2016-04-24

Not Writing

Updates
Dragonverse Origins is now totally in the hands of my wife. My editing is done -- until she finishes doing her grammatical magic. The next project will be Peacekeeper 3 and I'm still not 100% sure as to how the story is going to progress. Sometimes, that's a good thing because the story will write itself and I will enjoy watching it unfold as it moves forward. Other times, that can be bad because I'll eventually write myself into a corner with no way out. But, I have a week before I start working on it.

In the meantime, waking up without needing to sit down in front of the computer is a strange feeling. Yesterday, I watched Agent Carter - the entire last season - because I watch so little television when I'm writing. This morning, after this post, I'm going to go find the movies I have that I've not yet watched and catch up on them.

Next weekend, several members of the writer's group I regularly go to in Mentor will be renting a space at the Odd Mall in Akron, Ohio. I've never been there before but I've seen pictures online. I guess it's sort of a cross between a flea market and a comicon. I have a surplus of books and I'm hoping to sell at least enough to make up for my share of the space rent. Unfortunately, it means I'll be away from home during most of the day next weekend and my wife is not planning on attending. Instead of just sitting there waiting for people to ask me questions, I plan on starting work on Peacekeeper 3.

Data
Today, I want to briefly revisit a topic I've covered in the past - keeping your data safe. We live in a digital world and many people count on having their lives managed digitally. But the use of digital assets comes at a cost and some risk. Let's focus on the risk.

The other day, I received a very official looking email from Chase informing me that due to an excessive number of log-in attempts, my account was now locked. As a convenience, the email provided a link to reset my account. First, I NEVER CLICK ON AN EMAIL LINK! I went directly to the Chase website and had no issues logging in. This simple rule, if not followed religiously, can result in the exposure of your account to thieves. Phishing scams like this are common but they remain common because many people still fall for them. Don't.

I am a fanatic when it comes to backing things up. I use CrashPlan to back up all of my data. The paid-for service runs in the background and keeps all of my data backed up to the cloud. One word of caution concerning CrashPlan, it will consume a fair amount of memory depending on how much data you're backing up. I have one computer with multi-Terrabytes of data and CrashPlan's memory footprint runs about 800 Meg. But, memory these days is cheap and modern operating systems can address huge amounts of it so this should not be an issue.

All of my writing-related files are also stored on DropBox. Because DropBox sits on my hard drive as a folder, it is also backed up to the cloud via CrashPlan. The beauty of DropBox is that it's free and I can easily use it on all of my devices. It integrates very well with every program I use and the synchronization feature is fast and efficient.

But DropBox and CrashPlan are designed to back up data. If you're computer savvy, you've split your hard drive into at least two partitions, one for data and one for the system. If your hard drive crashes and you're using CrashPlan your data will be safe. But what about your operating system? If you failed to create a recovery disk, you're pretty well hosed. Virtually all computers come with a backup partition on the hard drive but if the drive has failed that won't do you any good. If you've split your drive (or have multiple drives) you have a simple solution - Aomei Backupper. I use this free program to create an emergency restore memory stick for every one of my computers. I refresh it twice a year. Now, if I lose a hard drive, I just pop in the memory stick and do a reload. Be careful when installing this program though because the default installation will load programs you might not want on your system.

I also run a hard drive monitor program that will alert me to a failing hard drive. Most of the time, a hard drive will start generating errors before it fails. A small number of errors are normal and can by handled by today's discs without any loss of data. But there are times when a drive will suddenly fail. This happened to me a few weeks ago on the computer my wife has in her sewing room. The drive failed so bad that the machine refused to boot. I installed a new drive, restored the backup, and she was back in business in less than a day. It plans to plan ahead.

There are many other aspects of risk associated with our digital lives. A large EMP could wipe out everything stored anywhere in digital format. If that happened, all of your data everywhere (your books, movies, bank account records, credit history, perhaps most of everything anyone knows about you) could vanish. It would send our planet into the digital dark ages. If such a thing were to happen I think we would have more to worry about than the loss of a few movies and family pictures. Can it happen? Sure. Will it? I hope not!

Sounds like a great idea for a book.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have a movie to watch.

2016-04-17

Self Publishing - Book Covers

Update
Dragonverse Origins is in the hands of my wife who will do the major work of grammar checking. Well, at least the first half of the book anyway. I'm still doing my own editing of the second half while she's working on the first. This speeds up the process allowing us to multitask. I continue to think about Peacekeeper 3 so that when it comes time to begin work on that novel I will be able to move along at a decent pace.

