Clare Writers’ Festival: Update 2

My last post covered the start of my adventures at the Clare Writers’ Festival, including the Saturday morning sessions on “Creating Memorable Scenes and Characters” and “Family History.”
Lunch consisted of sandwiches and a variety of fresh fruit, which was unfortunate since I’ve recently cut gluten (mostly) out of my diet. However, I signed up to the festival (listing no dietary requirements) well before I made the change, so it didn’t seem right to complain. And actually, the sandwiches were freshly made and quite nice. I did walk down to the bakery to supplement lunch with a “real” coffee, though (yes, I’m a coffee snob, and proud of it!).

Session 3: Publish or Bust – panel discussion

Authors Astrid Cooper, Trisha Stringer and Karly Lane talked about their publishing experiences in both traditional and self-publishing, and answered questions from people. There wasn’t a great deal there that I hadn’t already read online or figured out myself, but it was really good to hear confirmation of some things or to hear advice from people who have been there. Here are a few gems of wisdom I wrote down, hopefully in a more organised fashion than I had in my notes:

1. How do authors get noticed? (applies to both trad and indie)

1) Have an online presence

Having an online presence goes a long way to being noticed and to finding a traditional publisher. Apparently publishers do trawl the interwebs looking for new talent! So it’s worthwhile having a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a blog, a website, a Wattpad account etc etc, and it’s also worth proofreading what you put on those sites and being careful with your public image on these! We all know (some by bitter experience) that nothing on the internet is private. Actually, as an aside, I know employers and people on audition panels for musicals who google the names of applicants to see what pops up (and having a very private, secure Facebook profile is a plus to them, by the way). The bottom line is that everything you put on the internet is potentially an “audition” for a publisher. Scary thought, isn’t it?

Astrid Cooper mentioned that she spends two hours every day on promotion stuff, and I’ve heard other authors say similar. One thing that stands out to me over and over again is how self-motivated and organised writers have to be, as they usually work from home and don’t have specific office hours. I might come back to that in a later post. As a teacher and a former homeschooler, I know all about self-motivation!

2) Enter competitions

This is a good way of improving your skills and challenging yourself. Some competitions offer feedback as a prize, or you get published in a magazine. And publishers also look at these things. I think the challenge here is to not spend all your time working on competition entries, otherwise you’ll never get your novel finished (assuming that’s what you do). I personally haven’t really entered any competitions yet, as I struggle to have time to even work on my novel and update my blog! But I believe I will eventually. It’s just not a priority for me right now.

2. Self-publishing platforms (I didn’t write down the original question, but it had something to do with this)

The panel seemed to have their doubts about the effectiveness of putting your book up on Amazon, mainly because it’s an extremely crowded marketplace (have a quick look and you’ll soon see what I mean). I guess the fact that you can put anything up there for free has something to do with that. I’m personally not so quick to discount Amazon though. True, I wouldn’t just toss my book into the swirling vortex that is Amazon and wait to become famous, but I think a lot of people (myself included) go there first when looking for someone. And, of course, the Kindle market is huge. I think that it is good to have your work on Amazon (and other places), but find genre-specific avenues of advertising.

3. Traditional publishers

All of the members of the panel agreed that it is a good idea to approach publishers who specifically focus on your genre. In my notes I wrote “DO RESEARCH” (with underlines and an asterisk), which seems like common sense to me, but apparently it’s not to everyone. They stressed two things:

1) research what the publisher is looking for. In other words, don’t just google a heap of publishers and send them your manuscript without even checking that they publish your genre. It is a waste of time and it’s lazy, and it won’t look good. And if the publishing world is as small and well-connected as the musical theatre world (and I suspect that it is), all these publishers talk to each other. And if that’s the case, you don’t want to get a reputation as a lazy application writer who doesn’t bother to do their research before contacting a publisher.

2) research the publisher’s reputation and exactly what they offer. Sadly, there are quite a few scam publishers out there, who will take your money and give you a poor quality product (this actually applies to indie publishing sites as well). But the good news is that with a little online research you can find reviews that point out these fake publishers, and there are also websites dedicated to naming them. In other words, don’t take them at face value. A few minutes of research could potentially save you thousands of dollars and a heap of embarrassment.

