Quick Update

Just want to write a quick note saying that I’ve decided to take the plunge: The Ancestor and Other Stories is now available only through Amazon as part of their KDP Select program!

I’ve been toying with this idea for a while now, and although there are pros and cons on both sides of the board, I’ve decided that the potential for exposure will greatly outweigh the lack of other stores to buy it in. After all, I’ve been making sales on Amazon, but nothing has gone through on Kobo yet.

The biggest challenge I’m facing as a first time self published author is getting my name out there. Sure, I could tweet my books and beg people to buy it all I want–but that’s not going to get me anything but blacklisted. I need honest readers to pick it up, leave reviews, or tell their friends. And KDP Select can help with that.

The most appealing thing, I think, is the five promotional days. Ryan Casey just had a fabulous success over the weekend with his promotion, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me think twice about trying it myself. Of course, he’s already out there; I’m still testing the waters, so it may not be as effective for me.

But it’s better than just staring at all the folks in the swimming pool, waiting for someone to invite me in. 🙂

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ROW 80 and the Tarot

The Fool–beginning of all journeys.

I’ve got another update for Round of Words in 80 Days–but it’s a small one. Unfortunately, I haven’t made a whole lot of progress since Sunday; not in terms of words written, anyway. Maybe around 300.

But, I haven’t been idle. I’ve been researching, and that’s something I’d like to talk about today.

My Tapestry project, as I’ve explained before, is structured into three phases. What I haven’t revealed yet is that the entire project is based on a larger overall structure–the Tarot. For those who may not know, the Tarot is a card-based system of divination* that’s been around for several hundred (some say thousands, though that’s a tenuous claim) years. I won’t go into the history of the Tarot here, though there’s a great book about the subject.

A bit of backstory: I’ve been reading Tarot for nearly a decade, but I’ve always had trouble memorizing the meanings of each card. When I did readings, I usually did them with a book in hand–which doesn’t make for a very confident result. Nevertheless, people seemed to enjoy my readings, so I continued.

About a year ago, I realized that the reason I was having trouble figuring out the meanings of the cards was because I was researching them too much. Everyone has a different way to interpret the cards, and it gets confusing if you’re trying to decide amongst several different interpretations, all of which claim they’re more accurate. I realized that Tarot isn’t about hard and fast meanings–it’s about intuition. When I stopped “learning” about the cards, I quite suddenly found myself able to give accurate readings without a reference book.

What does this have to do with Tapestry? This project is, in part, a way to familiarize myself with the deeper structure of the Tarot.

There are three phases of the project, and each corresponds (roughly) to a part of the Tarot. Phase one follows the ideas behind the Court cards; phase two will follow the pips (or minor arcana,) and phase three–the big one–is structured after the Major Arcana. This final bit of the project was actually the part that started me off; I’ve always wanted to write an allegorical “hero’s journey” type book patterned on the Major Arcana, which is essentially a story of spiritual development from Fool to Enlightenment.

Anyway. Right now my research is focusing on the court cards. I know, I said above that research isn’t getting me anywhere in understanding the Tarot–but this is different. By comparing the accepted meanings from several different sources, studying the actual cards from various decks I use, and intuitively learning to understand the archetypes behind them, I’m beginning to get a general sense of each card. Each chapter in phase one will center around a particular character, and my research will help guide the development of that character.

Now, I should stress that I’m not turning the Tarot into a story. I don’t have sixteen characters (the number of court cards) in phase one. Ohmel, introduced as the Knight in the Court of Sand, also appears as the Knight in the other three courts. My main villain, Alkut, appears as the Page of Sand as well as the King of Rain, and possibly the Knight of Tinder. The characters are still my own, and won’t be held fast to the archetypes I discover in the tarot; instead, I like to think of them as being “coloured by the cards.”

So this week has been spend researching and thinking about the Court of Rain. In this part of the story the Queen of the Toral and her retinue deal with the fallout of the Ozym’s trade proposal–understanding that it is very likely a prelude to war. This is a suit interested in intuition and feeling, so it promises to be an emotionally charged entry, which I hope will pull the reader in, and help them make strong connections to the characters. Next up is Court of Slyphs.