I also attended a book selling event at a local library on Monday. Although I had fun I did not sell any books. Neither did any of the authors around me. To prepare for the event, I purchased several more sets of books. Now I'm stuck with them especially because I don't sell many hard copies. I do like supporting the local library but I'm having my doubts that book selling events are worth the effort. It takes a lot to pack up 50 pounds of books, haul them out to the car, drive to the library, haul them inside, set up, and then sit for  two hours as people walk by, glance at your table, and keep walking. There were around 15 authors there and I believe they sold only a handful out of the entire group. Oh, and did I mention it was raining that day? I think I will limit my library support activities to appearing individually or on a panel.

Covers
Yesterday, I spent about an hour sitting down with an artist. She's the daughter of a friend we met at the local B&N. My wife loves her artwork and others have made similar comments. We asked if she would be interested in doing the book covers for the entire Dragonverse series. Yesterday, we came to an agreement of sorts and next week I think we will iron out the details. The cost, however, is much more than what I've been paying.

I've been having another friend do my covers. She's done a wonderful job and she does not charge nearly what a professional does. I've been very pleased with her work. So why change? The artist I spoke with yesterday has an extensive website with a lot of artwork for sale. Her animals are very realistic and unique. Being hand-painted, they're also very realistic looking. Her style will make the new covers stand out.

So how important are covers? In one word -- VERY. Say I'm looking for a good military science fiction novel. I fire up Amazon and enter a search and then ... I start scanning the covers. I don't have time to click on every book and read the synopsis as well as the reviews. I look for a cover that grabs my attention and I click on that one. It is the cover that gets me to drill down one level and read about the book. Covers are vital and paying a good price to have one that stands out is a must.

Let me give you an example. Here is the history of the covers for Translight - the first book of the Galactic Alliance series:
Which one would grab your attention? The first one was something I created using PowerPoint and a colorized drawing I did back in the 70's merged with some graphics I found online. Not too bad but not good either. When you blow it up, you can really see how unprofessional it is. The second cover looks okay but the title does not stand out and my name is practically invisible. The final cover has a bold title and my name is clearly visible even in the thumbnail. The artwork identifies the book as being science fiction.

So how much should a cover cost? The price is all over the map on this one. You can go to Fiver and have someone overseas create a cover for you. It might work out and you could possibly get away with paying as little as $40.00. Even though many of the people on Fiver doing this work are working for pennies, they are talented. But you can also end up with something that you don't like.

You can do what I've done and get a talented friend to make your cover. The results might be great or perhaps not. The price could be nothing or very inexpensive depending on your friend. Working with someone you know also has the advantages of being able to reject a cover and have them alter it to you exact likings without having to pay for the artist's time to make multiple corrections. If your friend is talented enough and you work well together you can end up with a very nice cover for only a small fee.

Professional book cover artists have done this before and they will listen to your ideas, ask you about the book's story line, and gather other details to give them an idea as to what you're looking for. They'll present you with a few rough drafts and then produce a final cover from the one you select. Most allow you to make a few minor changes at no additional cost. More than a few will end up costing you more because you are paying for their time and effort. In the end, you will have a very good cover that has been crafted by a professional. But, it will cost you more.

Typical cover artists charge between $200 and $1,000 for a cover. The low end would be reserved for those just starting off in the business. A simple cover from someone who's been doing it for awhile might run between $300 and $400. Complex covers will cost you more. A typical contract (and yes you should have one) allows for a specified number of changes before additional charges are added.

A contract is also a must. This will be the legal document giving you (the author) the rights to the cover art. You are hiring an artist to produce a piece of artwork for you and when she turns the end product over to you, it's yours. You own the work. There are alternatives but they're not common. You might be granted a license to use the cover art in any way you desire but the artist retains the copyright and is free to sell the base cover art in any way they choose as long as it is never again used as a book cover. This allows the artist (who wants to make money as well) to sell the work as a stand-alone work of art. In my opinion, this arrangement is best for both parties because it might allow the artist to charge less for the work because in the end she can make more by selling it outright. This also gives her the incentive to put even more effort into the work. Additionally, if the artwork becomes popular, it could help promote your book as well.

Should the artist also do the lettering? There is a give and take here as well. If you decide to publish in another language and the lettering is part of the artwork, then you're going to have to pay the artist to redo the cover. If you have both the artwork and the cover with the lettering or just the artwork alone, then you can create a new cover yourself. Having the artist put the lettering into the cover can be aesthetically pleasing as well making the entire cover appear as a seamless whole. In the end, you're the publisher and it's totally up to you.

