Month: June 2011 Page 1 of 3

The Society of Secret Cats

Now on sale at Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.

Use your free coupon code, CK46K at Smashwords, to slip away into dreams…

The Society of Secret Cats

by De Kenyon

Lost in dreams, Ferntail must rescue his human girl from nightmares.  Will a mysterious and beautiful cat from the Society of Secret Cats lead them home…or further astray?

Mice are delicious. But even more delicious are monsters, ghosts, and things that go bump in the night. Your mother or father might tell you that they are all in your head and that you’re just imagining things. In a way, they’re right. Monsters are all in your head.

But you’re not just imagining things.

I was inside Jaela’s head with a tasty monster called an Aranea, which was dribbling slime and trying to skitter out of the way on its spider claws, when the entire world of dreams shook, as though being shifted around by an earthquake.

The Aranea crawled up the wall of Jaela’s dream-bedroom, clinging to the ceiling, too scared even to spit acid at me, as I tried to keep Jaela from waking. It is bad when a dreamer wakes before you have eaten the monster, because the monster might be able to escape the dreamer’s head, sometimes for a short time, sometimes for a long time, and cause mischief.

When I was a wee kitten, I let one of her monsters get out, and it threw a tantrum in her room, only disappearing when her parents appeared to find out what was the matter. Jaela hid in a corner and screamed, and wouldn’t stop screaming even when her parents asked her what was the matter.

She was punished for breaking toys and writing in crayon strange words in letters and languages that none but those who walk dreams could ever read.

But, even as a kitten, I could read them: Stupid cat.

I was so insulted…and ashamed…that I had to lick my tail for an hour, afterwards.

 

On the road…

I am off to drop off Ray at Grandparent camp, after three days of, “Is it time to go yet?”  This log will more than likely remain quiet until next week after the holiday…have a lovely week!

Death by Chocolate Review

It suddenly occurs to me that I can brag about getting nice reviews!  I mean, I’m not the brightest lightning bug in the woods, but it does sink in eventually…

The folks over at Bab’s Book Bistro reviewed Death by Chocolate.  Is sooo nice 🙂

If you’d like to check out the book, it’s at SmashwordsAmazon, and Barnes and Noble.

 

Death by Chocolate Review

The folks over at Bab’s Book Bistro reviewed Death by Chocolate.  Is sooo nice 🙂

You can buy the book at SmashwordsAmazon, and Barnes and Noble.

How to Edit Your Own Ebooks, Part 4: Preliminary Choices

As you’re getting ready to edit your first story, there are some choices that you need to make.  (You’ll probably only need to make them once.  Except in the case of the template; you’ll be fiddling with what seems like forever.)

You’ll need to:

  • Pick a dictionary.
  • Pick a style guide.
  • Set up a clean template, including at least:
    • Copyright
    • Table of contents
    • Text layout
    • Credits
    • Author bio
    • Publisher information
    • Teaser(s) for other work
  • Decide how much of a style sheet you’re going to use.
  • And for non-fiction, a whole lotta other stuff, including:
    • Indexing, if any
    • Acronyms
    • Outline levels
    • Glossary
    • Bibliography
    • etc.

Again, I recommend not trying to tackle non-fiction for your first project.  Or, if you can possibly help it, works that have been scanned into the computer.

Throughout the rest of the series, I’ll give examples based on what I currently do and use; by no means are my choices definitive or even permanent.

Dictionaries and style guides.

It may seem like common sense to say, “I know how to spell,” “I know how to make any word plural,” “I know how to capitalize,” etc., but the better an editor you are, the more you will be consulting a dictionary or style guide, because there’s being sure and then there’s “according to CMoS15, you can suck it.”*  Editor brain is highly-argumentative brain.

Pick solid, well-respected, commonly-used guides, and use them as consistently as possible; this will get you around most questions of spelling, grammar, style, etc., most of the time. The rest of the time, you’re just going to have to pick the best of the available options, and use it consistently. (If you’re using a style guide, any time you have to look something up, dump it in your guide so you don’t have to do it again.)

