Friday, March 30, 2012

Build A Better Mousetrap

The easiest part of the whole being-an-author process so far has been actually writing the books.  People have asked me how I can just sit down and plunk away at the keyboard and come up with a book.  For me, it's not too tough, especially since I'm focusing on silly fantasy adventure stories.  In that sort of world, anything is possible, so I don't have to worry too much about reality.  I just unhinge my brain and let the goofiest oddities bubble to the surface and call it a day.

So what's difficult?  Editing and (of course) selling/marketing the book.  But put aside the latter for the moment.  That's always going to be hard and I don't know that there's much any of us can do to make it easier, other than becoming the next J. K. Rowling.

That leaves editing.  Typesetting.  Pushing and shoving all those words around.  Being a little bit cheap about such things and a little bit strapped for cash, I'm using OpenOffice to write.  It's free.  It's pretty much Word, which Microsoft doesn't even support anymore for the Mac.  It does all I need it to do, right? Well, sure, but so does a printing press from the 1800's, but I'm not about to handset all that type.

I've always hated Word.  As far as software has come, why is word-processing software still such a pain? I shouldn't have to have a master's degree in Word to be able to type on my computer.  It feels like they've just been layering on new features since the original release and the software has become this big tangled mess of confusion.  I wrestled so much with headers and footers in my first book that I was ready to throw the computer across the room.

It shouldn't be this hard.

So I admit to being really interested in Scrivener.  Saw an article about it online and checked out its features on the website.  I'm tempted.  I truly am.  Someone made some software considering ease of use and practicality?  Unheard of!  Just the mention of features that get you around scrolling and scrolling through your work make me salivate.  I just may have to try it for book #3.

Has anybody used this?  Anybody have any reports?  I'd love to hear.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Book Review: Wanted Dead or Undead

A first for this blog ... a book review!

I recently got the chance to review Angela Scott's "Wanted: Dead or Undead".  As the website states, it's a "western romance ... zombie style".

Needless to say, being a bit of a curmudgeon, I had certain pre-conceived notions going into reading this book.  The zombie thing is all the rage right now.  The Walking Dead just finished up its second season with a bit of a cliff hanger.  Zombie movies are rearing their undead heads just like it's the golden days of horror movies, with blobs and giant ants and Godzillas everywhere you look.  The odd, paranormal genre is in full swing, propelled on by the likes of the Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris.  Just look at all the classics being re-written with zombies: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,  Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter to name a few.

So, to be honest, when I first started the book I imagined it was just going to be a lot of zombies chewing on people's heads, but only set in the wild west.

"Look out, Jimbo," cried Duke as a zombie ate Jimbo's face.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I like the zombie genre.  Other than some gaping gaps in the mentality of the script writers for the Walking Dead (why does Karl never stay in the house?), I eagerly await the next episode.  I enjoyed Zombieland.  I will gush about Shaun of the Dead to anyone who will sit still long enough.  I liked World War Z well enough.

So.  I had some reservations about "Wanted: Dead or Undead".  Small publisher.  An author without a lot of experience under her belt.  Was it just going to be blood and guts splattered on the walls of the local saloon instead of on the walls of the strip-mall?  Was it just going to be The Outlaw Josey Wales ... and Zombies?


The first chapter kind of felt like it was just going to be blood and guts and mayhem, but it was all just setting up the backstory of one of the main protagonists, simply known as Red.  And her story is just one of several twists that left me surprised.  More and more, as I read, I saw that it wasn't a zombie story.  And as Red meets and joins other humans just trying to survive, I came to realize it was mainly a story about the interaction between the human survivors, that just happened to be set in the wild west.  And that just happened to have zombies.

Now, normally I run for the hills when we start to get into all sorts of in-depth peeks into what the characters are thinking.  Sure, I want them to be more than 2-dimensional tools, but let's not spend entire chapters on them wrestling with their emotions.  But Angela Scott pretty much hit the nail on the head for me.  Just enough delving into Red's mind and that of a potential love interest, Trace Monroe, along with others that they run into.

More than once I was caught off guard by the direction that the story took.  And the twists and turns made me want to read more.

In the end, I would have liked to have seen the characters spend just a little bit more time contemplating what the zombie apocalypse meant.  In some ways they took it a little too much in stride.  I also would like there to have been just a teensy bit more exploration of what exactly it was going to take the characters to survive.  In the wild west, would there have been plenty of bullets around for the taking what with everyone armed to the teeth for the constant onslaught of flesh-eating beasties roaming the land.  And lastly, I would have liked to have had a little bit more resolution of some the problems put before the characters instead of leaving them for subsequent books, but that just speaks of how involved I was feeling.