You’ll notice that I’m not titling my stories directly after the Tarot; that’s because the story isn’t about the Tarot, just inspired by it. Breifly, here are the correlations:

  • Court of Sand = Suit of Pentacles (or Coins), which deals with Earthly, practical matters.
  • Court of Rain = Suit of Cups, as explained above.
  • Court of Slyphs = Suit of Swords, dealing with thought and logic.
  • Court of Tinder = Suit of Wands, which is about action and movement.

And there we are! How’s everyone else doing with ROW80 this week?

*I want to clarify that I don’t believe the Tarot can actually tell the future. Rather, I consider it an Oracle that can help give advice by revealing things we may already know, but aren’t paying attention to.

Image by snowqueen1426, c/o Flikr.

Horror Done Right

Credit to Marxchivist via Flikr

Today was a busy day at work, and I had to work through lunch–meaning I haven’t had time to put together a decent post. So I’m going to write up a quickie on a topic I’ve been sitting on for just such an occasion: what makes good horror literature.

First, a story: The Outsider, by H. P. Lovecraft. This is probably my favourite horror story, and it serves as a great example of the point I’m trying to make today. Go ahead, give it a read. I’ll wait.

Back?

Okay. The first thing you note about this story is the way it builds–and Lovecraft is a master at this kind of tension. You’ve got the whole story figured out right from the beginning paragraph–or so you think–and so the description and the action can appear a bit tedious. But the more you read, the more “off” everything feels. He drops hints here and there as to what’s really going on, while at the same time putting more and more of a veil over what you think you’ve figured out.

Then there’s the ending. At this point, you’ve probably understood what’s actually going on, but you can’t stop yourself–it’s like rolling down a hill with the break line cut, going fast and faster until you drive off the pier at the end.

And that is what good horror should be.

And, although I can’t claim to have mastered this myself yet, here’s the secret to writing good horror fiction: don’t work too hard. Let the reader do most of the work for you. Get them all worked up. Give them hints, but not too much; give them direction and plot, but leave just enough open that they have to do some thinking. And I don’t mean you should set up a mystery they should be trying to figure out: literally leave out certain details, don’t explain certain things.

A lot of writers are going to say that’s a cardinal sin, but I’ll stand by it. Think of the movie Alien. The whole reason it was scary was because you didn’t see the alien until it was too late. In the meantime, you see people’s horrified reactions, hear them panting as they run through the halls escaping it. And, most importantly: you’re making up your own alien to fit the stimuli.

Writing horror literature is about trusting the reader. You want them to follow along with your story and fill in the blanks, because–and trust me on this–anything the reader comes up with in their own mind is going to be infinitely more frightening than whatever you could come up with. And that’s not because you’re not a good writer–it’s because they know what scares them most. You don’t know that. You’ve probably never met your readers; how are you supposed to know what scares them? They know they’re reading a scary story, so they’ll fill in details with things they find scary. And half your work is done for you.

Okay, okay. I know it’s not really that simple. But it’s a start. And it’s a load off. I think a lot of writers and move makers try so hard to scare their audience that they fall on tired old tropes and ideas that nobody finds scary anymore. The first Friday the 13th was awesome because you’d never have guessed who the bad guy is; by Jason X (or, affectionately, Jason in Space) there’s nothing left to be scared of, so the director has to fill the movie with special effects and tons of gore.

And this is why Lovecraft is always going to be my favourite horror writer. His stories baffle me, complete and utterly. The things he describes have no meaning in this world–most of his characters literally go insane when they confront these things–but that means I can make them up myself. I follow his lead, of course, and every time I re-read a story I know exactly what’s going to happen.

But because I’m the one filling in the blanks, it happens differently every time. And he always gets me.

 

And hey, you wouldn’t expect me to pass up a golden opportunity like this would you? You can grab my own scary stories at Amazon and Kobo right now! Happy Halloween, everyone!

 

 

Slow and Steady: ROW80

This week’s been a bit different, you will have noticed. Last weekend I spent a lot of time doing my cover image for The Ancestor and Other Stories, and planned to do a blog post Monday about the process. That got split into two, which you can find here and here. After that post, I wanted to concentrate on getting my book released–my personal deadline was October 23–so I didn’t have much time for a post on Wednesday, opting for a simple update and inside look at my next project. No post Friday.

