Monday, December 17, 2012

Vanishing Cheap Tricks

One of the challenges I’m having in writing "The Whirlwomen Trilogy" urban fantasy novels is NOT making every moment magical. Falling back on the paranormal to explain or progress too many plot points in a story set in modern-day makes what should be the exception predictable and mundane. Readers want their imagination stretched, not bombarded with so many mystical interventions and newly discovered powers that they lose sight of, well, reality.
Here are three guidelines I’m using during the first-draft rewrite of “Flicker” to weed out paranormal overkill:
-One of my main characters is still discovering the extent of her powers and I'm itching to give her magical abilities infinite rein. But I can't unless she's evolving into a superhero, which she is not. So, I'm checking to make sure that I maintain a 70/30 balance between obstacles that are overcome with normal human capabilities and those that are surmounted with discovery of a new power or extension of a known one. 
-Another character in "Flicker" is a shapeshifter. She leans towards shifting into cats and birds, but her ability is unlimited. She's a perfect scout in situations dangerous for humans, which is fine, as long as she doesn't become the hound dog of the group just because she can. To avoid this character rut, I'm limiting her shapeshifting to fight or flight situation and having another character who is a skilled tracker (in this world and beyond) flex his keen ability when the need arises.
-Finally, the biggest challenge is not being cliché. That's true with any kind of writing, but in fantasy, sci-fi and paranormal fiction, where the author is limited only by her/his imagination, I think it's critical. That's not to say I can't use magical/paranormal device that have been used before. I do, however, have to showcase my character's more traditional abilities in unique scenarios or have them used in a new way. A great example is the way J.K. Rowling gave the magic wand and flying broom stick a modern-day makeover in the Harry Potter series.
These are only loose guidelines that are specific to my work, but they do reflect observations made while reading popular fantasy and sci-fi works by well-known authors. Much of learning the craft of good writing is in good reading. 
Wishing everyone some Happy Holiday Reading!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Marketing Options Beyond the Fridge

I recently had a burst in ebook sales. Okay, so 11 purchases of "Flung" in four days may not be a big deal, but it is somewhat satisfying considering my marketing efforts have been zilch + zero = nada these past few months as I focus on getting "Flicker" (book II in the Whirlwomen Trilogy) finished, edited and ready for publishing. I can only imagine what my sales would reflect if I was actually doing some marketing.
Sometimes, you have to pay for what you need. So, I've been doing some scouting for marketing services that are affordable, target e-savvy readers, and have a proven track record. I've found a few options that meet these criteria and thought I'd share.
Duolit is a team of two women who describe themselves as an author and a geek. Together, they blog regularly about self publishing, offer an impressive amount of ePublishing information on their website, and provide support services for indie authors. Services range from an hour-long phone consultation to a three-month long, intensive coaching program designed to boost indie publishing success. The first option will cost just under $100; the second, just under $1,000.
The book promotion services offered by Joey Pinkney provide different options. I found this brother via Twitter. His social media game is tight with 25-30K visits to his website monthly and more than 70K Twitter followers, and more than 3K Facebook friends. His pricing starts at $5, which will get you a banner advertisement on his web page for three days; an author interview will cost you $25; and for $100 you'll get an author interview, a book review (good rating not guaranteed), a review trailer and social media campaign. View his full marketing menu on his website.
A more traditional approach is the press release service offered by Piece of Cake Pr . As a journalist, I know the value and the pitfalls of the press release. It will either land in the right hands or be super SEO friendly and rank high on Google search, which could lead to a published book review read by thousands. Or, it will be used for scratch paper and be buried on page 10 of a Google search. Either way, every author should have one for each book release (even if it ends up being an addition to your refrigerator art which I'm sorry to say is as far as mine got though it is an inspiration every time I refill my wine glass). Piece of Cake PR offers two press release packages priced at $89 and $159 respectively.
There are lots of other choices out there, as well as some good books that can guide do-it-yourself efforts. The operative word, however, is effort. A concerted effort at that for a successful campaign. Effort takes time and for me I'd rather shell out a little cash than take time away from writing.
(On a side note, consider this: ePublishing is revolutionizing the publishing industry. Indie authors have created a niche market for editors, graphic designers, and other support services. In effect, we are creating jobs. Let's support each other's efforts so that everyone can do what they do best and we can all have a little change in our pockets.)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Old School; New Tricks

