Turning your e-book into a print copy.

The whole point of going digital and publishing a manuscript as an e-book is to keep up with the fast-paced world of indie publishing. Publishing your work as an e-book means you can jump back in, make changes, and re-upload it at any time. On the flip side of the coin, there’s quite a bit more involved in getting your book ready for print if you want to hold a paperback copy in your hands.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s cool to open the Kindle app and find your book there with its pretty cover and your name splashed across the front, but there’s still something missing (and there’s an empty spot on your bookshelf where that book would just look so good…) To remedy that, I decided to use Createspace (the print-on-demand service associated with Amazon) so that my books can be ordered as paperbacks instead of offered only via Kindle. All you have to do is click on Iris or There’s Always a Catch on Amazon, and you now have the choice to order them either way, which I think is pretty much the bee’s knees. Of course, it costs more to put a tangible book in your hands than it does for the book fairies to stitch together some pixels and send it zinging and pinging through outerspace, so the price is a tad higher, but I’m told some people still read physical books and don’t mind the inflated price, so…there you go! I have no expectation that I’ll sell tons of hard copies, but  am looking forward to having some on hand to give away (through Goodreads, in particular) and I’m going to use my hard copies on Instagram, which has a pretty active community of book lovers and bookstagrammers (yep–that’s a thing).

Speaking of giveaways, my printed copies are coming in the mail as we speak, and I’d love to share them. If you’ve read either Iris or There’s Always a Catch and you haven’t had a chance to leave a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads, then I’d love it if you would! To say thanks, if you post a review and then shoot me an email at redbirdsandrabbits@gmail.com to let me know you did, I’ll put you in my drawing to win a free copy of either book. And, hey–if you’ve already read it, no big deal…you can just pass it on to someone else who might like it, because when it comes to books, chocolate, or wine, sharing is caring!

How I draft my novels.

Unlike Donald Trump’s nature-defying comb-over, writing becomes less and less mysterious as time goes on. At first there’s a mystique about the whole process of Writing A Book, but then you manage to bleed sixty or eighty-thousand words onto a page (or into a word doc), and you realize that, Hey, I can do this. It’s just words!

Only it’s not. It’s plot and character and setting and detail and…so much more. And it always feels as if, when you’re done, you’re missing one of the main ingredients. For me, writing has been a series of light bulb moments: aha! I think I understand how to make characters come alive with their actions and their words. I’ve got it: I know that I need to hit major plot points by moving my characters from point A to point B! But putting everything together into one story? That’s hard. And I haven’t mastered it yet.

The other part of my writing (aside from discovering each time I write something that there was some huge piece of the puzzle that I was previously missing) is the fun I have with my first drafts. I’m a pantser through and through, which means I write whatever comes out with no plan, and Draft One is always the part where I have the most fun. I usually start with a very basic idea (example: Christmas Key, an island off the coast of Florida where the locals tool around on golf carts and where the lights and tinsel stay up year-round.) Then I add a couple of characters whose eyes we get to see the setting through (Holly Baxter, 30-year-old mayor of the island. She inherited the island when her grandparents passed away, and she’s struggling to gain the approval of her mostly-retired neighbors as she plans for controlled progress.) I throw in some sort of key element, like romance (Holly has recently broken up with hunky Jake Zavaroni, the island’s only cop, and they’re trying to figure out how to live together on a tiny island without actually living together), and then I figure out how to make it interesting (a group of fishermen from Oregon books a trip to Christmas Key, and among them is former baseball player River O’Leary. He and Holly hit it off immediately. But will their island romance turn into something more? And how will Jake handle seeing his ex move on right under his nose?) It’s just basic stuff, really, but it’s like laying the foundation for a house.