This morning is the Sunday check in for ROW80, so that’s what I’m here for. An odd schedule this week, but there you are. Hopefully back to normal next week.

So, an update: I had the day off on Friday, so I had some solid time to devote to writing. Before 10:00 AM, I’d plowed through 3000 words, and finished the first four stories of the sixteen planed for this phase of the project. In a rough draft, mind you, but still.

I also worked out a kink in the story that was bothering me, and wrote myself out of that corner I mentioned last time (I think). The characters are also coming out a bit more, and I’m learning about their habits and personalities. (My characters tend to start as an idea or even an archetype, and develop as I write into fully fleshed beings). I’m learning who the major players are–not necessarily the ones I’d thought, which means a bit of plot restructuring!–and this will make things easier going forward.

A Quick Note

This weekend, fellow writer/blogger Ryan Casey did a promotion through KDP Select for his book Something in the Cellar. There was a great response, pushing the book to #1 of the lists in the short story category. If you haven’t picked it up yet, you can do so here. It’s a great book, and I’d certainly recommend it.

The reason I mention it is because I’ve been thinking a lot about KDP Select over the last week–and specifically, about an article by Mark Coker of Smashwords about Amazon’s treatment of indie writers. Check out his article Amazon is Playing Indie Authors Like Pawns. It’s a very enlightening article, if not for the content itself rather than the comments. Coker is a direct competitor to Amazon, and although he says he supports the Kindle store, he seems to put KDP Select in a corner. The comments get even more enlightening: they mostly centre around the Shamshwords “Meatgrinder,” and how difficult it is to get a quality product out of it. Coker’s response is generally that people aren’t using it right if they’re having trouble, but I won’t get into that…

My point is that there are two very different distribution options highlighted here. KDP Select gives you great visibility and promotion on the biggest eBook retailer out there, but keep you tied to it exclusively. Smashwords gets you out to numerous retailers, providing a wider visibility, but has an arduous application/formatting process that some writers claim mangles their work. Smashwords also requires you to put their name on your copyright page–ostensibly they say it’s only as a distributor, but many readers would easily mistake that page as meaning Smashwords is the publisher, not the author.

Personally, I’ve kept away from Smashwords, mostly because of Meatgrinder. I’ve stayed away from Amazon because of the exclusivity requirement. But, as a writer trying to build a platform and get some visibility for my work, I know something needs to be done besides the regular Amazon store and the Kobo store.

Anyway, Ryan’s success with KDP Select (which isn’t restricted to this past weekend’s promotion,) is making me seriously consider pulling The Ancestor and Other Stories from Kobo, and offering it through KDP Select. I’m also considering giving Smashwords a shot with The Astrologers–because it’s the only way to get a $0.00 price point into the Amazon store without a lot of price-matching mumbo-jumbo.

I haven’t made up my mind yet, but lok for some new adventures around the corner!

ROW80 Update, and Random Musings

So, this is my first Round of Words update.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a whole lot to say. The ROW80 FAQ looks for tangible results, so all that daydreaming I’ve done about where my plot will go doesn’t count, right? 🙂

Seriously, I’ve not done too bad. This week I wrote close to 2500 words–I forgot to get an exact count, but my story was around 1000 a few days ago and is 3500 now–and finished the first rough draft of one part of my project, tentatively titles Succor. I also corrected some plot holes, I think…and in the process, sort of wrote myself into a corner. The ending of my story now makes a bit more sense, but I’ve added what will turn out to be a major plot point in a later part of the project. Mental note to follow up on that.

So, considering that I released two books in the last seven days, I think ~2500 is pretty good. Here’s to keeping up the pace. By my calculations, reaching 32000 in the time I have left is only an average of 470 words a day, so I’m on track.

While we’re on the topic, I thought I’d describe my project a bit more…clearly.

Tapestry is the working title of a nine part project (series) which takes place in the world of Tornum, where my short story The Astrologers, is set–but a few hundred years earlier. The basic setup is this: the Ozym are a hard people who live in a land of deserts, mountains, and little else. They’re rich in wealth, metals and (steampunkish) technology, but are wasting their resources otherwise–they’re a starving people, and need help.

Then there’s the Toral, a more agrarian people steeped in faith, religion, and dogma. They’re a deeply spiritual people, but their Hierophantic religious caste has grown decadent and useless–their religion is more a “matter of course” than anything, though there are those who long for their faith to be affirmed.