4. Copyright and ISBN numbers

This is pretty important. If you don’t copyright your work, anyone could steal it and you’ll have no way to press charges against them. And that would be very sad 😦 (note the sad face for added effect. The words “very sad” simply weren’t enough here. And yeah, as a writer I should use words to convey it, such as saying that it would be “as devastating as having your grandmother’s canary eaten by your beloved pet cat, which is then run over by your new car driven by your boyfriend, who then accidentally crashes it into a tree, writing it off and landing himself in the ICU,” but that’s probably going over the top, don’t you think?). I didn’t get much more info on copyrighting except that Amazon’s CreateSpace will do it for free. Many places also give you a free ISBN number, which you need in order to sell your book (I know that both Amazon and Smashwords will give you one for free). You also need a separate ISBN for an ebook and a print book of the same title. There’s a great book called “Australian Writers’ Marketplace” that gives you all the info you need about it. It’s big and expensive, but you can probably find it in a library easily enough.

5. Setting the price

This is more for indie publishing, as I think traditional publishers generally have their own set price. One good thing about indie publishing is you can change the price whenever you feel like it (within the parameters of whatever platform you’re using), and have your own “sales” and so on. I like the idea of having a sale! People will buy things that are on sale that they might not normally buy. There’s something magical about the word “sale.” Just think of that hideous dress or pair of shoes that don’t quite fit right, but you bought it because it had the magic word attached to it. OK, maybe that wasn’t the best analogy, because you want people to actually like your book. Perhaps its more like that top you bought for $5 on clearance and now it’s your most favourite item of clothing ever, and you can’t help but tell everyone about it. But that’s enough clothing analogies…

Basically, if there are two books for sale, and you haven’t heard of the author of either of them, which one do you buy? The one that’s cheaper, of course. I think the best thing to do is look at what other books in your genre and a similar length to yours are selling for and use that as a guide. It’s a fine line between setting the price too high and selling yourself short. When my book comes out I’m planning to experiment a little bit and see how price makes a difference. I think I’ll start with $2.99 and go from there. It’s about average for books on Smashwords of roughly the length of mine, and to sell in iBooks it has to end in .99 for some reason. I’d like to hear from someone who has had some experience here. Post a comment below 🙂

6. Print On Demand (or POD, if you want people to think you’re talking about a Christian metal band)

Print On Demand is a pretty cool idea, and it avoids the issue of ending up with a spare room full of unsold books. Print On Demand is where people order a book, the printer prints it and sends it directly to them. There were a few that were spoken about by the panel:

Griffin Press. They’re Australian based, which is a big plus in my books, as I always try to support local businesses when I can. They format for you and you only pay for what you buy. You can also do really small print runs, which helps to avoid the unsold-books-in-spare-room scenario. Other than that I don’t know a lot about them, but you can check out their website at the link above.

Lulu. I briefly mentioned Lulu in an earlier post, and since then I’ve heard a lot of mixed reviews about the company. Some people I know have used it and thought it was great and really easy to use, and others have said the exact opposite. One of the panel members said they found the POD feature of Lulu to be quite poor quality and a bit pricey. I am going to avoid Lulu based purely on the fact that the reviews are mixed. In my mind, mixed reviews mean one of two things: the quality is inconsistent, or people have different standards when it comes to quality. Either way, that’s not great.