I use Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionay, 11th Edition as my dictionary (although I will usually just run over to http://www.merriam-webster.com/ online).  For everything else, I use (and abuse) The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th Edition, although I should probably update to the latest version, the 16th.  The Chicago Manual of Style website (http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org) has a lot of really helpful information, including their forums, in which you can read extensive debates over what should be the clearest points of usage.  You can also subscribe to the Guide online, which I found helpful back when I was doing more editing, because it’s easier to do a search than it is to find anything quickly in the hardcopy.

Setting up a clean template.

Setting up an ebook template is a potential minefield, not only because of the technical aspects, but because there are two big schools of thought on this:

1) Set up a template using a word-processing program.

2) Set up a template using HTML.

Now, if you’re going to publish to Smashwords (and you should), you’re going to need to submit your file in .doc format.  It is also easier to deal with text in a word-processing program than it is in HTML (once you’re using a WYSIWYG HTML program that is as easy to use as a word-processing program, it’s a freaking word-processing program).

On the other hand, if you’re going to publish anything that has been scanned, a word-processing program can take any problems you might have and make them worse.  In addition, once you start adding cute little formatting touches to your book, you’re increasing the chances that your program is just going to screw things up behind the scenes.

My current compromise between the two is to use a MSWord 2007, setting up a minimally-formatted template, and strip out all formatting before I set up the story.  I do not have the HTML experience necessary to make approaching templates from the HTML side a smart investment of my time.  I have checked my current templates in HTML mode and found them clean by comparison to examples.

If you wish to follow my method, I’ll walk through the steps on how to set up the template I use later on.

In general:

  • Before you start, start with a blank slate and make sure all text in the document is set to “Normal” or the equivalent.
  • Make one master template, which you will then modify to make your working templates.  Do not make your working templates separately.  This will prevent brain farts of fixing a problem in one template but not the others.
  • As you paste things, like your author bio, into the template, paste them as unformatted text and go back and format them, if necessary.
  • Add everything to the template that you can.
  • Any formatting other than italics or bold needs to be built as a style.  Use as few styles as possible.  Use the styles 100% of the time.
  • Set up placeholders using an easily-searchable string or character for material that will vary, like title, dedication, main story text, chapters, credits, etc.  I use curly brackets: {}.  One of the checks that I do before I finalize a story is to search for {.
  • Edit your master template carefully, using the checklists that I’ll provide later for editing your text.  You don’t want the same typo in every freaking template.
  • Check all links to ensure the actual link (rather than the text) starts with http://.
  • Check for hidden bookmarks and remove them.
  • Do not link to a distributor website on your template.  Distributors will pull your books if you link to a competitor’s website.  You may and should link to your own website, social media, and email contact information.
  • Once you have a master template set up, set up one working template for each type of submission method, for example, one Smashwords template, one template for other ebooks submitted by .doc file, and one template for ebooks to be converted manually (for example, using Calibre or other conversion software).
  • Modify the working templates as necessary.
  • Set up one template for each pseudonym, if using.

I feel like I’m missing things.  I may add more to this later.

Style sheets.

Back when you were still looking at your story with a writer’s eye, I suggested that you set up a list of terms/usages that you didn’t want changed.  In editing, this is the beginning (but certainly not the end) of a style sheet.

A professional style sheet has a lot of stuff on it, and different editors set it up in different ways.  What I want you to think about here is how much of a style sheet you want to use; because it won’t be published, you don’t have to worry too much about sticking to conventions.

I generally don’t use style sheets on short stories; they don’t take that long to edit, and I can usually keep the details in my head as I go.

I generally use style sheets when I’m cleaning up novels; I have a terrible habit of changing minor character names as I’m writing, because I don’t want to spend a lot of time looking things up when I’m on a roll.

I track:

  • Character names.
  • Place names.
  • Business names.
  • In fact, any proper names that I make up.
  • Dates
  • Times
  • Weather (sometimes)

However, you can track anything you worry about mixing up, from what the character’s wearing to the type of weapons they pack.  (If you’re worried about whether, given dates and times, a murder was/was not possible, that’s a content question and should be resolved before you hit the ebook editing stage.)  I also find it useful to add links to my style sheet with images, so I know what a location looks like or I have a picture of the hunka hunka who is filling in for my character until the movie gets cast to use for inspiration, etc.

