Publishing an Ebook

Warning: this post includes a plug to buy my books.

It was very hard for me to maintain my drive for writing fiction while I spent five days a week writing software user guides. Truthfully, I did lose my focus for many years. A death in the family also sent me into a spiral of inaction.

Oh, I continued to meet with friends occasionally to spend time writing, researching, editing. But, it took an unexpected and unwelcome event to turn my focus around.

I was laid off work. Whoa! After the shock wore off, and I waited (and waited, waited some more) for resume responses, I returned to writing fiction; Sci-Fi/Fantasy fiction, to be exact. I love it – but it most certainly doesn’t pay the mortgage – or even buy kibble for the dogs.

I published two books via Kindle Direct Publishing. It’s the easy way out to get a book published – but unless you know your way around advertising and search key words, you’re lucky your book displays in the search results or that a few friends buy the book.

I’m learning some hard lessons about epublishing – and I’m just beginning to correct my mistakes.

An author needs to:

My book links are listed below, and I invite you to at least try a free sample and let me know what you think.

If you like, please buy!

ShadowRise

The Ghylba Stone

 

Creating a Sense of Place

When readers begin a new book, they not only want to be pulled into the story from the start; they not only want to encounter strong and compelling characters; they want to become part of that world; to feel comfortable – or even uncomfortable – and familiar with that world. Creating a sense of place is key to setting the mood in your story.

Readers want to walk the same streets, halls, hiking paths, or mountain passes as the protagonist. They want to smell the same paint, mud, flowers, or body odor as all the other characters in the book.

All great books pull you into the protagonist’s world. They make believe you’re tasting the same food, smelling the same air, talking to the same people, touching the same cloth. Now, this doesn’t mean you write a dozen pages describing a town or a room. You can write sparingly and yet make a place live in the readers’ imagination.

For instance,  The Passage, by Justin Cronin, began with this paragraph:

Before she became the Girl from Nowhere – the One Who Walked In, the First and Last and Only, who lived a thousand years – she was just a little girl in Iowa, named Amy. Amy Harper Belafonte.

The reader immediately wonders what kind of world this is. It’s obvious that we’re about to move from “normal” to…what? Later, Cronin really begins to build his world through a letter written in the book:

Greetings from the jungle of Bolivia, landlocked armpit of the Andes. From where you sit in frigid Cambridge, watching the snow fall, I’m sure a month in the tropics doesn’t sound like a bad deal.  But believe me: this is not St. Bart’s. Yesterday I saw a snake the size of a submarine.

Okay, so we’re in for a bit of the exotic, but things still sound relatively normal. Another letter:

…At first I thought maybe I was imagining things. But look at the image, Paul. A human being, but not quite: the bent animal posture, the clawlike hands and the long teeth crowding the mouth, the intense muscularity of the torso, details still visible, somehow, after – how long? How many centuries of wind and rain and sun have passed, wearing the stone away?  And still it took my breath away…

Now we’re getting somewhere – and the reader is hooked into this strange trek from normal to fantastic.

A different sense of place example is from Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë:

Wuthering Heights is the name of Mr. Heathcliff’s dwelling. “Wuthering” being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather. Pure, bracing ventilation they must have up there at all times, indeed: one may guess the power of the north wind blowing over the edge, by the excessive slant of a few stunted firs at the end of the house; and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun. Happily, the architect had foresight to build it strong: the narrow windows are deeply set in the wall, and the corners defended with large jutting stones.

In this short paragraph, you already have a bleak image of the weather and the dwelling. Later:

On opening the little door, two hairy monsters flew at my throat, bearing me down, and extinguishing the light; while a mingled guffaw from Heathcliff and Hareton put the copestone on my rage and humiliation. Fortunately, the beasts seemed more bent on stretching their paws, and yawning, and flourishing their tails, than devouring me alive; but they would suffer no resurrection, and I was forced to lie till their malignant masters pleased to deliver me…

It’s clear that our protagonist is in some pretty rough company.

Both of these authors, although very different in style, continue with sharp rainbow bursts of description that solidify the worlds in which their stories take place. It’s not an easy thing to do. But it’s a lifeline to your book’s success.

