Pleasant Discovery

It’s always a treat when you stumble upon a new facet of the characters you’re writing.

I’ve been with Rime and Jonas for a while now, through Spell/Sword and in

Phil Noto
Phil Noto

their far, dark future of Lodestar. As every writer must, I know a lot about them. More than I’ll ever subject the reader to, more that would remotely be germane to the narrative. But still I can be surprised, and find out something brand new about my protagonists in the process of writing.

I’ve been working on Riddle Box, the second book, and it’s a murder mystery. It’s completely different from Spell/Sword structurally, and purposefully puts the kids in a radically different situation than the first book.

Today, I discovered that Rime is a huge nerd for mystery stories.

I mean, me too — but Rime is a pretty sour sort, and can be a moody jerk. It is positively delightful to watch her get jazzed up about solving the mystery of The Riddle Box.

What’s next? Am I going to find out Jonas is an opera geek?

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Name of the Knight

Enough people have finished the book to start asking me some pointed questions about it.

Questions like:

1. Wait, what?

2. Is it RHYME or REE-MAY?

3. What’s all this about Jonas being a murderer?  Say it ain’t so!

4. You do realize that the ogre’s name changes in Chapter One?

Artist - Bruno Vergauwen
Artist – Bruno Vergauwen

5. Wait, you killed them? Why are you so horrible?

To which I respond:

1. Dude, I know, right?

2. It’s RHYME, like ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’.

3. Not telling. Yet. Keep buying books, suckers.

4. [hides in a barrel]

5. Dude, I know, right?

And a couple of people have also asked “So, Jonas keeps mentioning his Master, the knight he served. What’s his Master’s name?”

Here’s the fun part. I have no idea.

Names are very, very important. The best ones appear, fully formed in the savannah of my mind — or I fall upon them like wild beasts in the tall grass.

And I haven’t caught his Master’s name yet.

I know the shape of their story, the gleam in the old man’s eye — but not his name, not yet.

Isn’t this great? It’s like Spell/Sword is spoiler-proof.

I Want

Artist Unknown
Artist Unknown

Like Heinlein said, I want the Roc’s Egg.

I want the leather of my sword-grip to creak as my knuckles go white. I want the lightning to crackle between my fingertips like Egg Shen. I want the Flux Capacitor to ignite as I travel through time.

I want the power, I want the fairy tale.

I want to run down the secret hallway, and slam my rainbow colored key into the console of the Black Lion.  I want to save the universe with Rock and Roll, my electric guitar made of steel and griffon-talon. I want to wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of Holmes and Watson clattering by in a horse-drawn carriage.

I want the legend, I want the world of doors.

I want the Master Sword dreaming in the glade, and Excalibur in the Lady’s hand, and Cloud picking up Zach’s sword — his mind all wind and shadow.

I want all the promises that the world is not as it seems. I want Mulder and Scully in a Ford Taurus arguing with the night. I want all the possibilities, the promise of wonder. I want Seven Dragonballs, even if I never get to make a wish.

I want the doors. The endless, endless doors.

I want this world to be not as it is. Or, at the very least, I want the walls of this world to get a little thinner. Thin enough to hear the music from the Universe One Over.

I want to tell my story and I want my mom to get better and I want there to be enough money and I want Emerson back. I want my Beloved to never know pain or doubt, and I want my friends to never know want or despair.

I want to break the rules. I want to undo and shine and defeat and cheat death, cheat life, mashing in the codes on my controller and rolling back the cruel grip of time.

I want to snatch the lost from death’s grip.

I want to not be afraid. Of the Unmaker and its thousand, thousand shadows.

I want there to be more magic in this world, because there is so little — just a tiny, tiny drop.

Such a little thing to shine in the darkness. The secret flame we clutch in weary hands through the wind and rain.

I want the thousand heroes, I want the doors open wide.

Most of all, I want you to help me pry them open.