I'm old school. I always believed that a true writer slaved over a lengthy--say 100,000 word-- manuscripts for at least a year then handed it over to a gray-haired, bespectacled editor with a flask hidden in his top drawer who then whipped it into bestselling shape. And of course, said editor worked for a big New York City publishing house which had already validated said writer's talent by forking over a six-figure advance.
Times have changed. And so have I.
Having jumped into the ePublishing world as an Indie author/publisher, I'm noticing a trend that I believe will eventually be an industry standard--even for the big boys. This trend became apparent to me last night as without hesitation I kept spending $1.99 to get to the end of Stephen King's Odd Thomas intermission mini-series "Odd Interlude." There are four installations, probably not more than 90 pages each. I might have thought twice before one-clicking (damn/bless Amazon for making it soooooo easy) a purchase totaling about $8, but $1.99? I could probably scrape that up from the bottom of my laundry basket.
When it was all read and done, I felt the satisfaction of having read a full-length novel, which, in fact, I had if you multiply 90 x 4. I did have the benefit of having access to all four installations, something that would not have been possible several months ago as the episodes were published a few months apart, but either way I'm pretty sure I would have stayed with the story.
While King is a mega-author and can probably sell his stories by the letter, I've noticed a few Indie authors who are doing well selling shorter fiction, but in volume. Chick lit author D.D. Scott is one of them. She chronicles her book sales and offers great insight to self-published authors on her website The Writer's Guide to ePublishing. Since 2010, Scott has ePublished about 30 books and made over $1k last year. Her books aren't more than 200 pages and she sells them for .99 cents, but she boasts a 300K readership and did I mention her profits?
Short fiction sells and for the Indie author, volume is where the profits start adding up.
I revisited my business plan/production schedule today and noticed I'd made a note on June 29th (also my mom's birthday--RIP) to consider publishing "Flicker" in three installments (mainly because I was behind schedule and panicky that my readership will lose interest by the time I publish book II of The Whirlwomen Trilogy). Now I see that's not such a bad idea and am gearing up to get the first 100 pages to my editor and the cover designed.  I may be old school, but I do know how to learn from others and I'm always up for new tricks. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

iTunes U: Learning Management and Inspiration

I recently updated my iPad and was immediately intrigued by the iTunes U app that was installed during the process. The app is a doorway into a world of learning, inspiriting and research that speaks directly to my obsession with knowing a little bit about everything. And for those on a more organized learning curve, like college students, the app is an extension of the classroom that can be utilized on-demand.
iTunes U gives instant access to free, educational media including lectures, white papers, how-to's and curriculums. Learn best practices and trending theories from business leaders and educators; chill out with 3-minute meditations designed to increase mindful awareness (right on!); or listen to Ian Frazier expound on The Art of Literary Humor. Students can search for the most recent lectures and papers by college professors and the more tech savvy k-12 schools are providing content for parents, teachers and students that significantly expand the educational experience. I think it's a pretty cool way to get in the know about stuff you didn't even know you cared about.
I have to admit, however, I already struggle with limiting the time I spend online drilling down on topics that catch my interest, or are necessary to move my writing along. But with iTunes U, the difference for me is that it offers organized extemporaneous information loading. I know that reads like an overwritten contradiction, but this is where that comes from: When I first opened the app and figured out what it offered, I was relieving myself from writing that wasn't going well. I needed some inspiration and motivation to chew on that would get me back to work sooner rather than later. I needed some fundamental reminders that would shoosh the editor and quell the critic.
So, the first course on my iTunes U bookshelf ends up being "Creative Writing: A Master Class." The suggested duration of the course is 8 weeks, but I get what I need in about 8 minutes when I plug into a video of award-winning playwright/screenwriter Suzan-Lori Parks and her first rule of thumb is "entertain all your far out ideas." Those words (golden to a writer in the midst of an urban fantasy trilogy) and the anecdote she offers with them have me nodding and smiling and eager to get back to writing.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sophmoric Effects

Today I am asking myself "why a trilogy?" Was it not enough to write one book without promising readers another two are on the way? Deep in the bowels of book II, I am swimming around the notion that I am in over my head.
Not that I can't do it. It's getting done. It's just that right now the pressure I'm putting on myself is annoying. And, I think it's having an impact on my creativity. That Editor in my head is now joined by the Critic. The Critic says things like "there were so many components in 'Flung', how are you going to top that?" or "Remember what so and so said about such and such character--maybe you should change things to make so and so happy." It's enough to make me, myself and I close down Word and open up Netflix instead.
Octavia Butler, RIP, said herself that the hardest thing about writing a series is the second and third book. With the first book there is so much hope, so much excitement, so much possibility that gets squashed by the second book and the sheer e-f-f-o-r-t of writing anything that's good enough to keep the tale spinning and readers reading.
Then again, maybe there's my answer right there to "why a trilogy?" It's a challenge that keeps me accountable.  I really don't want to have to look folks in the eye a year from now still promising "Flicker" is on its way. Nope. Because then not only would there be the Editor and the Critic, but they would be eagerly joined by the Doubter.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Let the Write One In