Then, to frame out this metaphorical house, I have to figure out how many rooms (books) I want–in this case, I’m thinking at least five in this series. I have ideas for the romance element as well as the growth of the island, the obstacles to both, and how to intertwine other islanders’ stories as well. Now, as a pantser, I have no idea how or when that will all play out, but I can picture some of it in my head (hints: reality show; murder-mystery weekend; a challenger for the office of mayor) so I know it’s possible to wring several books out of these ideas. And then I just write it. All of it. Whatever comes out. I build the rooms during this first draft, and throw in a few windows and doors. It’s hard not to go back and edit yourself as you go, but I resist it as much as possible.

After the first draft is complete (and I know it’s complete when I hit a point that feels like an ending–exact science, this stuff!), then I go back and decorate my rooms. I add color and texture, use all of my senses, try to create a picture that my imaginary readers will see in their heads, and then I basically second-guess things, make changes, tweak, delete, add, and mold until it feels…done. Voila. A book. Granted, one that still needs lots of editing, reading by other eyes, and probably more changes, but a book nonetheless! As we speak, I’m about ten thousand words away from finishing draft one of the second book in my series–so here’s to a 3-day weekend and the chance to get it done!

The catch-22 of snaring book reviews.

It’s just like finding a job, really: it’s easier to get one when you’ve already got one. But who will give you that first break? And so it’s a catch-22, of sorts. I’ve had the most luck by going to sites where you can email potential reviewers directly, find out what their reading interests are, and then send them a PDF or MOBI (Kindle ready) copy of your book in exchange for an honest review. But I do enjoy using Goodreads, so I thought I’d join a few groups (for both our Middle Grade book and my own YA novel) and see if I could use their review network to gather some feedback for our Amazon pages and our Goodreads links.

I signed up in mid-September for a popular group that caters to YA readers, and while it’s a super-organized affair (so far as I can tell), it also appears to be quite popular with authors looking for reviews, as I got wait-listed for a mid-October post. I waited and waited, so sure that I’d get at least a handful of readers on either or both books, but when my dates finally rolled around and my books got posted, I got…nothing. For days. Finally, after about a week of each book being available (and other books on the list getting 10+ readers right off the bat, with some posts getting hit with upwards of 80 comments and requests), I got one request on each book. One. For all that waiting. Now, I don’t want to be ungrateful, as I do enjoy the human interaction of communicating with people whose paths I would otherwise never cross (and both of these ladies were wonderfully kind and seemed eager to read and review the books), but I feel like I’m crawling up a rocky hill on my bare hands and knees, making about an inch of progress when my effort makes me feel like I should be covering miles!

As always, I’m cognizant of the fact that finding book visibility is HARD, and that I’m not alone in my frustration, but it still makes it feel like I’m shouting into an abyss. But I’ll keep shouting–because I still think it’s an amazingly gratifying hobby–and I’ll keep my fingers crossed that my two new readers give good reviews!

A minnow in an ocean of whales.

And now the flatline begins. We had a solid first few days after publishing our book, and every time we looked at our sales on Amazon we high-fived each other with excitement. But now…we’re floating out there in the murky world of ebooks, tangled in the flotsam and jetsam of this deep sea (about a million new fish are born into this ocean each year). With luck, we’ll get caught in the net of a bottom trawler and find ourselves on the menu somewhere fancy. But the truth is, this is where the real work begins–the swimming upstream, so to speak.

I had a wonderful phone conversation with Shayla of Curiouser Editing, and she talked a lot about how to connect with readers. It was invigorating to get the perspective of someone with more (and different) experience, and we came to some really good conclusions. Essentially every author has a brand that they’re promoting, and I really think that ours is clean, contemporary fiction for all ages. To take that a step further, it’s family-centered fiction, written by a mother and daughter. If I were to put that into a soundbite, it would look more like: Clean, Contemporary Family Fiction. In fact, the series I’m working on by myself falls into that category as well, so I think I’ve sort of naturally found my niche without really trying. Shayla’s ideas for how to promote our work and find people who are looking for what we have to offer were really insightful, and she offers tons of services to help authors. If you’re looking for editing, guidance, marketing, or connections with other publishing professionals, check her out!

