Tapestry–A New Project, and a Sample

All Sizes

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While I’m in the midst of planning the marketing and production of my upcoming collection–The Astrologers and Other Stories–I’m also continuing to write. I have a file on the memo app on my phone that teems with story ideas, and one of them is particularly exciting for me.

Those of you who read The Astrologers (which you can find here, here, and here), will have an idea about the World of this project. The setting is one I created many years ago, but my planned novel never got finished. The Astrologers is a stand alone story I wrote partly in the hopes of rejuvenating that world–and it worked. The ideas started flooding in, and now I’ve pencilled out an outline for a large project.

It starts two hundred years before the time of my planned novel–which I still plan to write one day–and The Astrologers. I wanted to explore the backstory of my World, and in the process, help build it. I’m also planning on featuring a favourite character of mine, the Prophet Osir–a character that never appears in the aforementioned novel, but is a significant figure in its mythology. Now, I get to tell his story.

The project–tentatively titles Tapestry–will be written in three phases. Phase one is a collection of sixteen short stories, each working as character studies; they will be released in four sets, each between 8000 and 10,000 words long

Phase two will consist of four novellas, each following the story revealed through the earlier character studies. These stories are interrelated, and some scenes from Phase one will be revisited from other viewpoints, or otherwise expanded upon.

Phase three will be a longer novel that concentrates on Tobias Osir, a young soldier in the army who is caught in the middle of a religious and political war. Osir is forced to question his faith and his place in the world. It will follow him from his naive beginnings to…well, you’ll just have to read it.

In the end, we’ll have nine separate stories, each interrelated and connected to each other: a true literary tapestry. There’s a specific structure behind this–but we’ll talk about that another time. In the meantime, here’s a sample: the opening of the series. Let me know what you think in the comments!



Lamplight flickered, and shadows danced on the wall. Verdant silence filled the halls, and the only movement was the opening of the door to the Empress’s chambers. A dark form slipped out and closed the door behind him with a soft click. Alkut stopped for a moment, listening; content that he was alone, he sneaked quietly away. He did not notice her son, Ohmelus, General  of the Court, watching him.


Metedre fell upon the door as it closed, resting her forehead on the rough wood. A heavy sigh shook her shoulders, and yet she wore a faint smile; these encounters were always bittersweet. She bit a lip. More sweet than bitter tonight.
But the guilt would come. It haunted the dark, sang refrains in her mind as she held court with her Emperor. She never ceased to marvel that he didn’t know—or if he did know, that he didn’t care. She would be naïve to think that it was as well a kept secret as she wished, and that thought kept her continually on edge.
And yet she would not deny herself. Tauri was cold, distant—he had an empire to rule, and had no time for her. She had known that even before they were married. She had but one role as Empress: continue the line. That she had, with Ohmelus, and though more heirs would be welcome, her function had been served. Tauri had little to do with her, nor should he. His eyes were on the governance of the realm.
When Alkut’s footsteps receded out of earshot, she stepped away from the door and padded her way, barefoot, to the window overlooking her garden. A small marble bench sat by the sill, and she wrapped her robe more tightly around herself as she sat. For once, the breeze was cool tonight. The soft caress was welcome.
She did not love him, and he had as much as admitted that he had no love for her. Their…arrangement was mutually beneficial, and that was all. Occasionally, she revelled in the thought that all she need do was give the word, and he—and his temptations—would be removed. She need not expend any further thought on the matter, and no one would dare ask questions, even tell the Emperor if she bade them not to. Her quandary would be erased. But then, Alkut served not only to warm her bed. He was critical to the Empire’s survival.
The breeze wafted through the window and brought with it a scent of jasmine. They had been imported from Tornum at her request—and no little expense—and had become one of her greatest pleasures. It was a slave for an overwrought mind, and always served to bring her back down to earth.
Tauri had acted interested when she asked for the flowers, and the Court did as they always did, applauding his decision despite the cost. In the end, it had been to him little more than an opportunity; he’d had the flowers planted all through Ais for the populace to enjoy, and spoke at length about the benefits of bringing such beauty to the normally hot and dry city. Indeed, the white blooms had infested the city, and everyone praised the wisdom of the Emperor for bringing such life to their veritable desert. Not a word was spoken about her own involvement, but that was immaterial. She relished in the people’s enjoyment, and was happy that her own request had benefited them.
Still, she was the only one in Ais with a full garden. Many of the richer caste had flowers in their yard, even grass and fountains—but not a real garden like hers. It was a great indulgence in a realm with more sands than people, and the resources it took to cultivate and maintain the plants was considerable, but nobody begrudged her. Occasionally she held lavish public parties in her garden, welcoming everyone, regardless of caste or wealth. The people often called her The Jasmine Empress because of it, and celebrated her generosity. No regent of the Empire had ever done this for the people, and she knew she would be remembered for it long after she turned to dust. It was a legacy that gave her more pleasure than that of the Tauri line ever could.
The parties were becoming more frequent, and more necessary. Her people had fallen on difficult times; populations grew while resources grew thin, and there seemed to be more problems than pleasures. Her garden had become a bastion of peace, a refuge where people could forget their cares, if even for a short time. Something about the verdant growth entrances the Ozym; they felt grounded in her garden, rooted. She liked to think that being connected to the land gave them a new perspective of their problems—that they were fleeting, however taxing, that these blossoms, properly tended, would outlast all of their problems. She wanted this garden to become a symbol for her people, a sign that the problems of their material world mattered much less than the wonders of the world around them. This garden, she hoped, would continue thriving long after all of them had turned to dust.
She smiled at the thought, her indiscretions of the evening almost forgotten. Then, gazing dreamily out the window, she caught a flutter of movement in her garden, and a small gnomish figure stepped out of a copse of trees. Metedre stood at once, and fled to the door. The Crone had news.