The warlike Ozym want what the Toral have–resources–and through the conniving of a young ambitious page of the court, are willing to take it by force. A war is inevitable, but there’s much more at stake than food for the people and religious freedom–and powers at work that neither race suspects.

As I’ve described elsewhere, the project will encompass three phases:

  1. Phase One: four collections of four stories, each centering on a different viewpoint leading up to the conflict. Court of Sand is first, and features the Ozym; Court of Rain follows with the Toral; Court of Slyphs concerns the Four Hierophants, and Court of Tinder leads to the call of war.
  2. Phase Two: four novellas, as yet untitled, each focusing on a different side of the war. The Ozym, Toral and Hierophants all get their own feature again, and the fourth will cover the actual conflict.
  3. Phase Three: A stand-alone–but intricately linked–novel focusing on the journey of a young Toral page-turned-prophet, Tobias Osir, as he struggles to find meaning and salvation for his people. This one is further down the line, but will serve as the basis of the mythology I’ve drawn up for the world of Tornum.

The whole point behind this project–and the reason it’s called Tapestry–that that each segment of the project will link to another in a way that’s more than just chronological. The aforementioned Succor takes place as the Yziman Emperor is discussing terms with the Toral Queen; the second story in Court of Rain will look at it from her point of view. Items that are hinted at in one story will be explored in another, and questions here will be answered elsewhere.

All in all, the story will feature magic, technology, and alchemy while attempting to discuss issues of racism, class disparity, and spirituality. It’s been in my head for a good long time, and I’m loving that I’ve finally found an outlet for it. I expect the entire project to take at least a full year to write, and maybe around 332,000 words.

Fortunately I’ve got the ROW80 community at my back keeping me accountable and providing inspiration!

Cover Text part 2

The Ancestor and Other Stories

The finished cover

As we saw yesterday, creating nice text for your cover can be as easy as typing it in: but with a little effort, you can get some really nice results. If you missed yesterday’s post, go check it out first; it’ll give some context to what we’re doing now.

Once you have your title block arranged the way you want it, you can play with its appearance. You might want to change the colors, add some text effects, or make it stand out more. It’s easy to do–my one recommendation would be to make your name in the same way, at the same time. I did my name the next day, and it took me a while to get it looking the same!

The first thing you need to do is decide what kind of effect you want. It’s best to play around if you don’t have any graphic design experience; there are tons of tricks you can use for really nice images. I found a nice tutorial here on how to make your text appear to glow like iron in a fire; I wanted my text to have a sort of antique/mysterious look to it.

The first thing I did was duplicate the text layer several times; this allowed me to put a different effect on each layer with the original text; otherwise you’re piling effect on top of effect, and the result will look messy. By showing or hiding layers, you can see how they look together.

Then I added a glow effect. Pretty simple with the glow tool; you just change the brightness, contrast, and the radius of the glow. Be careful about too large a radius, as if it goes outside your canvas size, you’ll get square edges when you put it on your cover.

cover title 5

A nice soft glow

On a separate layer, I did a Gaussian Blur. This creates a sort of haze out of the image, which I’ll set on the bottom layer. I also colored it red to compliment some of the tones in the cover image; this makes the haze blend in. It also helps set the letters apart nicely. It’s almost invisible in the final image, but the result is that the text looks like it’s part of the image, rather than copied and pasted on top of it.

cover title 6

Insert Jimmy Hendrix haze joke.

On another layer, I improved the Saturation of the color, which smooths out some of the anti-aliasing. The picture here shows pink text; I actually changed it to a more of a taupe color after taking this screenshot, but you get the idea.

Mine was taupe, not pink!

Next, I merged all the layers except the background. Why? This presses them all into the same layer so all my effects will be affected by what I do next. Otherwise I’d have to repeat the next couple steps separately for each layer.

After merging, I duplicated the layer again. It seems counter intuitive, but follow me; now I want to do two separate effects. First, the bottom layer is tinged green. Green is a compliment of the red of my cover image, so it’ll “pop” nicely. But I don’t want green text…

Bright green

…so on the top layer, I did a transparent gradient. This allows the top layer to be predominant while the bottom layer shows through; how much is up to you. In my case, the green shows up just enough to give the gold/taupe a sort of copper tinge–which enhances the antique look I’m going for. I think.

