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Author of the Allies and Enemies series.

Category: self-publish

Meet Me At Arisia 2017

arisiaArisia, “New England’s Largest and Most Diverse Sci-Fi & Fantasy Convention” has just announced its programming for 2017 and I am delighted to be on two panels. Taking place from January 13 – 16, 2017 at the Westin Boston Waterfront hotel, this con seems to grow bigger every year. I’ve been attending religiously, but this is my first chance to be part of a panel as a legit author (the second panel is about costuming).

This year’s Guest of Honor is Ursula Vernon.

If you’re attending Arisia, why not stop by and say hi?

Marketing Your Book in a Digital Age
Faneuil (3W), 8:30am – 9:45am
Tracks: Writing
Types: Panel
Anna Erishkigal (moderator), Timothy Goyette, Constance Burris, Amy J. Murphy
Ebooks now constitute 30% of the book market, with some genres (such as romance) approaching 89%. How do you market these books? What opportunities does digital provide? What’s a reader magnet? And how do keywords make your book more visible? Come learn how to use MailChimp to build an email subscriber list, leverage your website, and reach out to readers without appearing spammy.

#SFWAPRo

Protecting your writing time.

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Lately, I’ve been running into some pretty big revisions in the completion of the third book in my Allies and Enemies series. (Allies and Enemies: Exiles)

While I love spending time in this universe with the characters I’ve created, I’m really ready to complete this series and move on to the next group of writing projects. I’m finding it difficult to edit/revise my manuscript and write new material at the same time. Throw the whole indie-author self-promo/marketing wrinkle and you’ve got yourself one stressed out writer. (Oh, and did I mention the “day job” too?)

The purpose of this post isn’t just my little bitch fest. Although admittedly, it is kinda cathartic. It made me seriously consider what methods are there “out there” for an indie-author to balance his or her time commitments. I see others of my ilk pumping out books just about every month while I struggle to complete a manuscript in under a year. Also, I see these folks manage to cruise through promos and blog posts? I consider myself a pretty smart person… well, I know enough to be dangerous about many things anyway. For some reason, this perfect balance seems to be eluding me.

So, here a few tips and tricks on how to help with the distractions and help protect your precious writing time:

  1. Establish a set schedule to block out your writing time and stick to it. Physically write it down on your schedule and make an appointment with yourself. Make yourself keep it. It doesn’t have to be a fancy app; even an old fashioned calendar would work. There are even free templates you can print out for Office.
  2. Take control of interruptions. Make sure that other members of your household understand that your writing time is sacred “butt in chair” time to keep the interruptions to life-threatening emergencies. Turn your phone off, if you can.
  3. Stake your claim. If you don’t have a dedicated writing space to yourself, consider carving one out. Take the laptop to the local library and camp out there. Noise reduction headphones or earplugs can drown out the noise if your best option is a coffee shop.
  4. Kill the distractions. The deep black hole of the internet is a huge time suck. (I mean you wouldn’t be reading this right now instead of writing if that weren’t true.) If the temptation to sneak a peek at Twitter or the Facebook is great enough to lure you away from writing time, leave your phone in the other room. Consider using software like Cold Turkey or Anti Social that allows you to block access to social media sites for set periods of time. You can also temporarily disable your wifi access if you don’t trust yourself.

What do you do to help protect your writing time?

Don’t Blow Your Blurb

blurbYou’ve done all the heavy lifting (as in writing an 80,000 word novel). You’ve polished the prose, checked all your commas, formatted the ebook and even your roommate’s cat loves the cover art. For all intents and purposes, your ebook is ready to go.

But wait! You’ve got to write your book’s description for the Amazon listing. For some hellish reason, you’re expected to summarize your blood, sweat and tears into a concise, compelling paragraph that will convince would-be readers to buy your book. It’s your sales pitch. It’s all come down to this. This is the reader’s introduction to your work of art and it’s all up to this tiny little paragraph (or two). It’s probably the most important thing you’re going to write when it comes to your book. It hardly seems fair, does it?

How do you squeeze your book into a synopsis that sings? (Bear in mind, I’m speaking with writing book blurbs or short synopsis for fiction books.)