Formatting eBooks–for Newbs

Last time, we spoke about the very basics of doing a book cover–today, another integral piece of the puzzle, formatting!

Before I got into e-publishing, I thought I knew what publishers wanted when you submit your manuscript. There are certain protocols you’re supposed to follow–name in the upper left corner, word count in the upper right, etc. The purpose of this is for the agent or publisher to have a quick reference, and for the editor to be able to easily get around your work. In e-publishing, though, the writer is filling most of those roles, so the game is completely different.

So why not just write the book in MS Word the way you want it to look, upload it to Kobo or Amazon, and press publish?

If you do that, I’ll guarantee you one thing: the end product will look horrible.

The thing is, a lot of the formatting in MS Word–or other word processors for that matter–is done in the background, where you can’t see it. Here’s an experiment: go to the View tab,

Word Formatting Marks

Formatting Marks: note there are even dots to indicate the space between words.

and find the option that shows your formatting marks. (In Word, go to Options, Display, and Show All Formatting Marks.) Your manuscript will be riddled with symbols; this is coding Word inputs into your file as you’re writing to determine what the output will look like. What many people don’t realize is that Word is not a What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get program. Far from it!

Here’s another experiment. Copy a paragraph of your manuscript, open a blank file in Notepad, and paste it. The text should go, unbroken, on one line, and you’ll have to scroll to the right to see it all. This is because .txt files, unlike files from word processors, don’t have “Word Wrap,” meaning that the text will go on forever until a new paragraph is started. Looks hard to read, right? Surely we want our manuscripts to “wrap” when we format them for eBooks, right?

Actually, no. The thing is, there’s no standard for electronic books. Many–I’d even say most–go with the ePub format, while others–like the ubiquitous Amazon Kindle books–are .mobi files. There are several other formats; the point is, they’re all programmed differently. So when you upload a particular file to, say, Kobo, it might look vastly different when Amazon gets a hold of it. The difference comes in how those files interact with the formatting marks I mentioned earlier.

I haven’t experimented with every kind of file, so I can’t tell you yet which works best–what I can say is that, for the sake of your own sanity, the easiest thing to do is start with a raw file. I do a lot of my writing in MS Word through Google Docs–because it’s accessible anywhere, even on my phone–and copy and paste the text into Scrivener. Scrivener can output into several file types, including Real Text Format (rtf) or the MS Word .doc. Of, you can export it as a text file. This is the raw text–no formatting at all.

