Saturday, February 14, 2015

On Reviews

As of today, The Rogue Queen has been live on Amazon for just over a month, selling over 200 copies.  I've gotten five reader reviews there and five on GoodReads (also owned by Amazon).  Most of my reviews have been positive, but I've gotten three negative reviews.  As a newcomer to the publishing business, I've been trying to come to grips with that, especially when the reviews seem unfair.

The first negative review claimed I hadn't done my research.  That made me laugh, as I spent quite literally hundreds of hours digging up details on clothing, fabrics, colors, food, pastimes, human armor, horse armor, hairstyles, theology, songs, maps of London and Paris, not to mention the history behind Isabelle's story in both primary and secondary sources.  I was very careful to avoid anachronism not only in the story but also in my characters' speech.  Full disclosure: I did use the word "explode" twice in a 140,000-word novel even though it would not have been in their vernacular.  I tried but I couldn't find a way around it.  Likewise, I made carefully reasoned choices about the characters as I told the story.  For example, I moved one character's birth up a season and another character was childless because it worked better.  This was upsetting to at least one reviewer but I don't think I need to make excuses for those kinds of decisions.  TRQ is, after all, fiction.

I'm having more trouble with reviewers criticizing the way my characters speak, saying it isn't "authentic to the period".  Again, I made a conscious choice to have my characters speak in a natural way.  I didn't want to write Ivanhoe, nor did I want to create a weird mashup the bloggers call "speaking forsoothly".  I wanted my characters to sound like real people.  James B. Shannon opined about an excerpt from Bernard Cornwell's The Last Kingdom: "It derives its authenticity from its context. It contains names, activities, and values authentic to the period. The language seems less important. Cornwell’s world-building has already put us in the period and he is simply using the dialogue to reinforce what we already imagine. This type of writing puts more pressure on the author to do his or her research so that the world they are building is as authentic as possible. This then frees the author to use the dialogue simply to build character and to drive the plot forward. When considered in this light, the choice of speech and dialect seem less important."  And this is precisely what I tried to do.  Apparently, however, some reviewers felt I dropped the ball.  I could've written it in Anglo-Norman French, which was the language spoken in 14th century England--but what would be the point?  This kind of criticism recalls people nitpicking "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" because the actors didn't assume British accents.

I know that I shouldn't give a toss.  I told the story I wanted to tell in the way I wanted to tell it.  I'm proud of the characters I created.  Rationally, I know that you can't please everyone.  But when someone says your dialogue is worse than Fifty Shades of Grey, well, ouch.

Monday, February 2, 2015

On Publishing

I officially published The Rogue Queen on Amazon nearly a month ago, first as a Kindle book, then through CreateSpace print-on-demand.  Checking online today I was surprised to see that I've sold seventy-five copies!  It may not sound like a lot, but since I'm starting from scratch as an unknown author I'm well pleased.  One of the benefits of publishing digitally is there's no backlist.  In brick and mortar bookstores, if a book doesn't sell well it gets cycled back off the prime shelf spots and eventually disappears.  However anytime someone searches for historical fiction with TRQ's parameters on Amazon my book will pop up--forever, or until I take it down. So time is on my side.

Something I've had to work on since the book went live is marketing.  In my last post I mentioned searching for reviewers.  I've had two reviews on Amazon, and I'm waiting on a blogger and the Historical Novel Society to complete their reviews.  The more positive reviews I get the more often Amazon will suggest the book to people searching, so they're worth going after.  I've also looked into doing readings, one at a local independent bookstore and another at our town library.  If all of this sounds like a lot of work it really isn't, especially when you consider that I'm earning 70% royalties.  Most of it required only some searching online and a couple of emails.  If I'd gone the traditional route the publisher would've taken over the marketing while pocketing most of the royalties.  Since nobody wanted to publish the book the point is moot.  I took on the risk, so I make the money.

I was told before I published the book that it would essentially be a loss leader, an investment that would hopefully help me to build a following while not necessarily making a lot of money.  So far, thanks to the talents of my husband and a couple of generous friends, my only expense has been time.  In that regard it's been worth every moment.  I've also learned a lot, which will pay off even more when I publish my next novel, and the next.  In the meantime, The Rogue Queen is making her way into the hands of readers who seem to be enjoying her, and that is most definitely worth it.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Going Public

Well, I did it!  I published my first novel on Amazon.  Although it wasn't a simple process, I do believe anyone who uses a word processor could do it.  Amazon makes publishing for the Kindle pretty straightforward, even providing a free e-book with step-by-step instructions titled Building Your Book for Kindle.  I began by spending about three weeks doing a final edit, which the book really did need.  I've learned quite a bit since I finished The Rogue Queen, thanks in large part to a pair of friends who also write.  They very kindly read Novel #2, offering salient editing advice, which I then applied to Novel #1.  Meanwhile, Patient Husband photographed Duchess Angharad Banadaspus Drakenhefd for the cover, and I think she did a great job!  A friend from work offered to turn the photo into a cover.  The blue of the duchess's dress simply leaps off the page.  That part I doubt I could've done by myself, although there are workarounds for that as well.  You can use Amazon's cover creator, or you can find someone to do it for you via Fiverr or other sites.  I'm glad I had talented, helpful people around me to help me create a one-of-a-kind cover.

