I'm back from book release recovery and rolling up my sleeves, friends. I was going to ease my way back into my weekly routine with something nice and easy, but kismet had some other plans. Let me blow the dust off my soap box ...
I recently stopped by one of my local bookstores - a place I've frequented and enjoyed for decades. The manager is a good colleague, and she recommended a new company she learned about at a recent book expo: DartFrog Books. They are the first distributor geared exclusively toward independent and self-published authors, so my interest was piqued. She gave me a bookmark with their URL and the not-so-subtle hint that if I were to say she referred me, she'd get a finder's fee. So I went on my way.
It took me a few days to get around to looking DartFrog up. Something about the interaction gave me a strange vibe, and I was right, but I'll come back to that. Here's their mission statement: "Every year there are an estimated 450,000 self-published titles released into an overcrowded literary marketplace. Unfortunately, most of those books will live forever in total obscurity. But, there are within that mass of self-published books, some real gems. DartFrog finds those gems and distributes them to our partner bookstores."
O-kay. So, sounds good, but how does it work? I clicked on every link that looked as though it'd give me a straight answer. "About Us"? Mission Statement and glamour shots of the staff. "Why Dartfrog"? Buzzwords and all the stuff that sounds too good to be true, no numbers or details. "Our Standards"? Some stuff about quality control that's just a little bit condescending, if you ask yours truly... and it had typos. (I laughed. A lot.)
Oh, wait. "Author Agreement". Finally, I thought, something that should lay it out in black and white. Click: "The author agreement is a straight forward document that seeks to remove all the legalese that most of us don't read or understand anyway! But there are a few highlights that you should know." Not only is that on the edge of condescension ... but the full, actual text of that agreement isn't anywhere I could find on the website. Presumably, you only get it after you've started the sign-up process.
So I made a mock order for In The Cards. It asks some straight-forward questions about your book: did you edit/format it yourself, how long is it, what's the ISBN/genre, etc. But it doesn't even tell you what your order form is doing. Or how much it'll cost. I hit "proceed to payment" and was hit with the sticker shock: $350.
Let me reiterate: I still don't know what, exactly, I'm paying for, here.
I clicked back out of the cart - or, in the vernacular, "noped out like nobody's business" - and tried to dig a little deeper to see what that price tag entailed. The closest thing I could find to ANY detail about what my money would buy was on "Why DartFrog":
DartFrog evaluates your book to ensure that it meets a standard-of-excellence bookstores require. Those books that do, we make available for distribution to our network of partner bookstores. If your book is not ready for distribution, we will tell you what needs to be fixed and allow you to re-submit when the changes have been made. We do not charge an additional fee for a second evaluation.
Oh. So I'd be paying DartFrog $350 to pat me on the head and tell me my book is good, and then add it to a catalog they give to a (so far) very small list of indie stores. How is that any different than an agent or a publisher? I don't really think it is. Sure, that 70/30 split afterwards is pretty nice, but I'd have to spend an initially HUGE chunk of money that I don't have. There's very little about their evaluation team, so I don't even know if the people I'm paying to vet my book would be fair or unbiased.
Given that I had to do a half hour's worth of web surfing to find all this, I'm pretty unimpressed. If you're a web-based service, you're catering intrinsically to people who are used to very fast service: go to the site, find what you need, get it, get out, move on with your day. I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but self-published authors' time is precious enough without having to constantly verify and vet their potential allies and business collaborators. I could have spent that half hour connecting with my peers, making marketing graphics, preparing for my new collaboration release, or - oh, hey! actually writing more. Instead, I'm here. Because I get the increasing feeling that I need to share these experiences with you all, to save you the time and make your life as fellow authors a little easier.
We're all in this together. I've never felt that it's about the money - but saving it where and when we can is crucial. Being transparent and communicating about what works, what's fair, and what things really are is even more important.
In the end, I passed on BookFrog because I just can't spare that kind of money for a random person's validation. If you can, I don't judge: in fact, I'd love to know what you think. If you've had experiences with BookFrog, yourself, please leave me a comment or shoot me an email. I want to be proven wrong: I want to believe that there really are people out there who genuinely want to help find the good indie books, give them the love they deserve, and build a mutual relationship ... not just take our money and laugh all the way to the bank.
