The SELF-PRINTED 3.0 Splash

selfprintedsplashbadge

As anyone who is interested in writing and has ever been trapped with me in a elevator, car, or coffee shop meeting room knows, I’m a HUGE fan of Catherine Ryan Howard.  When I was getting started in self publishing, I realised I was still stuck in the ‘vanity press’ mindset of old and didn’t know anything about Createspace, formatting, or selling online.

Enter Self-Printed by Catherine Ryan Howard.  I thought I found the book by accident on Amazon (but later learned it was through Catherine’s savvy choice of keywords) and I was so delighted by it that it has become a large influence in the group I founded, the Athens Writers Association.

In celebration of Self-Printed 3.0, (releasing today!) Catherine is answering a question posed by yours truly: What can self-published authors do to help each other that you don’t see done often enough?

Here’s her answer:

Great question and one I really had to have a good think about. I’m afraid though that my answer won’t be very popular…

I don’t think self-publishers are in need of helping each other out more, because from what I see the self-publishing community as a whole is incredibly helpful towards each other already. You see it all the time: self-pubbed authors hosting other self-pubbed authors on blog tours, recommending each other’s books, gathering together to release box-sets featuring multiple authors so they can cross-promote, etc. etc. When one ascends the ladder a rung or two, more often than not they reach down to help another few take a step up behind them.

So, what would I like to see more of? To be honest I’d like to see more self-publishers holding their fellow self-publishers to higher standards. I’d like to see more self-publishers talking about how important it is to hire a professional editor, work on your cover, etc. It’s easy to forget that the vast majority of readers do not hold self-published books in high esteem because in the past, a lot of them just weren’t that good! Imagine now that John Smith, a new self-published author, manages to convince one of these anti-self-pub readers to take a chance on a self-published ebook – and the reader finds grammatical errors, typos, inconsistencies, bad formatting and a table of contents that doesn’t work. Now John Smith has just confirmed for them what they always suspected about self-published books: that they’re bad. So they don’t try anymore. And maybe the next one they would’ve tried would’ve been yours, or mine. Now John Smith has cost us both a sale. Shouldn’t we have tried harder to get him to self-publish professionally?

I think so. So if there’s something I’d like to see self-publishers do to help each that I don’t think I see often enough, it’s to encourage professional self-publishing and to point out that when you don’t, you let the entire side down…

Awesome answer.  I agree completely.  One of the goals of the AWA is to help everyone get better and send well-written, excellently edited books out into the world.  If you’d like to do likewise, I highly recommend Self-Printed 3.0!
Here’s additional facts about Catherine, who is herself a self-publishing success story:
Catherine Ryan Howard is a writer, self-publisher and caffeine enthusiast from Cork, Ireland. SELF-PRINTED: THE SANE PERSON’S GUIDE TO SELF-PUBLISHING (3rd edition) is out now in paperback and e-book and available from Amazon. Follow the #selfprintedsplash on Twitter today (Friday 24th) and/or visit www.catherineryanhoward.com for chance to win an amazing prize that will get your self-publishing adventure started!
“SELF-PRINTED is my self-publishing bible. It taught me how to format, create and upload my e-books and print-on-demand paperbacks. It showed me practical things such as how to build a website/blog and how to promote my books. More importantly, it taught me how to compete with the professionals. Just look at the results – The Estate Series has sold nearly 100,000 copies and following that I got a traditional book deal with Thomas & Mercer too, so I’m now a hybrid author. Jam-packed full of hints and tips all in one place, I’m always referring back to it. In a word, it’s priceless.” – Mel Sherratt, author of The Estate Series and DS Allie Shenton Series  
Advertisements

Awesome Day #2 — A Writer’s Paradise

Welcome to the next 5 to 10 years of my life

Welcome to the next 5 to 10 years of my life

Yesterday was day 2 of my 8 day ‘stay-cation’.  I left home briefly for a delectable Depalmas lunch, and took a 7.5 mile cycle ride in the evening.  The rest of the day?  Writing! (and Watching X-Men First Class in prep for the new movie).

I decided to chart out all I wanted/needed to do writing-wise.

I had four sections — Novels, Other Work, Online, and Athens Writers Association.

As I looked at it all I thought, ‘Geeze, it would take me ten years to write all these things.’  Then I thought, but I bet you’d be a professional, full-time writer at the end of it.  And if you hustled, I bet you could do it in five.’

My favorite part is —

Novels ah-plenty!

