Rocky Mountain Writer #81

Terri Benson & PubCon 2017

RMFW Education Chair Terri Benson offers an overview of PubCon 2017, coming up on Saturday, April 29 in Golden.

A few spots remain for this day-long event that will explore both traditional and independent publishing.

More about PubCon 2017 is here.

 

 

 

 

Intro music by Moby Gratis

Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com

The Best Day

One of the more common questions I hear is “What’s the best day to release a book?”

Generally, the question comes from somebody who may have released a book or two and it sank without a burp. They think the reason it sank might be they launched in the wrong season or the wrong day of the week.

It’s understandable when one considers that publishers generally release a spring and fall catalog. Some add a winter calendar. They send those to bookbuyers so that must be when people buy books, right?

Not so much.

Bookbuyers make their selections to stock in the coming season. Publishers collect all the new titles into the glossy catalogs to make those selections easier. Booksellers know that readers enter their shops every day of the year so a seasonal catalog is simply a convenience for the publisher and buyer. The books they order from the catalog may not see a store shelf for weeks.

The year end holiday season offers another possibility for launch. The rationale follows the logical path where people get new e-readers for the holidays and will need fresh reading material to go on them.

In the past, starting around 2010 and on into 2014, that was a reasonable path to follow. Lately, fewer people are buying new dedicated readers, opting for tablets or even smartphones as reader-of-choice. That still offers an opportunity but removing a few million new Kindles from consideration each December limits the utility of this strategy. It’s not a bad idea to release a work in mid-December so that it’s got some traction and visibility by month end, but that’s not a good reason to delay a book that’s ready in October.

There are those who weigh the advantage of the day of the week. Saturday? People are off work and might be looking for something new to read for the weekend? Perhaps Friday night for those who plan ahead? Sunday might be a good day to release a book because – for many – it’s a day of rest and quiet contemplation.

Personally, I favor any day that ends in “Y.” The only exception might be if you plan to launch into Kindle Select. Amazon aggregates page-reads by the calendar month so releasing on the last day of the month will maximize page-reads toward a potential Kindle All-Stars reward. For new authors this is almost never worth chasing. The lowest tier of All-Star reward takes about two million page-reads for a single title. People who ask “What’s the best day?” don’t usually expect to get millions of page-reads. Mostly they only want to give their book the best chance at catching on.

Here’s the thing.

Booksellers know that readers enter their stores every day of the week. Perhaps they get more foot traffic on the weekends when people are off work, but that has less to do with readers wanting books on the weekend that with readers being able to get to the bookstore. For most indie authors, the market is ebooks and the largest bookstore in the world is on every reader’s desk – even in their pocket. A reader who wants a new book only has to log in. Which means – in most cases – the best day to release a book is my favorite day that ends in “Y” - today.

What’s Happening Around CO

May 2017

June 2017

Writing Romance – the Alpha Hero

The most obvious starting place to discuss the types of romance heroes is with the Alpha male - Alpha hero.

Alpha Male:  a domineering man; the dominant member in a group of males, especially animals.

They say that the term was coined mainly to distinguish between boring heroes and exciting heroes.  Really?  I’ve seen some very un-boring heroes who were Beta or Delta Heroes - we’ll get to those later.  And it’s the plotting that makes the story exciting, don’t you think?

Here’s a fun conversation between Booth and Brennan from tv’s Bones.

Booth: Ok, what is so funny?

Brennan: I just never figured you being in a relationship.

Booth: Why? Do you think something's wrong with me?

Brennan: Not wrong. You just have alpha male attributes usually associated with a solitary existence.

Booth: What me? You're solitary.

Brennan: No no, I'm private, it's different and we weren't talking about me.

Booth: I was.

Brennan: I wasn't. Look, I'm happy for you. Relationships have anthropological meaning. No society can survive if sexual bonds aren't forged between -

Booth: What the hell are you talking about?

Booth is most definitely an Alpha hero.

When we look back at the history of the romance genre, we see a time when the heroes of these novels had their way with the heroines, whether she wanted to or not.  The biggest writers in the genre in the early ‘70s - Kathleen Woodiwiss and Rosemary Rogers - both wrote these type of “heroes.”  These types of heroes might not fly today - I mean, taking her without her permission - um, that’s rape.