Having a great cover can help sell books. Unfortunately, it will also mean you have to spend the money up front to have one done. It's an investment in your book's future. Covers do sell books. If you're confident your book is good enough and has been formatted using industry guidelines, then by all means spend the money to have a great cover put on it. You won't regret it.

2016-04-10

How Important Are Word Counts

Update
I took a short break from writing all last week. Yesterday, I opened up the Word document with the comments from Lee on Dragonverse Origins. I was expecting a bunch of red. I found very little. I had given Lee an early copy of the first half of the book and he made some comments. That was when I was working on professionalizing the books of the Galactic Alliance series. When I finally went back to writing Origins, I started from the beginning to refamiliarize myself with the book. I also incorporated Lee's suggestions. That's why he had so few comments.

I also applied a lesson that took me some time to learn - don't rush the ending. It was one of my faults and it's been pointed out to me on several occasions by several people. I normally set a goal of 85,000  words when I begin a new novel. Once I hit that goal, there's a psychological push to end the book -- soon. By that time, I'm to the point where I want to hurry up, end the book, and begin the process of getting it ready for publication. In short -- I'm rushing.

I was very tempted to rush the ending of Origins as well. This time, I didn't and Lee's comments are a reflection of that change in behavior. The book clocks in at just over 98,000 words. That's a hefty novel! But not rushing has made it a far better book.

I am now in the process of doing my editing pass. The book's next stop will be my wife who is tasked with making sure I've found and corrected all the bad grammar. She also does a bit of content editing but I've made few changing in a story due to her comments (mostly because she is not a big fan of science fiction). When I get her comments back and the changes incorporated, I will be sending the book to a reader in Germany for his take. During all this, I'm searching for a cover.

I was supposed to meet with the person who might do the cover yesterday but a Spring snow storm resulted in our staying home. The writer's group meeting was also canceled (at the last minute) and I didn't feel bad about not making the trip to the bookstore. I spent the day with my wife and left Twitter and the internet alone.

Word Counts
Several authors I know maintain a historical record of their daily word counts. One has automated the process to the point where it is now completely automatic. He can pull up historical graphs and charts showing his daily word count going back for years. I've always questioned the value of doing something like that. But Scrivener makes it easy and I've found myself looking at the daily word count more often than not as well as reporting it here in my blog. The question I'm forced to ask is: does it matter?

Counting the number of words you've achieved on a daily basis can be a measure of your productivity. But what about when you're editing? I can easily spend 5 hours editing something I've written, making changes here and there and at the end of the day end up with a negative number on my word count. I've been very productive, but the word count shows I've actually failed miserably.

Word counts can serve as a 'push' to get a writer going. "Crap! I have to make my 1,000 words today and it's almost midnight!" But is that a good thing? Writing words just for the sake of writing them is never a good thing. You'll end up deleting them in the future if they're bad enough or spending so much time editing them that you've actually wasted time.

In my case, setting a word count goal for the total size of a book gives me an artificial target to shoot for. Once I hit that target, my mind starts telling me I need to hurry up and end the book. It can result in rushing the ending. When you're writing a novel, having a set number of words as your goal can have a negative influence on the quality of your writing. If the book is moving along well and you pass the mid-point in the story but you're only 30% of your target word count, you're going to be tempted to start adding scenes that don't add value.

Word counts are important if you're a short story writer. Magazines and anthologies have word count guidelines and you must remain cognisant of those guidelines as you write. That's one reason I'm not a short story writer. If you write novels, then setting a target word count is an artificial goal and it should be adjusted as the book progresses. Counting daily word production can be a useful tool and it does give you a way of reporting to others just how hard you've been working. But meeting your daily goal can cause you to write junk. If you're struggling with a scene and after 3 hours of head-banging thinking, you crank out 125 words, then you've had a good day. On the other hand, if the story is flowing along and you're 'in the zone', then blasting out 4,000 words is also a great day. A daily word count is a subjective and artificial goal.

Rushing
Earlier on, I said I have a tendency to rush my endings. Patience in this day and age seems to be a characteristic of people that is rapidly fading away. I see it every day and in all aspects of our lives. People expect things to happen NOW. Back when I was young, I communicated with my friends via snail mail (even the name denotes slowness). I would write a letter and send it off. A week or two later, I would get a response. If I needed something now, I would pick up the phone and call. This was back when all phones were based on land-line technology and people often were not at home. If I was lucky, that person had an answering machine.