Formatting for the Kindle was also pretty easy.  The worst part was having to go through a 400-page manuscript, changing the indents one by one.  Not difficult, just tedious.  I also had to add a table of contents, but since Word can do that for you it was just a few mouse clicks.  The most important step is saving the Word doc as a Web Page, then uploading the right format.  I had a brief moment of panic when I accidentally uploaded the Word doc, but it was a quick fix.  I carefully checked the book using Amazon's online previewer, added the cover, and went on to the next step: pricing and distribution.

I spent some time thinking about how to price the book.  Some people advise giving it away for free, but I decided against that.  I worked too hard for too long to simply give it away.  In the end I priced it at $3.49; inexpensive, but at a point where I can make 70% royalties.  I also chose to participate in Amazon's KDP Select program, where readers can borrow the book through the Kindle Owners' Lending Library or buy it if they read more than 10% of the text through Kindle Unlimited.  Either way, I still make money.  There are a couple marketing tools I can use through the program, like running a promotion, and although I can't sell the book on any other digital platform I can still sell it as a paper book or an audiobook.  And I can choose not to continue with the program after 90 days.

Which brings us to the print-on-demand part of the story.  I'm a die-hard real book user, I admit it, so I knew I had to create a paper book for others who also prefer the format.  This was more complicated than the Kindle formatting.  I struggled for at least two days getting the pagination and page breaks right.  This, oddly, is one place where Amazon doesn't make it easy.  There are some idiosyncrasies about real books, such as page one beginning on a left-hand page and having all text right-justified.  The latter was simple; the former not so much.  Separating the front matter, which is not paginated, from the text, which is, proved difficult but with some help from Microsoft Office eventually I prevailed.  My front cover needs resizing and the back cover requires a headshot (!), which Patient Husband will take care of for me.  After that I think all will go smoothly.

Getting the book into the hands of readers who will enjoy it is the next step.  If I wanted to spend money it would be easy to get reviews, but with less than $100 in royalties earned so far I didn't want to go that route.  I eventually thought to Google folks who blog about historical fiction.  Some won't review books published independently, which I can understand, but it doesn't make my task any easier.  So far I've contacted half a dozen bloggers who might agree to read and review TRQ.  Once the paper copy is ready to roll I'm going to re-join the Historical Novel Society; they also review for free.  Amazon (surprise, surprise) has master reviewers who will read and review.  It's not a speedy process, but since it took more than a decade to get this far I'm willing to wait a little bit longer for the book to take off.  One of the benefits of e-publishing is that the book never goes away.  There's time!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Paradigm Shift

I've been at loose ends for quite a while, since I finished the revisions on For Two Cents in late October and sent it off to my agent.  I haven't heard anything from her, so I sent an excerpt from it to Narrative magazine's fall contest.  When that was done I had nothing else to focus on.  I fooled around with turning For Two Cents into a screenplay (and I still may) but I really found myself at an impasse.  As a result I spent most of Thanksgiving break brooding about my writing.  Isabelle never found a publisher.  I had high hopes for novel #2 but as it stands today I don't even know if my agent is willing to shop it around.  Hence the brooding.  I thought about entering Isabelle in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest until I found out it's 17,000 words over the limit.  It might be worth revising (cutting 50-odd pages...dunno) but without a specific historical fiction division I don't think much of my chances.  So back to square one.

After looking around at local agents and publishing houses, I drifted over to Amazon's e-publishing page. Hm.  They have a particularly persuasive little video that got me to thinking.  Well, why the hell not?  Isabelle's not doing anybody any good gathering digital dust in my computer--what's the worst that could happen?  And then it came to me:  I want to grab a little glory for myself.  I want people to read my stories and enjoy my characters as much as I did creating them.  So much of what I do in my day job is ephemeral.  I may never see the fruits of my labors there.  I sure would like to get something from my writing, even if it's just a few kinds words from an enthusiastic fan or two.

