Saturday, August 30, 2014

Upcoming Writers Conferences in Utah

2014 League of Utah Writers Conference, September 12-13, 2014. Registration here.

2014 Book Academy Conference, UVU, September 25, 2014. CANCELLED

2014 Utah Romance Writers of America: A Readers Luncheon, October 16-19, 2014. Registration here.

2014 IndieReCon, October 10-11, 2014. SLCC Miller Campus, Sandy Utah. Registration here.

2014 Kanab Writers Conference, October 24-25, 2014. Kanab, Utah. Registration here

2015 LTUE Fantasy & Sci Fi Conference, February 12-14 2015, Provo Marriott Hotel & Conference Center. Register here.

2015 LDS Storymakers Conference, May 15-16, 2015. Utah Valley Conference Center, Provo, Utah (next to downtown Provo Marriott). Watch for info.

2015 Indie Author Hub Writers Conference, June, 2015. Information will be posted here.

2015 Writers at Work Conference, TBA, 2015. Alta, Utah. Information will be posted here.

2015 Writing & Illustrating for Young Readers Conference, TBA, 2015. Waterford School, Sandy, Utah. Register here.

2015 Teen Writers Conference, June TBA, 2015. Weber State University. Info here.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

When Are You Ready?

by Annette Lyon

Not long ago, I witnessed the following: 

A well-established, very successful writer, one who had moved from the traditional publishing world entirely to the indie side, was asked by a brand new, aspiring writer, when he would know his first book was ready to be published.

The veteran writer’s reply: “Put it up right away, as soon as you’re done with it. You’ll get better as time goes on, but why not earn money in the meantime?”

My reaction was pretty much stunned horror. I’ll explain why in a moment, but first, some back story:

I have been actively writing and seeking publication for two solid decades. In that time, my writing has improved by a huge amount, from the sheer number of words and books and articles and posts I’ve written as well as by the feedback I’ve received from others.

Some of those people have been other writers, such as critique group members. Others are beta readers, who may be writers or who may simply be avid readers. Some of those people are professional editors at a publishing house, people who have pushed me to take a good book and make it even better.

One such editor kept returning my manuscript—which was already under contract—and insisted I try again on this one section. It was almost there, but not quite. She wanted the motivation to be stronger here, or the characterization to be stronger there. I rewrote and rewrote and pulled my hair out. The experience was monumentally frustrating, because I already had confidence in that book. I knew it wasn’t garbage. It was good.

Besides, this wasn’t close to the first book I’d written, or even close to the first one I’d published.

For that matter, I had been part of an intense critique group for about a decade at that point. My skill level had increased a ton by that point. It was tempting to tell her to back off and just send the book to press already.

But in the end, I am so glad she didn’t do that. I’m immensely grateful that she pushed me to make the book the best I could possibly make it. She helped me see where my blind spots where so I could fix them. She helped me make that book shine. And it was a Whitney Awards finalist in the very first year of the program.

Many years later, I’m still very proud of that book instead of being embarrassed about it.

(I still hate the cover, though. Dear marketing and graphics departments: What were you thinking?)

Hypothetical question: 
What would have happened if the industry had shifted earlier, making the siren song of self-publishing whisper in my ear back in 2007? I might well have thought that hey, it’s good enough, and put it up myself before that book was truly ready.

My first book hit shelves after eight intense years of working my tail off on a lot of manuscripts. I learned an enormous amount in that time.

So I cringe to think what I would have put out into the world as a writer if I’d had the ability to self-publish back when I started in 1994 as easily as I can in 2014.

I simply wasn’t ready back then. I hadn’t paid my dues to learn and grow and seek enough outside feedback.

Today, I’m grateful for the chance to self-publish; I’ve used the technology for several books and projects, and I have every intention of doing so again. It’s a wonderful tool, one with many, many perks that traditional publishing lacks.

But I also know that I’m stepping into those waters with a whole lot of experience under my belt. I know how to avoid landmines (largely by still getting outside feedback).

And this is why I cringe at the type of advice this author gave the beginning writer. I am a big advocate of independent/self-published books and their authors. I’m a hybrid writer myself—I do both traditional and self-publishing. It works for me and many others.