Here’s a handy formula to help make that blurb:

  1. Start with the situation. Describe it simply.
  2. Throw in a “but” (or a “however” or an “until”) Basically anything that implies that things are going along swimmingly until something throws a wrench into the works. This something creates a crisis or a crunch point.
  3. Introduce a means that offers hope to overcome the crisis. This should be an enticement to the reader.
  4. Consider the tone of the story. Is it meant to be humor? Horror? Dark dystopia? This is your chance to that flavor.

Here’s an example of a very familiar story:

The tyrannical Galactic Empire, under the command of the bloodthirsty Darth Vader, captures the beautiful and brave Princess Leia, leader of the Rebel Alliance. Thrust into the path of destiny, wide-eyed farm boy, Luke Skywalker joins forces with an enigmatic Jedi Knight to rescue the princess with the help of Han Solo, a dashing starship captain. Can the unlikely trio save the princess, rebellion and the galaxy from the Empire?

The irrepressible and talented Rachel Aaron (Bach) wrote the following post about constructing a worthwhile blurb. You should check it out here. (http://thisblogisaploy.blogspot.com/search?q=blurbs)

So, fellow indie authors, how do you tackle this daunting task? Do you have a method to this?

Readers, how does the book description affect your decision to buy an ebook? I’d love to hear from you.

#SFWAPro

Self-Editing or How to Keep Your Brain From Eating Itself

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I got my edits back from my very patient and all too kind editor. And now is when the blood-letting starts. For me receiving my edits is a lot like report cards week at school—exciting and full of dread. You know you did your best, but you worry about any nasty surprises that may be in there. (Fun Fact: I got a D in typing my Freshman year. TYPING!!!! Can you believe it?!)

As writers, we are our own worst critics. We like to imagine the worst and allow that to feast on our brains. Any “nasty surprises” I dread would be things like finding out my astute editor has located a universe-ending plot hole that I never realize existed or that I change my main character’s name mid-story and didn’t realize it. But, hey, it happens. The question is how to tackle it in an efficient, brain-cell saving manner.

Here are some ideas on how to do your edits and avoid a brain meltdown: (*Note – I’m assuming that you’re using Word or a word-processing system that has a means to track changes here. And you’ve just got your edits back from your editor.)

s_c_b“Remember, short controlled bursts.” Define a beginning and an ending for each session of editing and stick to it. If you keep plugging along you’ll start to lose focus and get sloppy. Mistakes will slip through the cracks. Best to come back to it and view it with fresh eyes rather than muscle through.
average-joesAim low. Focus on the easy fixes: grammar, punctuation and spelling errors. That will clean up your screen and make it feel as if you’ve made some progress.

 

Broad strokes. If you come across any changes that affect the whole story, this is where the “Find and Replace” feature is your best friend. For instance, at the start of your story, you spelled your character’s name one way and then mid story got creative with the spelling. You can use Word’s Find and Replace (control + F) to hunt down all the misspelled instances and then replace them with the proper spelling.

rabbitholeAvoid the rabbit holes. When you work section by section with your edits, resist the urge to “jump around” to double check things. If you’re like me, you end up disappearing down another rabbit hole and losing the original thread of your revisions. If you do feel such an urge, scribble yourself a note on an index card or notebook as a reminder for later and then proceed with the edits to the section at hand.

Many editors and beta readers like to use “Comments” to communicate their edits. It’s a great way to keep all the thoughts and ideas together in one spot.

One of my favorite tools for editing and one that’s helped strengthen my writing skills is the Word Loss Diet by Rayne Hall. I cannot recommend this book enough. It’s part of her Writer’s Craft series, which is also a wealth of information. You can find Word Loss Diet for the ebook and at a great price too.

I hope these tips serve you well. How do you like to approach editing? Be sure to leave a comment below or share this post with others.

