Let the Insanity Commence!

The frantic, insomnia inducing event of the year is nearly upon. No, I don’t refer to Black Friday. I mean, of course, NaNoWriMo. It’s sort of a combination of the Running of the Bulls and a fever dream. It seemed like a good idea when the notion initially entered our heads, but after the first week or two the sheer folly of our decision weighs heavy upon us. And like the fever dream it seems to never end. My father once told me you can put up with anything for six months. He obviously never sat down to partake in the NaNoWriMo. Fifty thousand words a month stretched out over a period of six months would kill many a hardened soul. A mere thirty days leaves a good many drooling, twitching victims collapsed at their laptops.

I’ve participated in the NaNoWriMo three times now, and succeeded only once. Most of the time it just grows to be too much. School or work or the simple need for food and sleep get in the way. Once a few days are missed and the need to catch up hangs heavy over my head, I often collapse under the pressure. Will that happen this year? In all probability, yes. But that won’t stop me from giving it a go. I succeeded once and from that success sprang my first book. Regardless, it’s good to challenge myself, and despite the insanity of the entire ordeal, a sense of community has sprung up around the event, making it a quest of sorts, shared by other souls anxious to leave their mark.

I don’t have vast amounts of writing wisdom to bestow upon you. For that seek the knowledge of folks like Chuck Wendig or Brandon Sanderson. I’m just here to give you a thumbs up on your decision to give the whole NaNoWriMo thing a try. Even if you don’t reach the magical fifty thousand words by the end of November, you’ll have learn something. Most of what you write will make you cringe when you go back to reread it, but you may find a few glistening dew drop gems lurking in there too. Characters you thought you knew might surprise you. This isn’t the characters running off and having a life of their own, it’s a sign of your subconscious knitting the details of the story together and responding to the changes. You’re learning more about how certain personalities will react in a given situation.

So, I’ll leave you with what little I do know in terms of succeeding in your insane quest for greatness:

  • If you can escape to a private room away from other humans and pets, do so. I have five cats and they rotate between who is climbing on my computer, clawing my leg or yelling for attention.
  • Get some sleep. The more tired you are, the more muddled your thoughts, and the greater your frustration levels.
  • Back off the starchy carbs and stay hydrated. I won’t preach for or against caffeine, despite the fact that it acts as a diuretic. I don’t drink coffee, but I consume enough diet soda to personally keep Coke in business. Just try to add some water in there once in a while. It does wonders for clearing your head.
  • Don’t go back and read and reread what you hammered out the previous days. This isn’t about quality. It’s about quantity. After you’ve recovered you can go back through the whole mess and start your cleanup job. Save that for December, January or even February. After thirty straight days of continuous writing, you deserve a break. You need to get away from your work and come back fresh.

That’s it, just simple stuff, really. So pop over to NaNoWriMo central and set up an account. Make a few friends and challenge existing friends so you can help each other get through the grueling days ahead of you. And have some fun along the way. If we’re not having fun torturing ourselves, why are we here?

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SELF-PRINTED: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing (3rd edition)

No, I haven’t gone mad and put out a how-to book on self-publishing. How riotous would that be?

No, Catherine Ryan Howard is the author and she’s been at this longer than me. She is just now putting out the third edition of her book, and it’s fully updated and full of advice for folks like me – and possibly you!

Here is some more information concerning Ms. Howard and her new release:

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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  

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In addition to all this, I asked Ms. Howard a question, a burning question, mind you, concerning my sad state in terms of social media. SHOCKINGLY (LoL), there is no magic spell one can cast that will allow avoidance of hard work and social interaction (sob!).  Here is my question, followed by Catherine’s answer:
As a new author who is completely inept with social networking, and didn’t think about how to market myself until AFTER my book came out, what is the ONE thing you think I could do that would help people find my book.
 Well, Lee, first I have to give you some bad news. You’ve kind of given me a lot of clues in the wording of your sentence (“completely inept”, “didn’t think about how to market myself”, “the ONE thing”) that you’re perhaps looking for the easy way out…? Is that a fair observation? I mean, there’s free information all over the internet – including on my blog – about how to help sell copies of your book. But you want to know the “ONE” thing you could do. The bad news is, one thing isn’t enough. You have to do as much as you can. And while you say you’re “completely inept” it really isn’t that difficult to figure out how to post a tweet – I promise! The thought of using social media is actually a lot worse than actually doing it. 😀
I think what happens is that people get intimidated by all this silly talk of SEO and social media and why 5:03 GMT is the best time to tweet. FORGET ALL THAT CRAP (I say). Social media = word of mouth. That’s all it is. But if you’ve self-published, you simply will have to embrace it in order to do well. There’s no other way. I can’t think of one anyway. If you publish (sell) a product online, you must be prepared to promote it online. Them’s the rules.

Another thing I would say is that it’s not your job to help people to find your book. Your job is to make them want to buy your book, to be interested in. To make them say to themselves, “I MUST read that!” Keep that in mind. It’s an important difference.