 

Session 4: Fantasy Workshop with Sean Williams

This was a pretty awesome session. Not because we went away with lots of knowledge or the secrets to writing a best selling fantasy novel. We didn’t. In fact, I didn’t really write down anything that will help me be a better writer. What we decided to do was have a group brainstorm for the plot of a Young Adult fantasy novel. We talked about the idea of “extrusion” (where someone from the real world goes to another world), which is a pretty common theme in YA and teen fantasy, and also about the definition of “speculative fiction” (pretty much anything that isn’t real, ie. fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, etc). But after that, we discussed a crazy plot idea involving twins separated at birth (Sean’s just a little bit obsessed with the idea of twins), which then turned into a conspiracy theory involving a parallel universe and babies being stolen from our world, which then turned into something called “Changeling Dragons,” set in China during the one-child policy. Who knows, maybe I’ll write this great novel after I’m finished with The Secret Of The Sword series…

Dinner and “On The Couch”

Over dinner time they had a sausage sizzle and book fair set up in the park next to the town hall. I took a few business cards and free bookmarks, including one from Dean Mayes, who has written a fascinating sounding book called Gifts of Peramangk. Go and check out his website and his book. I didn’t have the cash to buy it at the time, but it’s definitely on my list!

The “On The Couch” session in the evening was a great Q&A session with all the guest speakers, and included various nibbles and desserts and local wine. It was pretty interesting, but due to the distraction of food and wine I didn’t really write much. The only thing I did write down was one thing PD Martin said about avoiding writer’s block, which I think is great advice. I’ve actually started doing it, and it works!

“Never stop at the end of a chapter: stop in the middle of a scene that you’re passionate about, so that next time you can sit down and be excited straight away about writing.”

Try it, I dare you. You’ll find that you can’t wait to get back to it, and you’ll get in “the zone” more quickly. Speaking of which, I last left my main character fighting for her life, so I better go and make sure she survives.

Happy writing!

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Is it POZIBLE to get published? :p

Is it POZIBLE to get published? :p

Many of you have already heard that I’m running a Pozible campaign to raise the funds needed to get my book edited and printed. There are now only 9 days left for me to reach my target amount! Scary…

For those unaware, Pozible is a crowdfunding website. You can run a campaign for your creative project, aiming to raise a certain amount within a certain time frame. People ‘pledge’ to your campaign and select a reward based on how much they pledged. It’s called a ‘pledge’ rather than a ‘donation’ because no one’s money is actually taken until the end of the campaign, and ONLY if the campaign reaches its target. So if you don’t reach your target amount within the time frame, everything gets cancelled. No one gets charged, no one gets their chosen rewards, and you don’t get any money at the end of it.

I’m aiming to raise enough money to 1) pay for professional editing for my book, 2) print at least 100 copies to sell privately and give away (some as Pozible rewards), and 3) set up my own website with my own domain name, and pay for some online advertising.

But I’m not there yet! 9 days to go and I’m still a ways from my target. So I’m asking my readers: please, if you like my writing and would like to see Quest for Revenge in print, jump over to my campaign and pledge! The great thing is that you’re not giving something with nothing in return. You’ll see that there are plenty of rewards to choose from, and if my campaign is successful I’ll make sure they are distributed as soon as possible.

If I’m not successful? Well, I’m still going to try to get published, but I don’t know how long it’ll take. I don’t really have much in the way of disposable income right now, so it’ll take me a while to save up enough for the editing costs. And there’ll be no website, no print copies, and probably no book launch (which isn’t part of the campaign, but I was going to hold one if it was successful). Which is a little sad.

So head over and take a look, and if you have family or friends who are interested in fantasy and new authors, please pass on the information to them! I will be eternally grateful.

 

Regular blogging returning soon: My journey into publishing

Quest for Revenge: Unseen Excerpt

Here is an excerpt from an early draft of Quest for Revenge that never made it into my final draft. It gives a bit of an insight into Melina’s character and her life in the palace before she begins her adventure.

 

Fingers sheathed in soft black leather gripped the grey stone window ledge. With a soft grunt of exertion a figure clad all in black scrambled through the window. The intruder’s sudden appearance elicited a squeak of surprise from a middle aged maid.

The maid jammed her fists onto her ample hips and faced the intruder with a huff of annoyance. “What is the meaning of this, child? Have you never heard of using a door?”

The intruder casually pulled off the leather gloves and tossed them on the four poster bed. “Never mind, Lanarra, forget it even happened.”

“How am I supposed to forget it?” Lanarra demanded angrily. “Your father will hear about this, Your Highness, mark my words.”