Novels ah-plenty!

Oooo, so many delectable story ideas.

Then I spent most of the rest of the day working on re-writes for Fall Street; I still like that little sucker (check out an early excerpt under my ‘novels’ section).  And once Fall Street is released I’m going onward toward The Wayfarer & The Watch (check out the awesome Pinerest page here).

Now I just want to see these beautiful stories out in the world.  Time to hop to it!

Are You Selling What I’m Buying?

If you’re an author today (or any sort of entrepreneurial business person) this is truly a wonderful time to be alive.  The freedom and power given by the internet is unprecedented.  But for authors, all that power comes with great responsibility.  How to you make yourself heard, rise above the masses, and sell books without becoming a ‘MY BOOK IS NOW .99 ON AMAZON!!! RT THANKS!’ jerk?  Good question.

For myself, this is the simple formula that seems to work best (inspired by Austin Kleon) —

  • Do good work
  • Make it interesting
  • Put it in front of as many eyeballs as possible

In a moment I’ll explain each of those parts in more detail, but for now let me give an example of how this was recently successful in a RL event.

The Athens Writers Association had its first ‘Writers Read’ event and I wanted it to be a big hit.  So I picked good people and they (and I) practiced our readings and worked hard to bring our best (‘Do good work’).  Then I made flyers, put stuff up on the website, etc — all with the idea to make it alluring and exciting to people (‘Make it interesting’).  Lastly, I contacted local papers, and spent a whole day going to nearly 30 places around town to distribute flyers (‘Eyeballs’).  It was exhausting.

But it was SO worth it.  We had a giant crowd, and everyone who came seemed to love us and wanted to hear more in the future.  The excitement was palatable.

So what does that mean for you (and me) online?  I think the same rules apply.  Allow me to explain —

Do Good Work

People, this is the catch.  Right here, right in the beginning.  You want to put out good work, really good work if possible.  All the other time and effort you put into to advertising and marketing is pointless (in my mind) if you’re not pointing people to something they are going to love.  You’re just the matchmaker — you believe your book and this reader are destined for each other and you just want them to meet.  And just as you wouldn’t set up a good friend with someone you thought was unworthy, don’t set your beloved reader up to fail by giving them a bad book.

‘Bad book?  Wait a minute,’ you say, ’My book’s not bad’.  No, maybe not.  But you want great.  Not flawless, not perfect (because we are human and what have we touched that we could not imagine more perfect somehow?), but great — really fucking great.  As good as we can make it.

 Make It Interesting

This is where some ‘Mad Man’ magic mojo can help (by writing copy, not by sleeping with models BTW).  The simplest way to think about this is just to remember what made you in love with the world of your book, be interested in that character, or want to know more about a topic than you were finding (think: ‘Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask’ or Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing).  Also check out my Amazon description posts for more suggestions.  It the end of the day, my advice is to spend a medium amount of time (more than five minutes but less than five years) on advertising, make it fun, and be confident.  Since I’ve release my first book, I’ve probably apologized to no less than five people — it’s too short, I usually write fiction, this book is just to ‘test’ self publishing for a future ‘real’ book.  What the hell?  These weren’t people who were unhappy, mind you.  Meanwhile, the people who have read it all love it.  Point is, I need to be more confident, and so do all of you.  If you have made a really good book, your advertising should (honestly) be able to confidently recommend your book to people.  They’ll love it; they’ve been waiting for it.  Now you just need to —

Put it in Front of as Many Eyeballs as Possible  

I’m still working on this part, but I think paid advertisements are one of the least important parts of the puzzle.  Sure, you have to spend money to make money, but be careful how you’re spending money.  To reference back to the title of this piece, I can tell you for a fact that I’ve never bought a book because I saw an ad for it online.  No FB little side ads, no banners, nothing.  Now, I’m sure a lot of people do buy that way, but my audience is probably more people like me, and ads turn me off pretty hard.  So is this the fall of capitalism?  No way; let me tell you how I do buy books (and games, music, etc) —

  • Heard the person speak (either in person or on the radio)
  • Read their blog and loved their ‘voice’
  • Read a review
  • A friend recommended something they love
  • Had met the person in real life
  • Searched Google or Amazon and the key words brought me to the perfect book (i.e. Self-Printed by Catherine Ryan Howard)
  • Was given a gift by someone who loved the author

One of my favorite shops in Athens, GA is The Native American Gallery.  I only go there five or six times a year, but I’ll happily spend a lot (for me) when I do.  I probably just wandered by the first time, looking for presents for others, and just fell in love.

