NaNoPubMo: Day 6

Decisions, decisions. Not having found a website creator whose services or procedures made sense to me, I started thinking about doing it myself. I already have an amateur, hand-coded site, but maybe with WordPress — which most of those site creators use anyway — I could do something that would look professional.

First stop,, which hosts the very blog you’re reading. They will indeed let you create a site using templates (a.k.a. themes) and your own URL. But a little scouting around for information led quickly to the conclusion that the service is rather limited.

The wordpress software itself, however, is free and open-source. How about downloading it and creating the site right here on my desktop? This turns out to be more of a techie hassle than I want to deal with. I would have to set up my own local server and install mySQL and PHP on it. I could certainly do this, but we’re talking days of headaches.

It turns out there’s an intermediate path. Right now I’m looking at a place called SiteGround. I also looked at Wix, but their site designs are too glitzy and too graphics-intensive for me.

SiteGround hosts the site (for $4 per month) and provides some support. As a client, you then choose a WordPress theme, customize it, and create your own site directly on their server. The comparison between $4 per month and a $2,000 up-front fee is fairly compelling. Some authors are, I’m sure, not techie enough to want to do it this way, but I should be able to manage it. I hope.

The savings I can pass on to a cover artist to do illustrations. I actually have two cover artists on the job at the moment; they don’t know about one another, but that’s okay, I’m not going to stiff either of them on the payment. One is doing a cover using stock photos, the other is doing an illustration. Heck, I can try the same book with two different covers and see which of them sells better (if either of them sells at all).

Once I have a cover in hand, I’ll have to think more deeply about Smashwords. Their service is, you sent them a properly formatted .doc of your novel, and they format it for ebook to sell on iBook (Apple), Barnes & Noble, and so forth. They take a small cut of your royalty payments and send the rest on to you. They don’t, however, upload to Amazon, so I’ll have to do that myself in any case. This is not terribly difficult — the tools, such as Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions, are free.

Here’s what worries me, though: What would happen to my royalties if Smashwords went bankrupt or was bought out by a conglomerate that decided to unilaterally raise their rates? Would it be possible for me to withdraw from the Smashwords contract and tell Apple and B&N to send payments directly to me? If that were possible, Smashwords clients would be able to rip off Smashwords! But if it’s not possible, clients stand to get screwed in the event of a business shakeup.

The details could be spelled out in the client’s contract with Smashwords, of course — but why would Apple or B&N pay a bit of attention to such a contract? They wouldn’t be a party to it! Their contract is with Smashwords, and I do not want to sit here and read through an entire contract drafted by two teams of corporate lawyers (even if they would send me a copy, which they wouldn’t) in order to figure out how my rights were being protected.

The alternative is, I ignore Smashwords. I upload to both Amazon and iBook myself, and possibly B&N too. Eliminate the middle man. It’s more work, but more money and more reliability too. I’ve asked Smashwords to clarify this question for me; we’ll see how they respond. It’s probably not the kind of question they want people to ask.

What I need in order to upload to iBook myself is access to a Mac with OSX 10.11, because the iBook conversion software only runs on Mac, and I’m a Windows guy. (Pause for a cheerful round of, “Fuck you, Apple.”) My elderly MacBook Pro has never been upgraded from 10.8.5, and also it doesn’t really talk much to the wireless router anymore. Downloading a new OS just ain’t gonna happen on that machine. I’m sure I can find a friend or two with a Mac, though, so that’s probably not a huge problem.

Not to leave you feeling glum, here’s the fun bit: The artist who is doing my first cover illustration asked me for some action scenes from the novels so he could think about what type of image would work best. And what I’ve discovered is that it gives my spirits a real lift when someone else is reading my story (even short excerpts) and responding.

That’s what it’s all about. It gives me enough energy to dig in and finish the final edits today. Of course it’s been almost a week since I did any editing. Now where did I leave off?

NaNoPubMo: Day 4

The process of publishing my novels would be so much smoother and less stressful if I could find a company that would do it all — the website, the book covers, the uploads to ebook shops, and so on. Maybe a little help with my social media promotion too. Wouldn’t that be grand?

