Matcher Rules paperback now available

The paperback of Matcher Rules is now available for ordering.

The proof copy arrived today and the printer did a very nice job. PDF is obviously the way to go with Lulu publications because the text was locked in regarding placement, fonts, size, and graphics. The cover was perfect.

I was very jazzed to see it. Creation of an OBJECT has so much more emotional charge than creation of bytes on a screen.

I’ve ordered a few more copies to sell on consignment through my local independent bookstore. That should be an interesting process.

And . . . Lulu’s Done

I’ve completed the publication process on Lulu for the paperback version of Matcher Rules. I have a proof copy on order, which is supposed to arrive within 10 day or so. Then, assuming they haven’t left out a chapter or put the cover on upside-down, it goes live.

Realistically, this version is pure ego for me. I don’t expect to sell many, or any, in hardback. But I want, as do most authors, a copy of my work in my hands. Ebooks don’t do it for me, which is age or habit. I think it’s great books are available in various electronic formats but I’m not convinced people are reading them, as distinct from a quick browse. And there is nothing like a physical book. Nothing.

I had fewer problems with Lulu’s publishing interface because of all the pre-work. I had a beautifully created and vetted PDF, and a custom cover designed to their template. Neither of them was done by me, but I didn’t rely on Lulu’s stable of tame formatters or designers either. So I uploaded both files, their system accepted them, the cover displayed within the publisher marks, and I powered through the remainder of the system. It took twenty minutes, if you don’t count the month of preparation and the team I assembled.

Lulu does have a way to create your own cover, including uploading and shifting images. Since I had the custom cover, I didn’t dig into that part of the interface. But I found out where all those shit-brown covers on Smashwords are coming from. I refuse to believe people independently designed their own book covers in dark brown, so there must be some mechanism for downloading the book cover once created and uploading it to Smashwords. Luckily, I don’t have to worry about the legality of other people’s actions.

Matcher Rules Ebook Up on Smashwords

Matcher Rules is now up on Smashwords.

The Smashwords process was straightforward. Okay, let me qualify that: if you have a familiarity with Microsoft Word, it was straightforward. I know several writers who for political or religious reasons will not compose in Word, and I do agree with them regarding monolithic software dictatorships and unnecessarily complicated software. But I had to use Word at work for years and it’s what I’m used to, which is a great advantage when you are composing directly onto the keyboard. You can think about the writing, not about the process.

So, using Word, the Smashwords ebook manual made a great deal of sense, particularly since I’m still on Word 2004, which is a de facto baseline standard. (And what I am going to do when forced to upgrade to OSX Lion, which requires a much later version of Word, I do not know.) I did use the ‘Nuclear Method’ where you strip the old formatting out via a text editor and reload the entire manuscript using pre-set Styles. I had tried to impose Styles on several earlier versions of the manuscript, but not very well, so I had the usual overlays and artifacts to get rid of.

I love the Smashwords manual. It’s clear, it’s funny, and it’s accurate. I ended up deleting some of my own old Styles for the corrected ones they recommend and I think it’s going to save me a great deal of time in the future. Frankly, it taught me how to do Styles, which nothing else had ever done. I taught myself Wordperfect  many decades ago and then taught myself Word, but the primitive version back then didn’t have Styles.

I found Rhea Ewing via the women writers group Broad Universe and Rhea did the amazing and outstanding art for the cover. I love it. There’s my plot, right there. It scales up and down beautifully. When I looked at the Smashwords catalog, there were book covers in BROWN. They look like little square pieces of dirt as thumbnails — what were these authors thinking?

Since Smashwords ports the ebooks to many readers, no fancy type fonts are allowed, so I stayed with Times New Roman. My friend and former co-worker Linda Reynolds is doing the type layout and page design for the Lulu version but her expertise isn’t necessary for the ebook.

After all this, the manuscript plus cover made it through the Smashwords Autovetter on the first try. I was as proud as if my child had taken its first steps. Although the ebook is available directly from Smashwords it must pass a manual vetting process to be distributed to Amazon, Apple, etc. More on that as it happens.

Nothing Smells Like An Old Interface

Which sounds horrible, but sometimes when you sign on to a service, the scaffolding shows. It’s not quite as bad as a six-letter password in caps, but the Lulu website is putting all its pennies and time into their ebook section and letting the print option roll on as if it was 2001. Or 1990.

For example, there’s a neat manual for ebook publishing, which you download from the main page. For print, you sign on and start working your way through the steps. As you complete each step, then, when it is too late, you find out the rules and have to back out and do the step again. I’m sure the answer to “why is there no print how-to manual?” is cost-based. Or perhaps they lost enthusiasm, because ebooks are hot and print is not, but there are many many ebook publishers out there and Lulu has made its name in print. Dangerous, to ignore your core customers.

