Friday Conversations With A Self-Publishing Writer 04/17/15

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SETTING THE STAGE IIblack beauty

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell.  If ever there was a novel—and author—to be recognized in the world of legacy writing, it is this one.  It has stood the test of time not only because the main character is a horse (utilizing the writing technique of personification), but because of excellent development of Setting, Plot and Characters.

The story is set in the Victorian Era (reign of Queen Victoria 1837-1901), an age of progress and tradition.  Although travel by train/railroads is coming into fashion, the horse was still the main mode of transportation, either by saddle or pulling a carriage.  Born in 1820, Anna Sewell experienced a unique perspective of her environment having seriously injured both ankles (about age 14).  For the remainder of her life, Anna could not stand without a crutch or walk any distance.  Her “legs” became horse-drawn carriages where she witnessed many of the episodes she wrote about.

Anna chose to begin her novel in the English countryside—on a farm where a beautiful colt was born and raised over a 4-year timeframe.  The first page offers visual and refreshing descriptions: 1) “a pleasant meadow with a pond of clear water;” 2) shade trees leaning over the pond where “rushes and water lilies grew;” 3) a plowed field could be seen over the hedge, and in the other direction was the house and the road; 4) “at the top of the meadow was a grove of fir trees, and at the bottom a running brook overhung by a steep bank.”  Can you picture it?  Many a famous artist has attempted to capture that image of peace and harmony.

Without the readers knowing it, each of us instantly created an image in our minds.  They are unique to each person, yet each one involves the basic elements of setting:

  1. Time of Day. The human mind holds distinct and vivid associations with different periods of the day.  When reading a description such as the one above, most will instantly create a visual orientation of the scene—and place themselves IN it.  Although there will be other distinctive scenes throughout the book, the opening scene/setting needs to be one Readers will not forget.
  2. Sense of time. The minutes, hours (days, weeks and months) encapsulated in your novel need to unfold moment-by-moment—just as we experience our daily lives.  Of course, the story cannot hold every minute of every day in the characters’ lives.  However, this sense of fluid motion (connecting one event with the next) will bring reality into focus for the Reader.  Again, the Black Beauty novel is an excellent example as the setting moves the reader from peaceful pastureland to cobblestone London streets with ease.
  3. Experiencing the Setting. There are many setting factors that influence a Reader’s ability to experience your story.  With each chapter (or section change within a chapter) set the stage very specifically by including aspects of light (bright sunlight—shadowed forest, etc.), weather, and temperature. I’ve known some writers to research the allergy seasons, butterfly and geese-migration seasons, etc.  ALL of these (and many others) will add to the emotional impact felt by readers.

In closing, I offer you one more thought about Anna Sewell, this very famous author. As the daughter of a well-known children’s book author—Mary Wright Sewell—she was IN the right setting for creative writing exploration.  However, Black Beauty was her only novel.  She sold her novel to a local publisher—saw it published when she was 57 years old—and died five months later. DO YOU have a novel waiting to be written?  DON’T WAIT!  Finish it and get it published!  Your publishing options are plentiful!

ABOUT ROYALENE DOYLE: Royalene Doyle is a Ghostwriter with Outskirts Press, bringing more than 35 years of writing experience to authors who need “just a little assistance” with completing their writing projects. She has worked with both experienced and fledgling writers helping complete projects in multiple genres. When a writer brings the passion they have for their work and combines it with Royalene’s passion to see the finished project in print, books are published and the writer’s legacy is passed forward.

Weekly Self-Published Book Review: Surviving Mental Illness

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Book reviews are a great way for self-publishing authors to gain exposure. After all, how can someone buy your book if he or she doesn’t know it exists? Paired with other elements of your book promotion strategy, requesting reviews is a great way to get people talking about what you’ve written.

When we read good reviews, we definitely like to share them. It gives the author a few (permanent) moments of fame and allows us to let the community know about a great book. Here’s this week’s book review by Midwest Book Review:

surviving mental illness

 Surviving Mental Illness

Linda Naomi Katz

Publisher: Outskirts Press

ISBN:9781432783990

To lose domain over one’s own mind is a frightening thing. “Surviving Mental Illness” is a memoir from Linda Naomi Katz, as she shares her struggles with psychological disorders and the pressure that comes with it. She speaks on being often labeled crazy by society and how she had to cope with such things, as well as her long road to recovery. Uplifting and poignant, “Surviving Mental Illness” is a thoughtful addition to memoir collections focusing on psychological issues.