What I’ve been doing is exporting as a text file, then opening up a program called Sigil, a WYSIWYG editor (unlike Word!). Sigilis basically an HTML editor, meaning you’ll be coding in the same way you would a web page–or an eBook. It’s really simple to use, and you don’t need any experience with HTML. Just copy and paste your work, create headings (which will create a table of contents for you), and images if you have them, italicize and bold your text if need be. That’s it! There’s a handy tutorial here, and the whole process isn’t very long or arduous (though poetry is another story–it took a while to get Muzak for the Metro to look right).

It might even be simpler, though. I haven’t tried it yet, but I imagine you could output your Scrivener files as an eBook, which would open in Sigil. This way, you do most of your formatting as you work in Scrivener, and use Sigil for touch-ups.

Once that’s done, you use Calibre to tweak things like metadata and making sure everything is “just so.” But that’s a topic for another post.

This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to eBook formatting, but it’s a start, and it’s a lot easier than some might lead you to believe. If you want to check out a sample of just how this turns out, you can go to Amazon to find the eBook I created with this process (including a cover) this weekend, Muzak for the Metro. It’s only $0.99, and it includes a poem that wasn’t in the original collection–plus an excerpt from “Room With a Corpse,” a short story which will appear in my forthcoming collection The Astrologers and Other Stories. Check it out!

Creating eBook Covers–For Newbs

In yesterday’s brief post, I mentioned that I spent some time this past weekend learning how to format eBooks and make covers. Now, I’m by no means an expert at either, but I learned a great deal–and since this blog is about learning how to publish, why not share what I learned? Today, I’ll touch on creating covers–but fair warning, this is a large topic, so it won’t be a comprehensive how-to. Look in the future for more tips and tricks on making eBook covers.

For now, we’ll start easy. Why should you even bother? The short answer is what I’m going to call “Browse Potential.”

A lot of books get sold because readers are familiar with the author or because they’re aware of the story; some get sold by word of mouth or people reading reviews. But a lot of books are sold because someone was wandering the aisles in the bookstore and found something cool. This is my favorite way to shop for books: browsing. You never know what you’re going to find, so it’s a bit like a treasure hunt. And when I’m browsing, it’s often the books with the flashiest covers that catch my eye.

It works the same when you’re buying eBooks, but I’d argue that covers are even more important. It’s easy to just breeze by all the little thumbnails on your screen without giving any of them a second thought. Or worse, picking out a particularly bad cover and deciding (without having read it) that it’s an amateurish or poorly written book. In other words, not worth buying.
The sad truth is that people will judge your books by it’s cover–so make it a good one!

Now, I’m no artist, so I can’t pretend to know anything about effective composition and drawing the eye to the corner or color theory. But I do know what I, as a reader, like to see in a book cover. I think this is the best place for someone new to start: design a cover for a book you’d want to buy. You may not share everyone’s tastes, but chances are your readers–having chosen to purchase a book in the genre you’re writing in–will share at least some aesthetics.

So you’ve got a concept you think will draw people’s attention. What then?

There are lots of people online who will design a cover for you, for various fees (I’ve seen them go up to $200 for one cover). I haven’t started generating revenue yet, so I don’t want to pay that right off the bat…but I still need a good cover. Fortunately, my sister-in-law is an artist, and has agreed to help me out. She’s providing the artwork in a digital file, and I’m using graphic design software to make it into a cover.

I went to a site called eBook Rights Management, which offers DRM protection for eBooks, as well as templates you can use to design covers. Their covers are free, but if you’re going to use them, it’s only fair to credit them in your book. I mocked up a simple cover, then downloaded the image and loaded it into a program called Paint.net to manipulate the image into what I wanted.

(I’m not going to get into how to use Paint.net here, as it’s outside the scope of this post and you can find much better tutorials than I could write online. Suffice it to say that it’s got most of the functionality of Photoshop,  but it’s free!)

This was the arduous part. I’m picky when it comes to this kind of thing, so it took a few hours to get one solid image–the one above–which I’m not completely sold on yet. But it’s a start. While I was making the image, I saved a template with the correct canvas size for an eBook; this will enable me to quickly create new covers without doing all the set up first.