Book Two Planning

The Riddle Box - Graph Paper Planning
The Riddle Box – Graph Paper Planning

 

Oh nothing. Just my first official notes for The Riddle Box.  I still need to decide on a lot of character names [probably won’t until I get into the first draft] and the timeline is wafer-thin — but here is the proto-skeletal structure of my second book.

So, for those of you finishing Spell/Sword and wondering where The Riddle Box is…whelp, this is what I have so far. And a lot of crazy ideas.

Ahhh…this is much more exciting than begging for reviews.

Self-Publishing Strategy Guide I

[This is a work in progress, to be updated and amended as curious folk ask questions that I haven’t answered here.  Let me know what questions you have or clarifications needed in the comments below.]

So, you can now buy my book on Amazon — in Kindle and Paperback format. Just like a ‘real’ book! Or rather, just like a traditionally published novel. My book is sitting on the same virtual shelf as books published by Tor, Daw, and Random House. It’s a cool feeling. Maybe if I’d published five years ago I would be bothered by the fact that Spell/Sword will never appear on a shelf at a physical bookstore — but with paper going the way of the utahraptor or dodo it doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

So how did I get here? A lot of research, a lot of trial and error — there’s a lot of navigation and study required when you’re piloting the ship all on your own. When I first got started I spent a lot of time reading other author’s posts on publishing and found them tremendously informative.

Joe Peacock’s The Absolute No-Bulls**t Guide To Writing, Publishing And Selling A Book was incredibly helpful and motivating. I strongly recommend you take some time and give it a read — it’s straightforward, concise and utilitarian. It de-mystifies the entire process, which was invaluable for me at the beginning. I’m going to try to not go over the same ground here, but focus more on my specific experiences with CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing.  I’ve begun to think of Joe as the Older Brother to the Internet — can be an overbearing prick, and he’ll kick over your GI Joes — but he always has your best interest at heart.

This guide is going to be part step-by-step How To — and partly me pontificating about my  rationale for making the decisions I did. I hope it’s reasonably helpful.

Level One: Write a Book. [Grasslands]

In whatever manner you prefer. It took me about nine months to bang out the rough draft in between day job,18a nerd pursuits, other creative endeavors and various life calamities. I’ve only done this once, so I’m in no position to offer advice on how you get this step done. Just some paltry bullet-points.

  • Write.
  • Self-imposed deadlines were invaluable to me.
  • Write.

Now that I’ve gone through the entire process, I CAN say that this is the most fun part. Remember that and enjoy it.

Level Two: Edit a Book. [Ice Cavern]

Frozen_cave_by_CORinAZONeTo the greatest level that your pocketbook and Friend’s List will permit. I employed over 20 Alpha Draft and Beta Draft readers to catch all my bonehead grammar mistakes and weak narrative. I know that this can never truly equal a professional copy editor — but I am completely confident that I’m extremely close. I have some serious heavy hitters in my rolodex: college professors, Shakespearean scholars, creative writing savants, genre nerds, gnomes. Depending on how my finances fare, I may consider going the pro route next time around. I can’t stress enough how important this step is.

To put it in perspective, I wrote the draft in 9 months. I edited for 13 months. Thirteen long, grueling months of Not-Fun.

It sucks. It’s boring. It’s frustrating.

Do it.

Level Three: Prepare to Publish a Book [Fire Volcano]

I used two services for publishing my book.

CreateSpace for the paperback.

Kindle Direct Publishing for the digital version.

Why?

Paper Version — I did a fair amount of research onto several online presses. The other main one I considered was Lulu.com. They are really great if you want to order in bulk and warehouse the product yourself. They have tons of paper and trim options – soft cover and hard back. But that’s a pretty big if – especially when you’re in my position. A total unknown pushing some wacky genre fiction. As much as I would love to have a hard cover of my book, it just didn’t make sense to lay out the startup money for something that was going to sit stacked in  my breakfast nook.

I slowly shifted my thinking towards CreateSpace as they print on demand, and sell directly through Amazon.