Self-Publishing & Merchandising : Book Cover and Jacket Design

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So here’s the thing: you’ve written a book.  Now you have to sell it.  But you’re going to self-publish, and you’re just self-conscious enough to do a little field research, so you drop on by your local indie bookstore, and you start thumbing through covers to see what you like and what you don’t like … and you start noticing a pattern.  The self-published books on the shelf are, for one thing, pretty thin on the ground, and they’re also often less … attractive.  What’s going on here?  And how can you prevent your own book cover and jacket from fading into the background?  Here are five tips to designing a standout, quality book cover or jacket.

[ Right now, I’m just going to deal with the outside of your book––and I’ll save the design components of the inside for next week. ]

1. Design with an awareness of genre.

Some of your greatest assets––and, potentially, stumbling blocks––as a book designer are the legacies of bygone books and the expectations of current readers.  Designing a book specifically to fit in may not be the wisest move––it may remain undiscovered by blending in too well––but there are enormous benefits to paying attention to the visual brand of your book’s genre.  Just think about it!  We know in a flash––in less than a tenth of a second––and with great accuracy whether A, B, and C are all of a set in those popular web-based IQ tests.  We will absolutely know if a book “fits” with its shelf-mates in the bookstore, because we can pause and linger and physically pick up the books involved.

Bold and blocky typefaced titles that occupy almost the whole of a book cover scream crime fiction; slim and minimal sans-serif fonts speak of literary nonfiction; distressing alludes to zombies and post apocalyptic literature; and a hand-lettered style hints at popular romance or young adult novels.  (John Green, I’m looking at you.)  There are, of course, a great many exceptions across all genres, but the clues are there: aside from title fonts and their size and placement, every genre has a long legacy of embedded symbols, imagery, and dynamic organization.  Silhouettes, guns, and blood splashes are easy to place in the crime genre, but do you notice the color balance in a Nora Roberts book cover?  How about the placement of carefully curated quotes on a nonfiction book, above or below the title?  Or the fact that nature guides will often crowd out the author’s name altogether in favor of a full-page still shot of a bluejay, or a slice of Sydney Harbour?  Before you settle, browse the aisles––and the Kindle store.  If you’re going to depart from your genre’s expectations, then do so knowingly, with every keystroke.  You may be setting your book up to stand out, but you may also be removing it from the visual radar of every reader who’s looking for a book in your genre.

2. Design with an awareness of spatial dimensions.

No, I don’t mean the astral plane, or the multiverse.  I mean you should examine the balance between text and image, busy and clean, light and dark.  Often a book cover will look radically different at different dimensions––say, as a physical book and as a thumbnail on the Kindle store––and seemingly small design choices can make your book look either extraordinary or extraordinarily terrible when the size of the image changes.  Keeping your book cover design free of unnecessary clutter––shapes and colors and forms that you don’t need to convey important information––is essential.  I can guarantee you that the titles leaping out at you as you’re scrolling through Amazon are the ones keeping their design simple enough––and uncluttered enough––that they appear beautiful, even as a tiny, 60 x 90 pixel thumbnail.  Again, browsing what’s out there is your best guide to designing a great book cover yourself.

3. Design with an awareness of industry requirements.

By this I mean, particularly, to watch your back cover.  You need to display your book’s EAN barcode somewhere on the cover, preferably without squashing or crowding the design.  You’ll need to include an author photo and biographical snippet (“John Doe works as a marine biologist at Eckard College.  He lives in Tampa with thirty mollusks and one delightful parakeet”).  You should also include the book’s genre or category, a readable price, and contact information.  The category may prove problematic, if your book is indeed cross-genre, but keep in mind this isn’t about smashing your book into a preconceived category, but about making your book findable for your readers.  If you’ve ever heard of a keyword search, your book’s category performs many of the same functions.

4. Keep it legal.

“Don’t steal other people’s artwork” sounds a bit strong, but this is essentially what you’re doing if you utilize an image on your book cover or jacket that you don’t have permissions for.  As you design your book, you absolutely must ensure you use only your own images, images you obtain by payment or permission, or images under the Creative Commons license.  Creative Commons can become complicated to work out after the fact, if you just pluck something off of a Google image search, but there are many fine websites out there that are dedicated to providing nothing but Creative Commons photographs.  Take a look at Stock.xchang (now FreeImages.com), Wikimedia Commons, Free Pixels, Fotolia, Image Base, Abstract Influence, and Flickr’s Creative Commons page (easy to find by clicking “Learn More” on their website).  Basically, there’s no excuse for taking someone else’s image if it’s not on a Creative Commons license … there are so many legitimate options to choose from!  (And if you really want, well, that image, then you should go to the necessary lengths to ensure you have the artist’s permission anyway, right?)