According to the main page, there are many sizes of print books available for authors, and there are templates for equivalent page sizes. Only after you sign on and decline their expensive marketing services do you find out you’re limited to only a few of the sizes. Bait-and-switch. If you’ve spent a considerable time formating to a template, you toss all that out the window and resize and reformat.

After the happy news Word documents are acceptable, there are ominous warnings that the system may “resize to fit” and make the book unreadable. Or you can create a PDF and imbed the fonts, which is much safer. Assuming, of course, you have the full Acrobat suite, which is about $500 and not easy to learn quickly. Or, you can pay them to format, imbed, and size your manuscript — and we haven’t even gotten to the cover.

There are Help screens. They aren’t specific to the process steps, and you have to exit the process to search them. There’s the main help screen, then you pick out of three options, Knowledge Base, Users, and something else, scroll all the way to the bottom of the page and select help again. Why? And once you are in a section, say the Knowledge Base, it’s not a keyword search, but a thesaurus-based search on controlled keywords, which isn’t a phrase I thought I’d ever type again, having left the 1990’s behind. I suspect it’s a tree structure and you must be very careful to be at the top of the tree since it searches top to bottom. Then you log in again to pick up the publishing process.

At certain times of day — and certain days only — live chat is available. The wait is long, and the answers tend toward “no, you can’t do that.”

I’ve paid a very good friend of mine, who is a file formatting expert in Word, Acrobat, graphics and layout, to format my manuscript. I’ve also found a cover designer, also paid, to do the cover. Next week I’ll return to the Lulu interface, upload the various bits and see how far I get.

In the meantime, I’ve downloaded the Smashwords ebook manual and completed the formatting on the electronic version. I’m waiting for the final version of the cover to upload. I’m not using Lulu’s ebook version because the Smashwords free distribution and file creation software is so very superior. Not to mention the interface was written in the current millenium …

Backing Into The Future

I’ve decided to self-publish Matcher Rules, my first novel, as an ebook. I’m also planning on a POD copy via Lulu, although I have more doubts about that.

Why self-publish? Well, this is the end result of a great deal of thought, self-doubt, and research. In an ideal world I’d be able to land an agent, and eventually sign a contract with a professional publisher. The more I query and send out manuscripts the less confidence I have in what is now the publishing establishment. Even for established authors, the publishers seem to be doing less and less. Authors are expected to do more and more of their own marketing and promotion, publishers are cutting back on the number of hardcopies printed even for popular authors, and books go out of print within months of publication. The publishing conglomerates are less and less inclined to take a chance on new authors — and frankly, would like those authors to fit in a certain demographic.

Ebook publication, I suspect, is being used as another filtering tool by the publishers. A few years ago self-publishing an ebook was the kiss of death: no reputable agent or publisher would consider any subsequent work. Now, successful ebook authors are being offered straight contracts, because they have, without costing the publishers a dime, demonstrated their ability to craft a tale and sell novels. Like all businesses, publishers like a sure thing.

All business aside, I’m publishing Matcher Rules on my own because I believe in the story. I have always re-read my favorite author’s works. I’ll remember part of a plot or a favorite character and I’ll re-read for pleasure. To my great delight, I found myself doing this with Matcher Rules. I was re-reading the manuscript because I loved the story and the characters and wanted to spend some time with them again. And, without false modesty, I’d like to give other people the chance to do the same.

Right now I’ve signed a contract with a cover designer and I’m vetting the manuscript one final time before trying the Smashwords conversion. I’ll post on how it’s going, and I’ll also post on the go or no-go decision on Lulu. Right now, a self-published print book looks like an enormous amount of work, but at heart, I’m a Luddite. If I can, I will, so I can hold the story in my hand — in paper.

 

A Woman, A Plan, I Can

The current novel, The Bone Road, is at the fiddly stage of completion. I’m in a new critique group and I’m getting feedback chapter by chapter. Some I plan to incorporate and some I’m going to ignore. And some I’m still thinking about.

None of this is very exciting, and indeed, I can’t drum up much energy to work on it, especially with all the house improvement projects going on. (But that’s a whole other entry, should I care to whine.) What does excite me is planning the next novel. Now, that’s energy.

I wrote my first novel to prove to myself I could complete a whole novel. I wrote the second novel because it was such a great idea I couldn’t wait to get going. With both I got seriously stuck in the middle of the plot, unable to solve my characters’ dilemmas because I hadn’t thought it through. I knew where I wanted them to end up — and I’d actually written the last scene — but I couldn’t cut through the convolutions I’d created. Eventually, in both novels, I figured it out. But I was stuck, miserably stuck, for months while working on Matcher Rules and for almost a year on The Bone Road.