Artist - Hugo-H2P
Artist – Hugo-H2P

You establish the cost of your book through the size, page count, etc. — then you set the list price at whatever you want.  Anything above cost is your profit. [Pro Tip]: The cost of your book increases if its sold through Amazon, instead of bought directly through CreateSpace. This wasn’t an issue for me, as I really wanted the legitimacy of an Amazon storefront, but it may be something to take into account if you have your own webstore.

Finally, the website was easy to navigate,  except for a few minor snags — I’ll talk more about that later.

Kindle Version – Or rather – Why not on Nook, Kobo, Smashwords, etc. etc.?

One reason: the Kindle Lending Library. It makes my book free to the thousands and thousands of Amazon Prime members. At this phase it is far more important that people read my book than people buy my book.

I know there’s a lot of discussion about Amazon’s draconian domination of the e-book Wild West — but from my perspective it’s hard to argue with that kind of market share. The Kindle is the dominant e-reader on the market, and anyone with a smartphone or tablet can read just as easily using their free app.

Level Four: CreateSpace [ Sky Platforms]

19858-103095-LHSE1jpg-468x

Okay. You’ve got the book all edited and shiny, now it’s time to set everything up with CreateSpace for the paperback. The site is very user-friendly if you are reasonably proficient with the internet and simple online interfaces. I’m a giant dork so I had little trouble, only occasionally having to use the forums, Help section, and one quick phone call to Customer Service. It leads you step by step through the process.

1. Birth Certificate – Name of your book, author name, synopsis, all that sort of thing. Pretty self-explanatory.

2. Print Specifications – Selecting the size of your book, whether or not you have color images to print inside, etc. I didn’t have any interior artwork for Spell/Sword so I selected Black and White printing — and the smallest book size, because my novel isn’t particularly long. I’m sure there’s a lot of reasons for all the different sizes, but I didn’t put much thought into it. I like the size my book is, end of story. Take that reasons.

3. ISBN Number – This is a little complicated. And once you decide your book is locked to that number [oversimplification, I know] so give this some serious thought and research.

  • CreateSpace owned ISBN: Free! But…it sets the publisher of your book as CreateSpace, and limits your distribution options later. There is a little bit of a stigma to services like CreateSpace and Lulu, and if in the very remote chance that you want to sell your book to a traditional publisher later you can’t just move your ISBN, you’d have to make a whole new edition with a new ISBN number.
  • CreateSpace licensed ISBN: $10.00. Same problems as above, but frees up most of your distribution options.
  • Personal ISBN purchased through CreateSpace: $100.00. But you personally own the ISBN number for your book, and can set the publisher of record. My book is published by me under the name Lodestar — which is the small business I’ll be setting up to handle my paltry revenue.  It also means that I can move my book to any other printing service, or use another service concurrently with CreateSpace whenever I need. I’m also thinking about having it tattooed on me somewhere.
  • Personal ISBN purchased directly: I…didn’t do much research on this. You can get it cheaper buying it yourself, then inputting it into CreateSpace . But it meant using another site, and another process so I just went ahead and bought my personal ISBN through CreateSpace. To me, the convenience was worth whatever markup they have.

4. Cover – Now, CreateSpace does offer a free cover generator as well as professional design services. I used neither. Don’t be a chump and use the free cover generator — it’s fine if you only want your mom to read the book. I’m sure the professional services they offer are fine, but I’d much rather give the artists that I know personally my money.

The layout of the cover is extremely important as CreateSpace needs it to match exactly with the specifications for the cover — most importantly the spine which is a function of page total. There were lots of numbers and jargon, my designer knew what they meant and put it all together for me. I’ve noticed that many self-publishers take the DIY part of this route a little too much to heart. I recognized that I knew virtually nothing about layout and graphic design and paid a skilled friend to handle it, same goes for the actual cover design.

Cover Design/Layout: margaretpoplin.com Illustration:poopbird.com
Cover Design/Layout: margaretpoplin.com
Illustration:poopbird.com

5. Setting up the Template – Okay, this part was a little convoluted.

You need to have your book laid out on a PDF to upload to CreateSpace for review. When I first started playing around, I just exported a PDF from my Google Drive and uploaded it to see what it would look like.