Today, we communicate via instant messaging, texting, emails, and even direct phone calls. But the communications device is often within reach of the person you are trying to contact and that person will respond within seconds. I can order something off Amazon and it will be at my house in two days. In the past, we would search through catalogs, fill out a mail-order form or pick up the phone and call it in and we would have our goods in 3 to 5 weeks. Dial-up modems are a thing of the past and now the internet runs at megabit speeds.

All of this has happened within a single lifetime! People have forgotten how to slow down and enjoy life. If fact, if you're one of those people who haven't forgotten and you have patience, you'll find yourself being asked to hurry up. This sort of attitude is spreading into all aspects of our lives. If we sit down at a nice restaurant and the service is a bit slow (often due to a person calling off) the server gets blamed for being slow. Highway speeds are set for a reason but few people follow the law. The police don't even enforce the speed limit unless you're driving at least 10 miles an hour over the limit. Our tendency to rush is now putting us in danger.

People tailgate because they don't have the patience to wait. They think they can intimidate the person in front of them to speed up by riding their bumper. It causes accidents. People zoom through yellow lights because they don't have the patience to sit at a red light for 60 seconds. When the light does turn green, they hit the accelerator and slam into the person who just ran the light because neither of them have any patience. Even daily conversation is being affected. Listen carefully sometime and you'll see it. People talk over others and they don't listen to what the other person is saying because they're thinking about how to frame their reply so they can immediately blurt it out.

We live in a world of instant gratification and it's beginning to affect the quality of our lives. People don't interact with other people the way we used to. When I was a young child, I remember my mother spending all day in the kitchen baking. The neighbors would come over and my mom would sit and socialize over a cup of percolated coffee. Things were slower and more laid back then. Now, we have coffee makers that produce a cup of coffee in under 2 minutes. We don't bake our own foods. Socialization is done at such a speed it's a wonder we ever get to know the people we call friends.

I'm not going to rush my endings because it makes for a better book. If our lives are a story being written fresh every day, then why would we want to rush through any of it? Slow down. Savor your existence. Learn how to be patient. You will live a much better life.

Time to get back to editing.

2016-04-03

Burn-out

Updates
I received the comments for Dragonverse Origins from my content editor. I have not yet opened the commented manuscript but the initial response from Lee is very positive. Yesterday was a very productive writing day. I wrote for hours early in the morning while my wife slept; At the bookstore; and again at home because my wife’s sister came over for a visit with her.

I have finished re-editing and reformatting (for Kindle anyway) Ishnef’s Revenge (book 2 of the Dragonverse series). I’ve been so busy doing re-editing and reformatting that I have not had time to look to see if I have the bare artwork for the covers for the rest of the books I have left to finish in my professionalization project. As of right now, I have the following left to do:
·       Reformat Dragonverse books 1 and 2 for CreateSpace.
·       Reformat Off Course and When Ships Mutiny for Kindle and CreateSpace (no re-editing of these).
·       Look to see if I have the artwork for the above books so I can redo the covers in my new format.

Once all the above is complete, I can upload all these books to Amazon. That will herald the completion of my professionalization project. If you’ve been following my blog, you might recall that I started this process back in September – over 6 months ago.

Now that Ishnef’s Revenge has been re-edited, I will begin working on incorporating the changes to Dragonverse Origins suggested by my content editor. I hope to have those changes done and the manuscript in the hands of my wife for her proofing pass. While she does that, I’ll begin work on Peacekeeper 3. When my wife is done with her proofing, I’ll put the corrections in place and then send the near final product to a fan in Germany for his opinion.

I don’t know if he remembers, but I promised this fan the opportunity to read my next book. Even though he’s German, his English is impeccable. My wife is very good at proofing but nobody is perfect. Having a second proofreader look at the manuscript before it’s released will allow me to have confidence that I’ve found virtually all of the errors. I will start looking for a cover in the next few weeks.

Speaking of errors: If you’re a writer, you should have had it drilled into your head that you need to have your manuscript looked at by an editor. A good editor is worth their weight in platinum. But, many self-published authors don’t have the financial resources to have their books edited by a professional. Good editors are not cheap! The best alternative then is to have as many people as possible look at your book. Find people who have no qualms about telling you what needs to be fixed. If at all possible, get people who know the difference between loose and lose, who’s and whose, there and their, as well as having the ability to recognize poor grammar. Releasing a book with one or two mistakes is okay, even large publishing houses do this. But releasing a book with a spelling or grammatical error in every chapter is unacceptable.