Until next time, dream on, write on, and stay amazing!
It's editing season for yours truly, and since I'm about to dust off The Proper Bearing after its hibernation for some fine-tuning, I thought it was a good time to talk editing. As I've said in previous posts, it is vital to edit before self-publishing, and not just with a peer. If your budget for editing is non-existent, you have to be even more critical of your writing ... but with time and practice, good self-editing can become second nature. Without further ado, here are some of the resources I've used in the past to build my own habits!
Starting with the basics, ReadWriteThink has a checklist that's meant for classroom use, but still has some great starting points. It's also printable for use in writers' groups, workshops, or NaNoWriMo Write-Ins!
Fiction University has two great pages: The Spit Shine, which is a great last run-through, and more importantly, Crossing Words Off Your List, which covers the author's most important self-editing tool. The "Bad Words" list, which goes by many names, always serves the same basic prinicple: to help remove words which are either unnecessary or overused. Every author has a handful which are unique to them, and sometimes they aren't even words. (Confession: In The Cards had a lot of unnecessary ellipses before the final edit.)
Though those words are a good first step, they aren't everything. Grammar Girl's Editing Checklist covers the bases on ... you guessed it, grammar! This one is laid out simply, and yet very comprehensive, which makes it a good one to print out and keep in your editing binder if you prefer to edit on paper (like yours truly).
WordStream's Self-Editing Checklist includes talking points on all of the above, with an extra dose of humor. I take their final point with a grain of salt, however: they stress paring down your sentences as much as possible. While I'm a fan of a tightly written sentence, I also believe that keeping some of the proverbial meat on the bone helps you define your writing voice. Your mileage may, as with most method advice, vary.
Finally, there is my own Rainbow Editing Method, which I use in conjunction with my personal Bad Words file. I developed it while I was working on From The Desk of Buster Heywood, and it's gone a long way toward helping me identify my own problem areas. You're welcome to use it, too! There's a wrap-up post with links to all the sections right here.
Now, I'm about to dive into my own manuscript, so I'll see you all next Wednesday! Should you be up to the same task, happy editing ... and I hope you all have a great week!
Last week, I promised you a review of a new writers' resource site from authors Angela Ackerman and Becca Pugilisi. One Stop For Writers pulls together content from their already existing Writers' Thesaurus series, and adds brand new content that these lovely ladies researched for themselves so we didn't have to. To get detail on their settings, they went to any lengths they could: up to and including getting arrested so that they could have a full sensory experience! That alone is worth some serious acclaim, in my opinion... but we're here to talk about the website.
One Stop has a very clean, inviting interface that has a simple, classical feel to it. The drop-down menus are easy to navigate and understand, and the font is large enough to read for long periods of time without straining the eyes. The only caveat I would include about the site design is that some subscribers with light sensitivities may wish to dim their screen before prolonged use.
Anyone curious about the resources available before they start poking around can begin at the About OS page, or check out the breadth of tutorials that have been created for the site. These make it easy to quickly find whatever exact information you might need if you're in a hurry and not just wandering around for fun, like I was. As for the content, itself ... I haven't felt this excited about access to a broad wealth of knowledge since I got my first library card.
The Information Desk can be bypassed if you are there for a quick fact run, because it deals with FAQs, the site's blog, and other "About The Site" components. The meat of the content is in two sections of the menu: The Stacks and the Thesaurus. I won't bore you with a list of everything, but the Thesaurus has the kind of details I didn't even know I'd needed. Sensory details and alternatives to describing different items are a huge boon for me: who hasn't wondered how to describe something in a unique way? The Setting thesaurus even gives a sample description for each location, and shows authors the ways a setting can be personalized to your characters, while still maintaining the qualities that readers will be able to recognize and relate to. There are other Thesauri which will help set the mood with color and weather, or weave symbolism into your plot ... so if you are the sort of author who struggles with finding or maintaining a theme, this will be a treasure in itself.