And yet. A huge stigma still exists about self-published books, and it’s not entirely unearned.

The stigma is based on the fact that very few books that are thrown up onto digital platform have gone through the amount of beta readers, drafts, and rounds of edits (including a professional edit!) that it needs. A lot of indie books are written by writers who are a long ways away from investing the 10,000 hours required to master their craft (or 100,000 or half a million hours, or however long; every individual will be different).

There is a time when it’s too soon to put your work out there. I’ve seen some self-published books by authors I can tell are talented and have the potential to do fantastic, wonderful things, but the book wasn’t ready. I've wanted to say, "Get to a critique group! Find a good editor! Get it proofed!" It's what  might have been. 

Instead of incubating it, revising it (again and again!) until it shines, the author uploaded the manuscript to make money on a half-baked book.

And that right there is the travesty.

If you have plans to self-publish, more power to you! So do I. It’s a fabulous train to be riding.

Just remember:

·         Take your time; don’t rush it.

·         Consider the next few years your apprenticeship: write several books with no intention of publishing them, just to learn how to craft a full story and how to finish a book.

·         Read up on the craft. Voraciously.

·         Read books in your genre. Voraciously. Look for what works, what doesn’t work, and figure out why.

·         Attend writing conferences and attend lots of workshops on the craft. Don’t just go to the marketing classes. You need to know your craft, first and foremost.

·         Get outside eyes looking at your work. Lots of them. You won’t agree with everything they say, and that’s fine; chance are, they won’t all be right. But chances are, they’ll be more right than wrong. And even if they tell you to fix something in a way you know won’t work, pay attention to the underlying diagnosis of the problem; they may be on to something.

·         Pay for professional services. That means editing and proofing (two VERY different skill sets), formatting (for e-books) or typesetting (for paper books), and cover art. If you aren’t trained specifically in graphic design and in creating book covers, don’t attempt to make your own. It’ll be obvious. I want indie authors to have all the success they deserve, and they have the best shot of that if they, quite simply, ignore that writer’s advice altogether.

Do NOT put up the first thing you’ve ever written and then just shrug, figuring you’ll put up better stuff when you’ve improved. You will have already besmirched your name and tainted any potential audience.

Sure, you may make some money in the meantime, but will you be proud of your books? 

Or will you be a bit embarrassed about them? 

Will you lose potential readers because they now assume you’re not a pro and don't take the craft seriously?

Make your start out of the gate the strongest it can be. Waiting is hard, but it’s so, so worth it, and it’s crucial if you want to be a successful writer, regardless of the publishing path you choose.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Indie Author Hub Conference TOMORROW

Indie Author Hub

You can still register. Walk-ins also welcome as long a there's room.

June 7, 2014, Courtyard Marriott Hotel, 1600 N Freedom Blvd, Provo, Utah.

7:30 am Check-in & complimentary bagels & juice
8:30 am Welcome
8:40 am Keynote NY Times Bestselling indie author Amy Harmon

The Indie Author Hub is made up of many successful indie authors and hybrid authors.

Guest speakers include NY Times Bestselling indie author Amy Harmon, USA Today bestselling author Rachael Anderson, bestselling hybrid author Rachel Ann Nunes, and PEG's Heather B. Moore, Lu Ann Staheli & Julie Wright.

Workshops include classes on ebook creation, marketing, business, and the writing craft.

Registration information here.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Stages of Editing

By Heather B. Moore

At the recent LDS Storymakers Writers Conference, I taught the class on Navigating the World of Revisions (without burning your manuscript to a crisp). No matter how many books you write or how many you have published, you will still have to go through editing. And it will be painful every time. Not that you won't see the value of it, but it's work--hard work.

Here is a run-down of what to expect when working with a traditional publisher. If you are self-publishing, you need to also mirror this editing process because you are now competing with the traditional publishers.

1. Beta Readers. When do you need Beta Readers? Always. Change up your beta readers with each manuscript. Customize to your subject matter. Vary your readers, ie another writer, someone knowledgeable in subject, someone who is a good technical editor, those in your target market, the most outspoken person in your book club.