On the internet, the challenge is that no one in a hundred years is just going to ‘wander by’ a URL.  The great news is that there are billions and billions of paths, leading people from one place to another.  And there are billions of people.  So start making connections — start a blog, guest on others’ blogs, send books out for review, contact sites to do interviews, and even put flyers all over your home town.

I really believe being an author today is summed up thus —

So do the great work I know you are capable of, make it interesting, and start sharing it with the world.  There are readers who just dream of books like yours.

What I’ve Learn After 50 Blog Posts (Tips & Tricks)

from blog.pinkcakebox.com

TA DA!  (TWEET, TWEET!)  WE MADE IT!

Happy 50th post on this website.  I was kind of surprised that it sneaked up on me.  But I’ve learned a lot since March 2nd, 2013 and I want to share what I have learned with any would-be writers or bloggers —

10 Things I’ve Learned About Blogging

  1. Trust yourself.  People who are meant to find you will find you, so don’t waste time trying to be someone you’re not.  Always be yourself.  Unless you can be Batman, then always be Batman 😉
  2. ‘Tag’ your posts.  The world is wide and tags really help like-minded people find you.  And be open to tagging anything — in the beginning WordPress suggested ‘Mental Health’ for some of my inspiring blogs and that was a great idea I’d never thought of.  I also got a ‘re-blog’ link because I mentioned ‘The Simpsons’ once but I’d added a tag for it.
  3. Stick to a few topics.  Catherine Ryan Howard had that advice in her ‘Self-Printed’ book and it has worked well for me.  It also guarantees that people who like one post will probably like more down the line.
  4. Do your own thing but also find out the needs and desires of your audience.  I write mostly about how to live an inspirational life, writing, and self publishing.  But people really like the inspiring life bit (they like me even more, but that’s just coincidental 😉 ).  So I keep that need in mind and try to help people, even a tiny bit, on their journey toward their dreams.
  5. Post regularly.  If I had one tip, this would be it (along with be yourself, be interesting etc).  The keys to the kingdom.  Catherine Ryan Howard suggested three posts a week but for a long time I was ‘too busy’.  But when I got serious about posting more often (I aim for Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) then people really started getting interested.  I did recently take a ‘birthday week break’ because, well, I’m only human (Skyrim!).
  6. Get great titles.  The number one thing I see when I look at blogs is a lack of inviting titles for posts.  Everything doesn’t have to be ‘How To Make A 10 Tips List To Drive Business’ but I see a lot called ‘Blah Blah, Dreary Day’.  And maybe that’s great and maybe it’s funny, and maybe it’s only meant to be cathartic, but I’m not that interested.  I saw one just called ‘L’ and the first line was ‘I guess this is really happening’, and I had to see the rest of that post.  I lot of times I’d pick a title, write the piece and find a better title in one of my lines, more original, more dramatic, and I’d use that.
  7. Pictures, Links, Ponies — whatever it takes.  People respond to great pictures and quotes (at least I do).  And links not only promote things you love (like my recent Frank Turner post) but they are also added valve/fun for your fans.
  8. If you can, proofread your ‘preview’ before you publish.  I have found seeing the post in its final form makes catching the error easier (warning: you will still find errors).
  9. If you Google something and can’t find the post you wanted — jump on that.  I was looking for a certain kind of list of ‘how to move to the next level as a writer’ for my Athens Writers Association meeting and I couldn’t find it!  So I wrote my own thing to bring to the group and it turned into a very successful post.
  10. Dream (and think) big.  Act successful to be successful.  I had no idea I’d have so many followers by my 50th post but I wasn’t put off when I had just one either.  I just sent my best, most professional work out into the world and hoped to find a few people who liked it.  Thank you all for being so kind as to be part of this wild ride with me.  Onward to 100!
The Amazing Austin Kleon

The Amazing Austin Kleon

“How Do I Format My Book?”

‘The Tragicall Hiftorie of Hamlet’ is only slightly sadder than ‘The Tragicall Hiftorie of Formatting’.

I’ll be upfront right away — if you need a good formatting how-to, Google onward or better yet, run off and buy Catherine Ryan Howard’s Self-Printed .  It will make the job easier.  However, if you’re about to lose your mind and want some comfort and camaraderie, then you’ve come to the right place.