It was a hot mess.

My mother is a graphic designer and printer, so I have a vague understanding of margins — but clearly not enough for these purposes.

Luckily, CreateSpace offers Word document templates. It took some grunt work copy and pasting each part of my book, chapter by chapter into the template — but it ensures that the printed page comes out correctly. Also, print is set with a ‘justified’ margin as a default. I had to go through several times to find all the places where the spacing was weird and correct.

Review the template again and again … then five more times. You’ll never catch everything, but you have to put in the sweat equity to get as close to flawless as possible.

Once the template is complete, you save it as a PDF, then you’re ready for upload.

6. File Review with CreateSpace

Once the files are uploaded, you’ll be able to view the book page by page online.

You can’t directly adjust anything at this step. Anything you want to change, you have to go back to your template — make the change — then upload a new PDF.

Spell/Sword doesn’t have any interior images — so I’m no help there.

7. Proofing

Once you submit everything for review [Interior and Cover], CreateSpace takes 24 Hours to review and make your book ready for proofing.

You have two options here:

  • Paper Proof: This is what you want to get the first time around. An actual, honest to god copy of your book. You get it, you hold it in your hand. You get to go through it with a colorful marker, hunting for every typo and spacing issue that you missed on the template. It’s truly a wonderful moment. [You do have to purchase your proof, it’s the established cost of your book plus shipping. ]
  • Online Proof: It’s identical to the Interior Reviewer you used earlier. 

If you need to make changes after reviewing your proof, you have to back to the template and resubmit it all again, and wait 24 Hours again. For Spell/Sword I got the paper proof first, then after making all the corrections I felt confident that the Online Proof was sufficient.

PRO TIP: Even after your book is published you can ALWAYS make corrections and go through the process again — it will just mean that your book is not available for sale while it’s being reviewed and proofed again.

8.  Final Thoughts/ Issues

After you approve your proof, your book becomes available for sale within 24 Hours. In my case it was up on CreateSpace itself within an hour — than on Amazon later that night.  The site was very helpful guiding you through the rest, deciding on distribution channels, etc. I freely admit I kind of glazed my eyes and picked the standard options.

Now, some grousing!

  • Shipping through CreateSpace is a little stupidly expensive — especially when you’re an Amazon Prime member, used to getting 2 day shipping for free.  I understand that it probably has something to do with preventing you from purchasing too freely through them instead of Amazon, their parent company — but still! Spell/Sword is 8.99 on Amazon — if I want to buy someone a copy and send it to them, it’s actually cheaper and quicker to buy through Amazon then get copies at cost through CreateSpace.
  • Friends have ordered copies through Amazon, and they arrive in a standard Amazon box – but the books are completely loose. None have been damaged so far, but it made me raise an eyebrow.

Royalties: I actually haven’t been published long enough to get my first check — I’ll update this when I have more experience.

Level Five: Kindle Direct Publishing [Ghost Carnival]

Almost as an afterthought, CreateSpace guides you into the warm clutches of KDP.  They export all of your information about the book, the interior, and the cover all in one go. All of the info and cover exported fine — but I quickly discovered that the layout for the print version looked crazy weird on the Kindle.

I actually found an easy workaround – I directly uploaded my CreateSpace Word document to KDP, and it looked fine. I’ve experienced a fair amount of paranoia, because the Kindle comes in so many sizes [including native apps on iPad and PC] that making sure that there were zero formatting issues.  I’ve read the book on my 3rd gen Kindle and it reads just fine at various sizes, and none of my E-Readers have complained YET. YET.

When you start obsessively searching your book on Amazon [not that I did, that would be silly] you may notice that the Kindle and Paperback versions initially have different pages — just give Amazon 48 hours, they automatically group them together. I also noticed that initially when searching my book titile, it came up fifth — but after a few days of sales, it populated first. Admittedly I picked a weird ass name for the book — that slash in Spell/Sword plays hell with some search algorithms.