Princess Melina dropped her riding cloak on the floor of her bedchamber. “You wouldn’t dare.”

She glared at her maid. Lanarra glared back, unabashed. Then she sighed in frustration, and went around the room picking up items of clothing as the princess dropped them.

“What was it this time?” Lanarra asked grudgingly and Melina knew she had won. “A troll? A griffin?”

Melina scoffed. “Griffins aren’t evil, and they don’t attack humans, Lanarra. They’re very gentle really.”

“Well, they give me the willies,” Lanarra grumbled. “Look, you’ve got blood on your shirt! Do you know long this will take to get out?”

“No. But it’s a good thing you do. And it was an ogre.” Melina yawned widely and glanced out the window, where the sun could be seen peeking over the horizon. “Now excuse me, Lanarra, but I need to go to bed. It’s almost dawn.”

Lanarra humphed again. “It is dawn, and for most people it’s time to get up!”

“I’m not most people, am I?”

“Thank Erius for that.”

“What was that?”

“Nothing, Your Highness. Don’t forget you’re expected to be at lunch today. Your father has guests.”

Melina grunted and collapsed onto the bed, sighing at the feel of the silken sheets on her skin.

“Did you hear me?” Lanarra demanded.

The princess had heard her perfectly clearly, but pretended to be asleep. The maid left the room, muttering under her breath and making a point of making as much noise as possible.

My Journey Into Self Publishing: The Magic Word

Self publishing. The magic word. When I first heard of it, I felt as though a door was opening right before me, leading into a world of possibilities, or impossibility becoming reality. Maybe, just maybe, I could see my own novel, the words I had written, on a printed page, or even an e-page. The idea was, and still is, intoxicating.

If you’ve just heard the magic word for the first time, I encourage you to read on. I hope my experience can help you with the choices now in front of you:

1) Where can I get my book self published?

2) Will my book be visible enough to sell if I self publish?

3) What about editing?

4) Can I use the book cover I made myself?

Points 3 and 4 will be covered more in future posts, but I can give a short answer to number 4 now. Yes, as long as any images are legally yours to use. More on that later.

Here are the answers I discovered.

Question 1: Where can I get my book published?
Answer: Lots and lots of places! I heard of several sites through Wattpad, and on further research seem to be good places to go. Please note I’m mostly going to be talking about ebooks here, and not really go into print publishing. I might cover print in a later post when I know more about it myself.

Lulu

A friend told me about this website, and published his own book on there. I did a bit of research and found that although you can buy ebooks directly from Lulu it doesn’t get a great deal of traffic except from other writers. Lulu does distribute ebooks to the iBookstore and Barnes & Noble. You also get 90% of royalties through them, which is the highest percentage of anywhere I’ve looked.

Kindle Create Space

Amazon was a logical step in my search for information. I signed up to its “CreateSpace” site (free sign up) to see what it was all about, and I have to say that even after reading all the information and the FAQ’s I’m still a little confused. There are different percentages of royalties depending on what country you live in and what country the buyer of your book is in, and Australia is on the lowest ranking. Also, because I live in Australia, they will only send me my royalties via cheque (Direct Debit option not available) and only after I have accumulated over $100 for them to send me. I worked out that, at 35% royalty, an ebook that retails at $2.99 (a fairly standard price for a new ebook by an unknown author), I would have to sell 97 copies of my book before I see any money. Naturally I started thinking, “What if I never sell that many? I’ll never get any money from what I do sell!”
Quite frankly, I’m not too keen on that arrangement. While I’ve heard of others who have used it and found it fine, I don’t think I’ll go that way. It doesn’t seem to be the most user friendly site around, but maybe that’s just my frustration at the lack of Australian support coming out.
CreateSpace also has a “select” program, but I haven’t really looked into it, so I can’t really say anything about it. I just thought I probably should mention it.