"Let the Right One In" is one of my favorite foreign films. It's a 2008 Swedish film (an American remake came out shortly thereafter) about a young vampiress who befriends a young boy who is being bullied. The film is about trust and courage as much as it is about bloody, vampire-inflicted deaths and fear. Writing is like that sometimes--an enlighten salvation on one hand; an agonizing thorn of discontent on the other. I think the determining factor is what you decide to let in.
You can let in procrastination. You can let in distraction. You can let in paralysis/writer's block. You can let in sleepiness; or choose to dull the flow--because there is so much other stuff flowing with it--with Spirits. You can let in paying work (which is decidedly good). You can let in naysayers. You can let in the Democrats, the Republicans and CNN. None of those, however, offers much creative satisfaction.
You can, however, let the WRITE one in.
You can let in creativity. You can let in trust. You can let in discipline. You can let in confidence. You can let in whatever it is that gets you cranking out sentences, paragraphs,  chapters.
Letting in all those things that don't allow writing is as agonizing as being mauled by zombies--I imagine--as that's what writer's do when the right one has been let in.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Hiatus, Research and Other Unrelated Stuff

Yes, the date of my last blog was April 20. Fifty plus days since my last blog. You'd think I'm not a serious writer. But life happens. I've had to turn my full attention to employment issues (which I'd been deferring due to the fact that my savings was, umm, healthier) like job seeking. I recently finished studying for and taking the Foreign Service Exam-- a stimulating exercise that reminded me how much there is to know and how much I like knowing it.
Ironically, the part of the FS exam I found most challenging was the essay question. I was given 30 minutes to write an essay on my feelings on a controversial international topic. It wasn't an especially difficult topic, but as I gathered my thoughts to begin writing, I found myself wishing I could have just five minutes to do some quick research to enhance my writing and check some facts.
I believe that most good writing--fiction or non-fiction-- requires an inquisitive writer who doesn't mind doing a little research. The more you know about something, the more detail and dimension you can give your writing. And sometimes, what you learn opens new avenues of thought, plot and opinion. Anne Lamott writes an engaging essay on getting help from experts in her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Lamott shares an experience where she calls around until she ends up on the phone with a man sounding like father time who tells her that the little metal cap that covers a champagne cork is called a muselet. The simple phone encounter not only gave Lamott expert-specific language, but provided a unique human interaction that she said enriched her overall writing.
I keep a list of topics that I need to do research on handy for those moments when the writing isn't flowing, but I want to do something that supports the creative process. Just writing it down starts information flowing. Like learning more on gardening. I know some basics, but I have a character who is a Master Gardner so I need to know more than that for those moments when she is tending her garden. Ironically, a few days after adding gardening to the list, I overheard a woman say she was a Master Gardener after yoga. She gave me her card, told me about some websites, and said she'd be happy to answer questions. Perhaps as I learn, I'll get motivated to enhance my tiny yard with some flowering perennials.
I'm trying hard to make this blog about something, when its really just about getting back into the saddle. Forgive my lapse, wish me luck on reemployment, and stay tuned for further ramblings.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Nouveau Indie Author Buzz

It's official! I've joined the proud ranks of the Indie author. With the help of a great editor, illustrator and formatter, Book I of the Whirlwomen Trilogy was published without a hitch. At present it's available on Smashwords at Early next week it will be available on Amazon, Barnes&Nobles, the iBook store and several other ebook outlets. As much as I'd like to kick back and relax for a few weeks, preferably on a Caribbean island, the work goes on. Now it's marketing time as well as time to go full throttle on Book II, Flicker, which I plan to publish in October. Don't want to keep readers waiting too long.
I've learned quite a bit on this journey. One, anyone can do it. I used to hate when people said that about writing a book, but that's the fact, Jack. The thing is, not everyone will do it because it takes a lot of time and effort and there is always the chance that no one will read it. The pay sucks, too.
But the payoff is tremendous. Especially if you have a passion for the written word and a good story. I do, which is why it's on to the next one. I'll share more about the experience and specifics such as what you should expect to spend, the benefits of a good editor and more in upcoming posts.
On a side note: My book is dedicated to my Mom who passed five years ago on April 28th. She was my biggest fan. She always said I could do it and read everything I sent her and gave me notes. She was a voracious reader who turned me on to the likes of Louis L'Amour (yup, westerns), Sidney Sheldon, C.S. Lewis and many more. Thanks Mom! You were right.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