Gradient, and almost done!

Finally, I played a bit with the brightness and contrast on the top layer, to bring out the edges a touch. Finally, delete the black background layer, merge everything else, and voila! A nice sharp image of your title block.

The end result. Snazzy, eh?

From there, you just do Ctrl+a and Ctrl+C, then paste it into your Text layer on the cover image. Follow the same steps for your name, and you’re done. To finish up my cover, I added a small border, but that’s really it–almost all the work went into the text. All in all, it took me more than six hours over two days. Next time, it’ll be less than half that, now that I know what I’m doing!

Now, all of this may look complicated, and I’m not going to lie–it can get complicated. The best thing to do is play around with it–saving your originals frequently–and get opinions from friends and family. The more you tweak, the more you’ll learn. I knew next to nothing about image software before this process, but now I can do a passable cover; all it took was some patience, fiddling around, and good old Google.

News!

This past week has been a flurry of formatting, cover design, and tweaking…but it’s all paid off! The Ancestor and Other Stories has been submitted to both Kobo and the Amazon store, and will be available shortly–there was one final edit I had to make this morning, and it’s just in the final stages now. I’ll provide links, of course, but in the meantime, why not add it to your reading list on Goodreads?

Creating Cover Text

Acestor TextSo you’ve written your book, you’ve formatted everything, and have a snazzy cover image. All you have to do now is slap the title on your image and you’re good to go, right?

Well, yes…if you want a quickie cover. But if you take some time, you can make it a lot more appealing. I got some ideas from J.M. Grimm, who has a Cover Design Primer on her blog; check it out, it’s invaluable information.

The image above is what I’m using for the cover of The Ancestor and Other Stories. It took me around six hours in total to mock it up–but most of that time was playing around, trying to get it just right. Now that I know the process, it won’t take as long–and you can benefit from my trial and error! Here’s what I did (all of this was done in Paint.net, a free program):

I created a small canvas, 500X275 pixels. The size doesn’t really matter, but keeping it small meant I had to fit all my text in that area–an area I knew would fit on the canvas for the cover image, which is 600X800.

Next, I added several layers and labelled them. I made the background layer black so my text (which is going to be a light color) showed up well; later we’ll be deleting that layer. I have three layers for text.

Cover Title 1

Making layers for the text

Select your font. Be careful where you get your fonts–many of them are licensed, and will cost you. I went to Font Squirrel, which has tons of fonts for free. Get two fonts, as it will create some tension and contrast in your cover. I decided to use one font (Carousel) for the capital letters, and another (Goblin) for the rest of the text. See J.M. Grimm’s advice on her blog; she talks a lot about the different kinds of typefaces, and some basic design advice as to which works with which. Very important information.

The capital letters went on one layer, and the rest of the text on a separate one. This enables me to move the capitals separately from the rest, so I can position them easily. Otherwise you risk clipping one or the other as you draw select boxes and move stuff around. Make your life easier, and use separate layers.

Cover title 2

I just put the title and subtitle in the middle there, but you can draw a select box and move it wherever you want.

Build your arrangement–again, J.M. Grimm has some good advice. You want it to look dynamic; it’s all well and good to have your title all on one line, but switching it up can make it look more interesting. It depends on the “vibe” you want to give with your cover, and it’ll be different for every book. Play around until you find something you like.

Cover title 3

I changed the font of The to all Goblin. I think it looks better, and draws more attention to the A.

When you’re satisfied, save it under a separate file name–say, titleworking–which will let you go back to the original if you decide you don’t like it.

Finally, go to your title block and merge all your layers except the background (if you keep the background, you’ll end up with a black rectangle on your cover). Use Ctrl+A and Ctrl+C to copy. Then open up your cover image and create a second layer called “Text;” again, this allows you to move it independently of the background image. Move it to where you want it to be to make sure it fits, and that you like the composition.

Cover title 4

As you can see, my subtitle doesn’t fit–I had to go back and change that.

That’s step one. This post is getting longer than anticipated, so I’m going to split it–watch for step two tomorrow, where we’ll talk about making some nice effects for your title.

