Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Paying it forward

When I was just starting out with getting into author-mode a few years ago, I bumped into an old friend of mine who was a little further along the way than me. She was already **gasp** agented, and she graciously offered to beta read for me. And boy oh boy did she poke sticks at my writing; made me cut reams of exposition **sobs** and generally tell it like it is in publishing.

I value this woman’s no-nonsense judgment. I wouldn’t have gotten this far if it weren’t for her. She can say horrible things about my writing at times but I know I deserve it, because good constructive criticism freely offered is worth more than paying an editor to do it for you. By the same measure, she praises, telling me when she can see where I’ve improved. And I feel like I can believe her. To be honest, I’d sooner have honest judgment than vague reassurances that everything’s just hunky dory. ’Cos it’s not. There’s always room for improvement.

What matters now, more than ever before in publishing, is a buddy system. I remember the encouragement I received from the likes of Dave Wolverton, Fiona McIntosh and John Everson, who always replied to my emails with sound advice. Yes, I may still be in awe of these people, but they never lost that essential human touch. They weren’t up on a pedestal.

While I’m nowhere near reaching their stellar heights, I’m already much further along the line than I was when I sold my first novel in 2008. I’ve made an effort to make friends, not only with my fellow authors, but also with the authors for whom I’m now playing editor. We help each other, be it a friendly eye or a guest-blogging slot or review. Hell, sometimes we give the go-ahead for a bit of name-dropping. It all helps. The publishing pond is big enough for everyone and I’m amazed at some of the doors that have opened to me because I haven’t developed an attitude.

And if I develop an attitude, I expect my buddies to slap me upside the head.

A funny thing has started happening now. I’m paying it forward. It’s a weird feeling. Aspiring authors are turning to me now for advice, are looking up to me as someone who's been around the block a bit, and, while part of me wants to shake her head and exclaim what the hell, I’m able to pass on some of the advice I’ve been given.

I can’t tell you how great it feels to see an author take those first toddling steps, get their first contract offered, or start making those sales. Then later I get a quiet email on the side saying, “Hey, I just want to thank you, I’d never have…”

Feck. It feels good. And I’m going to carry on paying it forward. It makes the overall experience better for everyone concerned.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Music for writing

I'm of the belief that creative people are creative in lots of different areas. I, for example, spin and knit and sew and paint and well, lots of things.

But sometimes it's tough to get into the creative mood. Those juices don't always come on demand.

Those are the times I listen to music. And lots of it. There's just something about music that helps to inspire me.

And I like all kinds of tunes. As a child of the '80s, I fondly remember the "big hair bands" like Warrant, Poison, and Stryper. My first album was a Men at Work one. At some point I found a few country artists who spoke to me: Toby Keith, Garth Brooks, Taylor Swift.

Then there's the classics. Sometimes it's better to have the instrumentals just so I don't get caught up in the words.

However, my favorite writing music has a Celtic undertone. Enya and Celtic Women are often heard from my office as I crank out a few thousand words for the day.

Like any other "mental devise," though, even my stand-by selections don't always work. I'm often in search of new bands, new songs to add to the mix.

What music do you suggest? What inspires you? What is good to write to?


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

In praise of free reads

Free reads are awesome. In the age of digital books and the internet, it's very easy to find perfectly legal free reads. And I don't mean just contests to win books, though that's cool too. I mean a totally free ebook, through various sources. Booksellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble both have free sections. Publishers will offer temporary promotional freebies to get readers hooked on an author or series or a niche genre they publish. Authors will offer free short stories on their websites to entice readers.

Speaking as a reader who doesn't have a lot of money to spend on books, I really appreciate all these sources of legal free reads. Sure, there are duds out there. Some of what I've gotten for free I never finished because I just didn't care for the book. But I've lucked into some really good stuff for free too. One of the freebies I got from Amazon introduced me to an author who is now an auto-buy for me. All these freebies are a great way to test drive authors that are new to you, authors that you might not otherwise be too sure about spending money on. But once you've tried them and know you like their work, if you're like me you probably wind up searching for their back list. Especially if that initial free read hooked you on a series.