And remember, I'm a bit of a curmudgeon.  Normal people don't have the problems with stories that I do.  I'm looking at you, The Walking Dead!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

It's All Ball Bearings These Days

Hobnobber Squirrel
A Hobnobber Squirrel
I am 80% finished with the first draft of the 2nd book in the Somewhat Silly Story series.  And as I write, I'm finding it to be an interesting adventure in trying to keep this second book in line with what I set forth in the first.

Is Sir Nathan, the Hero of Mariskatania, shouting about goodness and honor and smiting enough?  Is his horse, Tupolev, always walking the fine line between friendship and complete frustration with the Hero and his headstrong ways?  Are the characters they meet silly and interesting and fun?

When I wrote the first book, it was pretty much just a stream-of-consciousness sort of effort.  It was initially written just for me to give to my young nieces and nephews for fun and I had no real plan to follow.  Now, 9 years or so later, after I've dusted it off and re-written and re-edited it, I've had to be more careful and strive to create something that a general public would enjoy.

So when I started writing book #2, I found that I needed to be much more stringent in how I attacked things.  The book needed to seem familiar to anyone that had read book 1, but still stand out on its own.  The first book was written in five parts.  Part 1 introduced us to the world and the Hero and explained that Queen Gobbledeegook was missing.  There!  Easy!  Now he's got somewhere to go and Parts 2 through 5 took him to four distinct locations where he met up against four distinct adversaries.

So, with book 2, it should be the same way, right?  Because kids want some of that formulaic process, to ground them in the known while at the same time you whisk them into the unknown?  Right?  Maybe not.  Who am I to say?  But that's my plan and I'm sticking to it.

So now I had to stick to plan.  Another five part book.  Another adventure for the Hero.  Part 1 to explain the problem and four other parts for him to solve it, each with their own distinct locale and antagonist.

And don't forget the Hobnobber Squirrels!  Perhaps my favorite thing to come out of the first book was Hobnobber Squirrels:

"The Hobnobber Squirrels scampered through the branches of the Huckle Nut Trees, looking for Huckle Nuts to eat. This was an odd thing for them to do because Huckle Nuts are extremely poisonous to Hobnobber Squirrels. Maybe that was why there were so very few of the fuzzy, blue creatures to be found."

They're fluffy.  They're cute.  They're ridiculous and the name rolls of the tongue in a somewhat silly way.  They turned out to be a great bit of set-dressing to sprinkle into the book here and there, especially contrasted against the pink leaves of the Hootentoot Trees.  If ever my books are popular enough to warrant plush toys for marketing, you can bet the Hobnobber's are going to be first in line.  

So, do we just keep shoving the squirrels at the reader in book 2?  Or do we come up with something different?  Remember, we're trying to follow a formula here - something for the reader to look forward to now that they're familiar with my writing style.  

Eventually, about halfway through writing the first draft, I came up with something that I'm just as giddy about as I was the Hobnobber Squirrels.  It's new, it's different, it's cute ... possibly cuter than the squirrels.  Would it happen to make a good plush toy?  Yes, but that's only by accident.  Am I going to tell you what it is?  


A writer has to have some secrets, after all.  

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Fox is Guarding the Hen House

I have been at this book-selling thing for five and a half weeks now.  At first with just e-book offerings and now, in the past half a week, with a paperback version available as well.

I groomed and edited and polished my book before releasing it unto the world.  I double-groomed and edited and polished before I let it go out the door in print.  And, every day, I've been hitting the marketing world, trying to spread the word about my work.  I am in a mode where I'm just hoping that word will spread and have no delusions that I'm going to be filthy rich from my work any day now.

I'm constantly hitting the interwebs, reading and investigating and checking into all those things you're "supposed to do" to market your book.  I've got a website, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a Pinterest account, this blog ... I've saturated the internet so well so that my book comes up easily in any Google search.  I'm a graphic designer and web programmer by trade, so I'm not daunted by marketing my work online.  It's what I get paid for.

Yet, I've come to one odd conclusion/theory/hypothesis.  I feel as if I'm a salesman in a store filled with other salespeople, all trying to sell the same thing, with nary a customer in sight.

On Twitter, people find my account and my tweets because of my mentions of writing.  They follow me.  I do the same to them and to others that I find the same way.  And we're all yelling and screaming and babbling about our book.  Sometimes we're coy and put out little snippets and artful boasts.  Sometimes we're blunt and just yell to anyone who will listen to buy our book.  Right now I have less than 200 followers and about the same number that I follow.  And already, the constant stream of tweets from them all is a deafening chorus that I can't follow.  I try to check in a few times a day.  I follow links that sound interesting.  I re-tweet informative stuff.  I re-tweet for others who have been friendly to me and who seem to have something worthwhile to mention.