2. Critique Groups: Pros: several opinions at once, motivational, accountability, great support system. Cons: time investment, give and take, differing visions and goals. 

3. Acquisition Editors: First to review query or manuscript and determines if manuscript is a possible fit. Rejection a high possibility at this stage. Sends to evaluators or next stage acquisitions. Usually is the contact person with author until book is accepted.

4. Content Editors (Developmental Editors): Once your book is under contract, you’ll be assigned an editor (in house or on contract). Developmental Editor focuses on structure, plot, characterization, conflict, pacing, etc. You are typically given 2-3 weeks to work on revisions. 

5. Copyediting: You’ll have 1 or 2 copyeditors go through your manuscript. Technical considerations, sentence structure, punctuation, grammar, consistency errors. Some publishers let you review the copyedits, some don’t.

6. Proofreading: Proofreaders look for errors and any formatting issues in the typeset version. I always ask for a chance to proofread as well. Then I double check that my corrections were put in correctly… Each stage of editing presents an opportunity for new errors to be made. 

7. Contract editors: In-house editors are those who work for the publisher, usually at their on-site location, for 40+ hours a week. They only have so many hours they can spend on each project. Contract editors are often used when there is a large line-up and the in-house editors are swamped. Contract editors are freelancers who may or may not have regular work from the publisher. They may be commissioned for any of the editing stages.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

New Indie Author conference

Indie Author Hub

The Indie Author Hub writers group is putting on their first writers conference. June 7, 2014, Courtyard Marriott Hotel, 1600 N Freedom Blvd, Provo, Utah.

The Indie Author Hub is made up of many successful indie authors and hybrid authors.

Guest speakers include NY Times Bestselling indie author Amy Harmon, USA Today bestselling author Rachael Anderson, bestselling hybrid author Rachel Ann Nunes, and PEG's Heather B. Moore.

Workshops include classes on ebook creation, marketing, business, and the writing craft.

Registration information here.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Hitting the Top 100 Categories on Amazon

by Heather Moore

An alternate version of this post previously appeared on Eschler Editing Blog.

Once you have your most-excellent manuscript edited, cover designed, interior formatted into a mobi file, you are ready to upload to the Kindle platform on Amazon. When you load your book to Amazon, every word in your book becomes a searchable item. From the reviews, to the text, to the author bio. Also searchable is the book description and editorial reviews that can be added when you upload. This is why it’s important to select key words that will be repeated throughout each searchable entity. 

Before you choose your categories and key words, do some research on Amazon. Find out what categories bestselling books in your genre are listed under. Some will be very broad (fiction, romance, suspense), others will be very narrow (art, Italian hotel, Egyptian History). If you choose a narrow category, you’ll probably hit the Top 100 a day or two after your book is listed onto Amazon. With a broader category, you’ll be competing with other bestselling books in that same category.

This post will give you a quick overview of how metadata and categorizing works on Amazon, and how it can be a key sales tool for being a successful Amazon seller. Michael Alvear’s book is great at explaining how to use metadata effectively in the file creation process, and how to categorize in the upload process: Make A Killing On Kindle Without Blogging, Facebook Or Twitter: TheGuerilla Marketer's Guide To Selling Ebooks On Amazon.

In short:
What is Metadata: Metatags are search terms that readers use to find a book on a specific topic.

What is Categorizing: Done when the Kindle file is uploaded through KDP on Amazon. You can select 2 categories and 7 keywords that will help your book get categorized and positioned for selling on Amazon.

Do now: Put together a chart for your book as you research:
Example for my historical novel, ESTHER THE QUEEN:
Categories (Amazon allows 2 main categories. I prefer ‘non-fiction’ to capture Top 100. I might go in and tweak this from time to time as I watch sales.)
(I researched a similar genre book: The Red Tent)
*Biblical Studies—Old Testament
Genre(s) (Amazon gives you 7 categories to list. I may tweak this as well.)

