as well as more modern tales. Some storytellers can tell you the entire Incredible Journey in a few hours, and believe me; they’ll keep you riveted.

Other tellers, like myself, prefer doing original tales or adaptations, such as modernizing fairy tales. Not every heroine needs to be in distress, and why can gods of myths of old not enjoy a drink in today’s pubs?

Storytelling, particularly telling tales inked by my pen, gives me the instant gratification writing doesn’t. Let’s face it - it takes years for most writers to find a publisher interested in their work, and then maybe another couple of years before the book hits the shelves, to perhaps less-than-popular acclaim.

But in storytelling, you get feedback from your audience right away. You can see it in their eyes, in their body language, in their blue-tinged lips when they hold their breath; you can tell right away whether or not you’ve touched them the way you meant to. Or when you completely and utterly missed your shot, and fear you will never have an audience again. Thankfully most people are forgiving of a performer.

While telling, you can really get a feel for the pacing of your story, of the threads that tie it all together, and of the flow of the language. And with each telling the story is refined, in the same way a manuscript is made to shine during edits. In fact, storytelling has given me quite a few ideas on how to edit my manuscripts and make the language flow and scorch like lava.

So if you hear of a storytelling event in your area, go check it out and be ready to be transported to worlds near and far away. It is a tightly woven spell that tellers mean to cast.

I hope its charms will work on you.

Tuesday 11 September 2007

About Purple Nebulae

In the novel I’m currently editing, Destiny’s Blood, my characters and I were surprised when, following a rather stressful and deadly chase scene in an intergalactic space tunnel, their sputtering and smoking ship slammed right into a... purple nebula. Now, this was rather surprising for two reasons.

The first reason being that I didn’t think they’d get in trouble again right away. I thought maybe they’d take a break, think things through and decide on what to do next with themselves. The second reason being that, well, it was a purple nebula. I knew they were going to encounter something, but that’s not quite what I was picturing.

Yet it fit. I’d just taken my reader through several high-tension scenes, with escalating stakes slamming into each plot twist (well, that was the idea, anyways...) To give my stressed out characters some thinking time now just wouldn’t do. Adrenaline and fear had gotten them this far, so it would have to push them further. Now was not the time to slack off and break for tea.

I mean, it would have been easy to give them a break. I myself needed a break. That was pretty stressful, really. But it’s supposed to be a fast-paced adventure story, and we were heading towards a big climactic scene, so slowing down the pacing wouldn’t have been right.

Despite a nice clean outline (this was draft 2 – draft 1, at 80,000 words, was fully rewritten save for 2 scenes), I was still ready to be surprised when my instincts told me that something wasn’t right. I never used to believe in outlining and, when writing a first draft, I still like to feel my stories through and discover my characters by simply sitting down and oozing my ideas onto the screen. The stories are ok, but they’re just so much better after a second rewrite or at least edit, this time with an outline keeping track of plot, subplots, character development and pacing.

Still, even though the plan looks good, I learned you still have to be ready to break away from it when necessary. Like when a purple nebula ensnares your perturbed crew. But to each their own. In the end, as long as you get a story you’re proud to call your own, that’s what matters.

As for Destiny’s Blood, following 10 rejection letters, it’s just getting a little bit more TLC before its heads back out into the big, frightening world of publishing. And it’s without a shred of shame that I’ll send it traveling the streets of New York, and even though I know it may not be loved or adopted, I’m still proud to call it my own.

Of note:
Now, my brother informs me that celestial objects, such a nebulae, aren’t naturally endowed with colour, as they are stuck in the cold, vast darkness of space. I thought that was kind of sad. He tells me that it’s the various infra-stuff and ray-things that give them their pretty colouring. Again, kind of sad. But nonetheless, it’s a fantasy/sci-fi novel, and my nebula is more than meets the eye (no, it’s not a Transformer), so it remains purple, whether or not ray things are used to see it.