Now, if you my age (mid-thirties) or older, you might have grown up wanting to be a writer, but you never thought once about growing up to be a ‘formatter’.  You honed your writing, and thought about book readings and tours, working well with your agent and editor, but you never thought much about self-publishing.

When I got serious about writing in the mid 90s, ‘vanity presses’ were still the main name for do-it-without-a-publisher printing.  For you youngsters, they were called that because — you guessed it — it was seen as vanity to publish a book the ‘real’ publishers didn’t think was good enough.  Of course, that’s a total fallacy, but a lot of people believed it.  It also might cost you $10,000 and you’d wind up with 1,000 copies out in your garage.

So I just assumed I’d never have to think about covers, copy editing, and FORMATTING.  I probably didn’t even know what that really meant.  Fast forward to this year, when I bought the above-mentioned book and started seeing my Athens Writers Association buddies bringing these beautiful, professional books into the world.  But behind every beautiful book came a horror story about formatting.

Still, I was a patient and smart woman — how hard could it be?  (long break for weeping here).

First, I couldn’t find any program that could save files as plain .DOC, not .DOCX (which I needed for Smashwords i.e. getting my e-book on Nook etc) except for Microsoft Word.  But I had never owned MS Word; I have gotten hooked on MS Publisher years ago and, like someone still typing that first draft on an old Smith Corona, I had never moved on.  So I broke down (despite a Windows 8-related grudge match with MS) and downloaded a trial of MS Office so I could try Word (verdict: LOVE it.  Must be an entirely different group than those Windows 8 tile-lovers).

So life was good, until I actually tried formatting.  See, following the advice in Self-Printed, I didn’t try anything fancy for my Kindle and Smashwords e-books — since an e-book is really a scroll-type document without real pages, it limits what you can do.

Not so with a paperback.  As soon as I started formatting my book ‘How To Come Alive: A Guidebook to Living the Life of Your Dreams’.  Two things became immediately apparent: I loved how beautiful and professional a real book could look and demons, DEMONS, must be in my computer.  At first the advice in the book helped me, but this was the brand-new Word and so I got a little lost, started pressing buttons randomly, and went way off the beaten path.  It was only the Headers and Page numbers that got me.

I would go through, think things were looking good and then, BOOM, everything would change and look wrong again.  It was also heartbreaking when it looked perfect in Word and then I saw my ‘digital proof’ copy from Createspace (the POD company that’s doing my paperback) and things were messed up AGAIN.  But I got it fix, for reals this time, and my good-looking, correct, paperback proof is now winging its way toward me.  If I can do it, you can do it.  Trust me.  And here are some tips I learned —

What I Wish I’d Known About Formatting

  • Use Page Break sparingly.  They have their place, but I was using them everywhere in the beginning and they were my chief problem when my ‘digital proof’ mysteriously looked bad.
  • ‘Link to Previous’ is the Devil.  Okay, say page 35 is a blank page and so you don’t want a page number on it — well, remember to click that button to un-link it (go to Insert-Header-edit Header to find the button on the Header and Footer tools area).  You’ll need to click on the page 35 page number area, then uncheck ‘Link to Previous’ as well as the page 36 page number area and uncheck ‘Link to Previous’ there.  It’s kind of like a chain of friends holding hands — Cindy 35 lets go of Lucy 34 so Cindy can do her thing (have no page numbers) but Joann 36 need to let go of Cindy 35 if she does want her and 37, 38, and 39 to have page numbers.
  • I kept having magical unwanted lines appear right below my header in the header box.  Don’t know why but they are easily gotten rid of — go to Home and then see a little square dotted-line box in the middle of the screen next to Styles.  It’s called Borders, click on it and then select No Borders (you need to have clicked on the header you want to change first).
  • Never give up.  I’m so glad I fought to get the headers, page numbers, and black pages I wanted — because the finished book is going to look incredible.
  • Spell check and proof read your work three more times than you think necessary — I let a few typos slip in during my e-book release and I have been eating humble pie ever since — not fun.

Formatting is hard, but some of the most rewarding things are.  It was hard to write a great book and now think how close you are to putting it in its best tuxedo so it can meet the world looking amazing.

YOU CAN DO IT.  Now go eat some chocolate and get this done!  Let me know below if you have any specific questions.  Good luck!

Publishing My First Book

Cover by Sarah Cerulean madnessofart@gmail.com

Cover by Sarah Cerulean
madnessofart@gmail.com

When I decided to get serious, to stop planning and start doing this year, my first goal was a writing one.  I decided to self-publish three books in the next year — crazy?  Yes.  But who wants to do anything halfway?