You can also set guidelines for yourself in your style guide, like:

  • Whether or not to add periods at the end of items in a bulleted list.
  • Whether/when to spell out numbers.
  • The maximum number of words in a sentence (if you’re worried about getting too wordy).
  • Where notes/citations should appear in text.

I’ll put together a sample style guide template later on, which you can include as part of your editing checklist, if you like.  Nonfiction will be a lot more complex in this regard than fiction.  When I was tech editing, we had hundreds of pages of information in all the documents we used as style guides, not counting acronym lists.

 

*You should never say that to a client.  But I have used it in critique group.

Indypub: The Power of Patience

Patience.

Writers in the NY publishing business have to plan for massively, surprisingly good things to happen.  Books really do sell, and the advance is big, and everything’s shiny for a while.  Things go downhill…and they need another big hit to keep going.  Lurching from advance to advance, writers with the NY publishers make a living.

As a writer in the independent publishing business, we have to plan for nothing much to happen on a daily basis.  However, secretly, we hope that things will be like the NY publishing business, and BAM! explode without any warning.  We want to plan on that.

At least, I do.

But what it comes down to is that an indy writer or publisher has to build their success one day at a time, one story at a time, one submission at a time, one book review at a time, one follower at a time, one comment at a time.

There are days when I go, “I don’t have enough tact for this.”

Here’s a pattern I’m starting to see:

At first, you’ll be surrounded by friends and family who want to see you succeed.  They may tell you they’re buying your books; they may not.  But your numbers will be higher than you had anticipated because of it.

Then things will go downhill so badly you have trouble giving books away for free.

Slowly, ever so slowly, things start to pick up.

–This isn’t just me, by the way.  Over and over, either people say nothing, or they report this pattern when they first start.

Is this bad?

No.

Some people are born marketers.  Most writers aren’t.  While we would all like to shoot out the gate with all cylinders firing, like a Lamborghini at a horse race, we don’t have the know-how to do it as we’re starting out.  And some marketing things take time to set up, like “selling the first book in a series for free” when you haven’t written any of the books yet.  Or, “using my social media following to market my books” when you have 40 followers on Facebook and Twitter combined.

It takes time; it takes learning.  It takes 10,000 hours to get really good at marketing, and most of us don’t have that time already invested.  –That’s not to say we shouldn’t be trying to get better, just that we’re not pros.

It takes time to learn how to give away review copies.  It takes time to learn how to court book bloggers.  It takes time to keep pumping work into the pipeline, so you don’t fall too far off the front page on a website.  It takes time to invest in other people, and time to learn when those people aren’t investing in you back.  It takes time to say thank you, even when it makes you uncomfortable.

It takes time to research new marketing techniques, to set up and maintain a blog, to learn formatting, to tweak covers, to recover from Smashwords rejecting your NCX tables yet again, to realize you’ve made the same damned mistake in everything you’ve posted and you’ll have to submit again, which is going to wipe you out on the Premium catalog for yet another month.

You cannot post one novel and expect it to take off, no matter how good it is or how pretty the cover is.  You can hope, but you cannot expect.

Right now, here’s where I am with marketing:

  • Publisher website with a broken Google Analytics counter, at which I attempt to give away free stories on a weekly basis, with more or less success.
  • No letterhead, no business cards.
  • An application to register my DBA with the state of Colorado in the works.
  • An application for a sales tax licence on my desk.
  • An account on Goodreads with 168 friends.
  • A handful of published stories.
  • An account on Twitter with 2700 followers, most of whom I follow back.
  • An account on Facebook with 370 followers.
  • Reading slush for Apex Magazine and blogging there (but according to Analytics, I don’t get followers from there).
  • Emails and DMs out to likely book bloggers whenever I can find them.
  • Membership in Pikes Peak Writers, including talking at last year’s conference.
  • This blog (which I spent a LOT more time telling people about how to compete with me than I do convincing them to buy books, either mine or anyone else’s.  Why am I not doing book blogging?  Why?).  I get 50 hits on a really good day.
  • Three pen names and counting, which means starting over for each one of them, in some respects.