So for the third, as yet untitled novel, I’m going to try something different, something completely out of character for me. Planning. I’m not going to write a sentence until I have the entire novel outlined down to the scene level. I have no idea whether or not I can do this because the urge to write it down now before I forget the nifty phrase will become overwhelming, but I am going to try.

Heresy

The current buzzword for writers is MARKETING. Every advice page, writer’s blog, workshop, webinar, and the gods know there’s thousands of them, all trumpet the value of marketing. The writer must sell her work, network, develop ‘friends’ — I’m tempted to insert yadda, yadda in this space because the message is everywhere and impossible to miss.

My Dirty Secret: I hate marketing. I dislike selling myself or my work. I believe, and I always have believed, if the work is good enough, people will notice. If it isn’t good enough, it will die a deserved death.

Let me tell you what I know: when everyone is chanting the same mantra, it’s not received wisdom. It’s a fad. Already, I begin to see the signs of fading. Articles doubting the good of Facebook, articles about writers working on the quality of their writing instead of sales, heretics who don’t market their works. The tide is starting to go out. It can’t happen soon enough for me.

I am considering self-publishing at least one of my completed novels as an ebook, and if I go this route, the marketing will be to the level of my comfort, not beyond. Life is far too short.

“If you build it, they will come.”

Common misquote from “Field of Dreams”

“You have the right to work, but for the work’s sake only. You have no right to the fruits of your work. Desire for the fruits of work must never be your motive in working. Work done with anxiety about results is far inferior to work done without such anxiety, in the calm of self-surrender.”

J.D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey (attributed to the Bhagavad Gita)

Wizard Schools

I’ve been reading Patrick Rothfuss’s The Wise Man’s Fear, the second part of his Kingkiller Chronicle. I always scan the reviews on Amazon when I’m exploring a writer new to me, and I noticed several comparisons with Harry Potter.

As far as I can tell, the only similarity between the two is both protagonists attend a school to learn to use their arcane talents. So mentioning this as a point of correspondence is ignorance. It’s like saying Mrs. Dalloway is like the Lord of the Rings because there’s travel in the plot. Mrs. Dalloway walks down Bond St. (I think) and Frodo goes to Mordor (for sure) but the similarities are neither useful nor meaningful.

Part of the Hero’s Journey is training. The young hero of either sex learns from attending a school or apprenticing to the wise old wizard or talks to the dragon or in some way gains knowledge to survive. The author’s skill comes in how she presents both the hero and the training. A fantasy reader knows the conventions and wants them presented in new and surprising ways. George RR Martin has done this by placing the characters in A Song of Ice and Fire in a pretty stereotypical medieval world but his heros can, and frequently do, die. So the suspense of the fantasy is more real for the reader. In one sense he’s broken the implied contract between the fantasy writer and the fantasy reader (heros always survive) and in another sense he’s moving fantasy toward a realism that enhances his created world and revitalizes the story.

So if I, as a writer, have a young wizard or magician protagonist and I want to send to them to school, I have to create a school or a learning situation both familiar enough so the reader believes in the learning and different enough from Hogwarts or the University to avoid both boredom or plagarism.

FOGcon 2011

Just returned from FOGcon (Friends of Genre) in San Francisco. This was the very first FOGcon, but as a simple attendee I think it went very well. I had a good time, I learned a bit, and I felt I had a lot in common with the other attendees. I can’t talk about behind the scenes, because I wasn’t behind the scenes, but I’m sure other people will.

As a writer and as a fanatical reader, this was the best con I’ve ever attended. There were official panels about the best books, unofficial constant ongoing conversations about the best books, and people reading from their hopefully soon-to-be best books.

My favorite panel was “I Have Written The Greatest Story Ever … No, Wait, It Sucks” which was billed as day to day tips on surviving the writing life. It turned into a free-for-all on the seven deadly sins as applied to writers, and the outstanding crowd favorite was sloth. No contest.

I mentioned to several people how friendly everyone seemed to be, and how surprising I found it. That surprised them (“all cons are friendly”) but after years and years and years of professional, work-related conferences, this one was still a shock. I have literally attended many professional conferences where no one spoke to me, or responded to me if I spoke first.

I’m already looking forward to next year.

Grinding Away At Revisions

The current work-in-progress, The Bone Road, is at the third or fourth revision. By this time, it’s difficult for me to stand back and see anything either right or wrong with the story. I’m too close. One way to get around this is to sit in the most comfortable chair I can find and read the manuscript aloud. Slowly. Hitting every comma, paying attention to every voice. An amazing number of errors show up: typos, dreadful punctuation, clunky sentences, homonyms never to be caught by a spellchecker, etc.