Because I have seen myself and other readers spend money on authors first encountered as a free read, as a writer I am a big proponent of the idea. That's why I have a Free Reads page on my blog with two short stories for download that serve as prequels of a sort to my May release Mojo Queen. I think it's a great idea for any author, especially one just starting out, to give readers a free taste of what you can do as a writer. I'm hoping people might come across these stories and decide to give Mojo Queen a try. Even if it only nets a few sales, it's worth it to me. Besides, I wrote these stories out of love for the characters so it only makes sense to share them. It certainly can't hurt anything.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Work in progress

After what feels like an eternity I’m getting round to the all-important revisions for my urban fantasy novella, What Sweet Music They Make. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I’m not superwoman, and that I cannot write new works in progress while revising AND still try to keep on top of my editing obligations for Lyrical Press. And while this all happens, I’m still beta-reading for my fellow authors, reviewing books and writing blog posts and newspaper articles.

There’s more than enough work present to keep me out of mischief. What’s worse is that my revisions have been piling up. I still have my steampunk novel featuring vampires and pirates waiting in the wings, not to mention some hard decisions about revising Camdeboo Nights, my only foray into YA urban fantasy. So the buck stops here. I’m in revision mode. I’ve just completed second-round edits on Hell’s Music, my next TherĂ©se von Willegen novel, so I have no excuses keeping me from the other titles languishing in the wings.

I had fun writing What Sweet Music They Make. It combines two of my greatest loves: vampires and music. The story is a dip into the same setting where my current Lyrical release, The Namaqualand Book of the Dead kicks off. I’ve spent time working out how vampires function in my milieu and the reason why there are always fewer vampires than mortals. C’mon, we can’t all be undead and sparkly.

Jokes aside, my vampires don’t sparkle. And after many decades, most of them lose the taste for immortality, though they remain tenacious, anachronisms in many cases.

I’ve had some great feedback from my betas so far. Two chapters need to bite the dust at the start. This doesn’t pain me as much as I’d have thought, because I’ll be releasing the first chapter as a freebie prologue in anticipation of the story’s actual release. Yes, yes… I know I haven’t sold the story yet, but that’s the least of my worries. What I do know is that I’ll need to add additional material near the end, and the epilogue may go the way of most prologues upon submission.

This is the fun part of revising, where the novella is still fluid, where I can tweak and layer, make people care more about my characters. And you know what? I’m in no mood to rush, either. I’m going to savour this time where I can return to the world of Severin and Tersia, and groom them into memorable characters.

Follow me on Twitter @nerinedorman or like my Facebook author page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Nerine-Dorman-author/173330419365374?v=wall

Monday, April 11, 2011

Is the world ready for this?

When I woke up Friday morning, I heard voices.

That may not have been a bad thing if they were the voices I was used to hearing. Instead, these were new voices with new stories.

So, I have come here to ask if the world is ready for the new voice in my head.

My idea is for a young, rich woman to purchase a bed and breakfast in western South Dakota. The B&B would be located on a sheep ranch, so there is a small herd that came with the house. Because of the sheep, there would be an opportunity for knitting and spinning circles at the home, especially in the "off-tourist" season. She also sees ghosts.

There are ghost mysteries. There are knitting mysteries. There are B&B mysteries. But is the world ready for a three-for-one combo? I'd love your thoughts!


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Some thoughts on self-publishing

Nerine had a good post yesterday about self-publishing and traditional publishing. I don't think I've said much directly about self-pubbing but since it is one of the hottest topics in the publishing world, everybody gets to have an opinion, right?

I recognize that people choose to self-pub for different reasons, I just hope they do it for the right ones. Want to keep your backlist out there without having to sign a contract? That's a reason that makes sense to me, especially if you can afford good cover art and book design. You've already got a foothold in commercial publishing and want to experiment with putting out a short work by yourself - I get that one too. Especially if you can afford the cover art, book design, and editing. You've been rejected time after time by both the Big Six and small press - okay, to be honest, this is the one I don't get.