 

Yowza! This thing got involved . I think I’ll keep this going as I plunge further and further into Self-Publishing RPG. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below!

Future Topics

  • Marketing
  • Begging
  • Winning the Internet
  • Deceit
  • Tomfoolery

Stop/Start the Presses

twilight-zone-paper

My very first interview about the book!

Fun Things to Do While You’re Waiting is a lifestyle blog specializing in clever recipes, life-hacks and general wit. It’s lovely, charming and useful — basically the polar opposite of my site. I adore that my first official interview is right next to a dynamite recipe for Avocado and Chicken Salad.

It’s also the first interview not conducted by the cat who lives with me, Aragorn.

Leigh asks some great questions, and actually manages to get me to give a description of the book that I’m satisfied with. In response to the question:

 

6. If you had to describe spell/sword as a meal, how would that go?

You take a sip of your cherry limeade. The condensation slides down the side of the Mason jar, drops falling unnoticed on your favorite pair of slacks.

You know the ones. The ones that make you look good. The ones that are always comfortable. The ones that you wear when you feel like the Main Character of your world.

An extremely attractive person brings you a sandwich. Not just any sandwich. The Sandwich. It glistens with all the promise that Dagwood ever salivated over in four color glory. It looks like a TV Sandwich, like a fever dream of a Sandwich, like a Sandwich crafted in the Kitchen of Hephaestus then stolen by Zeus to stuff in his brown paper bag for a big day of philandering.

You take a bite. It’s not what you expect. It doesn’t have your favorite condiment, it’s some weird European thing. You consider putting the Sandwich down, but the lettuce is so crisp, the cheese so tart. You take another nibble, and realize that the bottom slice of bread is a little burnt.

Another bite. There’s really too much meat in this sandwich. Unless you’re a vegetarian, then there’s too much avocado. And why is the tomato slice blue? Who ever heard of a blue tomato?

You set the Sandwich down. Wait, holy shit. There are hot peppers on the Sandwich, tart and alive. And someone put your favorite chips on the plate. You smile and cram them under the top slice of bread for some extra crunch. You take another bite, another, another.

One bite left. You are sweating. Not with exertion, with emotion. This Sandwich means something, it means something to you. To your life, to the mistakes, the that song you keep trying to remember the second verse to, to the combination on your bike lock. You take a long swallow of cherry limeade and try to collect yourself.

The attractive person returns. They want to hang out later. But you know, only if you’re not busy. They have an old VHS of the ‘Deadly Mantis’ episode of MST3K and they think they can get their player to work if they jiggle the cable just right.

You smile, and go to take the last bite.

But it’s gone. You ate it and don’t remember. It’s gone and you don’t remember finishing.

It’s gone. You eat the last chip and sprout wings. Feathered wings, dragon wings, wings of steel and guitar wire. The attractive person is really impressed and immediately begins to paint your portrait on the side of a 1978 Chevy Astro Van.

Here’s the link to the rest of the interview. Thanks so much to Leigh for the signal boost! Please wander over to their site, leave some comments, share their links — just generally make a mess. Please reward them attempting a serious discussion about a silly book.

Spell/Sword Released.

Print Version
Kindle Version – 2.99

Spell/Sword is now available in print and e-book exclusively on Amazon.com.  Follow the image above to order. I’m linking the digital version first because:

  • Duh. Cheaper.
  • Amazon Prime members can borrow and read it for free.
  • Anyone can sample the first couple of chapters using the ‘Look Inside’ feature.
  • It’s the future!

If this is your first time visiting the site, please poke around. Plenty of my various ramblings in the archives, and several examples of my fiction through the Short Stories and Scenes/Microfiction links above.  I know you’re taking a chance on me — thank you for even considering it.

More information about Spell/Sword itself is available on the [Buy the Book] button above.

Paperback Version
Paperback Version – 9.99