Smashwords

I had never heard of this before, but I saw it mentioned on a Wattpad discussion board, and looked it up. It’s similar to Lulu in that it sells on its own site as well as distributing to other retailers. If you qualify for their Premium Catalogue (there are a list of quality control requirements) Smashwords will distribute to iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Baker & Taylor, Sony’s Kobo store, and a number of other smaller retailers I’ve never heard of. Their reach seems to be greater than either Lulu or CreateSpace, and they give you 85% of royalties regardless of what country you’re in. They use PayPal, which is pretty convenient, and will pay your royalties quarterly as long as there is a minimum of $10.
I’ve decided to go with Smashwords when my book is ready to hit the cyber shelves. However, I did just read on their website that they are limiting their Amazon distribution, so I might have to go directly through Amazon as well. Smashwords is not exclusive, so they don’t care if I distribute in multiple places.

So that’s what I’ve learned so far about self publishing platforms. If you google “self publishing” you’ll find a gazillion more sites that you can use, but these three are the most well known among the writing community.

Up next: Editing!

Quest for Revenge: excerpt 1

Here’s a short excerpt from my first book, “Quest for Revenge.” If my Pozible campaign is successful, the ebook will be available in July/August. Enjoy!

Melina lunged to the side to dodge a dagger thrown at her. The sudden movement put her off balance and she slid sideways in the saddle. She scrambled for a hold. If she could get a good grip on the pommel she would be able to pull herself back up. She clutched for it, her fingers brushing the pommel, but she couldn’t get her hand around it.
A harsh laugh came from somewhere nearby but out of her line of vision. She surveyed her awkward position, and knew she wouldn’t be able to climb back into the saddle. She released a long breath and let go. She tumbled to the ground and rolled to her feet, drawing her sword in one quick movement. She dodged again as another dagger was thrust at her. This time she kept her footing, free from the need to keep her balance in the saddle. She swiftly brought the hilt of her sword down, intending to connect with the back of the man’s neck, but a large sweaty hand grasped her wrist in an iron grip. Her foot automatically swung out and connected with his shin. He cursed and let her go, stumbling forward. Taking advantage of the momentum, she slashed her sword across his thigh and he fell groaning to the ground.
She pulled a dagger from her right boot, holding both it and her sword at the ready. Her gaze darted around, taking in the scene. The stranger was duelling fiercely with the two remaining men, who each had a sword in one hand and a knife in the other. The stranger seemed to be holding his own but was favouring his left leg slightly, and his pant leg had a growing dark stain near the knee. Melina swiftly moved behind the smaller of the two men and used a quick manoeuvre she had learned from a guest of her father’s from the East. The sword flew out of the man’s hand with a clatter. The man cried out in pain, held his dislocated fingers close to his body, and ran out of the conflict. At that point she saw the stranger’s face.
“You!” she gasped.

My Journey into Publishing: The Beginning

Ok, I’ve been sitting staring at the “Add New Post” screen for maybe fifteen minutes now, thinking “Where on earth do I start?” Then, finally, the logical answer has come to me. I’m going to start at the beginning. Yeah, I know, that’s a tired old cliche, but where else would you start?

This first post of mine will outline a bit about me and how I started writing, and why I’m launching into the publishing scene. If you’re not interested in my life story, skip down to the “Wattpad” and “Publishing” sections.

Where I Started

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An inspirational spot on the farm

I’ve been completely in love with reading, writing, and storytelling my whole life. My dad used to read storybooks to me (with all the voices), giving me a love of storytelling and fiction. Both my parents read prolifically and my grandma used to have a library in her house (seriously! It was the church’s lending library), so I always had plenty of access of all kinds of books and loads of encouragement to read. I also found that creative writing at school quickly became my favourite subject (other than recess and lunchtime, which were my favourite because it was cool to say that), and I was incredibly disappointed when my piano lesson was scheduled at the same time as that once-a-week class. I loved music too, but I tried to convince my teacher that I should be having my lesson during maths instead of creative writing. For some reason she never changed it…

When I was a teenager I discovered that a family friend of ours also loved creative writing! We instantly went from ‘family friends’ to besties, and started writing a series of ridiculous mystery stories, the first of which was titled, “Jessie Spaghetti and The Girl Named Betty.” We thought we were pretty awesome…

Our relationship really kick-started my novel writing. We wrote several stories together, but pretty soon we both branched off into our own projects and wrote more independently, reading each other’s work and giving feedback. She loved to write about the things she knew: her farm, her friends, and above all, horses. I loved to write about things I hadn’t experienced before: detectives, overseas travel, boyfriends, and fantasy worlds.