A couple of days ago I found a site that promises exactly that. I’m not going to name them, because I don’t want to get into a wrangle. Sadly, what at first appeared to be a great option is starting to feel a little flimsy. Let’s look at a few details.

Their basic price for a do-it-all package for your book is about $1,600. Since some companies charge $2,500 or more just for a website, this seems like a good deal. Their sales rep phoned me and we had a nice chat. He seems to know his stuff — I didn’t get a sense that he was ducking and weaving. He then sent me an email with a few more details, such as potential cost savings if I use their service for a four-book series.

Their site has a page describing their book cover design services. On this page are thumbnails that open to reveal collages of dozens and dozens of book covers. Wow — a busy, active company, right? So I jot down the names of a few authors and books and head out to Amazon to take a look at their books. Yes, these are real authors with real books. Last week I did the same thing with another company and found that the “book covers” were actually mock-up designs for nonexistent books. So far, so good.

I use a search engine to look at the authors’ websites. I send messages to five of them asking about their experiences with this company.

The email from the sales guy mentions that his company will be the “publisher of record” of the novel(s). This is a phrase that has a legal meaning, which I have asked him to explain. Being curious by nature, I went back to Amazon and looked at the front matter of those novels using the Look Inside feature.

Curiously, none of them mentions this company as the publisher. However, three of the half-dozen I looked at did mention a cover designer in the front matter. Their covers were designed by a different company.

Then I get a reply from one of the authors. He has never heard of the do-it-all company. How interesting.

I look at the site of the company that is credited with those cover designs. Aha. Their pricing for covers is exactly the same as the pricing of the do-everything company I’m considering. What I’m guessing is that the do-everything company farms out their cover design work to the specialty cover designer, and is using the cover designer’s work on their own site without being clear that that’s what they’re doing.

But wait — there’s more. On the do-everything company’s page explaining their website design service, there are only six thumbnails showing individual sites. Only six, when there are dozens of book covers? That’s odd. Of the six, one is under construction and one seems not to exist at all. So in reality, as far as can be determined, this company has engineered a total of four websites.

That’s two strikes. They only get one more. One of the follow-up questions I asked the sales guy was this: His company collects royalties for the books they handle, and then passes the royalties (100%, they say, with a $49 per year charge for the service) to the author. So I asked him, what happens if his company goes out of business or is perhaps acquired by a larger company that decides unilaterally to change the terms of the service? How exactly would I go about withdrawing from this arrangement and receiving my royalties without an intermediary?

This is likely to be a tough question for him to answer. I’m betting it will be Strike Three. We’ll see.

It’s all about due diligence. In order to find a company that I want to work with, I have to know which cup has the pea under it. What fun (not).

NaNoPubMo: Day 2

For many years, I’ve maintained the attitude that my job is to write. Marketing, promotion, and distribution are not among my areas of expertise. This idea worked well for me while I was an editor at Keyboard. That was a business, and I was just an employee. But a self-publishing author has, sad to say, responsibility for everything.

Also, as I’ve gotten older (I’m now 68) I find that stress is more difficult for me to manage. I don’t like stress. I like relaxing and being creative. By mid-morning today, I was ready to bite the head off of a squirrel. I just do not want to be doing this stuff. It’s insane.

I sent an email to the web design company that I mentioned yesterday, the one that said they would do the “wireframe” first. I suggested that that was sort of backwards — that I thought I’d like to see the design first, before they put any time into coding. The guy emailed me back and said, “What I hear is that you’re uncertain about our process and the considerable expense, which I can completely understand, especially if you’ve never been through something like this. I will say that I’ve used this methodology to build 50+ websites, so it’s pretty tried and true.” He said, “I’m not really a hard sales guy — I only want to work with clients who are 100% comfortable with our work and confident that we’re going to deliver what they want.  I’m going to set this one aside — let’s not move forward at this time.”

In other words, it’s his way or the highway. Okay, fine.

I found a company not far from me that specializes in author website work. Their portfolio looks highly professional. The person who responded to my query mentioned a price range from $5K to $25K. Considering that most firms are charging from $1,000 to $2,500 for this service, I won’t be pursuing a business relationship with them.

There are some firms, it turns out, that will do the whole thing as a package deal — book cover, website, ebook formatting, and assorted promotional activities. This could be a brilliant solution, if I could find a good one. But how does one evaluate them?