In the meantime, I’m pleased to announce that The Ancestor and Other Stories is formatted and ready for release! If you’re on our Community List, you’ll receive a free copy soon. If you haven’t signed up, do so here before 12:00 Mountain Time and I’ll send you a copy too. You’ll save a couple bucks.

If you have any tips or tricks with graphic design, let us know in the comments. See you tomorrow!

Research

The best days are not planned

The best days are not planned by Marcus Hansson via Flikr

I was going to use today’s post to talk about cover design, but I haven’t had time to do any work on my own cover this week. So we’ll save that for Monday.

Instead, I want to touch on one of my favorite parts of writing: research. Here’s five important notes about doing research effectively:

1. Sources

This is the big one. To do effective research, you need effective sources–and you need to be discretionary when you select them. For starters, don’t rely on Wikipedia.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great resource–but it’s not a reliable source. Wikipedia is edited by the general public. While most of the time people will have a vested interest in their contributions–and thus are reasonably accurate–there’s no way for you to know how reliable the contributor is. Maybe they think they know a lot more than they do, or maybe they don’t have an objective viewpoint (see below). Maybe they’re outright lying–there are tons of people who vandalize Wikipedia pages. It’s a great place to start, but you shouldn’t stop your research there.

Instead, you should look for Primary or Secondary sources. A Primary source is an original material, an eyewitness account, or something that was written as an event occurred. For example, if you’re researching Ancient Greek Philosophy, you should be reading Plato and Aristotle’s original works. Quite literally, you go to the source of the topic. This is where you’ll find the most accurate and relevant information.

Then, follow up with your secondary sources. These are commentaries on primary sources. A book written by a philosophy professor discussing the subtext of Plato’s Timaeus, for example. These are valuable sources as well, because they involve interpretation and opinions of the topic in question, and can give you a deeper understanding of the topic. Most of the time, you’ll find many more secondary sources than primary ones, though the primary sources are generally more important.

2.Follow the Leads

This is my favorite part of research. You read your primary source, and the author cites another work–so you look it up. You read that work, and it references another primary source you hadn’t considered. That source mentions your primary source as well, but looks at it from a different angle. Put all three together, and you get a comprehensive “three dimensional” picture of your topic.

Following the lead of a topic can be thrilling. It’s like a treasure hunt. Sources have a way of revealing secrets, or teasing you with ideas that never occurred to you before. It may be that in following the leads in a source, you find a completely different topic that fills a hole or answers a question. Or sometimes the leads go nowhere, and you learn nothing you need to know for your writing. But it’s still a fun trip.

A great example comes from University. I was researching my favorite Shakespeare play, Titus Andronicus, for a paper about the cycle of revenge as presented in the play. For those who don’t know the story, there’s a character named Aaron, who has a baby son; Aaron is captured and executed, but not before his rival Lucius swears to bring up the baby as if it were his own. This is a typical Shakespearean resolution for a protagonist, and completes the cycle of violence.

All very well and good. But in researching, I read a throw-away comment about the BBC Television production of Titus, in which Lucius kills the child anyway. Now it’s a completely different play. I watched the BBC video, and ended up writing a completely different paper, theorizing that this ending makes more sense in the context of Shakespeare’s Senecan influences…but that’s a long story. Suffice it to say, following the lead was the best thing I could have done for that paper.

3. Citation and Credit

This is an easy one. Don’t steal someone else’s work. Even worse is to pretend that you came up with the idea on your own. At best, you’ll draw the ire of the original author; at worst, you’ll be accused of plagiarism. Always reference your sources.

For fiction, this is a bit more relaxed. In a non-fiction book there are specific protocols for citation; in fiction, you don’t need to bother with footnotes and indices. But you should mention your research in a forward or acknowledgements section. Or you could include a “further reading” section which mentioned that these were the books you found helpful in researching your work. You could even give a metaphorical nod by dropping the author’s name in the book itself. Just make sure to give credit where credit’s due.

4. Objectivity and Facets

Another important thing about research is casting a wide net. Don’t go to just one Primary Source (although sometimes there is only one). Read as much as you can from different sources and authors–especially if they have conflicting viewpoints.

That may seem counter productive. Why would you want to read something that’s the opposite of what you read last week? That’ll only confuse you, right? Wrong. What it will do is give you some breathing space, an excuse to step back and come up with your own conclusions about what you’ve read.