The next step was finding a font. The number of fonts you have will depend on your own software, but it’s easy to find new ones online. A word of warning, though: many font packages will cost you, and some of the ones that say they’re free actually aren’t (they involve royalties, or when you click through to download it asks you to pay). Do your research before settling on a font, and make sure you’re attributing it correctly in the book’s front matter. Nothing in this world is completely free, but that doesn’t mean you should rip off someone else’s work!

Now all you have to do is put it all together. I’d recommend creating a new layer in your image for anything you add–it will make further edits much simpler. A layer is just what it sounds like: a layer you can edit without affecting the image beneath. I had one for my border, another for the image, a third for my title, and a fourth for my name. It seems like lots of work, but it’s well worth it for the hassle you’ll save yourself.

And there you have it: a quick and dirty cover. Of course, this is a very basic way to go about things; I have some experience with image manipulation, but I wouldn’t call it graphic design. If you want a seriously well done cover, you should either learn the programs you’ll be using, or pay someone else to do it. You don’t have to be incredibly ornate, but the end result should look better than something you threw together in MS Paint. And the more professional it looks, the more “Browse Potential” you’ll earn.

Got any tips for cover design, or a link to a resource? Post it in the comments!

Muzak for the Metro

In my ever continuing effort to experiment with this self-publishing thing, I spent much of the day yesterday playing with two programs: Paint.net, learning to make covers; and Sigil, an open source ePub editor, learning to format ebooks from scratch with HTML. It was enlightening–the editing, formatting, and graphic design work in publishing is two or three times the work of actually writing–but interesting. I’ll be sharing my experiences with you in the coming weeks.

But I wasn’t just fiddling around. I took my previous “test project,” Muzak for the Metro, and spruced it up a bit. I included a poem that wasn’t in there before–Adam’s Tree–and a snippet of a short story called Room With a Corpse–which will be included in full in my upcoming collection The Astrologers and Other Stories.

And now I’m happy to announce that it’s ready for sale on Amazon! You can purchase it here. If you do, please consider leaving a review!

The book has also been uploaded to the Kobo store for those of you up here in Canada, but it’s not live yet–stay tuned!

Writer’s Resources

I’ve already made a short post today–see below for my re-blog of David Hewson’s nice post about Scrivener and Screenshots–but I wanted to add a little something of my own too.

As I’ve embarked on this self-publishing journey, my biggest impression has been of just how much there is to think about–and how much help is available to writers in the same position. Publishing an eBook isn’t as simple as writing something, converting it, and sending it to a store. There’s a ton of work involved, from many aspect that aren’t even really connected with writing (like marketing, social networking, graphic design, and HTML coding/formatting of the product). The amount of work that goes into it is impressive–and intimidating.

Fortunately, the indie writer’s community online is terrific. People like Yesenia Vargas, Ryan Casey, and Joanna Penn are great resources, centering on different aspects of the game, and there are hundreds more.

So, as someone who’s just beginning to take the first steps along this path, I’ve decided to collect links that I’ve found helpful or interesting, and provide them to anyone else reading this blog. At the top of this page, you’ll note that I’ve added a page called Writer’s Resources, where you can find these collected links. My intent is to keep adding to the list whenever I find something I feel the need to refer back to, but I’m inviting input from everyone. If you have a link you’ve found helpful, send it my way and I’ll add it to the page. (The caveat here is that this isn’t intended for advertising or self-promotion; if that’s your angle, I won’t post it.)

Take a look at the page–I hope you find it helpful!

Scrivener and Snapshots

I had a conversation with a writer friend recently about Scrivener and backups, and the subject of Snapshots came up. I’ve since learned that Snapshots aren’t really useful as a backup–Scrivener gives you a different option for that–but they’re still really useful.
The big idea here is being able to change your manuscript while being able to refer to a previous version…but I’ll let the article below tell you all about it:

Interview with Yesenia Vargas, Part 2

Attribution Some rights reserved by JD | Photography

by JD | Photography

On Monday, we had the first part of a short interview I did with Yesenia Vargas, who just started offering editing services–which you can find more information about here. Yesenia is in the process of editing my upcoming collection, The Astrologers and Other Stories, and I can vouch for the quality of her work.

She’s also got great rates–especially important for writers who are just starting out–and for a limited time, she’s even offering a 50% discount. Catch it before you’re too late!