That Last Marathon Mile

It's down to the wire and I feel like I am walking a tightrope. I've had to revise the production schedule--the beauty of being the boss lady--and the new publication date is just about staring me in the face. Formatting for upload into Smashwords and Creatspace is the last major hurdle with just a few final edits to complete before that process begins. I'm vacillating between paying someone to do the formatting and doing it myself. How hard can it be, right?
I went through the same thing with the cover although I had much, much less faith in my ability on that front. I'm really glad I decided to go with a professional illustrator. I used Damon wasn't the cheapest but he was responsive, fast and came up with a great illustration based on my synopsis and a few random notes including a description of one of the main characters. I'll use him again for books II and III.
Speaking of which, my mind is already churning on book II. I can't wait to get to it, although part of that is just my wanting to sink back into that strictly creative space that I love. It's so comfy there!
As for marketing--did anyone hear that echo? I know I should be doing more, but frankly my mind is not churning on that front. Besides, how many more ways can I say "Soon come."
Alright, back to the task at hand. I just wanted to share my last minute jitters which I'm sure were experienced by all those who have gone before me.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Your Book's Selling on Amazon! Now What?

Just think about all the blood, sweat and tears that went into creating your book. The sleepless nights as you wrestled with the revisions and the breathless anticipation as you waited to see your book cover. Let’s not forget, the proud moment when you first held a copy of your book in your hands or saw it for sale on Amazon and B&N.

You may think your rollercoaster ride is over but believe it or not, the journey with your book is not even close to being finished. Thanks to the internet and social media, you’ll be doing marketing and promotions for your book before, during and after, long after, publication.

So first, let’s understand what will probably happen after your book is published. Unless your name starts with JK and ends with Rowling, chances are the masses are not eagerly lining up to buy a copy. According to Bowker's annual book production report released in 2011, self-published books increased 169% from 1,033,065 titles in 2009 to 2,776,260 in 2010. No numbers for 2011 yet, but as you can imagine, that number is getting larger, not smaller.

Don’t panic yet though because thanks to the internet, you do have time to build up word of mouth and positive reviews. It may take several months or several years for your book to gain an audience. It really depends on how you continue to get the word out and promote your book.

I know, I know, many authors are cringing and thinking, “I just want to write the next book, not continue to worry about the one that’s already published!” Whether you’re traditionally published or independently published, you’re pretty much responsible for the long haul when it comes to marketing and promoting your books.

My novel Bumped came out in the summer of 2011 and I still pass out postcards, tweet about it, share positive reviews and when I’m lucky, I do interviews – all promoted in a non-obnoxious way of course. No one wants to be hit over the head with reminders and news about your book. When it comes to social media, you have to walk the fine line of not being abusive but getting the word out.

So here’s what you do, create a calendar of post-publication marketing ideas. Start by looking at your pre-publication activities and see which ones would make sense to continue doing after publication. Write as many ideas down as you can think of and then put them in groups – 3 months after, six months after, on-going. Ongoing would be the Twitter and Facebook updates, first three months after would be reaching out to additional outlets to set up blog tours and interviews, and six months after could be advertising on and off-line, giveaways, etc. Always look for tie-ins with other sites and authors, and create opportunities for your book. You’re in control of whether or not your book lives or dies on the vine, not everyone is an overnight sensation so be prepared to work it for as long as you have to.

I love this quote by Jason Leister of Clients Suck and it really inspired me and it’s so true for writers:

“You do not need permission...

You do not need validation...

You do not need approval...

All you need is a goal and the will to pursue it.“

So go off, be fabulous and write your book. Promote it the right way and your audience will find you. Just don't ever give up.

Sibylla Nash is the author of several book included the novel Bumped. You can follow her on Twitter @Starbabyla.