Esther, Famous Queens, Adventure, Judaism, Biblical Fiction, Religious Historical Fiction, Christian Fiction

Metadata List

Action & Adventure; Religious Fiction; Queen Esther; King of Persia; Famous Queens; Biblical Queens; Famous Kings; Biblical Kings; Book of Esther; Judaism; Jewish Life; Jewish Exodus; Middle East; Biographical; The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran; Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff; The Red Tent by Anita Diamant; Biblical Fiction; Turkey; Mediterranean; Tombs

To explain the chart above. I looked for a bestselling Biblical novel to compare to mine. I found The Red Tent. These were the categories and rankings:
·  Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,612 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
A non-fiction book on Jewish Life:

I then went to Christian Books & Bibles, and checked out the books listed in the top 100. Then I clicked on those books to see what their rankings were. I slowly built a category list and decided where my book would best fit.

The Amazon page will also have “Other categories”

Look for Similar Items by Category

Other examples of books in Top 100 categories and their key words:

Sarah M. Eden’s, Seeking Persephone, with the $2.99 deal, its rank is here:
·  Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,594 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

Spring Vacation Anthology:
·  Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #13,219 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

Novella, Third Time’s the Charm:
·  Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #23,931 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

Heart of the Ocean:
·  Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #22,775 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

Other concepts recommended by Michael Alvear have to do with the Book Description and the Reviews. Every word in the description and a review becomes a searchable entity. In my Book Descriptions when I get a few great reviews, I’ll add them to the beginning of the description. Some recommend when you ask for a review to have the reviewer compare it to another best-selling book and use the Category words… this will become part of the Amazon algorithms.

Here is a Book Description example that uses key words in the description that will link the book to other authors and categories. I’ve bolded keywords that will help this book become categorized more effectively on Amazon. (Age, era, setting, genre, target audience, comparable authors, comparable books…)

Seven-year-old Helen Marie Heffner has a knack for getting into trouble, followed close behind by her older sister, Leona Mae. Whether it’s walking the barn beams like a tightrope, fooling the neighbor boys into thinking they’re being chased by a fiery jack-o-lantern, or making a mess rather than transferring a pattern for Mama’s Christmas surprise, Helen comes out the winner every time.

But life is not always fun and games in 1922 for this southern Indiana family. In the wake of the Depression of the previous two years, the girls and their mama are often left alone in Hancock’s Chapel while their papa travels to find work to keep the family finances alive. Lately, Mama’s been showing signs of not feeling well, and Helen is stuck at home, missing the entire school year while she recuperates from the rheumatic fever that struck her the year before. Mama fears the worst is about to happen. Everything from the barn owl, to the chicken thief, the stranger who passed by one evening to a poor neighbor-boy who falls into the ravine, all point to signs of trouble to come. And sure enough, it does.

Leona and Me, Helen Marie, a middle grade novel from A Small Town U.S.A. series, is hometown historical fiction in the style of Richard Peck (A Long Way from Chicago, The Teacher’s Funeral, Here Lies the Librarian) and Kate DiCamillo (Because of Winn-Dixie), with a touch of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie thrown in for good measure.

Categorizing is not a one-hit wonder method, but it’s an important marketing tool to use when selling on Amazon. You can change your categories and key words anytime, but know that it takes 2–3 days for them to become effective. When I change them, I wait a few weeks to see which lists are being hit. If I’m not happy with the results, then I can easily go back in and change them.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Novellas, Novelettes, & Short Stories: What’s the Difference?

by Annette Lyon

For about two years, I’ve been fortunate to be part of an anthology series. As of February 2014, we have put out six Timeless Romance Anthology collections, and will continue to do at least four a year. Each has been fun and challenging in its own way.

For those unfamiliar with the series, each collection has six stories, three by continuing contributors (PEG’s own Heather B. Moore, plus Sarah M. Eden, and yours truly). We select a theme and then look for three guest writers to join us who are established, published writers we know will produce a great story.

We have few rules, but the ones we have are written in stone: No story can go over 15,000 words, so the entire collection is no more than 90,000 words, not counting author bios and other back matter. Each anthology is roughly the length of a typical novel.

The other two rules: 
  • the stories must all follow the theme
  • they must all be sweet romances (read: clean romance, with nothing beyond kissing in them and no graphic violence, etc.).