In the meantime, here’s the rest of the interview. As before, my questions are in bold, and her answers in regular text:

What advice would you give to new writers who may think editing is too expensive, or isn’t necessary at all?

Copyediting and proofreading, at least, are always necessary because a writer is never going to catch all of his or her own mistakes. You’re too close to it. I’m a prime example of this. I absolutely stink at editing my own writing. I thought a short story of mine was “perfect.” I got a friend to critique it, and she found all kinds of things.

I would also say getting an editor is one of the best investments you’ll make (along with getting a professionally designed cover). If you don’t believe me, take a look at the results of the Taleist’s Self-Publishing Survey. According to this report, “respondents who hired help for things like story-editing, copyediting and proofreading earned on average 13% more than those who didn’t.” That’s money you’re leaving on the table.

What are some common mistakes you find while editing?

The biggest thing is probably the misuse, overuse, and lack of use of the beloved comma. I think it’s an issue that’s pretty common among everyone, not just writers. It’s understandable. I won’t give a lecture or anything, but it’s a good idea for writers to find their biggest grammar issues and tackle one every once in a while.

Another common issue is spelling. The English language is tricky. We have a bunch of words that sound exactly the same but are spelled differently and mean different things (like “peek” and “peak”). So it’s easy to use the wrong word and not catch it.

Finally, here’s a fun one…are there any published books on the market you wish had been better edited?

Luckily, I can’t say I’ve read anything that was so poorly edited (or obviously wasn’t edited) that I just put it down. I’ve read a self-published book that had less typos and such (hardly any) than a really successful, best-selling, traditionally published book.

When there is a mistake, I think it tends to jolt the reader out of the story or whatever topic the book was teaching and tarnish the writer’s credibility a bit. But like I said, it’s simply impossible to make a manuscript 100% mistake-free.

A book can always benefit from an additional pair of eyes, though. I would say get at least one copyeditor and two proofreaders to make sure you find and correct as many mistakes as possible.

Special thanks to Yesenia for taking the time to answer my questions. You can find her website here, or catch her on twitter at @YeseniaVargas32.

Editor’s Appreciation and an Interview

from Generationbass.com

So as I’ve been saying on this blog, my first publication–The Astrologers and Other Stories–will be published soon, and has been sent to an editor in preparation. That editor is Yesenia Vargas, who can be found here. Yesenia just started offering editing services, and I jumped at the chance to be a client for two big reasons: she’s a fellow indie writer with aspirations toward self-publishing, and her rates are great.

In fact, she’s got a special rate for a limited time–50% off! That’s an amazing $2 a page for copyediting–you will not find a better deal. Go here for details, and don’t dawdle–the discount is only for the next four clients!

Yesenia mentioned to me that September is Editor’s Appreciation Month–which is timely, given her venture and my first experience with professional editing.  I also thought that this confluence made for a great opportunity for an interview. Below is the first half of our exchange–enjoy! My questions in bold, her answers in regular typeface.

You’ve been blogging and writing for a while–what made you want to also offer editing services?

Not to brag or anything, but I’ve always been pretty good at grammar, punctuation, and those kinds of things. It’s something I enjoy and do even when I’m not thinking about it. In school, I was the one my peers went to when they weren’t sure about how to spell a word or use a comma. My friends would also regularly give me their English papers to edit or proofread before submitting them.

I never thought I could be a professional editor, though, until I read a writing friend’s book and pointed out a few typos and grammar mistakes I had found. She said I should be a copyeditor since I seemed to have a knack for it. Her comment really stuck with me, and I started researching what it took to be a great copyeditor and how to start my own business.

What are some of your experiences with editors?

To be honest, I’ve never worked with one as a writer since I’m not published yet. However, I do read some editors’ blogs and websites because there’s a lot I can learn from their experiences. In addition, I’ve chatted with a couple of editors via social media who seem like nice, hard-working people. I mentioned to one that I was going into copyediting, and she was actually really supportive.

How do you think editing differs between self e-publishing and so-called “traditional” publishing?

Well for one thing, the publishing house is the one that hires (and pays for) the editors, although the writer will most likely also communicate with them. In e-publishing (or self-publishing) the writer is completely in charge of finding and hiring an editor. In e-publishing, I would also say there’s a higher risk of getting scammed or having an editor who doesn’t really know what he or she is doing because the publishing house has access to people who regularly work for them and do a great job.