When should you be aggressive about passive voice?

dontdeadLike any other writer that has the grammar and punctuation tools active while using Word, I’m sure you’ve seen the annoying blue squiggly line with the warning “passive voice, consider revising” message pop up in your editing. Most of the time (for me at least) I did not elect to phrase things that way; it just sort of happened. I don’t consciously think of verb tense when I write. It’s like driving into your day job; you go on auto-pilot. In retrospect, you may not even recall stopping for any traffic lights along the way (which is a bit frightening).

Recently, I was helping beta read a work in progress for a friend. The subject of passive voice came up. I admit I’m hard pressed to understand why it’s considered a no-no. Like “-ly” adverbs, it also seems to get a bad rap. Where’d this animosity to the tense come from?

From what I can tell, this seems to be symptomatic of native English speakers. In the US, native English speakers learn from an early age that sentence structure has a 1) subject, 2) verb and, sometimes, 3) an object. Something does something to something else.

Consider this example:

The zombie ate Negan’s face.

Subject:               The zombie

Verb:                     ate

Object:                 Negan’s face

Aside from being hopefully prophetic, it’s pretty straightforward in terms of tone and it moves things along in the action category without a lot of pondering. It’s easy to read. This format is also common to see in non-fiction and in other areas where concise communication is imperative.

Consider the same thing shown in passive tense:

Negan’s face was eaten by the zombie.

Aside from sounding a little bit like Yoda, you can see what’s going on. Negan still got what was coming to him, but the action gets dragged down a bit. The emphasis is changed. It causes questions to bubble up for the reader. Depending on your goal as a fiction writer, this may not be what you want. Automatically, as a reader, my brain starts generating questions: what’s the important thing here? The zombie? Negan’s ruined face? What kind of zombie? (I think you get the picture.)

Need a way to test if you’re using passive voice? Try this: (I’ve seen this floating around on Pinterest a lot.)

Try to add the phrase “by zombies” after the verb in your sentence. If it makes sense, then your sentence is in the passive voice.

Here’s an example.

Original:

 The Republican National Convention was overrun.

Now add “by zombies”.

 The Republican National Convention was overrun by zombies.

Yep! You’ve got passive voice. From there, you can rearrange the structure to the active tense to sharpen things up.

Here’s a WikiHow article on how to fix passive voice: (I like it because it’s pretty short and straight forward.)

http://www.wikihow.com/Fix-Passive-Voice

Used the right way, passive voice can be very useful to change the focus of your subject. Maybe you don’t know who or what completed the action, and you want the reader to feel that sense of mystery too. So, it does have a place. Doled out in particular areas, it can be useful.

But if you want your prose to zing along without bogging down the works with lots of questions, try to avoid it.

Happy Book Birthday!!!

ae_fallen_dcHard to believe it, but a year ago I published the first book in my space opera series, Allies and Enemies: Fallen!

As a way of saying thanks to all who have supported this endeavor, I’m listing the ebook for FREE on Amazon.

Stay tuned for exciting news on the next installment in the series, Allies and Enemies: Exiles!

Writing with ADD: the Pomodoro Technique

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Writing with ADD: the Pomodoro Technique

Like many folks, it wasn’t until adulthood that I was diagnosed as an adult with ADD. With this discovery, a great many mysteries about my childhood (especially high school) were suddenly resolved. It explained my ability to “hyperfocus” on certain projects, becoming completely absorbed to the point of obsession while my attention would drift about erratically when it came to day-to-day events.

To this end, I believe it’s why it took me nearly 10 years to finish my first book. It’s why I can recall verbatim all the dialogue from movies or TV shows (that I like) after one viewing, or recite an article I read while in sixth grade about a tribe on Borneo. (They eat a soup made from soaking bird’s nests.) Those things landed in my “hyperfocus” window. (Not always exceptionally useful information, I admit.)

By the time I’d learned about my ADD, I’d already had a lot of “work arounds” for life in general. I used lists and “rituals” for daily living to make constant distraction easier to combat.

This past month while recovering from a workplace-related injury, I had a lot of time on my hands to write. However, I wasn’t getting it done. I’d write a few paragraphs and then disappear down some rabbit hole, only to re-emerge hours later wondering where the day went.