 
So while I can’t really answer your question – because nothing in isolation works by itself – what I would recommend you do is:
 
1. Take a step back. Consider that you have to either embrace social media, or give up on your self-publishing goals.
 
2. Spend some time online seeing what other self-publishers are up to. What do they do? How do they use Twitter? What do they blog about? Have they had any great promotion ideas? Read some guides. Maybe watch some YouTube videos. Find out as much as you can about other writers use social media to sell their books. 
 
3. Use what you learned in #2 to make a promotional plan for you and your book. Give yourself enough time to get comfortable with Twitter etc. and spread your plan out over 3 months.
 
4. Re-launch your book with this plan. 
 
5. Repeat as required.
 
Good luck! 

 

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Setting Up a Design Brief for a Cover Contest (Part II)

Here we are at part two of my advice for people starting up a crowd sourcing competition for a book cover. I hope the first part helped you along the way toward setting up a contest with few headaches. Today I’ll add a few more items so you will avoid pitfalls in your quest for artistic glory.

1) Did you lose your mind and include the kitchen sink? It’s very tempting to wish for every single exciting thing from your story to appear on the cover. For the love of the Great Spiny, don’t do it. Pick some key elements that will show potential readers what your story is about, but don’t get carried away and ask designers to create a visual synopsis. If you write a design brief that says something like — Must have a snowy mountain range in the back with a castle that has five round towers and at least three bridges wedged in amongst the peaks (and the castle is on fire), with the sun coming over the edge and rays of light spilling into the foreground where the four heroes, one gold dragon, a magic user with mystical symbols on his cloak, a black staff with a glowing orb and a red cape, a half-orc barbarian with dreadlocks (female – muscular but not ugly), and an invisible dude (but make him look like glass or something so we can see him), are standing on a road leading to the castle, with the half-orc looking over her shoulder at a forest they just left that is full of frolicking fairies (many different colors of fairies). And a unicorn. It HAS to have a unicorn. And it has wings. And on the back I need a gigantic dragon eye like from the poster for “The Hobbit”, and here’s my author photo and my back copy — then you have committed book cover suicide.

Write a design brief like that and if you’re lucky three people will attempt to do everything you ask. However, the end result will be nightmarish. If you actually use one of those designs, it will look like a crazed smudge when it gets turned into a teeny thumbnail on Amazon.
What’s more likely to happen (assuming anyone tries at all) is that the artists will attempt to edit down your request on their own. They might latch onto the flying unicorn and the rainbow-colored fairies, but completely avoid the rest of the scene. At that point you’ll be disappointed because even though you were insistent about the unicorn, it’s only in ten percent of the story and doesn’t really convey the feel of your overall story. You would have been better off asking for the four heroes to be represented, moving toward a mountain range. It shows the journey which is a key part of your story, and folks might be drawn in by the unusual makeup of the party.
So, before you right your design brief, really think about what the overall theme of your story is. Who and what stand out as the driving forces that will make for a compelling image.

2) Did you communicate during AND after the contest? So, a while back I was chosen to do the cover for this person’s book. I sent them the ebook version of the cover and then proceeded to wait for them to give me the final dimensions for the print version of their book. I’m still waiting. Once they wrote and asked for a PNG of just the title for their web page. I sent it, along with a request for them to get the print information to me. Nothing. No acknowledgement that they got the PNG, and no info about their print book. Then they sent me a log to incorporate into the cover. Still no info about the final product. I asked and got no response.

Part of this goes back to number two from part one of this series. Be prepared. Obviously this person didn’t get their print formatting done before they dove into the cover process. They probably didn’t know that the cover dimensions will vary depending on their page count and paper weight. I understand, that is often part of the learning how to self publish. But don’t leave your designer hanging. Let them know where you’re at in the process. Do you have an ETA on when you will be ready to commit to a cover size? Be up front about what is going on, what delays you’re running into. Heck, they may be able to help you get over a hurdle or two.

The point is, the artist would like to do covers for other people, and they may be concerned about taking on a new project if yours is still hanging out there. The artist doesn’t want to be put in the position of turning down work because they may be called in to finish your cover out of the blue. Some folks thrive on chaos, but a lot do not. Many prefer to devote themselves fully to a project, complete it to everyone’s satisfaction, and then move on to the next job.

3) Are you a pompous, pain in the rear end? Don’t be rude. Don’t denigrate people’s work. Don’t tell people one thing and then when they follow your instructions get sarcastic and condescending because it doesn’t look like what you imagined in your superior brain.

If you had this great idea for your cover, but it’s just not working out in practice, be up front about it. Tell folks, “Hey, I know I thought it would be really cool to have glowing yellow rain, but now I realize it looks like nuclear pee, so I’m sorry, but I think I’d better just have you guys do regular rain. I’ve updated my design brief to reflect this.” Odds are the artists will laugh and make the alterations without batting an eye. But if you instead go on the attack and tell people they’re a bunch of incompetent dweebs because they’re not getting the right shade of nuclear green for your rain, then folks will go find someone less nasty to work for.

Be nice, answer questions, ask questions, and most people will bend over backwards to accommodate you.

I hope this short series will help you get your dream cover. I’ve seen some beautiful work get produced because the author went into the process prepared and attracted skilled artists to their contest. And remember, if you create a positive relationship with an artist, in the future you can contact them for a 1-on-1 project and that will help give your series a sense of consistency. Everyone wins!