But in any way is this a viable way to get buyers?

On Facebook, I have several followers of my book page, mostly friends and family and a few friends-of-friends.  But I also am starting to get some followers who are joining along because we all signed up at a website that helps you generate more followers.  It's just like Twitter.  They're following me so I can follow them, but who among us is taking time to read through the other's pages, looking for worthwhile books to purchase vs. how many are just going through the motions?

Yes, it could conceivably help, as a potential buyer could check out my page and think that my work must have some value to it if so many people are following it.  But that feels like a long shot.  And it kind of doesn't feel honest.

Wouldn't it be better, somehow, to have a Facebook page filled with people who are familiar with my book and discuss whether or not it has any value?  Or is that just a pipe-dream, reserved for only the truly successful authors?

I'm realize and accept that I haven't been at this that long.  But right now ... what I wouldn't give for just one review or mention or conversation with someone that found my book, read it, and had something to say that wasn't a friend or family member.  Someone whom I don't know and who isn't just being nice. I'd like to know that it is possible to get word of my book out there and that people will find it.

Patience, Monty.  Climb the ladder.  Am I right?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Now In Paperback!

I'm tickled and delighted and a bunch of other of other adjectives that my silly fairy-tale, Sir Nathan and the Quest for Queen Gobbledeegook, is now available as an actual, hold-in-your-hands, paperback!

Terribly exciting stuff!

It's available from CreateSpace, which is the Amazon-owned company that actual creates the print-on-demand books, as well as through the Amazon website itself.

I receive a greater commission for any purchases through CreateSpace, but I'm thinking I won't really be directing people to that site.  I have limited control over the online store's appearance and it just comes across a little bit shady, especially to anyone needing to enter credit card information.  Also, it asks that you create an account in order to purchase, which is a bit odd, because what are the odds a customer is going to be ordering anything else through CreateSpace?

Instead, I'll be directing potential buyers to the more recognized Amazon website, even though I get about half the commission.  I'd rather customers feel confident about placing their orders and really, I'm more interesting just in getting word of my book out there than in reaping in coins, hand over fist.  Maybe I can complain about all the lost zillions of dollars when I'm selling more than zero books a day.

The nice thing about using CreateSpace is that I can order what they call "author copies" of the book, which I can have to hand out and sell myself.  That's where I'd make the greatest amount of money.  Look for me setting up a combination lemonade and paperback stand in my driveway now that the weather is warming up.

So.  Interested in a funny fairy-tale for the 8-12 year age range?  It's got adventure.  It's got laughs.  It's got blue squirrels and mechanical monkeys.  It's available, through Amazon, right here!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Will It Hit The Spot?

The first paid advertising I'm going to try is with a website called

This will be an interesting experiment as a way to get word of the Sir Nathan book series out there.  The Our Mom Spot website is one I came upon when looking for places to spread word of a children's book.  The site is a comprehensive collection of a wide variety of topics, all obviously aimed at moms and parents in general.

You can see the site's submission guidelines here.

It's tough to tell where to throw money in the interest of marketing a self-published book.  The possibilities are endless.  Online marketing is a part of my normal career and a path I've trod many times in the past.  An author can contemplate everything from Facebook ads to Google ads to subscribing to a wide variety of websites out there that claim they'll market your work.

I'm not keen on Facebook ads, as I feel they're often ignored as just junk that pops up on the screen.  I certainly never look at them.  Google pay-per-click ads, on the right side of the screen of any search result, used to be considered that way, too.  People just tuned them out like they do car commercials on the radio.  But now, those Google ads have become very relevant.  Other than those few ads that are set up to appear no matter what the user is searching for, the vast majority of them are very specifically targeted.  Looking for pet supplies?  The ads are going to be all about dog brushes and cat toys.  They're actually a great way to find what you're looking for and I've used them very effectively for clients in the past.

But how many people are just entering a bland Google search for "children's books"?  Not many, I would suspect.  They might get a recommendation off a blog, but it's more likely they're coming from friends.  For my son, a lot of the times it's just a case of going to the book store and seeing what looks good.

So why tried a paid ad with Our Mom Spot?  Mainly because the focus of the website towards parents, coupled with an inexpensive and organized ad process, seems like a wonderful place to give it a try.  Will I have any way of measuring the effectiveness of the ad?  None that I can think of.  Not unless I demand that everyone who buys the book lets me know how they heard about it.  Good luck with that.

I plan on setting up an ad on their website just as soon as my book is available in print, which will be in less than a week.  Let's keep our fingers crossed.