Some good, some bad, some “why the hell don’t you have that done already?!?”

I’ll get more into messing with price and giving things away later on, as I have specific paths for “give stuff away” to lead to “buy this in particular.”  But, as yet, I have no idea how to do it successfully.  Learning curve ahead.

I don’t want to sound down:  I’m finally at 2 copies (plus), average, for everything I have up as of the beginning of the month, and the month isn’t over yet.  I’m shooting for 5 per on non-novels, when I have about 30-35 things up…or approximately 7-8 months from now.

It is slow, my friends, and I’m losing more money on it than I make, and I’m learning that I have to spend more time looking for WFH jobs than I anticipated, or I’ll never make it, which makes it even slower.

I still say we’re right to get into this, and right to get into this now.  But it is not going to pay the bills on month 2 of the grand experiment, so don’t plan on it.

 

Tales from the Pirate Moon, Episode 1: The Coffin of Infinite Time

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Rescue the Queen, defeat the good guys, and live life to the fullest by using this coupon for a free copy this weekend only, at Smashwords:  PJ87R

Tales from the Pirate Moon, Epsiode 1:  The Coffin of Infinite Time

by Kitty Lafontaine

A tale within a tale within a tale…

Jackson, a human bounty hunter, wants to bring Miklos Orosz to justice, dead or alive.  Indigo Grey, owner of the Hundred Hive bar on Pirate Moon through right of conquest, wants to escape the life she’s built for herself, even if it kills her.  Miklos, small-time smuggler, wants to be a pirate whose name lives on in infamy wherever tales are told…first to attack, last to die.

When the Hive tries to take its revenge on Indigo, unleashing a power that will trap her forever, Miklos sees the chance to take the power for his own, either destroying or saving her in the process, and Jackson sees his chance to trap Miklos for his own…until the Hive unites them all.

Episode 1:  The Coffin of Infinite Time begins the tale.  Look for Episode 2 in July 2011.

Indigo reached across the masticated-fiber-and-cement balcony to turn her fingers over and over in the starlight. The Hundred Hive buzzed with voices across its twenty-seven levels, full of aliens and humans, none of them attacking each other for the moment.

Noon, with its bright, dust-specked column of starlight magnified through the upper lens, always seemed to bring a moment of peace.

But no more than a moment. The moon Turul shifted underneath them, something heavy (probably the door) crashed behind her, and a quiet puff of air passed by her, making her hair dance on the breeze. Glass smashed somewhere below her as the needler dart that had almost hit her crashed into another level.

“Nobody move, or I’ll kill you all,” a man yelled in a deep voice filled with quavering bravado.

Indigo sighed contentedly and turned around. She’d been so bored this morning.

The reason for the new pen name is that this is a story within a story–the characters within it show up inside YOUR SOUFFLE MUST DIE as part of a movie within the story.  So here is the book that will become the movie that will show up in a silly cooking mystery.

It’s also a present for my brother Andy, who, when I told him I was broke, said, “That’s okay.  The best presents have always been books.”

Good News Thursday

I have stuff to celebrate today!  No new book contracts or anything, but good stuff.  Plus, I have enough on the alien feast done that I don’t want to spend an hour researching stuff this morning…WRITECITEMENT!