It’s entirely possible that I’m out of touch here.  When Googling romance books with Alpha Heroes, I found a list that started with Fifty Shades of Grey and continued with erotic romance heroes.  I’ve not read Shades and erotic isn’t my thing.  So, forgive me if I don’t include your favorite if that’s your genre.  What I’m trying to say - and not very well, I might add - is that “dominant” or “domineering” heroes may be Alpha males or may just be jerks.  So maybe the Alpha hero has himself evolved.  Or maybe he hasn’t.  I guess it depends on the genre.

At the most basic level, the Alpha hero is a leader. Or so says Alicia Rasley. “The Alpha hero is above all else a leader. He's someone who takes charge. He's just about bound to end up as the boss of whatever group he's joined.  That is, whatever wounds he's suffered in the past don't keep him from accepting his ultimate role of leading. He is not an outlaw (or if he is, he's the leader of the outlaw band). He is part of a group, not an outsider. And no, he's not dark and dangerous. A truly dark and dangerous Alpha would very likely be a tyrant. The Alpha male is a social creature, not a loner.”

Your Alpha hero is the guy that takes charge.  He’s in control of the situation and in control of himself.  He’s not touchy-feely and holds his cards close to his chest.

He’s John Wayne in almost every movie he was ever in.  He’s William Wallace, Jetro Gibbs, Raymond Reddington.

Some of the conflicts for an Alpha hero include:

Loyalty vs Truth

Ambition vs Friendship

Power vs Abuse

Confidence vs Insecurity

Last month I sent you away with homework.  Your homework is to think about your favorite romance hero.  What makes him heroic?  Why do you love him?  Did anyone do it?

This month I’d love to hear who your favorite Alpha Heroes are.

Next month, we’ll talk about the other types of romance heroes - the Beta, the Delta, the Theta.

Remember, all heroes have a bit of each of these types inside.  These are just jumping off points.  Feel free to digress.

Have a great month, Campers.  Remember BICHOK - Butt in Chair - Hands on Keyboard.

Rocky Mountain Writer #80

Kevin Ikenberry & Sleeper Protocol

Sleeper Protocol started with one sentence on a blank page. The sentence became a short story.

Then the short story became a novella and soon Kevin Ikenberry realized he needed to write the story as a full-length novel.

Now, Sleeper Protocol is a finalist this year in the genre fiction category for the Colorado Book Award.

Kevin is a life-long space geek and retired Army officer. He’s a former manager of the world-renowned U.S. Space Camp program and a former executive with two Challenger Learning Centers—learning environments that engage students in dynamic, hands-on opportunities to study space.

All the way along, through college and beyond, others noted Kevin’s talents as a writer but it took years for Kevin to take his writing more seriously. A serious disease prompted Kevin to bear down on getting Sleeper Protocol in final shape and ready to search for a publisher.

In short, Kevin Ikenberry’s story about writing and getting published is one you won’t soon forget.

Kevin Ikenberry

Intro music by Moby Gratis

Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com

Asking for Advice: A How-To…Avoid Letting Advice Drive You Mad

RFortune Cookieecently, I posted two possible covers for an upcoming endeavor on Facebook, asking for, yes, you guessed it, the dreaded ADVICE.

You see, I love hearing thoughts on cover art, on manuscripts, on marketing as well as how to live a better, more productive writerly life.

Advice can be the best thing EVER.

And then again, it can make you want to rip your hair out, piece by dyed-poorly piece.

The problem for me, comes in picking through the feedback. For example, when one person chooses one cover, and the other the second one, how am I to know who’s right? Aren’t both opinions valid?

Yes, everyone’s feedback is valued and valid.

But not everyone’s advice is right for me, and my work.

Therefore, to save myself from crying (mostly because it gives me raccoon-eyes), I’ve developed some advice for advice.

Aren’t I the clever one?

* Stop sneering. I do know how lame I am.

My advice for advice is as follows:

  • Ask specific questions to get what you need
  • If you don’t understand the feedback or need more, ask
  • You don’t have to accept every bit of advice
  • Just because someone says something doesn’t make it right for you
  • Weigh the advisor’s knowledge on the content in your final decision
  • Accept the very real fact that you cannot please everyone
  • Ask for advice in the right places – know your advising audience
  • Take risks – Don’t get locked inside your worldview

Being open to advice greatly affected my cover design. I had specific advice that has transformed my thinking about the cover. I plan to use my writerly tribe next to determine the best cover blurb.

The one thing I didn’t add above, and perhaps the most important albeit intuitive advice is, be grateful for every single word. Thank you, tribe. If I don’t say it often enough, thanks to each of you. Thanks to those who helped me last week. Thanks to those who continue to beta read and critique, just not me, but our community.