The Selection

How did I chose these three books?  Well, A Caged Heart Still Beats is my second novel and the one that I was sending out to agents since before the Earth’s crust had fully cooled.  I’d sent out probably a hundred queries and hadn’t gotten even one request to read it, so either my query was horrible, the industry is just really tough right now, or they didn’t like the idea of a love story with a man trapped in a cage.  All I knew for sure was that none of them had turned in down after reading the whole thing — because no one had read the whole thing.  It’s a book I believe in and can’t wait to get into readers’ hands.  So that’s coming out in November.   Fall Street is my third novel; I recently completed the first draft and it will be out next spring.

But my debut release is a bit of an odd duck.  It’s a little self-help book about living your dreams.  I’d had the idea for a while and then I was looking back at the best self-help book ever The Success Principles by Jack Canfield, and he told a story about a young man named Jason Dorsey who ‘didn’t know what couldn’t be done’ and so wrote a book Graduate to Your Perfect Job in less than thee weeks.  So I decided to write my little book and share it with the world.  Easier said than done.

The Writing

All went well in the beginning.  I picked 25 ideas (divided into five categories) that I thought had most contributed to my happiness.  Over the next month I wrote out each idea, added intros, and felt pretty good.  Then my first reader (my sister Sarah) called out some weaknesses.  That’s cool, that’s okay (sniff!).  I rearranged the whole book, cut some stuff, added so new sections, and it became much better.   Now I just needed to finalize and copy-edit (again) the manuscript.

The Cover

Now, my sister is an artist and she’s designed covers for my friend Rob White’s book.  I knew I wanted her help on my novels but I (naively) thought I could handle the self-help cover on my own.  And I’m sure I could have eventually come up with something decent but, just look —

CAcover

I think we can all agree the one at the top of the page is better.  I’d struggled through six different covers (all using my ancient MS Publisher’s 80s-rific styles) and then one day while I was out, Sarah surprised me with the blue sky cover.  Thank the gods.

What I learned from this is that it’s very hard to make a cover that looks professional and good enough to sit alongside traditionally published books.  And even if you don’t want to spend a lot of money, you have to keep working and looking till you find a high quality look.  I’d suggest at least finding a local artist or graphic designer to help you, and going for a true cover designer if you can.  It’s your book’s intro to the world and I didn’t feel ‘right’ about any of my designs but now I can feel proud of my book.

The Advertising, Formatting, Etc

I’m now hoping to format my book, both to become an e-book and a POD paperback, in the next weeks.  The cover needed a few last adjustments (the size of my paperback is a little narrower than the design above and I wanted the title a little bigger).  Everything I’m doing is out of Catherine Ryan Howard‘s wonderful book Self-Printed.  I’m still pretty lost about advertising, but I figure that is the next great adventure.

I’m proud of my book.  I’m (pretty) proud of my Amazon page.  And I’m proud of myself for taking my future into my own hands.  Because the secret, as Austin Kleon says, is —

Cover for My First Book!

I’m releasing my first book, How To Come Alive: A Guidebook To Living the Life of Your Dreams in October and I wanted to share the cover with you.  It was made by the talented Sarah Cerulean (my sister).  The book is coming along nicely and will be available in e-book and paperback formats.  It is a challenge and a call to all those who know that life is about more than junk food and reality TV and who are excited about making their dreams come true.

I’ll share more details about the process of self-publishing as it happens.

HowtoComeAlive_001

Yay! I love this cover!

A Writer’s ‘Most Enjoyable’ TV Shows List

I put the question of this ‘top ten’ to my sister, with the stipulation of ‘most enjoyable’.  The reason was not to exclude hard-to-watch dramas but rather to alleviate the fears that one would have in creating a BEST list.  So this is really about my favorites, not the ones I believe should be on display in the Smithsonian or that we should force schoolchildren to watch.

WARNING: Tiny spoilers within.