Either way, a writer shouldn’t think that just because a book is traditionally published that the editing will be 100% perfect or mistake-free. Editors are human. You’ll always have at least a couple of typos no matter who edits the manuscript. Nonetheless, it’s smart to make sure any editor has references and that you check them.

On Wednesday I’ll post the second half of our interview, so stay tuned! In the meantime, if you’ve had some experience with editors you’d like to share, post in the comments! We both want to hear from you.


Beta Readers

One of the steps of editing a new piece of writing is Substantive Editing. This is where you concentrate on the general scope of your work and identify things like plot holes, inconsistencies, and character development. In short, it’s kind of like a professional critique. It’s a service some editors provide–but I think that Beta Readers would fill this role just as well.

This kind of editing is important, because if your story or novel doesn’t make narrative sense or the characters are uninteresting, it’s not going to sell. A story has to be compelling and imaginative, yes; but if the plot is hard to follow, people won’t want to read it. Reading should be entertainment, not work, and a piece that hasn’t gone through this process runs the risk of taking the reader “out of the world of the book” as they pick apart all the problems or try to figure out what just happened.

These are the kinds of things writers (should) know to avoid; if you’ve taken workshops, classes, or read enough literature to understand how narratives work, you should be able to avoid these problems. But a writer is often too close to their own work. These are things that are easy for a writer to miss, and easy for a fresh pair of eyes to pick up on. And this is where Beta Readers come in.

What’s a Beta Reader? Glad you asked.

In the software world, programmers will distribute their work to beta testers, who will play with it to find bugs, discover issues, and generally give input. These contributions are then considered for the product, which is tweaked as needed before final release. The result is software that’s “tried and true.”

Fiction can work the same way. If you’d like to sign up as a Beta Reader for me, send me an email at jparsonswrites@gmail.com. I’ll send you a copy of my collection, The Astrologers and Other Stories, and ask for feedback. You don’t need any special skills for this, and I’m not asking for a detailed 120 page report; all you need to do is read it, and let me know what you think from a constructive standpoint.  I want to know how the characters work, how the plot flows, and if it makes sense. (For further reading, here’s a post by Jami Gold that talks about beta readers.)

Now, I should stress that I’m not asking beta readers to do any editing for me–I just want opinions. It doesn’t have to be in detail, just constructive enough that it’s useful. And what will you get in return? You’ll be the first to receive a free copy of the collection when it goes to print, as well as acknowledgement in the front matter (and if your input is constructive rather than generic, I’ll provide a link to your blog or website). Just for reading a story. I’ll also offer my own services as a beta reader if you have a story you’re ready to publish. Not a bad deal, eh?

On Monday, I have a special treat: an interview with Yesenia Vargas, an indie writer who’s just started offering editing services. She can be found at YeseniaVargas.com. Stay tuned after the weekend for a great talk about the other side of writing!

Here’s a great post about common mistakes to be aware of as an indie author–and it’s quite timely, seeing as I’m on the verge of publishing my first work. I have to admit, I’ve been guilty of #1–though I’d say my visions of grandeur fall more into the “daydream”category than self-deception. #2 is something I’m working on, though it’s challenging to get a handle on…and as for #3, see my post about Editing and Ego. Editing is not something you can skimp on!
Anyway, read on…


This morning we have a guest post from Shannon O’Neil, one half of the Florida-based dynamic duo (Toni being the other half!) behind the fantastic self-publishing website Duolit. Here, Shannon shares her tips on how to avoid some of the most common self-publishing mistakes. Take it away, Shannon… 

“Don’t hang your head, it’s okay. We all make mistakes.

For example, that orange taffeta bridesmaid dress your friend picked for her wedding was a mistake (as evidenced by the surviving pictures of the event). So was the guy with a mustache you dated for three months, the time you decided to replace your morning coffee with tea and the expensive iPhone case with the sparkly rhinestones you bought and outgrew within a week.

What’s important, however, is that you learned from every egregious error so that you would never, ever make the same mistake again.

(Okay, maybe just once more…

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