And I think that’s kind of cool

Irish Cream Day

Today is Irish Cream day. Some of you call it Tuesday. My favourite Second Cup calls it Irish Cream day and, therefore, so do I. Monday is Caramelo day, Wednesday is French Vanilla day, Thursday (my favourite) is Hazelnut day, and Friday is Butter Pecan day. Weekends are still Saturday and Sunday as I’m not at the Second Cup first thing in the morning on the weekends, desperately trying to get some writing done before the day’s other priorities kidnap my remaining brainpower (usually fully depleted by 10).

I’m always very suspicious of Irish Cream day. Things change on Irish Cream day, and I’m not good at adapting first thing in the morning. Sometimes Irish Cream days pounce on my unsuspecting morning brain, confusing me for the remainder of the day.

Last St. Paddy's day was on a Friday. Now, some of you may immediately jump to the conclusion that perhaps the Second Cup people would in fact adapt to this situation, but I, on the other hand, did not.

It went something like this, when I got to Second Cup way too early that morning as per usual:

The guy grabs a cup and asks: "“large Irish Cream today, Miss”?" (I am predictable in that I want flavoured coffee. And lots of it.)

My reply: “"Irish Cream today?"” Irish Cream is a Tuesday drink, not a Friday drink. My reality tilts dangerously.

"“What’'s today, miss?"”

Respond shyly, not wanting to hurt my Second Cup person’'s feelings: "“Butter Pecan day?"”

“"What’'s today, miss?"” He rolls his eyes.

Panicked tone as I look down at my casual Friday wear: "Is it Tuesday?"”

Reply coupled with disbelief: "“What's today, miss?"”

I clued in then, thank you.

And yes, earlier that morning I had indeed remembered to add a splash of green to my daily wardrobe, in honour of my Irish great grandmother.

.... today, so far so good, but always beware of Irish Cream days.


Sunday 9 September 2007

The Difficulty with Discipline

I didn’t have any plans this afternoon. This is a rare thing for me, so I was a bit thrown off at first. Possibilities leapt into my mind like my fat cat would leap onto a can of tuna, but I just couldn’t decide what to do.

I could go shopping for various items of choice such as books, CDs and tea cozies. I could sit down, enjoy a rare blend of fairly traded tea and read a book. I could bug my friend Karen and drag her out to see a really bad action flick starring Van Damn (I know, I know, I’m outdated here). I could even throw some jellybeans from the balcony to make unsuspecting children believe jellybeans come from trees. Yet, of all of these excellent choices, not one of them felt quite right.

The problem, I realized, wasn’t with the quality of the activities (obviously), but rather with the fact that I’m writing a book. Well, I’m editing a book, and I’m supposed to be done this round of edits next weekend. The thing with writing a novel when you’re an unpublished author is that no one is breathing down your neck to get the finished product. No one cares, really. Well, except maybe your mom, who thinks you're God’s gift to mankind no matter how long it takes you to clue in that the strange noise coming from the hallway at night is not a ghost, but rather a sure sign that your cat is now fat enough to make the floorboards creak. Sigh.

So, as it turns out, I couldn’t choose an activity this afternoon because I was breathing down my own neck. I didn’t want to miss my deadline. But why bother? I mean, how bad would it be if I missed my own deadline? Not bad at all, really. My mom would still think I’m great, my brother would still believe my book’s “science” to be sketchy but acceptable, and I seriously doubt any of my friends would kick me to the curb.

The only one who would be disappointed, really, is me.

It’s the curse of the unpublished author. Before getting published, a.k.a. when nobody is anticipating a single word you write, is the time you have to be best at self-motivation, even if that means missing out on some action flicks and tea cozy shopping. Everyday, you need to care enough about your book to breathe life into its characters and add a dash of colour to its plot.

One of my favourite stories on discipline is from Natalie Goldberg. She tells of a time when she was sitting at her desk and, looking outside her window, felt truly connected with every living thing, from the flying bird to the stoic tree. When she met with her Zen teacher later that day and told him of the peace she had felt, he told her something along these lines: “Stop procrastinating and get back to writing.”

Love that.

... So I guess I’ll stop blogging and get back to Destiny’s Blood now!