Previous embarrassing experiences have taught me I cannot proof the manuscript on the screen at this level. My eyes glide over mistakes. It must be paper. So I read and read, scribbling notes to myself, until I’m too hoarse to carry on. I listen to audiobooks a great deal and reading my own manuscript gives me a new take on the narrators. This is difficult work and I hope those narrators are well-paid.

Fixing all the minor typos, etc., is easy. Every so often I trip over a sentence I cannot make sound sensible. If I cannot read it aloud I’m assuming any reader will stumble also. Those I mark with ‘AWK’ for awkward and wrestle with later. And sometimes there’s that dreaded voice in the back of my head: boring, clumsy, something is missing here, something is wrong. I think all writers learn to listen to this one, primarily because if you don’t it tends to return at 3 am until you do.

Unfortunately, listening to the voice telling you what’s wrong doesn’t automatically tell you how to fix it. Especially when fixing it means unbalancing the remainder of the book and drastically revising the plot. I’m working on a problem now in the second half of BR which I hope can be solved by inserting a new scene and expanding on the motivations of one of my villains. With luck.

It’s amazing how reluctant I am to work on this. I can always tell when I am avoiding writing-as-work because my brain starts churning out completely new plots for the next novel or short story. That qualifies as writing-as-fun.

Another good way to avoid writing-as-work is to do a blog post.

Very first acceptance!

My flash story ‘Three Sisters’ has been accepted by Golden Visions Magazine for the Spring 2011 issue. I’m very pleased. Oh hell, I’m overjoyed. (I don’t do blase very well.)

Strange are the ways of publications. I tripped over the magazine on a mailing list posting and realized the story was sitting, already formatted and fresh from a rejection, on my desktop. So I sent it out, noting their posted response time was 4-6 weeks.

Six HOURS later, I get an email. I assumed it was an auto-reply acknowledgement. It was a nice note from the editor, accepting the story. I read it four times before it sunk in. I must have just hit it right.

When I get the published url, I’ll add it to this page.

Dear Author, Unfortunately …

As of this date, I haven’t sold a story. I’m mentioning this once and I’m not planning on mentioning it again. This is a page about what I write and the fascination of the process, not how well it sells – or doesn’t sell. There are, as many agents and other writers point out, many many blogs by unpublished authors. I’m doing this page for several reasons, but inflicting my rejection letters on the universe isn’t one of them.

You the reader can assume I’m submitting pieces to various markets and agents. All that’s churning away in the background and it has as much fascination for other people as watching the dishwasher cycle.

If I get a piece accepted, I do plan to jump up and down. Here. Once. Okay, maybe twice. Then it’s back to the dishwasher and ongoing projects.

As for why I’m doing the web page, one reason is to remind people of overlooked books by other writers that deserve to be read. I have quite a collection of best-loved stories by very good authors and I think they should be best sellers. If one person reads a note here and goes on to read one of these books and enjoys it, the page is worth my time.

I’ll mention some other reasons for the web page as I get around to them.

Teeny Tiny Genres

If you call yourself a writer, the first  question everyone asks is What Do You Write? I started answering this by saying ‘Genre Fiction’, meaning I was writing science fiction or fantasy or mysteries, not books about gardening or how I found love in a villa in Italy.

It’s a pity this answer isn’t acceptable. People want to know which genre, because most only read in one or perhaps two categories. (“Oh, I only read mysteries.” Why? Are you afraid you might find a non-mystery you like?)

Genre fiction is now divided into small categories, which are subdivided again and again, so it is possible to send an agent a story defined as ‘mid-range urban fantasy romance’ or ‘steampunk space opera with zombies’ and not have the recipient blink. These divisions persist all the way to the bookstore’s display tables and to amazon’s website, so I wonder how many readers there are who ONLY read steampunk and absolutely nothing else. Surely, they sneak in a cozy or two when no one is looking?

I read (and purchase in hardback, ha!) science fiction from space opera to sociological, fantasy of all sorts, mystery stories both hard-boiled to cozy, thrillers, autobiographies, gardening, critical essays, poetry, and a book on how to play competitive Scrabble. That’s a selection from the closest bookshelf and only what I can see without craning my neck.

So it seems a shame to categorize what I write, because that’s the last thing that happens. I have an idea, I see a character dealing with a problem, I build a world around the idea and the character, and then I write the story. The only criteria for me is I must be interested enough in the story to stick around to tell it. With a novel, that’s a minimum of a year, and a maximum of who knows? So when I’m finally done, that’s when I say, oh, this one is a fantasy. And that’s what I try to sell it as. But to me, it’s a story, not a genre.