Tag Archives: self publishing

Hot Mess: Journey’s End

Putting together Hot Mess: speculative fiction about climate change was a challenge. I wrote two stories I’m extraordinarily proud of. I worked with four other writers, an illustrator and a graphic designer to publish the piece as both an e-book and a physical one.  The experience of releasing the anthology was emotionally and artistically rewarding.

That said, after a lot of thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that Hot Mess has reached the end of its journey.

It’s not that I think the threats posed by climate change are over – far from it, even if there was a historic climate agreement reached in Paris over the weekend. There’s still just as far to go, and it’s just as important now as it was four years ago when the anthology was published. Senator Bernie Sanders, my favorite prospective presidential nominee, has said repeatedly: climate change, more than even terrorism, is the single greatest threat to national security that the US faces.

This weekend’s agreement, which relies on governments around the world cutting their dependence on and use of fossil fuels significantly, is the first baby step towards that. With targets that are to be discussed and met every five years throughout this century, it’s a long-term plan for a long-term problem. Climate change didn’t just happen overnight, after all. Closer to home: Buffalo just smashed through a 116-year-old record because there hasn’t been snow yet. That’s right – earlier today, in Buffalo, New York, in the middle of December, I was walking around in a light jacket.

(And by the way, I’m sorry if I’m rambling a little – there were a lot of different and tangentily-related lines of thought that went into this decision, and putting together a coherent blog about it is harder than I thought it would be.)

When I first thought about taking Hot Mess down, something surprised me. I would have expected to feel a sense of sadness or dread, but instead I just felt…lighter.

Tangent: approximately one million years ago, when I was trying to decide where in England I was going to study for my junior year abroad, I had two choices: Kent, which was the program my university sponsored, and Middlesex University, in London – a program I’d applied to through another SUNY school. Each option has its appeal, and I couldn’t decide which to do. My mom gave me some advice that served me well then and has ever since: When you’re trying to make a decision and you have two choices, imagine you’ve chosen one or the other. Live with that for a few days. See how you feel. If it feels right, then do that. If not…move on to the next possibility. I wound up studying in London, and it was one of the best years of my life.

When I thought about taking down Hot Mess…it just felt right.

So…yeah. I’m not sure that it’s even that important that my thought process on this be clear to anyone else – I’m pretty sure that it’s not, so far, and I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg on the vast cloud of ideas that have led me here. But I do know that I at least wanted to give people a heads up, that Hot Mess: speculative fiction about climate change will be taken offline at the end of this year. I’ll migrate the reviews its received from Amazon and other sales venues to a page here on my site (just to make sure they’re not lost), and that will be that.

In other words, you’ve got about two weeks to decide how many copies you want to buy before this one goes away. Avoid disappointment. Order now. Information below. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

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Hot Mess: speculative fiction about climate change will go out of print in the new year; order your digital and print copies before December 31st, 2015.

Stalled, but only briefly

wpid-0626152133.jpgSo it’s been a minute or two since I last updated (ha ha). It’s turned out to be a seriously busy summer. So far I’ve been to San Francisco, NYC, Madison, Bar Harbor, Buffalo and coming up there’ll be a short trip back to NYC. There’s been a bit of life upheaval (nothing major, don’t worry) and as a result I’ve had to spend a lot of time and energy on things that aren’t what I’d like to be spending my time and energy on.

The result? Most of my personal creative projects – a TV pilot, a couple of ideas for plays, my Agent Carter suit, this blog – have been shoved to one side to make time for the things that need to get done. And even when I do think I’m going to set aside some time and dig in, something keeps coming up.

wpid-0712151318-1-1.jpgI spent a very large chunk of my writing life – which is now hovering around 20 years, if we go back to my first paycheck – adhering to the strict rule of writing every single day. Creative writing, every day. I gave myself deadlines, I banged out first drafts, I ran a successful scripted web series (back when everybody was on dial-up, so basically that meant managing eight or ten people, editing, planning plot arcs and then posting scripts on a regular basis), I wrote more fanfic than I can actually even remember…and I kept pushing myself to do more. And more. And more. This carried on into my late teens and then my early-to-mid twenties.