Resources for creating a sense of place:

Down the Writer’s Path

Blue Zoo Writers

The Writers’ Workshop

301media

Joseph Campbell, an Inspiration to Creative Writers

Writers are, typically, curious beings, so we find inspiration in many places, people, television, movies, books, history, even newspapers. For me, one of the most profound sources is Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces, first published in 1949. I purchased my latest copy a few months ago (not sure how I lost the first one I had) at a used book store. I also own several other books by Campbell. I can’t help myself.

As described on the Joseph Campbell Foundation Web site, Campbell was a traveler, professor, editor, writer, public speaker, philosopher, and, more importantly, the bridge between myths and our own lives. For The Hero With A Thousand Faces, he won the National Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Contributions to Creative Literature. And there were many more awards to follow through the years.

Ever heard the phrase, “follow your bliss?” That was Joseph Campbell. Do you know where George Lucas’ inspiration for Star Wars came from? That was The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell.

He was brought into the spotlight in 1988, after his death in 1987, through the PBS program, Joseph Campbell and The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers. (I’ve got the DVD!)

I have always loved reading myths, Greek, Roman, Native American, Irish; but it wasn’t until I started reading Joseph Campbell that I realized why these narratives so resonated with me. Campbell’s description of the “monomyth” (a word he borrowed from James Joyce after contributing to A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake: Unlocking James Joyce’s Masterwork), is a universal pattern that is the essence of, and common to, heroic tales in every culture.

And those tales continue today through creative writing, whether we write mysteries, science fiction, romance, fantasy adventure – all influenced by myth and inspired by Joseph Campbell’s need to know, understand, and share the art of “following your bliss.”

Four Steps to Structure Your Book

When I began writing my first book (now out of print, working on digitalizing and republishing), I didn’t know that it would be a book. At the time, it was a fun story about characters in a Dungeons & Dragons game I made up.  A few of the players who created the characters weren’t happy about the “embodiment”, if you will, of their characters. Choosing to play a character one way in a live game and then seeing those actions on the printed page created quite a discussion when I presented the story. And some of it was not happy talk. I, on the other hand, had a whole lot of fun.

It finally dawned on me, “Hey! I can do this! I can make this a BOOK.” And off I went on a very bad start. Some of the bad stuff was still there when the book was published. But thanks to prompts from a friend, I got seriously organized. That organization and structure were the secrets to my completing the book.

  1. The first thing I did was get index cards, and create a character card for each main character, a city/place card for every important location, a racial/ethnic card for each race (yes, it’s a fantasy book and I was enamored of Tolkien’s multi-racial world), a term card for each key “foreign language” word I invented (no way do I have the talent of Tolkien, so words only, no real languages).
  2. The second thing I did was draw a map – using a few colors – adding rivers, lakes, mountains, cities, islands, etc. I used lined graph paper (I know I’m dating myself, but this was just at the dawn of the digital age) to help with perspective and taped several pages together to help see my “world” in one piece. I knew where characters were going and how they had to get there.
  3. The third thing I did was create a time line on a very large accounting tablet. The time line began before the book’s starting point, so I created back story for the main characters in a way that I could see what happened to Character A at the same time a specific incident happened to Character B. That book contained a LOT of exposition. Knowing what I know now, I would have used that information source to hold back a lot of the exposition. I would have doled that history out fewer times and in much smaller bits – and held back a lot for the sequel. It was a fantasy/adventure book, of course I planned sequels.
  4. The last, and most important, thing I did was actually follow the plan to maintain consistency throughout the book. The combination of time line, which was really the plot line, map, and detailed cards WERE my book. Everything, everyone was there, just waiting for me to pull them together in print.

Don’t get me wrong, I ended up changing a couple things; I still struggled with character development and dialog; I still worried about what I should or should not keep in the story; and I still made mistakes. I couldn’t get an established publisher interested. I lost money on co-publishing. I had to pay to get my materials back and return the copyright to me. I have no idea how many people actually read the book or liked it.

But I did it. I finished a book that followed a multi-character,  structured  plot line.  And I was proud of it. Still am.

You can do the same – even using digital versions of my pencil and paper treatments!

eBooks and ISBNs

I’m checking into the available options for book ID numbers when publishing digitally. Publishers of eBooks are almost as different as there are numbers of said publishers available on the Web.

Both Kindle Direct Publishing and Nook Press assign proprietary (recognized as meaningful only to them) identification numbers to each book published through their services in order to track sales. This process may be appealing to authors just getting started who don’t have the knowledge or the time to investigate or who just want to see what appeal their book might have – no real money is lost.