Self-publishing is not for me for a number of reasons. The top reason is money - I can't afford to hire out freelance cover art, book design, and editing. I don't spend my money on books with cover art that looks like a bad Photoshop job or the free Kindle sample is littered with editing problems. I would never even consider asking a reader for money for something like that that I released. So I have to be good enough for a publisher to offer me a contract. Sometimes I am, sometimes I'm not. When I'm not I keep working on the story and it'll either get better or it goes in the trunk. I'm a big believer in writing the next story.

That's another reason why I would not self-publish. To quote Nerine: "if a novel has been rejected countless times, even by the small presses, there’s usually a very good reason for this." I agree with this so very much. If that first book keeps getting rejected, it's okay to let it go. Put that paper in a drawer, put that file on a flash drive, raise a toast to it as a valiant effort, mourn for what could have been and will never be - then tell it goodbye. Let it go like a leaf on the wind and get busy hunting for your next book. Because the truth is, if you're a writer, there's going to be a next book. There can't not be a next book, because you are a storyteller and this is what you do. The only way there won't be a next book is if you were more interested in being published than being a writer. If that's the case, then choosing to self-publish is probably more about vanity than anything else.

Sorry if that sounds harsh, but there it is. Look, I really don't have anything against self-publishing. If it's something a person wants to do and they can afford it, I wish them the best of luck. Depending on your reasons I may not understand you, but I will always wish you luck.

What I do not like is when self-publishing gets lumped in under an umbrella term like digital publishing. The term digital publishing, to me, means small press commercial pubs that are digital first / digital only. Examples include Lyrical Press, Loose Id, Samhain, Carina, Noble Romance - there are quite a few. When you're pubbed with these digital presses you get editing, cover art, all the usual stuff - and authors do not pay for these things. So to me there is a huge difference between self-publishing and getting a contract with a small press that happens to be digital. Unfortunately not everyone sees this.

Now you have my thoughts on self-publishing and frankly I hope I won't be revisiting the topic. Next week I'll talk about why I think posting stories for free can be a great thing for a writer to do. Yes, really.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Trotting out that old pony, again

Once again I’m thinking about self-pubbing vs. traditional publishing. Because, yes, face it, self-published authors, once they’re established, have the potential to earn oodles more money than traditionally published authors. Or so it seems if certain sources are to believed.

But I’m scared to do it. Really. Even though Smashwords makes it ridiculously easy to put material out there, I’m not entirely certain I want to do that. At least not yet. Granted, I’m happy to put out my short stories in that manner. After all, the paying market for short stories isn’t worth it when I consider the amount of effort that goes into the submissions process.

Making my short stories freely available to my readers makes sense. They’re already following me on Twitter or Facebook because they **want** to read my writing. That way my short stories also don’t get lost in anthologies or buried deep in links with online magazines.

My longer works?

Why I keep working through reputable small presses is because a) I don’t have to worry about cover art; b) I have an editor assigned to me (face it, mistakes always creep through, it helps to have a second set of eyes); and c) I don’t have to worry about dealing with vendors.

But… What I will do one day when my first rights revert to me (usually after three to five years) is I’ll start putting my back list upon Smashwords. Now that makes sense. It means I’ll be able to revise and apply a lot of the new tricks I’ve learnt to older works that have already undergone an editing process. I’ll be able to choose my own cover art. It means my older works will be archived under a unified banner.

Yes. I think that is what I’ll do.

Granted, there are works that may be difficult to home some time in the future. Self-publishing will offer me the chance to put them out. This is only after careful consideration, however. My feelings are that if a novel has been rejected countless times, even by the small presses, there’s usually a very good reason for this.

And yes, you know what, no matter what people say, I’m still aiming for that Holy Grail of a book contract with one of the Big Six. What’s nice about publishing now is that authors have a lot more freedom. There’s no such thing as “out of print”.

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