One has a $3,000 package that includes all of the above, plus editing (which I don’t need), plus mysterious items like “Book Launch Strategy,” “Amazon Bestseller Status,” and “Author Branding.” That’s the $3,000 package, and covers books up to 30,000 words. Additional words are $150 per 10,000. For a 100,000-word novel (one book in a four-book series) I’d be paying them more than $4,000. My guess is that those mysterious but perky-sounding items in the package are designed to sound sexy to first-time authors who are very vague about what they need. Of course I could be wrong! Serious interrogation would be needed to learn what exactly their services are.

Serious interrogation = more stress.

And then we get to the virtual author assistant. There’s a website and an organization for these people, who are certified (though what the certification amounts to is anybody’s guess). The going rate seems to be from $35 to $80 per hour. As these people are virtual, not on-site, I can’t imagine it would be easy to confirm that they’re actually slaving away for the amount of time shown on their invoices. This type of service seems designed to appeal to busy executives who have written a book to sell or give away at high-powered business conferences. If you’re putting away $200 an hour in your day job, hiring an assistant to handle your book makes perfect sense. If you’re a retired guy on a fixed income, maybe not so much.

I spent the afternoon making funny noises on my synthesizer. I just do not want to deal with this crap. But the day is not over yet. I just got an email from a cover artist with four more comps that I have to look at.

NaNoPubMo: Day 1

Today we officially begin the grand experiment I’m calling NaNoPubMo — National Novel Publishing Month. NaNoWriMo is a real thing, held every November, but I already have five completed novels on my hard drive. I don’t need to write any more of them, not quite yet.

NaNoPubMo is a learning experience, for sure. And not a cheap one. This morning I’m contemplating a proposal from a web design company that specializes in author websites. Their design-and-implementation package costs $2,500. This is a bit high, but not unreasonable for professional website creation. The proposal is really quite detailed — and yet there’s not a word in it about whether I’ll have approval of the visual design.

This is an odd omission. I think I need to ask more questions. But possibly it’s an industry norm. Here’s a revealing quote from a different author website design company: “Step Three: Building Your Website. Upon receipt of payment [which is 50%, the usual deposit], our publicist will discuss the look and feel of your site.” Gee, guys — isn’t that kind of backwards? Shouldn’t I approve of the design before I send you the big bucks?

Meanwhile, on another channel, I ordered three hats for a professional portrait photo shoot, the intent being to wear a hat so I’ll look a little more interesting and a little less like myself. The hats (from Amazon, of course) weren’t on the porch last night, I know this because it was Halloween. This morning at 9:45, two boxes were on the porch — and the doorbell had not rung. Weird. Now I have to decide whether to get a haircut before the shoot.

Trying to nail down the right series title for my four-book series. Did a quick survey of a bunch of possible titles on a Facebook authors’ group. Got an idea or two for a new story, but decided not to use any of those titles. My decision (still tentative, as cover design is ongoing) is to put “THE ADVENTURE BEGINS…” at the bottom of the Book 1 cover, and then for the other three books go with “LEAFSTONE, Book 2”, “LEAFSTONE, Book 2”, and so forth. Book 1 is called The Leafstone Shield, so putting “LEAFSTONE, Book 1” at the bottom would be horribly redundant.

I rejected “Leafstone Chronicles,” “Leafstone Saga,” and such phrases. I don’t like those words, and they don’t add anything.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I’m starting to think about Book 5. That may or may not ever happen. I’m still doing the final edits on the current series — I’m now halfway through Book 4.

While researching cover design, I’ve spent considerable time on Amazon looking at the covers of fantasy novels. Along the way I noticed that many of them (presumably self-published) are available for Kindle for $0.00. These are mostly Book 1, presumably of a series, and the authors are using Book 1 as a sort of gateway drug. So I’ve downloaded more than a dozen of them, and glanced at the opening pages of two or three.