If you read three books that claim Mars once had salty oceans and can only find one book that says it was as dry in the past as it is now, you’ve learned two very important things: that the “dry hypothesis” is no longer accepted, or is in the scientific fringe, and that someone out there has a reason to believe the scientific consensus is wrong. Then you ask why that person thinks it’s wrong, and suddenly you have a much more vibrant picture of your topic than you had before.

If everyone agrees on every facet of your topic, it’s not very interesting. Facts are facts, but they don’t paint a picture. You want to find the disagreements; these will lead you to more questions which will breathe life into the topic.

Objectivity is very important here, though. The person who wrote that Mars has always been dry? Maybe he’s writing for a right wing newsletter who believes that the space program is a waste of taxpayer money and wants to dissuade people from finding a reason to go to Mars. If someone writes a scathing attack on a scientific idea without providing any evidence of their own, maybe they have a vested interest in protecting their religious beliefs. (See Dawin vs Creationism…which we will not get into here).

It doesn’t matter who’s right or wrong in these instances; what matters is why they’re writing what they’re writing. If they’re not being objective, it’s probably not a good source.

5.Fact vs Opinion

Which leads into fact vs opinion. When you’re researching, you almost always want to exclusively look for facts. Opinions are fine, but they change from person to person; if you base your research on someone’s specific opinion, it won’t be believable.

This is a can of worms, though, and you have to be careful. Many people will pass off their opinion as fact, and get up in arms if you challenge it. It’s something you really just need to get a feel for, and a lot of it has to do with the objectivity of the author. The bottom line is that your research needs a solid foundation, and you can’t build that on a series of ideas that differ from person to person.

But that’s just my opinion.

How do you do your research? Do you focus on it a lot, or just do enough that you can write comfortably about your topic? Tell us about your research in the comments!

Adventures in Publishing and ROW80

Around of Words in 80 Days

A Round of Words in 80 Days

Those of you who are following along know that on Monday, my first eBook–The Astrologers–was released a day early on the Kobo store. You also probably know that it didn’t entirely work–something got messed up somewhere along the line, so I’ve taken it down. I’m taking this as a learning opportunity, so I wanted to say a quick word about it here.

But first! You see this logo to the left? This is a new (to me) project that works something like the ubiquitous NaNoWriMo, where you try to write a novel in 30 days–only it’s more flexible. The team behind a Round of Words in 80 Days calls it “the writing challenge that knows you have a life.”

Community is the idea behind it all. It’s a way for you to join a group of like minded writers who are finding it just as challenging as you to find time to write. And as any self-publishing author knows, you’re on the hook for all the details–which makes for an even bigger workload. The idea behind ROW80 is that others are in the same boat, and they’re here to encourage you in achieving your goals.

It’s pretty simple to get involved. Each cycle goes for 80 days–the most recent one started October 1st. You write a blog post detailing what you’re going to accomplish in those 80 days, then link it back to their blog so they can help track it. They have a team of volunteers who will provide encouragement and feedback. You check in twice a week (Wednesdays and Sundays) with your progress…and hopefully, you’ll reach your goals by the end of the term. Easy as that!

So I’m going to give this a spin. Check out their website–they have some specific procedures for you if you want to participate–but do look into it if you’re a writer. This will be a great tool.

So what’s my goal for this term?

I’m in the process of finishing up the first part of Phase One of my Tapestry project. My goal is going to be in two parts:

1. Write, edit and submit for copyediting all sixteen short stories that comprise the four parts of Phase One. This one should be easy enough to accomplish if I keep at it. I’m aiming for a total of 32,000 words–2000 words for each story.

2. Publish at least Court of Sand, the first four stories of the project. This may or may not happen, but I’m throwing it out there as a goal. Ideally, I’ll still be writing future parts as early parts get edited and published, so it should be doable.

Ambitious? Maybe. But shoot for the stars, right? And really, if NaNoWriMo expects you to do 54,000 in 30 days, I should be able to handle 20,000 fewer words in 80.