Once the Thesauri have been plundered for all the bounty you need for your scene, The Stacks are there to help you finish the job. They are more than the finishing touch: they are more like flying buttresses which can help support your beautiful cathedral of words. The tutorials for the Thesauri can be found here, as well as an Idea Generator for the blocked and bewildered ... but the star of The Stacks are its templates and worksheets. These are a NaNoWriMo Plotter's dream content: not just your standard outline or character creation lists, but ones which help you get to the heart of your story, the parts which make it really come alive and sing. Work out your characters' fears and emotional growth, or create reference sheets for each character and setting so that you don't have to flip back through your manuscript to remember if Professor Goddard's eyes were blue or green. In fact ... oh! Let's get that thesaurus out now that you've looked it up:
The Professor stared them down with the bluest eyes Nick had ever seen. In any other circumstance, he might have thought them beautiful, but in that moment, they were a frostbite that spread to him and chilled him through.
That's the color thesaurus at work! I wouldn't have come up with that frostbite line, otherwise - I may have gone with electricity, perhaps, but that's far too overused, and I would've had this song stuck in my head for the rest of the day (and likely still will). But that isn't even scratching the surface of what's available at One Stop For Writers. The search engine for cross-comparison helps you connect themes, colors, textures ... any thesaurus entry can be cross-referenced with any others that could apply to it. Just like that, you've got a wealth of ideas for description, instead of sitting slack-jawed, buggy-eyed, staring at your monitor. And in case you find things you want to use for later, there's a Notes feature built into the site that saves your notes directly to your profile and allows you to link back to the article you used when you're ready for it.
I had a grand old time with One Stop For Writers, and I can see that it's going to be an invaluable resource. Unfortunately, the Thesaurus I was anticipating most, Emotional Wounds, was not yet available on the site, and several settings are still in the process of being added. I can't use it for everything I personally need, but that isn't going to stop me from strongly recommending it to any fiction author. A free membership lets you access a limited amount of content and get a feel for the site so that you can see if it would be worth the full subscription, which is broken down into 1-month, 6-month, or yearly price brackets. If you consider that the standard price of one Writer's Thesaurus is $12, and there are several available ... a $9 one month subscription which combines them pays for itself. But here's the thing ...
Value isn't the biggest reason I enjoy One Stop For Writers: and it isn't necessarily the content, either (though that plays a very large part). The entire site is imbued with the spirit that I think every author should have: to take the knowledge they have gathered and share it with other authors, so that they can find their path to their own goals just that little bit easier to traverse. Thanks to Angela and Becca for letting me test it out and spread the word!
Picture this: you have fought and clawed to have the time to yourself so that you can write. You're in that perfect mindset, and as your word processing program of choice boots, you're soft-tapping the keyboard in anticipation because your fingers are just that ready to get working. I've been there. You've been there. And then... you write. The words start pouring out as fast as your typing can keep up with them, and you're on an absolute roll. Your dialogue is beautiful, your characters are full of life, and the scene is singing on key ... until disaster strikes. Your main character is so moved by something that a simple sigh or smile won't do, or their friend does something which hints that there may be more to them than you planned ... and you don't quite know what it could be. Even worse? They round a corner or open a door, and that setting that's laid out so precisely in your mind won't fit on the page in the way you want it to: you're at a loss for that perfect descriptor.
So what do you do? Sometimes, you just write the bland thing and leave it for later. Other times, the yen for The Right Phrase is so strong that there's nothing for it. You turn to your stacks of writing books, your thesaurus, your idea notebook ... or, heaven forbid, Google and the vast siren song of the open internet. Before you know it, you're looking at pages that have nothing to do with what you needed, getting other ideas: that creative mind that was in such joyous overdrive is burning its fuel on side roads instead of cruising down the glorious scenic byway of your project,
With that in mind ... I have a task ahead of me for this week, and I am SO excited about it that I can't just wait until my next blog post for you to hear about it. Two authors I've been following for a couple of years now, Angela Ackerman and Becca Pugilisi, have taken the fruits of their Writers Helping Writers site and brought them all together into a website called One Stop For Writers. It just launched yesterday, and yours truly has a free month's worth of complete access in exchange for an honest review.
This comes at a perfect time: I'm finalizing my outline and character sketches for my third novel, so I have things I actively need to research, and plenty of opportunities to test the vast reaches of the site. I took a cursory glimpse at it yesterday when I registered and used my free coupon, and I'm already psyched up to dive deeper! There is such a wealth of information in this site, and I have a feeling that a quick ten-minute browse wasn't even beginning to do it justice. I look forward to coming back next week and sharing everything I've found out with you!