I’m not going to have any trouble rising to the top of the heap in the literary quality department, that much is blazingly clear. Here’s an example, not from a downloaded Kindle book but a prominently displayed line directly beneath the banner photo of an author on his personal site (not naming the author to avoid embarrassing him): “It was as if the pitiless flank of life had appropriated a deep gasp and obliterated the light that was once the engine of hope. They simply no longer existed…” That, including the pronoun with no antecedent, is the entire quotation. The pitiless flank of life — dang! This individual quite obviously feels that this is among the most inspired or inspiring lines in his oeuvre.

I rest my case.

The hard part will be getting readers to notice my books. Rumor has it that social media are a spiffy way to do this — or can be, if you’re smart and industrious. Unfortunately, the prospect of spending hours every day hanging out on Pinterest, Google+, Twitter, and God knows where else gives me wall-climbing, hair-pulling screaming fits. I do not want to do this.

Fortunately, I don’t have to think about it yet. Let’s get the books up on Amazon and iBooks first and worry about social media marketing later.

NaNoPubMo: Day -2 and Counting

Spent an hour this afternoon having a chat on Skype with a talented fellow who does illustrations for book covers. While we were talking, he roughed out a possible cover for me to look at, and his prices for a self-publishing author are very reasonable — no more than I would pay someone for covers based on stock photos.

I’m not sure I’m going to hire him, though. I had presented him with an idea (which I thought and still think was pretty spiffy) for a single image that I could use on the cover of an omnibus edition ebook containing all four novels in the series. Somehow, without a word from me, he started talking about doing four separate covers. I didn’t correct him — I let him roll with it. I was curious what he would come up with.

The cover he roughed out was a chalice for The Firepearl Chalice — and that’s not a cover that would be hard to do by manipulating a stock photo. He suggested unifying the four covers with a decorative border that would be the same for all four, but in poking around on Amazon I’m not seeing any fantasy novels at all whose covers use a decorative border. He didn’t talk about color schemes or font choices. And he didn’t mention turning an ebook cover into a print cover, which is pretty standard stuff for cover designers to think about.

Last but perhaps not least, I read somewhere recently that redundancy on a cover is a waste of space. The example being, if your cover shows a person with fangs, you don’t need the word “vampire” in the title. That would be redundant. So if you have a novel called The Firepearl Chalice (and no, the title isn’t going to change), possibly putting a beautiful chalice on the cover is not necessary. Maybe instead you want the ruins of a city overgrown by jungle (an important setting in the book), or Kyura falling off of a high ledge as a dragon leaps toward her, its wings spread.

I didn’t mention this possibility to the artist. I may follow up with an email to him. I haven’t given up on the guy, I’m just trying to weigh all the factors.

I’m seeing quite a few fantasy covers lately that have centered static objects. (If you’re curious, do a quick search on Amazon for Will Wight’s Cradle series, Patty Jansen’s Icefire trilogy, or The Midnight Sea by Kat Ross.) That’s what a chalice or the Leafstone Shield would look like on the cover.

The alternative in the fantasy genre seems to be stock photos of people and mysterious but probably not very story-related backgrounds. (The Change by Teyla Branton is as good an example as any — again, easy to find on Amazon.) A cover should be simple, I get that. But maybe a static object isn’t good, or maybe it shouldn’t be centered. One expert said, “Centered design is good. When we judge whether people are attractive, one of the things our brain looks for is symmetry.” That’s certainly true. Evolution has equipped us with that instinct. And yet, another expert advises that when having a photo of yourself taken for your website, you want asymmetry, not symmetry. Symmetrical face photos, this expert suggested, are boring. I’m pretty sure that’s true too. So maybe my original idea of an asymmetrical cover design would be better than stampeding with the herd.

Or maybe an all-white cover with a gold decorative border and no image at all. There’s an idea. It would stand out. And hey, it worked for the Beatles. But that was a long time ago. I’m showing my age again.

NaNoPubMo: Day -4 and Counting

Two phone consultations today with possible website designers. These companies specialize in author websites, which I guess will save time. Still, there are way too many things to think about. One company offers a very attractive price up front, but it turns out there are add-ons. $800 for the basic package (compared to $2,000+ from some other companies), but then they’re going to host your site on their server for $240 per year. If you need to add more images — such as, for instance, book covers — they charge $100 per hour for that.

Will I own the rights to the graphic design they provide? And what happens to my site if their company goes belly-up? Good questions.