5. Make it yours.

One of the most commonly-heard questions in the self-published community is: “Should I pay someone else to design my cover, if it’s really so much work?”  Ultimately, the answer is up to you.  Will it significantly improve your quality of life by reducing the stress of learning new technologies and softwares and managing a writer’s life on top of all of that?  Possibly.  Never underestimate the power of a professionally-designed cover, especially in a world saturated with marginally acceptable self-published covers. 

On the other hand, will releasing the design process into someone else’s hands also take creative control out of your own hands?  Often, yes, it will.  Always remember where you draw your line in the sand––at which point you’re comfortable surrendering the artistic direction of your book.  If you want or need a designer, that’s great!  Just make sure to do a little research, and to make sure you choose someone who chooses you back––and chooses to get on board with your vision for your book.  That way, no matter who is out there shaping your visual brand, you can be confident that it will reflect … you!

[ NOTE: If you’re looking for the first blog in this post, a general overview of merchandising for self-published authors, you’ll want to look here.  If you’re interested in reading up on extras and special editions, take a look at my second post in this series. ]

I’m realistic, or I like to think I am.  This topic is bigger than just me and my own thoughts.  I’d like to open the floor to you, dear reader.  If you have any thoughts to share on the topic of merchandising, or questions you’d like answered, send them my way via the comments box below!  I want to hear from you, and I love nothing more than a good excuse to do a little research if I don’t know something off of the top of my head.  Jump on in!

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog athttp://kellyschuknecht.com.

Self-Publishing Week in Review: 4/14/15

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As a self-publishing author, you may find it helpful to stay up-to-date on the trends and news related to the self-publishing industry. This will help you make informed decisions before, during and after the self-publishing process, which will lead to a greater self-publishing experience. To help you stay current on self-publishing topics, simply visit our blog every Tuesday to find out the hottest news.

 Want to Succeed in Self-Publishing? Do Your Research: Tips from an Indie Author 

When Kensington Books didn’t renew Anthea Lawson’s contract, she was at a loss. But the RITA-Award finalist and author of the traditionally published romances All He Desires and Passionate didn’t let this dissuade her. Instead, she “took the plunge” into self-publishing. Check out the full article to read her advice.

Two self-published successes sign with major publishers

This article shares the success story of two self-published romance authors who signed with major publishers. This is an interesting read all writers.

Getting Self-Published Books into Public Libraries

This informative article reveals how to get your self-published book into public libraries. Key points include making sure your book is professional and purchasing an ISBN. This is a must read for self-publishing authors who want their books in public libraries.

If you have other big news to share, please comment below.

Getting a tax return? Can you be frivolous and responsible with it?

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I’m not sure how I pulled it off, but this year I’m actually getting a tax refund for the first time in years!  Now…what to do with it?  My inclination is to do something completely frivolous, but then my common sense takes over and I start thinking about practical and responsible things I should do with this unexpected mini-windfall.  Put it in my retirement account?  Boring.  Payoff my truck?  No fun at all.  Donate it to charity?  Well…maybe part of it.  Invest it in stock?  Yeah, probably not going to happen.  And then it hit me, there is a way to do something “fun” (if not outright frivolous)  with it that can still be considered practical and even responsible.

I pulled out my “dreams” board, (yes, I really have a board of “bucket list” things to do or accomplish), and I searched it thinking creatively of which item on my list I could throw this money at AND knock that item off my list AND possibly get some kind of return on the investment.  I was pretty creative with that “return on investment” as I considered several items on the list – the return could be potentially monetary, could be a sense of accomplishment, a satisfaction in getting an item checked off the list, fulfilling a need for a serious adrenaline rush I’ll obtain from many of the crazier items on the list, improved horsemanship, finally publishing Grandma’s memoir, learning a useful new skill, intellectual stimulation, the list goes on and on.

All of this was going through my head this weekend and while I haven’t made a decision yet on what, exactly, I will do with my refund, when I came across the “publish Grandma’s memoir” item on my list it made me think of many of you following this blog.  The biggest audience of this blog is folks just like me when it comes to that project – a writing and publishing project that has been put on the back burner for years.  Maybe it’s time for me to move that up on my list.  Maybe it’s time for you to do the  same.  And maybe, if you’re getting a refund too, this could be a use for that money that would be fun and practical and bring a huge sense of accomplishment to you.