I discovered a method to help me train my focus on writing called the Pomodoro Technique. I first saw it referenced in one of the many, many ebooks I’ve purchased about increasing writing speed. I can write quickly—that’s not the problem. My problem was actual “butt in the chair” time. It’s SO easy for me to leave my desk to get a coffee only to end up wandering around my home as I ping from distraction to distraction.

Honestly, I was not avoiding the act of writing. I’d was dying to sit down and tell a story, but my brain (or rather my attention span) had a vastly different agenda.

The Pomodoro Technique is pretty easy. The name just sounds fancy (and possibly expensive). As it turns out—it’s Italian for “tomato”. This is because the person that thought it up had a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato and was Italian. Go figure.

It works like this: (*disclaimer: this is my version of how it works)

  1. Set your timer for 20 minutes (For me, it’s 23 minutes. That’s about as far as I can park my attention.)
  2. For those 20(ish) minutes, you sit in your chair and write.
  3. The timer goes off and you get a 5 to 7-minute That’s when you go grab a coffee, do sit ups or chase the dogs around the kitchen table.
  4. When the break is up, you do another 20-minute interval of writing.
  5. Rinse. Repeat.
  6. At the end of four of these 20-minute sessions, you can schedule a larger break (like 10 to 20 minutes).

The goal of this method is to train yourself to be productive in a shorter span of time and is meant to promote “mental agility” through frequent breaks.

How did it work for me? Pretty well, for the most part. I had some two and three thousand word days there. The result was the final draft in the third book in my Allies and Enemies series. I felt that I had better focus because I could tell myself that whatever distracting thought that bubbled up in the middle of my writing stent (How many seasons of Supernatural have there been anyway? Is house paint flammable? Did I order more contact lenses?) could wait until break time. It was exhausting because I did it for four days straight, which I might not repeat unless I’m under a tight deadline.

Even if you don’t have an actual diagnosis of ADD, the technique might be helpful if you’re trying to make the most of the writing time that you have. I used a customizable app called “30/30” that I found in the Apple store [here]. It’s pretty nifty. If you’re interested, you can learn more about the Pomodoro Technique [here].

(And, in case you’re wondering, I used the technique to finish this blog entry.)

#SFWAPro

Find Your Yoda

yodaEditors are the Yodas of the publishing world.

One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received about self-publishing was this: “Whatever you do, you need to hire an editor.” This is brilliant advice for any writer. Even if you’ve got an English lit degree, you need to have someone else look at your work before you release it out into the wild—publishing or just sending out to catch yourself a lit agent. Period.

But, Murphy, you say (in our hypothetical relationship, you know that I prefer to be called “Murphy”), that’s well and good, but how, pray tell, does one find an editor? (Did I mention in this hypothetical that you have an English accent and have a habit of using archaic Victorian phrasing?)

The internet’s filled with folks that will offer to edit your work for you. Some are awesome folks (like my editor) and some are not some awesome folks that will take your money and not make you very happy. Where can you start your search for one?

  • Ask around. Are you part of a writer’s group on the Facebook (I’m using “the” I the ironic sense)? One thing I’m sure you’ve learned by now that folks in those groups LOVE to share their opinions. They’ll have many opinions on editors and may even give you a name or three to look into.
  • Consult a professional group. I found my editor by visiting the Editorial Freelancers Association website (http://www.the-efa.org/). They have a super handy search engine that helps you look for an editor that has a background that will mesh with what you write.
  • Writer Beware. No… really. You’ve got to be on your toes. There are folks that will totally bilk you for your dough, so it’s important to look into magical editing services that may seem a little too good to be true. Fun fact: They probably are. Check out the Writer Beware section at the SFWA website. They’ve got a GREAT section on editors and links to some fab articles about editors. http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/

Say, you’ve found an editor you think you want to work with. What next? When you contact them, they should be willing and able to give you a sense of what their base cost is. Also, either they’ll look at a sample of your work (for free or for a small fee that’s good toward your contract). That’ll let them get to know your and your writing ability and you can know what kind of editor they are.

Do your homework on the editor and see if they have testimonials or other writers that they’d put you in contact with to get their feedback. If in your gut you don’t think it’s the right fit, don’t work with that person. Not every match up is going to be the right one.