All of this intense focus on writing these past few months has come at a price though. If I have 30 minutes of free time, I devote it to writing. My wife has complained that I spend too much time writing and she groaned when I told her I would be starting work on Peacekeeper as soon as possible. Tiffany Trent (an author whom I met at Launch Pad) has written a very good article on author burn-out. If you have a few minutes, you should read it. Authors not only have to worry about burning themselves out, they have to consider the people they live with as well. Another author I know posted a blog about this very subject. I wish I could recall who and when so I could post the link.

I’m the type of writer who listens to my readers. When they provide me with feedback, I listen and I learn. It makes me a better writer. I think it’s high time I applied that same philosophy to my life. I’ve been listening to my wife and I’ve been trying to set writing aside when she’s around. I have plenty of time to write: In the morning when she’s sleeping and I don’t have to work; After work if she’s not home; At the bookstore on weekends. My biggest problem now will be cutting back on reading Twitter. I follow every person that I’ve met at Launch Pad (those that are on Twitter anyway) and a very few others. I read every tweet. Back when I only followed a very few this wasn’t a problem. Now, I follow 70+ people and it takes quite a while to keep current. So far, I’ve managed, but after this year’s Launch Pad I’m going to have to figure out a better solution.


That’s it for this week. Time to get back to work.

2016-03-27

Happy Easter

Update
Happy Easter everyone! If you are a Christian, please remember what it is that is being celebrated. If you prefer to follow a different faith, please be considerate of those who believe differently.

My content editor has been reading Dragonverser Origins for the past week and so far it seems as if he likes what I've done with it. I'm sure he will have many suggestions for me when I get the manuscript back. But that's the purpose of haveing a second person who is not afraid of voicing their opinion read your novel. The writer is always too close to the story and it sometimes takes the insight of another person to point out where the story needs to be improved.

While Origins is being reviewed, I've been engaged in my professionalization project. I started by re-editing and reformatting Dragonverse: The Adventure Begins. That book is finished and now I'm working on Ishnef's Revenge. Although it's a much smaller book (which I may or may not decide to try to expand), Ishnef's Revenge appears to need a fair amount of re-editing. When I finish will depend on how much time I have to myself. When that book is done, I will turn to Off Course and finally When Ships Mutiny. These last two are not going to have any re-editing done. I will reformat and call them complete.

After all the re-editing and reformatting is complete, I will look into building new covers to make all the cover print look the same. New versions will be uploaded and the professionalization project will be complete. It's been a lot of work, but I firmly believe it's been worth it. I'm not an amateur writer. I've been writing for years, I get good reviews, I've continued my writing education by reading books on writing, and I've become involved in writing conferences, and other activities. And, finally, I'm a member of SFWA. It's time my books look like they were done by a professional.

Thoughts
There are times when I want to rant in this blog about how screwed up humanity is. Today is one of those days. Perhaps it's because I see how we Americans have commercialized our holidays to the point where people often forget what it is we are actually supposed to be celebrating. This gets me thinking about other things and before I know it I'm walking down that dark hallway of human history and looking at the pictures hanging on the walls of today that are showing the horrors of what we've become. It's sad to think that if every person on the planet had compassion for their fellow humans and tolerance for each other's beliefs, looks, and other features, that we could be living in a world where nobody was lacking in anything. But this is not the world we live in.

As you can see, I've started my rant - I won't bother finishing it because people don't seem to want to change and I'm just a tiny little voice among the billions living on this planet. Our leaders no longer serve the people but those who give them the most money. Greed, intolerance, self-indulgence, and lack of compassion seem to be on the rise. Violence is quickly becoming an everyday occurrence and people are becoming used to hearing about it. I, for one, am sick of it all. I no longer watch the news because it continually points out how bad society has become. There are a few good people out there, but our numbers are decreasing at an alarming rate.

As a writer, I write about futuristic societies that are based on rational beings who collectively desire to live in a peaceful, productive world. But I also try to point out the bad in people. In my stories, such people always lose. But things don't work that way in the real world. I try to write books that show what society could be like. Perhaps some day, I will be forced to write a story about what society will mostly be like one-hundred years from now. When I do, I'm not sure how it will be marketed - science fiction or horror?

In closing, I did see Batman VS Superman yesterday. As a writer, I must point out that the story is full of plot holes and inconsistencies. The ending left far too many questions unanswered. If I was an editor reading the story, I would reject it. Far too much of the film takes place in darkened scenes making me wonder if the sun ever comes up in their universe. The entertainment value was okay but if you want to really enjoy this movie you will need to disengage your higher level brain functions, stop asking the obvious questions, and just watch the movie.

Time to get back to editing. Enjoy your Easter!