Link to book site:

BN link:

Sunday, March 11, 2012

ePub Countdown: A How-to for All

I admit. I am stumbling through this first independent publishing venture. Despite hours of research and picking the brains of other indie authors, I still find myself feeling overwhelmed by the entire process. I am sure I am not alone. That being the case, my next few blogs will detail my publishing experience with the hope that others will find it useful.
Presently, I am in the thick of editing. Rather, I am in the thick of being edited. This is a critical step (and a good editor will kindly suggest that crucial works better than critical) and you need to be prepared to shell out a few coins for a professional job. I started my search for an editor at This website has lots of great information for writers. More importantly, you can submit a portion of your work for a quote as well as a recommended level of editing.
Editing costs vary and may be calculated per word, per page (industry standard for words-per-page is a firm 250), or by the hour. The per word range is anywhere from ¢.01 to ¢.20. Hourly rates range from $20 per hour to about $80. For the lower rates you can expect basic copyediting and proofreading; the higher rates will include varying levels of developmental input. Rewrites and ghost-writing will cost you significantly more. My advice is to have your manuscript in the best shape possible before seeking editorial help.
My manuscript is roughly 95,000 words. I knew that I wanted line-editing and some light developmental input. When I ran the numbers, I was looking at spending more than a few thousand dollars, which was not in my budget. So I took a chance and put a free ad on Craigslist. I was surprised at the numerous responses I got from freelance editors willing to work for less. I corresponded with about a half dozen respondents, asked them to provide a sample edit of the first 10 pages of my manuscript, and based my decision on their credentials and their proven ability. It's also a good idea to make sure the editor you select is familiar with your genre.
I chose a MFA grad student who edits a literary journal and reads fantasy and sci-fi for pleasure as my editor. I have not been disappointed. For a third of what I would have spent had I gone through an agency, I feel like I landed a great editor with a keen eye for detail and consistency, grammar, syntax, POV, dialogue and style. She even throws in the occasional compliment to keep my frail writer's ego from collapsing under the weight of all the other editorial notes.
Be sure to enter into a written contract with your editor. The contract will outline specifics such as type of editing, delivery dates, payment terms and number of readings. For the latter you want to at least negotiate two readings--the initial reading where editorial comments are input and a second reading after you respond to your editor's comments. Feel free to download and copy the contract that I used. You can find it at under Resources.
Depending on the length of your work and the speed of your editor, the editing process can take a few weeks or a few months. Factor that into your production schedule. Also, be mentally prepared to do more rewriting. Yes, more rewriting.
Coming up: Pre-pub marketing, formatting for ePublishing and book covers.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Urban Legends and Other Necessary Distractions

Ten things to do to untangle from your manuscript when it is starting to become illegible:

1. Watch a British comedy such as "Little Britain," or my recent discovery, "Idiot Abroad." The latter is a completely wacky, yet wonderfully visual, comedic interpretation of a bucket list--you know, those things you want to do before you die or before your latest work kills you.

2. Stare at the vegetables in your fridge and make up urban legends they tell while wilting in the vegetable bin such as this one little celery stalks tell: If you say "Bloody Mary" three times when the fridge opens you'll end up floating in a pool of beat to a pulp tomatoes and vodka."

3. Listen to some Bon Iver and try and figure out what the hell he's saying until you realize it doesn't matter.

4. Go for a run, a hike, a walk even if it's raining.

5. Take a nap especially if it's raining.

6. Blog.

7. Post something on FB or Twitter about your UPCOMING date of publication.

8. Fantasize about working at the DMV.

9. Read something you wrote when you were 23, drunk, stoned or broken-hearted. Bonus points for all four.

10. Get back to the task at hand after proving some unsuspecting stalk of celery that the legend is true.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Success Sticking Like Glitter

I’ve had an amazing year. I finished the first fantasy fiction novel of a trilogy; started my own business and on a more personal note found a more personal connection with my Lord and Savior. Two-thousand twelve is totally unwritten (except for "Flung";-). Everything is upside-down and although there are similarities from the past here and there, the future is new and Golden.

I’m two chapters deep into the rewrite that will go to the editor who I hope will whip "Flung" from the best I can do, to the best it can be. Yes, I’m behind. But I have some funding to come up with to pay said editor so maybe my timing is universally perfect.

I talked to my dear friend and mentor the other day who is bi-coastal chillin’—as I aspire to be—and was reminded that we attract and are attracted to what is available to us. And everything is available to us.

My path is different than anyone else’s. But I know what I want; what it looks like; what if feels like; what it tastes like. It's not entirely up to me, but I can use my God-given "abilities" to create my highest good. Faith will take up the slack.