Here’s another word of advice: pick an editor that knows your genre. Not all editors know all genres and they won’t necessarily know the markets. (That’s what agents are for.)

When you do find your editor, LEARN from their feedback and USE it. Yes, you are paying them for a service, but the point it to figure out what you’re doing wrong (or not so well) and not do it again. When you master each challenge, you build on your skills as a writer. That’s how you grow and how you’re getting your money’s worth out of the experience. Your editor can stop wasting time reminding you where commas go and help you with the meat and potatoes fixes that’ll really help you level up.

Editors are meant to be your Jedi master, young padawan learner.

Sucksville: Four Ways to Combat Editing Frumpiness

You’ve finished the first draft of your book. Hooray for you! *Fist bumps all around.*

But if you’re anything like me, you now find yfrumpyourself faced with the dreaded editing phase of your work. I’d rather run and hide. What is it about editing that makes it so hard? Maybe it’s the part where you make yourself sit in one place with your nose pressed into the mess of sentences you thought made sense at the time. Or perhaps it’s the fact that mentally you’ve “moved on” from this story and you’re eager to get going on the first draft of your next book that you can’t stop thinking about.

Even if your end game is to self-publish right away, or send it off to your beta-readers and/or editors for another look, one thing is certain; you have to polish up that prose before releasing it into the wild.

I was born and raised in the South. My mother was the very much a Southern lady, meaning she never left the house without looking her best (hair “done” and full makeup on). Had they been available at the time, yoga pants and giant hoodies would not have been an option. (What would the neighbors think?!)

Blame it on moving to Vermont or laziness on my part, but I’ve since developed my own sense of what’s a fashion do or don’t in terms of personal appearance.

However, when it comes to sending a manuscript out into the wild, perhaps we can all learn a thing or two from Southern fashion sense. Always look your best.

So here are four ideas to combat the editing frumpiness:

  1. Put it away. It may not make sense. But just don’t do the editing. At least not right away. You’ve spent a lot of time working on that manuscript. It’s very likely you’ve been so fully involved in it, you would “see the forest for the trees.” Because of the proximity to the work, you can miss errors great and small. So, give yourself a break from the work. Lock it away on your desktop (or in a filing cabinet if you’re old school) and resist the urge to touch your book for a while. (We’re talking at least a weak.) Use that time to clear your headspace. If something occurs to you during that time, DO NOT touch the manuscript. Write yourself a note that makes sense in your handy dandy notepad that you keep with you as a dutiful author. Consult said notepad when its time to dive back in with a fresh new perspective. Of course, all of this only works if you don’t have a deadline.
  2. Speaking of perspective. Been staring at the computer or the laptop screen for edits? Why not send yourself the file and look at it on your e-reader device (or e-reader app)? It changes your view and will help pick out things that may have been staring you in your face the whole time. Don’t know how to “side load” a file to your reader? Check out these handy-dandy instructions on how to email a doc to your Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/gp/sendtokindle/email
  3. Entertain your pets. If you’ve decided to dig into the edits and you keep wondering why you don’t like a particular passage, try reading aloud to your dog (or cat). Our internal voices experience things differently from our actual voice. Reading something aloud can help you pick up on awkward word choices or flow that’s not working well.
  4. Go on a (word-loss) diet. I’m calling in a ringer for this one, guys. In her book, The Word-Loss Diet: Professional Self-Editing Techniques for Authors, Rayne Hall outlines some pretty remarkable techniques to tackle the editing process. Some of them are actually kind of fun (once you get over discovering things about your own horrifying overuse of certain words or phrases). Say you’ve reached a point where you think you’ve “caught” all the flubs, but there’s something missing, then this is the book you should try. In fact, her whole Writer’s Craft series is quite awesome. Here’s a link to the Amazon page: https://amzn.com/B00AWA7XEE

If this post didn’t give it away, I’m currently editing my way through the first draft book three of my Allies and Enemies series. With a little luck, it should hit the virtual shelves by mid/late November. So be sure to check back in for updates.

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