  • I bought up the leftover Choose Your Doom:  Zombie Apocalypse books back from the Pikes Peak Writers’ Conference.  So now if you’d like to buy a signed copy, let me know.  (I’m still nagging to get the outstanding reviewers’ copies owed from Doom Press.)
  • League Entertainment, which covers Doom Press, has set up what sounds like an unprecedented deal with Ingram (major distributor), so they can go directly through Ingram’s rather than a third-party…which should mean that our constant distribution problems are over.  I hope.  I really hope this means we can move forward with Book 2 soon.
  • I had a story, “Miracle, TX,” published at Nil Desperandum as an audiostory.  Yesterday, I did a phone interview with the editor, Jim Phillips.  He asked some really interesting questions that I had to answer from my subconscious, because I hadn’t fully thought them through before.  Plus, good things about CYD:ZA said there, too.
  • Important milestone for Wonderland Press:  I started out June with 11 things up; on the 22nd I had sold, on average, two copies per story.  On my third real month of publishing, without any novels to help pull up numbers.  From various people I’ve talked to, I guesstimated hitting 5 per month when I had around 30-35 stories up, so I feel like I’m on track after a month of second-guessing myself.  If I count the free stories, I have a LOT more stories out this month, but I’m still playing around with how to think about that.  I totally wish more of my stories went out free.
  • Back of the Book Reviews gave me an abundance of review love this month, on Zombie Girl Invasion, Bunny Attack!, and The Debt:  A Zombie Tale. HOW?!?  I’ve been watching how many books they review.  HOW?!?  My powers of speed-reading now seem so weak.  But I love it.
  • There are probably more good things, but I’m in a bubbly mood, and I’m hungry, so it’s time to work on the cooking cozy, which reminds me, Ian said nice things about chapter 1 yesterday:  “This is a delightful beginning. Your voice has improved remarkably since the last time I read some of your work. This feels very natural and has an excellent flow to it. I enjoyed reading it. :)”

Ian just posted this:

Which is so very nice, and I think I deserve a reward today, so I’m going to get a copy.  Click on the picture if you want a copy from Smashwords, too, or Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.

How to Edit Your Own Ebooks, part 3: Writer’s Prep

To start out with, I want to define two terms for the context of what I’m writing:

  • Editing
  • Rewriting

Editing is when you fiddle with the small details, using your editor brain.

Rewriting is when you fiddle with the larger details (style is a larger detail made up of many small choices, by the way), using your writer brain.

Editing is checking for missing commas.  Rewriting is checking that you’ve nailed your ending and have left the readers wanting more.

Now, professional editors will use “editing” differently, and break it down into stages, one of which may be “line editing,” which is checking for the same kind of thing a writer will do when rewriting.  That’s okay.  For our purposes, editing is what your editor brain does, and rewriting is what your writer brain does.

You should use the writer part of your brain to get your story ready for the editor part of your brain.   The editor part of your brain, exposed to a naked first draft, will become whiny, irritable, and resent the story more than is necessary.

So first, back up the original version of your story and double-check that you’re not making changes to that version.

Second, do a writer’s sanity check:

  • Run a spelling and grammar check.  As you run through it, note down any terms, spellings, or phrases that you don’t want changed in a separate file.
  • Read through the work, looking for big oopsies of consistency in content (for example, in scene 1, your main character is male; scene 2, your main character has unintentionally become female; I, for example, have a hard time remembering that I’ve changed a minor character’s name in the middle of the book).
  • Also look for the things that your spelling and grammar check can’t pick up, like homonyms and gobsmacked sentences that read as gibberish as you scan through.  Big uglies only.

Do this very quickly, rather than slowly and meticulously.  Slow and meticulous is for editor brain, not writer brain, and you will get to the slow and meticulous stages in a bit.  You’re looking for the things that jump out at your writer’s eye, because those are the things your editor brain likely won’t catch.

Once you’ve done this, your story is ready for first/beta readers or a critique group, if you’re using them.

Tips on first readers, etc.:

  • It’s your damn story, not theirs.  You’re the expert, not them.
  • That being said, if you like a piece of advice, use it.
  • Your primary purpose is to find out whether your readers liked the story.
  • If the readers didn’t finish the story, find out where they quit reading.
  • Politely listen to any excuses about why they didn’t read/didn’t finish the story, but keep in mind that a really good story will overcome pretty much any rational excuse other than, “I lost the book.”  And even then, another copy of the book will be obtained.
  • Readers may not be able to articulate why they did/didn’t like the story.  That is okay.
  • Try to find readers who read what you’re writing, but it can be helpful to have readers who don’t, too.

Again, do not feel obligated to make any specific “fixes” based on comments.

If you find yourself saying, “Damn it, I like my commas messed up exactly the way they are,” you should probably leave them alone (at this point, anyway, while you’re wearing your writer hat).  You may be wrong, and your readers may hate the way you use commas.  You will consider this later, when you have your editor hat on.  Don’t worry about it now.