But the confusion in that area pales beside the confusion when I start thinking about marketing through social media. It’s a pig sty, basically. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Google+, Vine, Goodreads, Bookbub — each with its own user interface to learn and its own arcane methods for connecting with people. You could spend 40 hours a week on this crap, never do a lick of writing, and never attract more than a handful of customers.

I don’t know what I would ever tweet about, nor how I would acquire followers. And the chirpy 25-year-old bloggers who purport to explain such things leave huge gaps in their explanations, either because they’re taking important things for granted and not bothering to explain, or because there aren’t any answers at all to those questions.


Today I ordered three hats from Amazon for an upcoming photo shoot. I’m not sure a hat will actually improve my appearance — maybe a catcher’s face mask would be a better option. But hats it is. $100 floating away on the wind.

NaNoPubMo: Day -5 and Counting

Today’s tip: Budget for mistakes. I’m setting up various things that cost money — not just a book cover but a professionally designed website and (gasp, shudder) a professional portrait photo. I’m not just blundering around. In each case I’m looking at the person or company offering the service, attempting to evaluate their portfolio, asking about pricing, looking for recommendations, and so forth.

Even so, it’s not to be expected that I’ll choose the right person or company every time. At least one will turn out to be inadequate, and I may not find that out until I’ve shelled out a sizable chunk of cash. Book cover designers often ask for 50% payment up front, to start work.

If you’re strapped for cash, trying to start a self-publishing endeavor is bound to be stress-inducing at best. It could turn out to be a bottomless pit. (I’ve seen a few covers that authors designed for themselves. I’m no more talented as a graphic designer than those other authors are. I just have more disposable income, that’s all.)

Meanwhile, on Channel Two, I’m continuing the final edits on my fantasy series/saga. Halfway through Book III now, only one and a half books to go. (Lots more editing work after that, of course. I have a 3/4-complete file of a short story anthology I have to put together, and another novel that’s finished and waiting to go, and so on.)

A series needs a series title, right? Book I is called The Leafstone Shield. I can just put “LEAFSTONE BOOK 2” on the cover of the next volume, and so forth — that’s easy. But what term do I use when I need to refer to the series in print materials? I dislike the word “saga” rather intensely. “Epic” has a bit of the flavor of Medieval fantasy, which is not what I want. “Adventure” is too long a word, and isn’t very colorful. “The Leafstone Chronicles”? The story isn’t really chronicles; I think of chronicles as diary entries.

The land that Kyura is trying to save from the evil schemes of the Lord Dahilio Rundel is called Sa’akna. But “Rescuing Sa’akna”? Quite aside from the fact that “rescuing” is a cliche, putting apostrophes in names is also a cliche. The apostrophe I’m stuck with, but I don’t much want to wave it around in a series title. “The Story of Kyura”? Way too vague.

Thinking out loud here. Sorry. But hey, this series of blog posts is a documentary. This is the stuff I’m having to ponder. How about “Gods, Ghosts, & Dragons”? That’s dramatic, for sure. There’s only one ghost, though, and he’s not a major character. Maybe something will come to me. If not, it’s going to be the Leafstone Saga.

NaNoPubMo: Day -7 and Counting

Today I gave the go-ahead to a more established cover designer. She wants $250 for a cover, or $800 for a four-book series, which seems reasonable. We’ll start with one cover. If I don’t like it — well, one of the advantages I have (one of several) is that I can blow $250 if I have to. I’d rather not, but it’s not going to mean I’ll be eating Top Ramen.

My light reading-matter at the dinner table these days is Author Publisher Entrepreneur by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch. Yes, an actual paper book (gasp!). Not everything in it is relevant to me, but I look at books of this sort in a simple way: If I find one tip that saves me $20, I’ve paid for the book. Every page doesn’t have to be a gem. In this particular book, I don’t need the statistics on the tectonic shift in publishing, I already know that stuff. And I’m not concerned with their advice to writers. But when they get into the varieties of formatting (for Kindle, iBook, Kobo, etc.), I’m learning stuff.

Tonight I’m starting the search for a web designer. Turns out there are now web design firms that specialize in author websites. Still early days — we’ll see how that plays out.