 In today’s digital world, the experiment has proved to be a great success. We treat the collections as a professional endeavor, including hiring a talented graphic designer experienced in book covers. The stories all get professionally edited and formatted, and the final result has been fantastic—as has the response from readers, proving that there is indeed a market for sweet romance.

We recently made the first anthology (the WinterCollection, featuring historical stories set in the winter) available in paperback, and we’ll likely put more of the e-books into print as we move forward.

So why are am I talking about these stories? Because in today’s e-book world, we’re seeing the return of relics from the publishing past. There was a time—before the Internet and all of the many distractions it brings—when magazines and book publishers regularly published short stories, novelettes, and novellas.

Short stories lasted a bit longer than the other two, especially in magazines. I may be dating myself here, but I recall a time when teen magazines still included a short story in each issue. Novelettes and novellas pretty much went the way of the dinosaur decades ago, and a big part of the decline of those literary forms was the cost. With the printing, shipping, and other costs that mirror the costs of full-length novels, but with lower price points, novellas and novelettes simply couldn't make enough of a profit to stay viable. 

As for the space short stories used to take up in magazines: It was quickly replaced by other content, with the belief that "no one reads short stories anymore."

In the last few years, however, many people, from the Big 5 publishers in New York to self-published writers, have changed their tune. Formatting for e-books is inexpensive, and a lot of writers have learned to do it themselves. There are no costs for printing or shipping, and little to no cost for delivery. Plus, they can be produced far faster. In other words, they're profitable again.

As a result, many writers, including bestsellers, have contracts to write novellas, often as a prequel before a new book comes out, or to give hungry readers a taste as they wait a year between volumes in a series.

Anthologies are one the few places that never stopped publishing shorter fiction entirely. A lot of them were and are produced by fantasy or science fiction publishers, and getting into one was a great way for a writer hoping to publish novels to break into the market.

Anthologies are still a great way to get started and break in. At the 2013 League of UtahWriters conference, Paul Genesse taught a great class about short fiction. He's had success making a name for himself through contributing to many anthologies over the years, and while he’s admitted that you won’t get rich doing that, you will grow a readership and develop a name for yourself.

But before you attempt to submit to a collection, be sure you know the varying lengths of the different forms. Today's readers aren’t yet that familiar with the terms, so if you self-publish a shorter work, the technical term won't be nearly as important as if you plan to submit your work to a contest, publisher, or anthology.

According to both Paul Genesse and SFWA, the following word counts are pretty standard in the industry: 

Short Fiction Word Counts
Short Story: under 7,500 words
Novelette: 7,500 words – 17,500 words
Novella: 17,500 words – 40,000 words

A few things to keep in mind with those numbers:

Middle-grade and early chapter books often fall below 40,000 words but don’t get the novella label, even though they're in that range. 

Word count is a far better guide to story length than page count, especially in fiction. Why? Word count per page can vary widely. For example, a page with mostly description will have many more words than a page with a lot of dialog, where a new paragraph starts every couple of lines, creating a lot of white space.

For example, the Timeless Romance Anthology stories, which typically run 13,000 to 15,000 words, will take up from 45 to 60 pages double-spaced in Word. That's a pretty broad page count for stories roughly the same word length.

As you can tell by the guidelines above, the TRA collections are technically made up of six novelettes per collection, yet in our book descriptions, we still call them novellas, because that’s the term readers are most familiar with. As novelette becomes a more familiar term to readers, we may use it.

So, you want to publish a novella/novelette/short story?
As with any potential market, be sure to research the submission guidelines and follow them exactly. Thinking you're the exception to the rule only shows you aren't a professional taking the job seriously.  

If it’s a contest, submit by the deadline or even before. Follow the format required. And, of course, know in advance if the market is open to submissions at all. (The Timeless Romance Anthologies are invitation only, for example.)

How do you write short fiction, anyway?
Actually writing short fiction is a very different animal from writing a full-length novel. For me, at least, it's been a wild but awesome ride learning how to create a good story in a small space. 

For that matter, it's a topic worthy of its own post another time.