So today I'm exploring e-publishing.  Patient husband has agreed to help create artwork for the cover.  There's a lot to learn (Amazon's legalese runs twenty-one single-spaced pages.  Good Lord.) but I hope to have Isabelle read through again for a final buff-and-polish and ready to start formatting by the time winter break rolls around in a few weeks.   For my next post I hope to announce publication.  Wish me luck!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Working the Network

I'm pleased to announce that I've completed novel #2!  Titled For Two Cents I'll Go With You, it's based on the true story of my grandfather's experiences in France as a WWI Army medic.  Right now it's around 31,000 words, which makes it far shorter than my first novel.  Part of that is timeframe: Granddad was in the Army for about twenty months, whereas my first novel covers approximately twenty years.  I'm hoping that will translate into greater desirability for a publisher.  I have a few writing contests lined up for later in the year, but for now I'm working to locate someone famous to read my story and write a blurb because my agent said it would smooth the path to acceptance.  I've written emails and delved back into the Twitterverse, because experience has shown that if you want to get something done you have to work the network.  I thank my friends and colleagues in advance for their kind indulgence.

I learned a lot writing my first novel, so the composition of For Two Cents went much faster:  it only took about a year and a half, not including some preliminary research with my dad.  I spent much of one visit back home talking to him and recording his memories of Granddad's experiences, which I then incorporated into my novel.  I also edited Granddad's many letters home to his mother.  Because of wartime censorship restrictions he wasn't able to say much, which was where the novel took off.  This time I found the Internet to be a great resource.  The Army has a website http://history.amedd.army.mil/books.html with a digital copy of the entire history of the Medical Department in WWI that was extraordinarily helpful, as was Google Books.  Interlibrary loan was also useful, as was the judicious purchase of a few texts online.  Finally, my parents have carefully preserved a photo album that one of Granddad's buddies put together documenting their adventures from Fort Oglethorpe, GA to Coblenz, Germany that I used to guide my imagination along the way.

I think I learned a lot about my grandfather in imagining his adventures.  Granddad never talked to us kids about the war, nor to Grandma.  He only ever told my dad what he did, most likely because my dad was also a veteran.  As in my first novel, I thought about who he was and who he became as a result of what he went through in the war.  Like most of our soldiers in the Great War, he was a country boy, having never left the state of Michigan before volunteering.  He traveled thousands of miles and experienced many things before returning home to Elsie in 1919.  It's been a fascinating journey for me, too, and one I hope others will want to travel with me.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

On Patience

It's been a very long time since I added to my blog.  Back in late August I handed the revised version of Isabelle over to my agent, and the waiting began.  When I hadn't heard anything by Thanksgiving, I dropped her a line.  I heard back from her last week, and it looks like we're still in the game.  She said "a few" editors were willing to look at the revised MS, so I'm remaining optimistic.  These things do take time, however.  It can take anywhere from two to five months or more for editors to make a decision, according to the wisdom of the Web.  It took ten years to write the silly thing--surely I can wait a while long for it actually see the light of day.  Fingers crossed!

In the meantime, I've been continuing work on my current project, which is a fictionalized retelling of my grandfather's experiences as a medic during WWI.  It's been great fun, and I'm learning a lot.  The researching skills I gained while writing Isabelle have come in handy, as well as the discovery of Google Books.  I'm currently reading War Bugs, a first-person account of the Rainbow Division's experience in France at the same time.  Thanks to the King County Library System, I was able to borrow it from (I think) somewhere in New Mexico.  It's not directly applicable since Granddad wasn't in the trenches, but good background information overall.  Prior to War Bugs, I was reading Dr. Harvey Cushing's journal.  He was a doctor with the BEF from the early days of the war, and kept an incredibly detailed and fascinating multi-volume journal of his adventures.  An edited version was published in the '30s, and I was able to find a copy of it online.  It was very exciting to find four separate mentions of Granddad's unit in the journal.  I was able to get a lot added to the story over midwinter break, and I hope the momentum will continue.

Since my goal is to write (and not write about my writing) I won't be here every day, but I do plan to check in now and again.  After all, as Louis L'amour said: “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”    

Sunday, August 25, 2013

On Editing: A Summary

I think it's safe to say the editing process is complete, at least from my side of the keyboard.  I came up with an idea for an epilogue a couple of days ago, and I wrote the first version of it this morning.  So it's time for a (mostly) final accounting.

Over the past thirty-six days I've:
  • cut 29,000 words and 111 pages (remember, 20 pages of that was endnotes)
  • got rid of the whole "found manuscript" premise, the confession format, and everything to do with Marie-Agn├Ęs at the convent
  • went through and streamlined the narrative.  What DID I have against contractions??
  • replaced the confessional letters with longer chapters
  • wrote a prologue and an epilogue
  • restructured the first chapter
  • minimized the role of certain minor characters
  • chopped an entire chapter because it didn't advance Isabelle's story (at least 20 pages in one fell swoop)
  • came up with a new title
all in an effort to bring Isabelle's story to the forefront.  The epilogue still needs some work.  It doesn't do exactly what I want it to do, but it's getting there.  I'm going to let it cool off for a bit, then I'll look at it again.

I think I've done good work here.  I want the story to be the best that it can, and it's very nearly there, which is good, because I'm back to work tomorrow.  There are a few publishers who said they'd be willing to look at the manuscript again.  Let's hope they like it!