Today I got back to editing my novel series. I’m now creeping up on halfway through Book III. Fluff it up a little here, nip and tuck there — it’s not a heavy edit. But last night I hit a scene that was boring. I’ve read all of the scenes in the story a dozen times, and none of the others has ever struck me that way. What’s happening in the scene is, the good guys are planning what they’re going to do next. No action, just talking heads. What to do? Inject a pointless argument? Maybe not an ideal solution.

I decided to try something completely different.

Most of the book is in third-person limited viewpoint. If you’re not a fiction writer, you may not know what this means. It means that in any given scene, the reader is in one character’s head, and only one character’s. It’s third person, past tense (“She stared out the window, wondering when Steven would arrive.”), but you can never see or know anything that that character doesn’t see or know. There are, in the course of my four volumes, at least twenty different viewpoint characters, but with only a couple of trivial and carefully structured exceptions there’s only one viewpoint character per scene.

In the boring scene, one of the characters is a spunky farm boy. He’s so fearless, he invited himself along on the heroine’s mad adventure — demanded that she and her friends let him hop up on the wagon and ride off into the unknown. In the boring scene he’s just sitting there while the adults talk about stuff. So I started wondering, what if I switch to first person narration for this one scene, from the point of view of Dunny? Let him tell the reader what’s going on, and give us his unvarnished reactions to it.

In essence, Dunny pushed himself into the narration just as boldly as he pushed himself into the story. The kid is a pistol! He’s a very secondary character, almost lost among six or eight primary characters, but this one scene gives him a chance to strut his stuff.

Switching from third person to first person for one scene in the middle of a novel is, of course, a risky technique. Readers may be disoriented. But that’s one of the advantages of self-publishing! I know darn well a New York corporate publishing house would never let me get away with it. Where we’re at here, it’s totally my call. If I fall on my face, so be it. The way I look at it, in a story of this length, doing stuff that’s different is almost essential to keep the reader engaged. That’s my excuse. Dunny didn’t need an excuse, he just pushed his way in and said, “Here, let me do it.”


NaNoPubMo: Day -8 and Counting

I don’t mind working hard when I have a reason to. Right now my back is aching a bit because I’ve been at the computer all day, but that’s okay. (I do get up to brew more coffee, thanks for asking.)

Today’s NaNoPubMo activities have been fairly rewarding. I emailed back and forth with several book cover designers. A guy I met in a Facebook writers’ group is interested in getting into the book design game, so he’s going to try whipping up a cover for my book for a very modest price. Whether or not he comes up with something great, the dialog process itself has already been helpful. I’m having to think not only about what sort of cover will portray my story accurately, but also about whether the design speaks clearly about the genre.

I’d like to feel I’m sort of transcending genre categorization, at least a little bit. But genre is a marketing category, not a literary category. If people aren’t attracted by the cover because they think the book is something it isn’t, or think it isn’t what it is, everybody loses.

Also: symmetry. I spent a lot of years in magazine publishing, where the cover design always forced the type over to the left. The left two inches of a magazine cover are often all that can be seen on the newsstand rack. (Are there even newsstand racks anymore?) For a book, that’s not an issue, so symmetry is better.

This afternoon I dug into the process of formatting a book manuscript for ebook distribution. The idea is, you never format a paragraph manually: You use paragraph styles in your word processor. I get that. But the Smashwords Style Guide is a little too Procrustean in instructing how to do it. They tell you to copy-all into Notepad and then back, which will strip out all of the formatting. Yeah, but my first attempt stripped all of the italicized words out of my text. For a work of fiction, that’s a disaster. Fortunately, I noticed it quickly and reversed course.

OpenOffice has a bug in the paragraph formatting routine that causes it not to remember that a page break before the paragraph is part of your defined style. I need that break for ebook formatting, so I downloaded Libre Office. It includes the page break properly in the style. I think I just switched to a new word processor. (Still using Scrivener for actual writing, of course.)

I downloaded Calibre, a free ebook conversion program. After a couple of false starts and a suggestion from a guy on Facebook, I tried saving my document from Libre Office in Word’s .docx format. Calibre then stopped being balky and cooperatively converted it to an EPUB or a MOBI. The Smashwords instructions on how to create a table of contents with bookmarks and hyperlinks are in a video — very handy. My test of this feature worked! I was able to load the MOBI file into the Kindle app and click on the bookmarks.