And then, one day, something changed. I think it was when I moved back from Scotland and down to New York City. I was going through a period where I didn’t feel particularly inspired, I was getting settled in a new place, and I decided it was time to refill my creative fuel tank, so to speak. It was a difficult choice, especially for someone who didn’t (and still doesn’t) believe in writer’s block. To willingly put down my pen and go out to experience life, instead, was a really difficult thing to do. But also a very necessary one. And I’ll never forget the time I was walking through Brooklyn with a friend and another woman (a friend of the friend), and we were talking about creativity. “Are you working on anything right now?” asked the woman, who I think was some kind of junior producer at a music television channel (not the two you immediately thought of).

“No,” I said, “I’m just absorbing life at the moment.”

“Oh,” she said, in a tone that let me know exactly how much respect she had (or didn’t have) for this decision.

The break ended up only lasting a handful of months, but when I went back to my keyboard it was clear that taking the pressure off had been a smart idea. For me. For my mental health. For my writing.

I’ve talked about the pressure writers put on ourselves in the past, and every so often I have to remind myself that those few months I took off from work resulted in some really great projects that I probably wouldn’t have completed without that time. I learned about myself, about my writing, about how to create the optimal conditions for creativity. Sure, I can still sit down and pound out 500 words if I have to, but feeling like you “have to” when it comes to creative writing is never a good feeling.

All that said, writing fiction is liberating (to me, and to at least a few of you) in a way that other writing and other activities aren’t. So I know it’s something I have to do and have to make time for. But it’s nice to have the confidence to put the pen down from time to time, as well, without the fear that ALL THE WORDS WILL BE GONE when I’m ready to pick it back up again.

So, while life at the moment has sped up and creative output has slowed (though it’s still trickling), I’m trying to feel okay about that, reminding myself that sometimes life takes the wheel and my plays and pilots have to ride in the way back for a while. At least we’re all in the same car. Though they are getting suspiciously quiet back there…

My guess is, they’re plotting against me. Or life. Or both.

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Using Canva to Design Your Own Book Covers

Some time ago, Hugh Howey wrote about canva.com, a tool authors could use to create book covers for their Kindle and other e-book releases. (The site offers plenty of templates for other online uses, as well.)

If you’ve been reading here for a while, you already know: cover art is the big hold-up on pretty much all of my e-books (not to mention the print versions). And if you’ve tried creating a cover on your own, you know the complications go far beyond coming up with an image to represent your story – there’s also sizing, resolution, thumbnails and more to consider.

Canva eliminates about 95% of these worries. Work with their premade templates for font placement and selection ideas, drop in your cover art (easily created with Pixlr and a few copyright-free art searches) and click “download.” You’ll be stunned at what you can create. For example. see the comparisons below: the covers I originally posted for PIC, Mousewings and POST, compared to their Canva-created replacements. (Click on each thumbnail for a full image; if you want to make a purchase, use the links on the right-hand side of the blog)

Evidenced by the above, even the least graphically gifted among us can create something worth showing of with Canva. Think you’ll give it a try? Leave a link to your designs in the comments!

Cleaning Up A Sweepstakes Mess

The first point where I knew something had gone wrong was when I signed into my email and saw a note from the winner of my Short Frictions/Think Geek giveaway.

After a brief sweepstakes entry period, I’d Rafflecoptered for a winner and sent a $15 gift code to a reader who’d faithfully liked, shared, tweeted and retweeted a brief message about the book almost every day. Now, she wrote, she was having trouble redeeming the code. The Think Geek site was telling her it had already been used. Which it hadn’t, because she’d been saving it to shop for the holidays.

My heart sank. I logged into Think Geek and checked the code, and sent it to her again to confirm there hadn’t been a typo, but she was right – the balance on the code was showing up as zero. I really didn’t know what had happened, especially since another code I’d sent out the same day had been redeemed without a problem.