Taking that first step of selecting a self-publishing company and purchasing a publishing package can certainly be daunting.  And if funding for the project has been an obstacle in getting started, then perhaps using your tax refund is the stimulus you need to get this project off the ground and finally moving forward.

ABOUT JODEE THAYER: With over 25 years of experience in sales and management, Jodee Thayer works as the Director of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable customer service reps and publishing consultants; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process in order to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Jodee Thayer can put you on the right path.

Friday Conversations With A Self-Publishing Writer 04/10/15

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SETTING THE STAGE setting

SPRING has sprung!  I know—that’s a cliché statement—however, as I watch new life flying and hopping and tweeting and romping and howling in field and sky, I feel good, which fires up the imagination!  So today, I’m going to talk about baby owls.  One of my neighbors caught this photo in the Spring of 2014—two young owls nestled in the perfect setting for their protection, ability to view their surroundings, and learn how to grab their next meal.

When developing the setting for a novel, the first thing I do (which most writers probably don’t) is consider the TIME(s) OF YEAR during which the story will begin, travel through, and end.  This one element of foundational, background research is (I believe) KEY to all the other elements of setting—from locale, to mood and atmosphere, to geography, both topographical and man-made.  Below are my owl/story-setting comparison illustrations.

  1. Spring is the season of breeding for the owl species, which coincides with the greatest possibilities of food supplies and positive weather conditions.
    1. What “food” do you want to offer your readers in the preface and opening chapter that will flavor their imaginations and entice them to read further?
    2. The words of description that are used here must create a feel of the season your characters are living in so that your readers will feel the same—such as the cool crispness of spring air balanced by the warmth of the sun.
  2. Owls are what I call nesting shoppers, selecting appropriate holes in trees or barns or even the abandoned nests of crows and other birds of prey. They also return to these sites year after year and reoccupy them if at all possible.
    1. The first locale you present to your readers should be so real that they have a feeling of déjà vu—such a strong appeal (or dislike) that they would want to go there (or never go there).
    2. You are the only person who knows your characters!  Where are they at the moment your story opens?  In the city? Walking pleasant neighborhood streets? In school?  Anticipating going to an ocean beach?  Just pulling themselves into a saddle upon their beloved horse and galloping off across a ranch?  BE SPECIFIC.
  3. Owl hatchlings are born over a period of several days because the eggs are laid at different times.  Thus you have the sibling “pecking order” with the larger individuals often getting more food (and attention) than the smaller weaker ones, which could affect the survival rate—unless the area (setting) provides plentiful food sources.
    1. The time of year you’ve selected for your story’s beginning will influence everything that happens afterward.  It will give you the ability to demonstrate (not tell) each character’s unique feelings IN that seasonal environment such as:
      1. A spring marriage—which has brought joy to all the characters.
      2. A Thanksgiving Eve death—that brings sadness—yet a strong element of thanksgiving that the person is “in a better place.”
    2. This sibling/owl/human comparison also provides the picture of character development throughout your story’s various seasons.

The next three blogs will continue this discussion about SETTING.  For today, I’ll add just one more thought.  It is never too early to start planning the “setting” for publishing your book(s).  Ask other author’s about their publishing experiences and find the best place for your book to be produced and released into the world.

Royalene ABOUT ROYALENE DOYLE: Royalene Doyle is a Ghostwriter with Outskirts Press, bringing more than 35 years of writing experience to authors who need “just a little assistance” with completing their writing projects. She has worked with both experienced and fledgling writers helping complete projects in multiple genres. When a writer brings the passion they have for their work and combines it with Royalene’s passion to see the finished project in print, books are published and the writer’s legacy is passed forward.

Weekly Self-Published Book Review:The Road Back to Me

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Book reviews are a great way for self-publishing authors to gain exposure. After all, how can someone buy your book if he or she doesn’t know it exists? Paired with other elements of your book promotion strategy, requesting reviews is a great way to get people talking about what you’ve written.

When we read good reviews, we definitely like to share them. It gives the author a few (permanent) moments of fame and allows us to let the community know about a great book. Here’s this week’s book review by Midwest Book Review:

book review

 The Road Back to Me

Lisa A. Romano

Publisher: Outskirts Press

ISBN:9780578102689

Taking control of one’s own being is a powerful thing that often eludes many of us. “The Road Back to Me” is a memoir of addiction and no self-worth from Lisa A. Romano as she draws on her own life’s challenges and the pain of addiction and going through life trying to deal with the weight of life that came with it. A very spiritual memoir about how she broke free from addiction, co-dependency, and more, “The Road Back to Me” is a powerful and much recommended pick, not to be missed.

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