If you have an ISBN (International Standard Book Number), you can add it to the rest of your book’s information and it will be included with the proprietary number. If I understand correctly, oftentimes that ISBN number can only be identified with that electronic version of your book. If you choose to publish a print version of your book, or, republish through a different digital publisher, you must get a separate ISBN.

In contrast, a publisher like Smashwords provides the ISBN for you, free of charge. This publisher also distributes eBooks to several third party channels, such as Apple iBooks, kobo, blio, Barnes & Noble, and more – but not to Amazon. As the publisher, Smashwords still has some control over your book, as all other print or digital publisher do.

That ISBN has been sort of a status symbol, “Yes, I’ve been published. Here’s the ISBN number, look it up.” And many people do research books using the ISBN number – that’s what it’s for, especially if your book is published globally.

There is an excellent blog post at the Tools of Change for Publishing Web site on this subject, interviewing the product manager at Bowker, the official U.S. distributor of ISBNs. The post is a year old, but you should read it.

If you want a little more control over your eBook distribution, you can purchase your own ISBN from Bowker – even self-publish. It’s a little daunting, though, to realize that a single ISBN number costs $125.00. You can buy 10 numbers for $295.00 – the better deal at less than $30 a number, to be sure, but still quite a chunk of change for most of us. Do I use the free ISBN from Smashword or take more ownership of my book?

I don’t know yet, but the clock is ticking on that deadline.

You have to make your own informed choice.

 

To Sequel or Not to Sequel

The book is done. You’re ready to move on – but to what?

Perhaps you have two or three storylines plotted out at a high level and you can’t make up your mind which one to choose. You start to flesh out the strongest idea, thinking this will be the easiest path to pursue and quickest way to publish.

But your mind wanders down memory lane, revisiting the characters from the book you just finished. You might ask yourself, “what’re they doing now?” Your characters and world beg you not to shelve them. Yes, I have these conversations with my creations but, so far, only in my head and no one else has heard me yet.

My genre, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, almost requires a minimum of three books. That seems to be a legacy of one of the greatest fantasy adventure writers of all time, J. R. R. Tolkien. (By the way, another of Tolkien’s unpublished works is scheduled for release in May of this year – his translation, with commentary and a short story, of Beowulf.)

Sequels are great, as long as you do more than just rehash what happened in the previous book. Yes, you’re working with the same characters, even the same villain if you want that. But a sequel must stand on its own, have its own conflict, climax, and resolution. Your characters must grow and develop beyond where they ended in the previous book. The best approach is to plan sequels while you write the original book. Envision that arc of new facets of character development across time – decide what that timeline should be. Decide where supporting characters come in and where they leave. Decide if your original villain is the “arch-nemesis” or just the first in a line of challengers.

If readers are as enamored of your characters as you are (well, almost as) then they will look for new challenges and new discoveries.

Readers of sequels want MORE, not the same.

No Problem – I Can Do My Own Cover Art…

I’ve just about finished my book. I don’t want to expend the time and money for an artist to render a cover that may involve several drafts and additional costs and then maybe end up with something I’m not quite sure I really like. I used to draw all the time when I was young – all through grade school and high school, but lost interest in college. I helped my niece develop an interest in drawing when she was only three years old – and she’s now a very talented anime artist. It should be like riding a bike, just get back on, fall down a time or two, but pretty soon you’re back to racing down the street! Not so much, as it turns out.

I purchased an inexpensive graphic tablet and zipped through the tutorial, anxious to get on with my project. Controlling the applied pressure using the pen was a bit tricky, but I finally got the hang of it. Then I practiced using the actual drawing area of the tablet. I found out that I tend toward broad, large strokes that disappear from the screen unexpectedly. I’ve gained enough control over my wayward wrist action to get on with the cover idea.

And here’s where I get to the root problem…I can’t draw anymore! I never would have imagined that old saying “use it or lose it” would apply to me. After all, if I can still write backwards like I did in high school, why can’t I still draw what I see?

Yeah, there are many psychological theories about artistic abilities. But I lean more toward another old saying, “practice makes perfect.” I believe I can, eventually, regain some of my ability – but do I want to wait two or three months for that day?

Nope. Spring break is next week. I’ve called my niece.