Hi, everyone! I apologize for the lack of post this past Thursday ... not only has life been hectic, but I am trying to push and get 30 Days of Aviario ready, so that I can build my mailing list. I am behind in my short story deadlines, but that's something I can work with ... I am still hoping to have From the Desk of Buster Heywood published on Smashwords by September 18th. In order to get things moving, however, I am going to have to put this blog on a hiatus until the book is out.
In the meantime, I encourage you to still follow me on Twitter, where I will be continuing to help #2bitTuesday grow: this week's optional theme is "Temperature". To keep myself sane, I've been taking short breaks by indulging in the following things. Feel free to check them out, if any strike your fancy!
Before I post anything else, I have a confession of sorts to make. I almost feel like it should be an apology, but I am writing this post while trying to be secure in the knowledge that somewhere out there, some other creative web-faring person will identify with it ... so making it an apology would not quite be as reassuring. Therefore, while it is not long enough to fill several notebooks, like that of the great and fictional Henry Fool, here is my confession:
I am at war with myself.
There are several different fiefdoms in my brain, but the war is between two in particular: Completion and Perfectionism. They lie on either side of the Sea of Variable Focus, in the middle of which lies the island autonomous collective of Ridiculous Creativity. (And, yes: of course it is autonomous! Why would creativity have a government?)
If you are one of those people who can relate, you already see where I am going with this. In fact, if you are even more like me, you are probably pointing at your monitor, smart phone, tablet or watch (Hello, Futuristic Person reading my blog archives!) and yelling affirmations at it as if it can hear you. Or maybe you are a bit more sane than I am. Anyway. I digress.
If you have never been a Completion-ist and a Perfectionist simultaneously, let me first congratulate you on having avoided a circle of hell. Maybe you can finish things and accept that they do not have to be perfect: which is, as I understand it, the status quo. Or maybe you are okay with having a project in a constant state of revision or incompletion, so that it never sees the light of day - which is also fine, but seems to me a little bit selfish, vaguely tragic, and possibly a bit funny, too. But when you are both a Perfectionist and a Completion fanatic, you enter a strange sort of Cold War, and it tends to happen a bit like this:
"It's finished!" The Duchess of Completion cries, holding aloft the creative fruit of choice that washed ashore in bits and pieces from the Island. And as so often happens when a country does something cool, it wants bragging rights, so she shows it off.
Naturally, Princess Perfectionist takes a look and says "Ehhhh... you missed a spot."
"Dangit," says Completion, and goes back to work. Now, normally this is fine, but Perfectionist is that one person who's never happy with anything, and eventually the cycle repeats so often that Completion says: "You know what? If I send this out there, it's just going to get attacked. I resolve to sit here on my cushy little royal throne and not do a thing."
Meanwhile, Perfectionist is jumping up and down on the coastline yelling about how nothing is getting done, the poor people over on Ridiculous Creativity are building up a backlog, and some really great produce is starting to spoil.
So right now, I'm trying to hold a peace summit between the two while Hurricane Rest-Of-My-Life rages across the Sea of Variable Focus, and that little whimsical lesson in mental geography is why you have not seen much in the way of tangible progress on From the Desk of Buster Heywood.
If you happen to be one of those people who identifies with what I just wrote, please do yourself three favors:
1. Check out these sites! They have been helpful to me, and may be to you:
Writer's Relief: They have a great blog full of writing tips on all sorts of topics from how to self-edit to just simple encouragement.
Writers Helping Writers: Angela Ackerman and Rebecca Pugilisi are both lovely ladies, and their website is full of sound advice that I'm already putting to good use. Their Writers' Thesaurus trilogy isn't on my bookshelf yet, but it is certainly on my wish list.
CreativIndie: Derek Murphy has a lot of fantastic content for new writers, too ... and the greatest part is, some of it is absolutely free!
Warrior Writers: Kristen Lamb's blog is full of witty, funny, encouraging boosts to get you through when you need them.
2. Keep At It! Peace is possible, or so I've been told. The world needs your island exports just as much as you do.
3. Stop yelling "YES. THIS" at your screen, because it cannot hear you (unless you are Futuristic Person, and it can). Instead, leave me a comment here or email me, so that we can share war stories and feel a little less besieged together.
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