I also downloaded Adobe Digital Editions (another free app) to test the EPUB file. Strangely, that version displays my dummy cover image. The Kindle app doesn’t. There are still a bunch of things to figure out.

Having spent many years dealing with software (and publishing), I’m in a fairly good position to get this stuff working. I really feel for the writer who may have produced a great book but who is a novice (or worse, phobic) when it comes to the technology.

A day of progress. I sort of wish I had done some actual writing or editing today. Maybe tomorrow I’ll get back to that. Wearing several hats now.

NaNoPubMo: Day -9 and Counting

Probably most of my two dozen semi-regular readers have heard of NaNoWriMo — National Novel-Writing Month. The idea is to encourage anyone and everyone to write a novel. November is NaNoWriMo. If you write 2,000 words a day, at the end of the month you’ll have a 60,000-word manuscript. That’s novel-length. Whether your novel will be any good — well, let’s not be too fussy about that. Getting people to tackle such an ambitious project is a terrific idea, and almost anyone will learn valuable lessons by doing it.

I already have several novels ready to go, so I don’t need to do any writing at the moment. I am therefore declaring November my personal NaNoPubMo. Self-publishing is more of a challenge for me than writing. I suspect that having the incentive of a successful NaNoPubMo dangling before me will be very helpful.

Today I’m proceeding through the final edits in Book II of my four-volume epic fantasy. I’m also continuing to mull over the perplexing business of cover art for the series. I need to make a decision about hiring a cover designer, and soon.

There’s no shortage of professional cover designers. Prices average in the $200-$600 range per cover. That’s not cheap, but I can afford it, and I want something good. (I’m not a graphic designer; doing it myself would be a tragic mistake.) I’ve emailed a couple of them already to ask about discount pricing for a four-book series.

The difficulty is, I don’t actually like any of the cover art that these designers display in their portfolios. Nor do I like the cover art I’m seeing on Amazon. There’s a distressing sameness to it. If you want your book to stand out in a virtual bookstore, to pique the customer’s curiosity, why would you want your book to look like everybody else’s?

My series is certainly fantasy, and it’s certainly an epic, but it’s not epic fantasy, if you see what I mean. There are no knights in chain mail hacking at one another. The covers for fantasy novels are typically dark. They typically have one human figure, either large and facing forward, or smaller and facing away from the viewer. The background behind the figure is usually ominous or turbulent. The images are always full-bleed, a technical term that means they run straight out to the edge. And the cover type (the title and author name) is almost always centered.

The conventional wisdom in cover-design circles seems to be that that’s what works. But does it really work? If everybody is doing it the same way, where would we get statistics on how well it works compared to other possibilities?

So that’s one process. On channel two, the editing is going well. Aspiring writers are urged to hire a professional editor, and that’s very good advice! I’m ignoring it. I spent 30 years as a professional editor. Of nonfiction, it’s true, and my typing is sloppier than it was when I was younger, so a few odd mistakes may creep in — but honestly, I don’t see the need to shell out $5,000 or more for an edit of an entire four-volume epic. Grammar, punctuation, and word usage I’ve got nailed down cold.

As I go along, I’m taking notes of possible continuity problems. In Book I, Dahilio Rundel (the chief villain) refers to the Lady Siallon as “my associate.” But I’m pretty sure in Book IV it turns out she’s his aunt. My memory is good, but rather than flip back and forth across 1,200 pages, I’m taking notes. When I get to the end, I’ll go back and tidy up a few things of this sort.

In Book II Spindler loses his pistol, but in Book III he definitely has a pistol. I need to know where he got a new one. [Spoiler alert.] At the end of Book I Kyura (my main heroine) is heroically galloping off bareback on a white horse, but a post in the SFWA forum yesterday pointed out that horses are not vehicles. Riding a horse is a skill. What’s worse, I had Kyura jump from the back of the horse onto a moving train. In thinking over her serious lack of skill at riding, it occurred to me that you can’t jump from the back of a horse unless there are stirrups! All you can do is slide off. So I had to change the details of the scene.

That’s how NaNoPubMo is going today. Join me tomorrow for a fresh bulletin!