This was in the time before I had a computer, so I wrote everything in an exercise book (which I still have). To get inspiration I would go on long walks around my parents’ farm with my notebook and find somewhere to write. A creek bank, a cluster of comfortable-ish rocks, up a tree, in the middle of a paddock of chest-high canola – you name it, I sat there and wrote.

During this time I wrote a couple of short romances, and started a high fantasy called “The Secret of the Sword.” The romances will never see the light of day, and I’m putting them down to “learning experiences” and “developing my style”, but the fantasy – well, you’ll hear a lot more about that later.

In 2004, the introduction of several things into my life – university, living in the city, and a boyfriend – made me put my writing away as a childish hobby. However, I never deleted any of the things I’d written and always kept a backup. This is one thing I recommend to all aspiring writers. Never delete anything you write, no matter how crap you think it is at the time. It’s good to look back on it, if only to remind yourself how far your craft has come. I get a good laugh out of rereading “Jessie Spaghetti and The Girl Named Betty.” You could pull my fingernails out before I’d ever show that manuscript to a living soul but it reminds me where I started and helps me to appreciate where I am now.

The Wonderful World of Wattpad

Sometime in 2008 I rediscovered my manuscript for “The Secret of the Sword” and started rewriting it on a whim. I’d almost forgotten how much I loved writing, and it was fun to get back into it. I never thought I’d actually go anywhere with it. It was just a fun way to pass the time. I wrote off and on for a few years, while hopping from one temporary teaching job to another. Then in 2011 I discovered Wattpad. I actually don’t remember how I came to find it or why I decided I finally wanted to share my work. I think I was researching something for the story and stumbled across it. Anyway, I joined, and it has changed the way I view my writing completely.

For those not in the know, Wattpad is a free website for writers, both amateur and professional, to post their works and to network with other writers. People can comment on each chapter of your story and give you feedback, and can vote for stories that they like that can potentially end up on a “what’s hot” list. There are also discussion forums on all topics to do with writing, and a very strong writers community there. Unfortunately, because it’s all free and anyone can sign up, there are a lot of teenage girls writing dreadful fan-fics about One Direction, Harry Potter, and every other fad, but there are also a good number of good writers who work hard to improve their craft and also seek to help others.

Wattpad has really helped me to gain confidence as a writer and has also taught me a great deal about the craft of writing. It was also a “safe” way to begin to allow others to read my work. I was previously so afraid of rejection that I didn’t let anyone see my writing, not even my husband! Wattpad was a good way to get some feedback from people I’d never met, and a much safer option than showing it to people whose opinion actually mattered to me.

The Next Step: Publishing

This is where I am now. I have two completed novels and another one well on the way. I’ve learned a massive amount about the craft of writing from Wattpad and innumerable blogs and websites (I’ll post links to some of my favourites in future blog posts), and feel like I have something that’s worth sharing with the rest of the world.

Many hours of online research into publishing options taught me several things.

1) There’s a lot more involved in the publishing process than I thought.

2) If you send your manuscript directly to a publisher, expect to be rejected (cold, but true).

3) Traditional publishing is not the only option! Behold the magical world of Self Pubslishing

The third point was a huge relief to me. I didn’t want to go through the emotional roller coaster of sending my manuscript to publisher after publisher. But there’s actually an alternative, one that more and more authors are choosing to take. Self Publishing.

The posts that follow this one will take you through my journey into the land of self publishing and everything that I learn along the way. I hope other aspiring authors launching themselves into this scary place can learn from my experiences.

One more tip for writers? If you really love writing, don’t stop. Write every day. Read everything you can about how to write better. Try to write better. Don’t be scared of the publishing world. Square your shoulders and jump in!