Next, and most importantly as far as your editor brain is concerned, make up your mind that your story is good enough to be published as an ebook.  There are two ways to do this:

  • Write a story that is good enough.
  • Rewrite the content of the story until it’s good enough.

I have to caution that no story is perfect; a lot of writers want to write perfect stories, and when their first drafts don’t come out the way they want them to, they rewrite the story.  Or when they discover that they don’t know as much about writing as they thought (for example, when to head-jump effectively), they will rewrite.

Yes, some stories need to be rewritten.

However, writers tend to be insecure and do far more rewriting and far less self-acceptance than they should.  Consider affirming the goodness of your story a few times before you take an axe to it; the problems of your story may be more in your head than they are on the page.  Rather than being the parent who nags your baby into a nervous, self-defensive, perfectly-well-behaved wreck, be the parent who makes sure your child has clothes on, knows not to bite people (unless they deserve it), and kick them out the door.

As a writer, I struggle with this as much as anybody.  As a parent, too.  But our kids and stories have to get out the door, sooner rather than later, and with kindness rather than demands for perfection.

Know this:  once you hand your story over to your editor brain (or to an actual editor), you are done making content changes. It is a complete and utter waste of your time to start editing and then make a content change, because you must start the editing process over again.  Do not waste your time.  Do whatever it takes to make peace with yourself and your story before you start editing.

Finally, once you’ve decided that your story is good enough and is ready to go up, do a writer’s sanity check one more time if you’ve made any changes.  You’ll be surprised how much you can screw up with one innocent little change.  Revert to your original version, if necessary.

Bonus:

When you create your story, use indents, not tabs.  Or double carriage returns after paragraphs.  Set a formatting style that makes your paragraphs look the way you feel comfortable with, but don’t hard-code extra crap into your work.  Your internal editor will thank you.

Linguistics ponder.

I admit that I haven’t studied much of linguistics.  I’m reading The Stuff of Thought:  Language as a Window into Human Nature, by Steven Pinker, and it seems like one of the base assumptions that I have never seen questioned (not just in this book so far, but in all the limited linguistics that I’ve come across) is that people all learn language in a fundamentally similar way, that people who are “naturals” at language and people who struggle with it are taking fundamentally the same approach at learning it.

However, after doing a fair amount of research for a work-for-hire autism book, I have to say that I can’t believe that’s the case.

People with autism have to have at least one of these in order to get a diagnosis from the DSM-IV:

(B) qualitative impairments in communication as manifested by at least one of the following:
1. delay in, or total lack of, the development of spoken language (not accompanied by an attempt to compensate through alternative modes of communication such as gesture or mime)
2. in individuals with adequate speech, marked impairment in the ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others
3. stereotyped and repetitive use of language or idiosyncratic language
4. lack of varied, spontaneous make-believe play or social imitative play appropriate to developmental level

How is it even possible that people with autism are learning language the same way?

You could say that “well, it’s an indication that the language centers of autistic people are broken,” or some such, but autism is really a spectrum of symptoms (Autism Spectrum Disorder [ASD]), with some people having more severe or less severe problems in different areas; for example, you might never know that you’re talking to someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, even though they have language issues, because they have systems of workarounds.

There’s a great video up on Youtube of Amanda Baggs speaking in the language she uses, which is nothing like English or any other language I know, and yet manages to communicate something (to me, anyway).  Did she acquire that language the same way I did mine?

I can’t see how.  And on a lesser scale, I see people acquire language in different ways, from the way that my sister Kate did (at four months saying “Hi” to passers-by) to the way that Rachael did (she’s still more comfortable using gesture and umm’ing than she is with quips and jokes).

People have similar, yet dissimilar brains.  I think the linguistics that I’ve read rely too heavily on how our brains are similar and not enough on how they are dissimilar.  I suspect that something that communication tries to do is to bridge the gaps between different types of brains as well as different brains, and that assuming that all people learn language in fundamentally the same way will cut theorists off from the ability to find the ways that language bridges, for example, between people with engineer brain and people with music brain.

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