As for what’s next…we need reviews. Reviews equal visibility and an audience, and the algorithms on Amazon are such that the more reviews you have, the more your book will be visible by human browsers. Our first two reviews were from friends and family, but we really need to beef that up. Unbeknownst to me, there is a world of willing book reviewers out there who are happy to read and give feedback on books in their preferred genres, and I stumbled into a website (here) where you can read what looks like personal ads, but what are really potential reviewers offering their free services. I found six or seven people who are willing to read Iris and give us an honest review, so now we just wait (with our fingers crossed that they’re good!) for those to be posted.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for Clean, Contemporary Family Fiction, feel free to check out Iris and let us know what you think. I have a coupon through Smashwords (that link takes you right to our book) that will allow you to download it for free through July 31. Just put the book in your cart, and at checkout, use this code: KY82R

If you’d be willing to read it and leave us a review on Smashwords, Amazon, or Goodreads, we’d be pleased as punch!

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road’ll take you there.” –Lewis Carroll

For as enthusiastic as I was a few weeks ago about the book Take off Your Pants, I am equally invigorated right now by Stephen King’s brilliant On Writing. And yet…I sort of feel like I’m chasing my own tail. While Pants got me to outline and think ahead before writing in a way I’d never done before, King basically throws an arm around my shoulders and tells me, “You’ve been doing it right all along–keep going.” Which I love, of course, but it just reinforces for me what a solitary, unique pursuit writing is. What works for me may not work for you–and vice versa–but according to King, that’s just fine and dandy. In the same way that the universe drops the right people, jobs, and situations into your life just when you need them (I’m still waiting for the universe to drop the right lottery numbers into my lap–that definitely needs to happen), I think it also slides the perfect book under your nose at a time when you’re searching for exactly what lies between the covers of said book. Take off Your Pants was timely and helpful as I floundered with my own process and wondered what was missing, and On Writing fits the bill as I move forward and think about the parts of writing that bring me the most joy.

And I find that joy in the creative place where time evaporates. That place where I start writing and working and the next time I look at a clock, three hours have gone missing. During these spells, the characters take on a life of their own and move the narrative forward in a way that makes me feel like my hands are just holding the planchette on a Ouija board while some unseen spirit does the work. King agrees with me here–the magic is in the way that you pull a story from the ether (his analogy is of unearthing a fossil carefully, of trying to keep it intact as you extract) and in the way that you get to essentially be the first reader as well as the creator–the story is as much of a wonder to you during the first draft as it is to your readers. Beyond that, his suggestions for tighter writing and editing are beautiful. If nothing else, I’ll walk away with the metaphorical toolbox that he helps his reader build, as well as with the knowledge that you have to slay the evil adverb. In our final edit, Holly and I are going through our manuscript right now and stabbing every adverb we can find, tossing molotov cocktails into our sentences wherever we see modifiers like “angrily”, “sadly”, and “pitifully”. We’re on a mission to get our narrative tightened up so that it corners like it’s on rails, hums like a tuning fork, and moves the reader along at breakneck speed like the Shinkansen bullet train racing through Japan. It’s been an exciting journey so far, and we’re speeding towards our first stop (book one’s publication!) on this adventure. All aboard!

Self-publishing: red-headed stepchild, or golden opportunity?

The idea of publishing work sans any sort of professional assistance is alternately thrilling and horrifying. I recently got deeply immersed in researching and learning more about the world of self-publishing, and without further ado, I found myself deep in a state of flow. For those not acquainted with this New-Agey, term, “flow” is defined as a state of productivity also known as zone. It’s the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. (I stole that definition from Wikipedia.) But it boils down to being so lost in something that you’re trying to understand or master, that time passes almost unnoticed.