Finally, I decided to check in with the Think Geek team. I’m always hesitant to start talking to customer service. I find it incredibly stressful and frustrating, particularly after some of the experiences I’ve had with other companies this year, but without getting in touch with them there was no way to figure out what had happened.

It took two tries to get a customer service rep to respond on the Think Geek site. I’m not sure what happened the first time, but I spent several minutes typing in an explanation of what had happened and waiting for a response that never came. I logged out, logged back in, and tried again. This time, after five or so minutes, a rep came online and asked me to describe my problem. After confirming she could read and reply to my messages, I explained, and she started to investigate.

My hope was to confirm with Think Geek when the gift card balance had been used, in case there had been some kind of technical glitch; I wasn’t sure if they’d tell me the date and amount of whatever purchase tracked back to the giveaway gift code, but I figured the best idea was to get as much information as I could before I sent the sweepstakes winner an update.

After five or ten more minutes, the customer rep sent a message that far surpassed my expectations: she had added the credit back onto the gift code. I’m not sure if she found a glitch in the sale or if there was some kind of error, or if Think Geek just decided that such a small amount wasn’t worth haggling over (which I’d already decided was going to be my approach if it turned out they couldn’t reinstate the credit, because the giveaway winner had put a lot of effort into spreading word of Short Frictions on social media). But I was relieved that the matter was resolved so easily.

Once I had confirmation from the customer service team, I emailed the winner and let her know that everything should be up and running and she could make her purchases; I haven’t heard from her since, so am assuming everything went well.

From start to finish, resolving the situation took about half an hour, but I was shocked at how stressful I found it.  As self-published authors, being in charge of marketing and PR is a huge part of what we do – and when something goes wrong, there’s no PR rep to hide behind, no publishing house to help defray the cost of issues like lost prizes and credits. Plus, it’s our name out there on the line. This contest winner was extremely understanding and patient as I worked to resolve the gift code issue, but just as easily could have been someone far less inclined to give the benefit of the doubt.

I’m lucky enough, currently, to be in a position where I could have afforded to replace the prize if need be – but what if I wasn’t? What if the prize was something bigger, or Think Geek had turned replacing the credit into more of a production?

When you self-publish, you’re taking control and ownership of every aspect of sharing your work. The buck stops with you. Making sure you’re mentally and financially prepared (not to mention knowing you have enough time on your hands) to represent your work to the best of your ability is an important part of being a self-published author. And it’s not something to take on lightly.

Thankfully, in this case, the mess that had to be cleaned up wasn’t a big one. Hopefully (knock on wood) it never will be. If and when future issues arise, no matter what area of self-publishing they might be in, I’ll handle them as quickly and smoothly as possible, and hope for the best.

Cleaning up when something goes wrong is something every self-publishing author has to be prepared for, whether the hitch happens in writing, editing, publishing, art directing or publicity. Be prepared, keep your cool, and think your options through, and hopefully your next hitch won’t throw you for a loop.

 

 

Buy your own copy of Short Frictions on Amazon or Smashwords.

To Use or Not To Use a Pen Name

I have never used a pen name.

There have been a variety of reasons for this. At first, as a teenager, it just didn’t occur to me. After all, I was a writer. Why would I want to make it harder for people to find what I’d written?

Much later, I learned that Joanne Rowling had been advised to use initials – J.K. – to obscure her gender, because “boys don’t read books by women writers.” Using my full name on my plays and published stories became tinged by a feeling of feminism, although (obviously) I sometimes use my initials and last name for the sake of brevity (for example, the URL of this website).

In the last few months, however, I’ve started thinking about writing non-fiction, and that’s made me start to consider the use of an alternative name – either a variation of my own name, maybe the initials, or more likely a different name altogether – because the topics I’d write about are sensitive ones and not necessarily work I’d want to publish under my full name. Since I’m not making enough money to live off my creative writing (yet) and I still need a day job, not revealing details of my personal life while connecting them to my name might be an unfortunate but practical decision.