And so without further ado —

The Nominees

(basically shows I’d seen at least one season of and could imagine making it into the top ten)

Parks and Rec

The Sarah Conner Chronicles

30 Rock

Quantum Leap

Royal Pains

Simpsons

X-Files

Justified

Deadwood

Glee

The Vampire Diaries

Nip/Tuck

The West Wing

True Blood

Boardwalk Empire

The Glee Project

Spongebob Squarepants

American Dad

Family Guy

Rocky & Bullwinkle

Being Human

House

Life on Mars (UK)

Life on Mars (US)

Sherlock (Granada)

Sherlock (BBC)

Doctor Who

Mad Men

Walking Dead

Breaking Bad

South Park

Lost

Firefly

Buffy: The Vampire Slayer

My So-Called Life

24

Freaks and Geeks

Coupling (BBC)

American Horror Story

Girls

And now, the WINNERS —

No. 15 —Mad Men

Mad Men has been a giant influence for years now, from the amazing characters like Peggy, Don, and Pete, to its beautiful, restrained look at a bygone era.  Its only not higher on my list because it’s become too restrained for my case — I just want to have my favorite characters in the same room talking about things that matter and yes, I’ve watched for hours waiting for Pete and Peggy to talk to each other.

No. 14 — Justified

An odd choice, since I’ve only seen the first two seasons so far, but the quality of dialogue and the acting is transfixing.  “I don’t think of myself as an angry man.”  “Raylan, you’re the angriest man I’ve ever known.”  Shivers.

No. 13 — Nip/Tuck

Now with this one, I’ve only seen the first few seasons but I’ll never forget them.  This show is classic Ryan Murphy — funny, daring, heartfelt, cold, warm, and with lines and characters you can’t stop thinking about.  Other Murphy shows just missed the cut.  Christian is a character for the ages, and the way he’s subverted by his experiences makes you rethink human nature.  He’s a bit like a Damon Salvatore as explored by Ryan Murphy — to which I say ‘Oh hell yes!’

No. 12 — Life on Mars (UK)

This is one of those perfect series, a phrase that you rarely hear on TV.  The American version was good too — but this one’s great.  This is another era done right; its version of the ‘70s is letting it all hang out, with the clothes and lingo taking a back seat to the sexism, racism, and the police’s occasional brutality.  But at the heart of all that is a hero who wants to get home and wants to discover the childhood (and father) he never really had.  Heartbreaking and awesome — can you dig it?

No. 11 — Sherlock (BBC)

Another near-perfect series.  I had my doubts about this one (and had always only been a light Sherlock Holmes fan) and yet it’s been fantastic, shaking the source material up and turning two of our best British actors loose to charm the pants off the audience.  The creators said they only do three episodes every few years because they want to only have the highest quality of writing — and it shows.

Sherlock Holmes: Punch me in the face!

Dr. John Watson: Punch you?

Sherlock Holmes: Yes, punch me in the face! Didn’t you hear me?

Dr. John Watson: I always hear “Punch me in the face” when you’re speaking but it’s usually subtext.

No. 10 — Doctor Who

Doctor Who is the ‘It’s so fluffy!’ line from Despicable Me turned into a series: you simply can’t deny that much excitement, passion, and joy.  It makes you glad such things exist in the world.  And yet it has a profound heart, and a real understanding of humanity that makes this such a long-running favorite.  The Doctor loves the human race in a way we ourselves often can’t, and yet at the end of the day he must stand apart from the things he loves.  Also, probably the best idea ever for a TV show.

No. 9 — Lost

This is my love it/hate it entry.  The series went on a bit long, I abhorred ‘sideways world’ and yet . . .  Great writing makes me say, “Oh!  I’m so jealous — I wish I’d written that!” And I went around all the time I was watching seasons 2 and 3 thinking that.  It wasn’t perfect, but man, it was on SO much of the time, and it brought adventure and mystery to the small screen in a way I’d never seen before or since.

No. 8 — The West Wing

I just started watching this show this year and it’s already made the top ten.  I mean, come on!  How couldn’t it?  It’s Lincoln meets The Social Network.  The characters (and actors) are some of the best ever put together (and they are so often together, in the same room talking about important things).  And the story lines make you remember what HBO made you forget: that great dramas don’t need violence and sex to have truly great drama.  This show has actually made me a better person who cares more about her world.

No. 7 — Spongebob Squarepants

‘Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?’ And so starts some of the funniest, sharpest writing anywhere on TV (I recommend seasons 2 and 3 for maximum laughs).  Spongebob must be a spiritual sibling to the Doctor, because they both live life to the fullest.  The number of quotes that are still spoken daily by me attests to its staying power.  “I’m ready!  I’m ready!’

No. 6 — My So-Called Life

This show was a couple of spots higher and I had to move it closer to number one.  I had heard about it for years and figured I’d like it, but it was just such a perfect dream of character, identity, growing up, and remaining a child that I liked it even more than I thought I would.  And that last scene with Brian — wow — it pretty much influences me (and my writing of Fall Street) to this day.