I’ve written, queried, gotten rejections/requests for partials/final rejections over and over for the past 15 years, and have always looked at self-publishing as a last resort. But with the access we all have to the internet, ebook publishing tools, and platforms like this little blog I’ve got going here, we have the power to make our own destiny as authors. I’m fully aware that it takes more than just writing a solid book (oh, believe me, the things I’ve read in the past few weeks have made it crystal clear that luck, professionalism, talent, and hard work are all equal parts of this equation!), but with some self-awareness, patience, and gumption, the possibilities are endless. There are some great resources if you’re interested in finding out more about people who’ve done it successfully (J.A. Konrath’s blog; David Gaughran’s blog as well as his excellent book for newbies: Let’s Get Digital), and lots of opinion and how-to info from others who’ve gone the self-pub route themselves.

In an effort to understand how to turn a word processing doc into ebook material, I compiled four of my own short stories that I’m fond of, and then I rolled up my sleeves and got to work. I commissioned a cover that I liked from goonwrite.com (I’m a sucker for tropical colors and flowers), and attempted to put together a mini-ebook. I did it this way first because A) I had no idea what I was doing and a short book seemed like a good way to figure it all out, and B) I was hoping that by the time Holly and I were ready to publish our story together, I’d actually have it all figured out. (I’m sure I won’t have it all figured out, but hey–a girl can dream. And I’m lightyears ahead of where I started.)

After a full day of caffeine, confusion, and confounded frustration, I got my first book of short stories up in the Kindle store. I messed around with a bit, had some people download it, and then realized that I don’t love having it linked to the author page that I have with my daughter. I think I learned enough from the experience to make paying for a cover worth it, but I want to get our first collaboration up there and available, so I really need to focus on that!

Take off your pants!

Haha–I really just wanted to shout that into the interwebs. Honestly: keep your pants on.

So I’ve been reading voraciously (and not just fiction–I’m branching out!) on the topics of writing and self-publishing, and I’ve come across a real gem. It’s called “Take Off Your Pants! Outline Your Books for Better, Faster Writing”. If you aren’t a writer, you’re probably thinking, “Duh, of course an outline comes before you write anything.” If you are a writer, then you’re probably already sitting on one side of the fence or the other: plotters (people who outline first) versus pantsers (those who fly by the seat of their pants while they’re writing).

No matter how much I’ve dreamed about being a meticulous, organized plotter, I’ve always been a full-blown pantser. (For some reason this term makes me think of someone who’s always late wherever she goes. You know, someone who drives around putting her mascara on at stoplights with a clutch of dried-up car fresheners swinging from the rearview mirror as the cars behind her honk at her for holding up a green light. This girl might even have a few empty, sticky Slurpee cups rolling around under her seats, and she never bothered to take the carseat out of the back even though her youngest kid is nine years old. Not that there’s anything wrong with that girl, but absolutely NONE of those things apply to me, so I kind of feel like, “How in the heck am I a pantser? By nature I should be a plotter!” And I probably should be.)

In my quest to get better at every aspect of writing and the biz, I’ve got several books/samples of books going on my iPad right now, and I’m bookmarking blogs and websites as references like a crazy woman. But I really wanted to share this book as a solid foundation for writing for those who might be drifting out there in Pantser-land like I’ve been. I think I write pretty decent, character-driven stories, but I definitely fall down on the job a little bit when it comes to ramping up the protagonist/antagonist drama, making my character arc really clear (and interesting) and picking a flaw for my main character that is more than just a superficial stumbling block. (Er, that little declaration there just made me sound like a terrible writer. I don’t think I am, but I know I have a lot to learn; I think most of us do!)

So I’m spending this gorgeous, summer-like spring Saturday thinking and re-thinking the foundations behind my two works-in-progress, and finishing up “Take Off Your Pants!” I just wanted to throw that book out there for anyone who might be struggling with creating a solid writing skeleton to hang the meat on. Check it out: Libbie Hawker. Great book. Now go put your pants back on!

http://libbiehawker.com/take-off-your-pants/