Now back to The Astrologers:

Here’s what happened. I compiled the eBook using Sigil, went over it multiple times making sure it was all just so, then finished the cover and assembled everything. I debugged/validated the file not once, but three times. I checked it in Adobe Digital Editions, Calibre, Kindle Desktop, and by side-loading it onto my Kobo. It all seemed fine (barring a few visual tweaks I

The Astrologers

The Astrologers–coming soon!

made as I went),so I uploaded it to the Kobo Store.

When it went live, I downloaded it once more to make sure it was still okay, and it’s a good thing I did. Somehow, the formatting got messed up. I don’t know if it was on their end or mine–it could well have been one of those small tweaks I made, though the file still works for me. I’m just not sure.

The result is that when you load the book, it shows the cover image. Turning the page takes you to the Title Page–with a nice graphic I made up–and shows the book as 99% read. One more tap to get to the Forward, and the book closes. The whole file is down to two pages.

However, the TOC is still there for some reason, and you can navigate through the story just fine from there. Of course, nobody not checking for a TOC is going to know this, so I de-listed the book. My hope was to have this free story released a week before my collection, The Ancestor and Other Stories, but both may end up being delayed; I don’t want to re-submit either until I know what’s wrong. I have a ticket into tech support (and Kobo is generally very good with that,) so hopefully I’ll know soon.

So if there’s a delay with my books coming next week, I hope you’ll bear with me. My thinking is that it’s better to push back a  release than to put out a product–reader’s first impressions of me, mind you–that is flatly broken.

Last Minute Changes

The Astrologers

Update: It appears that something has gone amiss with either the uploading of the file or the conversion process Kobo puts the book through; when you turn the page all you see is the cover. The file debugged fine, but still isn’t working, so I’m de-listing it until we can fix the issue.

So we’re just over a week away from the release of my first official eBook–save the date on October 23, where you’ll be able to pick it up at the Kobo store and Amazon. I’m working on putting it through Smashwords as well, but that may take a bit longer–they have a different submission process, which we’ll talk about soon.

But! There’s been a slight change in plans.

A friend pointed out that the four stories I intended to put into the collection–one fantasy and three horror/weird fiction–don’t fit together thematically. I’d thought it wouldn’t matter, seeing as The Astrologers (my fantasy tale) would be offered separately anyway as a freebie. But her point was that it muddles the branding, which is a very important thing to consider when making a first impression on a reader.

It reminded me of an article I read recently about JK Rowling, and the release of her most recent book, The Casual Vacancy. The post on MarsDorian.com talked about the unfortunate mistake in branding; people bought it expecting more of the same YA fantasy fun–but got a raunchy book filled with sex, drugs, and profanity. It’s all very well and good for a writer to branch out, says Dorian, but Rowling’s foundation as a YA author was so solid that young people are buying the book without even reading the dust jacket.

Which is all besides the point for me. The point is, selling a fantasy story alongside a few horror stories doesn’t really make sense. So I’m going in another direction.

The Astrologers will be released as early as tomorrow, and will remain a stand-alone short story. Instead of offering the horror stories alongside it, I’ve included a preview of Court of Sand, the first release of my upcoming Tapestry series–which takes place in the same world as The Astrologers, albeit a few centuries earlier. That makes a lot more sense.

(Update: There was apparently a mix-up at the Kobo Store; although I set the release date for October 16, it came out this morning. There’s no sense in taking it down, so you can get it here. Did I mention it’s free?)

But I’m not ditching the other stories!

The Ancestor and Other Stories will be released on October 23, as planned, for $1.99. This is a collection of three stories from the same genre, which makes it more cohesive. I still want to be writing in the horror/weird genre, but separating them from the fantasy books at least allows readers the choice between them, if they don’t like one or the other. Call it diversifying the product.

You’ve heard all about The Astrologers by now, perhaps even read the first draft on this blog. Over the course of this week, we’ll take a look at the stories in The Ancestor in anticipation of the release.

Finally, you may ask: what about the promise of a free copy of The Astrologers and Other Stories if you sign up for my Community List before October 23? You’ll still get them, but they’ll be two separate eBooks. Plus, you’ll receive the complete first draft of Court of Sand as an added bonus within the next couple weeks! But the offer will only last until the official release, so sign up now!

(Since the release of The Astrologers happened a bit earlier than anticipated, those of you who signed up for the list will receive their copy sometime within the next 24 hours).