No. 5 — Firefly

This is the perfect Joss Whedon show in my mind (I’ve only seen one season of Buffy so that might change).  It has it all — super original characters, a great setting, well plotted episodes, and the best funny dialogue written possibly ever.  Come for the charming captain, and stay for his shiny crew.

No. 4 — The Vampire Diaries

I know, I know.  Believe me, I get it.  For a long, long time I never watched a Vampire Diaries even though I like Jane Austin, romantic comedies, and supernatural stories.  I figured it would be vapid, dumb, cruel, and just about guys walking around with their shirts off all the time.  On top of that, I hadn’t thought Ian Somerhalder was that great on ‘Lost’, so who would want to see him as a lead?  How wrong I was.  The Vampire Diaries turned out to be a perfectly plotted show which teases you AND builds over each season.  It is that rarest network show that is going somewhere with its lead characters.  And Elena is a Harry Potter not a Bella and her friends and family mean everything to her.  And Ian?  He blows the doors off the place as Damon and makes him one of the most compelling, most misunderstood anti-heroes in modern television.  Even if he does walk around with his shirt off a lot.

No. 3 — The Simpsons

I did a list like this many years ago and The Simpsons was number one — it says a lot that I watch it much less now and yet it still looms so large.  The show would win awards from me based only on the volume of great TV it’s given — the sheer number of lines, gags, and firsts make it the great elder statesman of today’s cartoon families.  Don’t like The Simpsons?  “Release the hounds!”

No.2 — Deadwood

Some people started with the Sopranos or OZ as their gateway drug into cable drama.  For me, it was Deadwood.  I knew it as ‘That show that won awards and everyone was always cursing’.  Then I sat down with the first season DVD and was awestruck — this was TV, not as I’d grown up with it (TV comedies and stalwart 10:00 pm dramas), but exciting, masterful, and so funny.  Not every story line later on was a winner, yet still, taken together I never saw a world like Deadwood, SD, and never again have met people like Al, Jane, or Trixie.

No. 1 — True Blood

Once upon a time all I knew of Alan Ball was American Beauty and all I knew of the Sookie Stackhouse mysteries was their bright, cartoony covers on book shelves.  Then all that changed.  Bon Temps and its residents came into my heart full force and the romance, humor, humanity, and magic of the place can never be forgotten.  When I watch True Blood (I’ve only seen through season 4) I see so many great things that I want to learn to do in my own stories — and having a kick-butt heroine like Sookie is at the top of the list.

It’s worth clicking on to read it 😉

Is ‘Release Day’ an Outdated Term for Self-Published Books?

I am planning the release of my first book at the end of the month and I have a problem — I don’t have a burning desire to email everyone I’ve ever met, Tweet 24-7 about my “GREAT DEAL! ON AMAZON! CHEEP!”, or prime my fans to buy it on day one or else, I’ll insinuate, they’ll not really my fans at all.  I’m not interested in any of those things.  I’m happily sharing my most inspirational songs on FB and mentioning my book as I do it, but I realized this morning that ‘release day’ just doesn’t mean that much to me.

And then I starting thinking — how important are release dates for self-published books these days?

Now for movies, the first weekend of release is imperative.  Even if a movie ‘has legs’ and keeps making money, a slow opening weekend has very real implications — the actor, the director, and a franchise may be judged against it for years to come.

And for TV shows it’s even worse — a slow start may lead to a fast finish.  Your whole future is riding on a quick and intense public interest in your work.

Now we return to books.  In traditional publishing if a book doesn’t get enthusiasm from the publisher’s sales team, the initial run may be reduced.  If the book doesn’t sell right away, it may lose what little advertising it had, its shelf space, and even be headed for the dreaded ‘remainder bin’.  And then, after only 12-18 months, your book might go out of print altogether and disappear off the face of the Earth.

But with a self published book, everything changes,  Yes, selling more books in a short length of time can help you jump up in the Amazon rankings, but that’s about it.  Your book’s not getting ‘remaindered’.  It’s not going not of print.  You and your book can be on Amazon till the end of time.

I’m planning on growing my fan base (I’m aiming for 100 followers to this blog by the end of the month!) and I’m going to keep writing and improving myself and I plan on my book ‘How To Come Alive: A Guidebook for Living the Life of Your Dreams’ to be the first in a series.  So ‘opening day’ isn’t a big day for me.  It’s like the first day you meet the love of your life — it’s special, but it’s only the beginning.