Writing under multiple names isn’t new (for example, Nora Roberts writes under her own name in romance, but as J.D. Robb when she’s penning a mystery, and Stephen King flopped as Richard Bachman – not to mention Rowling’s own forays into assumed names), but I feel like the practice carries pluses and minuses.

One plus would be the anonymity it affords; one minus would be that it would require setting up and maintaining an entire separate platform as a “second” author. A plus would be that it allows for easy separation by readers – someone doesn’t download a title thinking they’re going to get the genres I write in creatively, and instead wind up with a how-to book on putting up a shelf. A minus would be that that makes it harder for readers who like my work and might want to put up a shelf to discover that yes, I have indeed written a how-to book on exactly that.  (And please note, this is just an example; I’ve never put up a shelf in my life)

I’m curious about how other writers make the decision to work under a pen name. Why do you use it? Or why don’t you? Or why do you do both? Are there reasons in favor or against either option that I might not have thought of? If you’re not a writer, what do you think about authors writing under more than one name? Do you prefer the simplicity of looking for one author, no matter what genre they write in, or would you rather be able to compartmentalize the writings of your favorite authors?

Looking forward to your answers in the comments.

SHORT FRICTIONS, Coming Up Shortly!

A robot I met some time ago, on the Upper East Side. Not in any of my stories. But doesn't he look dapper?

A robot I met some time ago, on the Upper East Side. Not in any of my stories. But doesn’t he look dapper?

For the last month or so, I’ve been receiving helpful comments from wonderful people who’ve taken time out of their lives to prepare for advance reviewing of SHORT FRICTIONS – my upcoming collection of short stories. Their assistance has been invaluable, and the book you’ll eventually read has already been made leagues better thanks to their thoughts and comments.

So when do you get to check out this fabulous new collection of stories about vampires, robots, evil corporations and more?

One thing’s for sure: it won’t be long, now!

I’ve met with the designer – the stylish Sarah Hartley (who was responsible for the gorgeous cover of HOT MESS) and she’s working on some frankly brilliant ideas for the SHORT FRICTIONS cover. I hope you’ll like it. I know I love what she’s thought up so far.

I really can’t wait to share this collection of shorts – and a play! – with all of you. Most have been written in the last few years, with one outlier that dates back to my college days. Some, you may have seen in other places in the past. Others are fresh and new and clean and excited to be allowed out into the world.

The e-version will likely debut in August on several platforms, shortly ahead of the print one, and don’t worry – I’ll keep you updated. Just enter your info into the subscription widget – upper right hand side of this blog entry to make sure you don’t miss the new release. Or give me your email address (I’ll never sell or share it), below:

 

Advance Copies, coming up!

Woooo! Just got the manuscript for Short Frictions back from my editor, with some great notes. Now that I’m working through those, it’s also time to prep for a new stage in my new self-publishing checklist: advance reviewers.

Image from phys.org (http://phys.org/news/2014-01-google-machines-robotics-companies-involved.html).

Image from phys.org (http://phys.org/news/2014-01-google-machines-robotics-companies-involved.html).

About a month ago, I took a webinar from Writer.ly  that suggested ways of getting the word out about your self-published book. One of the ideas I loved was setting up a list of readers who would comment on the book before its publication, then leave reviews on release day!

Adding a new step to a self-publishing strategy is tricky, but one of the points @Kelsye (who gave the webinar) made that really stuck with me was that reaching as many advance reviewers as possible is important because of how it helps generate word of mouth, and gives people an incentive to read and review your work. While I’ve heard of some writers (specifically, Guy Kawasaki) crowdsourcing feedback, I’ve never tried this strategy myself – it’s a little nervewracking, but I think it will be worth it!

If you still want to sign up to be an advance reader and reviewer, there’s still time to get me your info! You’ll receive a thank-you in the final edition of the book, as well as a free e-copy. Interested? Click here for more information.