And you all, my great readers of the world, are the love of my life.  And our adventure is only beginning — no countdown clock needed.

Ten Ways to Improve One Sentence

Warning: insane writers only need apply.

“They brought him no sweet lullabies, indeed, the heavy air of the stifling little room sang only with the slight ringing of ghost trumpets, each calling him toward an inescapable future.”

— Averil, pondering a sword and a gift from a magical being, in Other Gods

Okay — I picked this sentence more or less randomly from my first novel.  Truthfully, I was looking for a less than ideal one.  So let’s looks at this together so you can use it to improve your own writing (I’ve highlighted changes in bold).

1 —

Check your commas and semi-colons —

“They brought him no sweet lullabies; indeed (cut comma) the heavy air of the stifling little room sang only with the slight ringing of ghost trumpets — each calling him toward an inescapable future.”

Here I’ve added a semi-colon because ‘lullabies’ completes a thought, but it’s fair to tie these two thoughts together with a semi-colon.  Then there’s an extraneous comma, and lastly I add a line after ‘trumpets’ to put more emphasis on the final thought.

2 —

“They brought him no sweet lullabies; indeed the heavy air of the stifling little room sang only with the slight ringing of ghost trumpets — each calling Averil toward an inescapable future.”

Brings more power to end with his name and stops us from using ‘him’ twice.

3 —

“The gifts brought him no comfort; indeed the heavy air of the stifling little room sang only with the slight ringing of ghost trumpets — each calling Averil toward an inescapable future.”

Here I’ve both named the gifts for impact and taken away the slightly forcing-it ‘sweet trumpets’.  Instead I’m trying to show an opposition between something good, like a gift, and something bad.

4 —

“The gifts brought him no comfort; indeed, in the heavy air of the stifling little room each spoke to harshly to Averil each calling him toward an inescapable future.”

Woah, now everything’s changing.  After I lost ‘trumpets’ the rest of my analogy didn’t work.

5 —

“The gifts brought him no comfort; indeed, in the heavy air of the stifling little room each spoke to harshly to Averil — their voices calling him toward an inescapable future.”

Unless there’s a real reason or cadence to explain it, change repeated words that are too close together, as I have with ’each’.

6 —

“The gifts brought him no comfort; indeed, in the heavy air of the stifling little room each spoke to harshly to Averil.  (cut dash, and add a period) Their voices called him toward an inescapable future.”

I had to let one go, because having both the semi-colon and the dash felt wrong.

7 —

“The gifts brought him no comfort; indeed, in the heavy air of the stifling little room each spoke to Averil.  Their voices united against him, calling him toward an inescapable future.”

‘Harshly’ is gone, which is good because it was an ‘-ly’ word and I like the drama of making the audience wait and wonder what they are saying to him (and yes, even suspense fo a line counts as suspense).

8 —

“The gifts brought him no comfort. (cut semi-colon) In the heavy air of the stifling little room each spoke to Averil.  Their voices united against him, calling him toward an inescapable future.”

Annnd there goes the semi-colon (even though I love semi-colons).  I realized the changes meant that the that the gift not bringing him comfort no longer closely tied to his hearing their voice.  There is a connection, but not one close enough to a semi-colon in my book.

9 —

“The gifts brought him no comfort.  In the heavy air of the stifling little room each spoke to Averil, their voices united against him. They were calling him toward an inescapable future.”

Now I’ve grabbed the first part of the last sentence and added it to the second one.  The suspense is lessened but the drama is higher.

10 —

“The gifts brought him no comfort.  In the heavy air of the stifling room they spoke to Averil, their voices uniting against him.  Finally he passed into sleep, listening to whispers of danger, and taunts of destiny.

The other each is gone because ‘each’ sounded weird with ‘united’.  And ‘united’ became the more active ‘uniting’.   The whole last line is different too.  Is it better?  That’s what putting away your work for a few days into help you figure out.  Sometimes changes are good, and sometimes you find yourself returning the line to its former state.  Now there’s things I like about the original and it probably fits in better with my first whole book (there’s a lot of ’flowery’ but lovely writing in it).  That said, I think the improvements made it stronger, or could after another polish, and they reveal the more settled, more confident writer I’ve become.

Whatever you think of this line, just remember that editing is simply a matter of looking closely, playing around, and never settling for ’good enough’.

Good luck!