RMFW writers are amazingly supportive and I appreciate all of you more than I can say.

In that vein, please tell us in the comments the best bit of writing advice you’ve received. How did it affect your work? What advice would you give a beginner or even a professional?

2017 Colorado Gold Mentors & Special Guests

Things are coming together at Conference HQ! The proposals are all in and the proposal committee are making their selections for the workshops and panels we will be offering at the upcoming Colorado Gold Conference. If you submitted a proposal, notifications will be sent on or before April 20.

Be sure to check the conference home page as faculty and add-ons are updated on a regular basis. I am very excited about this year's lineup, and I hope you'll find a lot of value at this year's event no matter where you are on your publishing journey.

Don't forget to check out the Conference Facebook page.
Registration for Colorado Gold opens May 1st.

Thank you!
Corinne

Mentors & Special Guests

I am very excited to share our mentors and special guests for this year:

David Gaughran is Irish and lives in Dublin, where it rains every day and conversation is a sport. He is the author of the historical adventures Liberty Boy, Mercenary & A Storm Hits Valparaiso, and has helped thousands of authors to self-publish their work via his workshops, blog, and two popular writers' books: Let's Get Digital & Let's Get Visible. He has been featured in the Telegraph, the Irish Times, the Guardian, the Irish Examiner, the Sunday Times, Huffington Post, Business Insider, Forbes, Mashable, New York Observer, Newsweek Polska, il Giornale, The Star Malaysia, and, most pleasingly, the Journal for Maritime Research.  http://davidgaughran.com/

Susan Spann is the 2015 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Writer of the Year and author of the Hiro Hattori mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo. Her debut, Claws of the Cat, was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the month and a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award (Best First Novel). Her fifth mystery, Betrayal at Iga (Seventh Street Books), will release in July 2017. Susan has a degree in Asian Studies from Tufts University and a lifelong love of Japanese history and culture. Find her at http://www.susanspann.com, on Twitter (@SusanSpann), and on Facebook (/SusanSpannBooks). Photo Credit: Mark Stevens

Heather Webb is the author of historical novels BECOMING JOSEPHINE and RODIN’S LOVER, which have sold in six countries and have been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Cosmopolitan, Elle, France Magazine, and more, as well as received national starred reviews. RODIN’S LOVER was a Goodreads Pick of the month in 2015. Up and coming, LAST CHRISTMAS IN PARIS, an epistolary love story set during WWI will release October 3, 2017 from HarperCollins. Heather is also a professional freelance editor, foodie, and travel fiend.

Angie Hodapp holds a BA in English and secondary education and an MA in English and communication development, and she is a graduate of the Denver Publishing Institute at the University of Denver. She has worked in publishing and professional writing and editing, in one form or another, for sixteen years. She currently works at Nelson Literary Agency as the Director of Literary Development and loves helping authors hone their craft and learn about the ever-changing business of publishing.

 

Jeff Seymour writes hopeful, heartfelt fantasy that blends modern characters with timeless plots and offers something new and fantastic on every page. His debut middle-grade novel, Nadya Skylung and the Cloudship Rescue, will be published by Putnam Young Readers in 2018, and his epic fantasy Soulwoven got over a million reads while being featured on Wattpad. In his day job as a freelance editor, Jeff helps shape and clean up stories for a talented roster of bestselling sci-fi and fantasy authors as well as newcomers to the business. In his free time, he plays more video games than he should, serves as support team to a wife with an incredible career of her own, pretends he knows anything about raising children, and gathers ideas for stories everywhere he goes.

Susan Brooks has served on the board of directors for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, a non-profit educational organization supporting both published and aspiring writers of commercial fiction, since 2009. She holds a master’s degree in publishing from George Washington University and has many years of editorial experience. She currently serves Literary Wanderlust, a small Denver-based traditional publisher, as Editor in Chief. You can follow her as @oosuzieq on Twitter and read her weekly syndicated blog on writing craft at susanbrooks.wordpress.com

Stuart Horwitz is a ghostwriter, independent editor, and founder and principal of Book Architecture (www.BookArchitecture.com). Book Architecture’s clients have reached the best-seller list in both fiction and non-fiction, and have appeared on Oprah!, The Today Show, The Tonight Show, and in the most prestigious journals in their respective fields. He is the author of three books on writing: Blueprint Your Bestseller (Penguin/Perigee), which was named one of 2013’s best books about writing by The Writer magazine, Book Architecture (2015) which became an Amazon bestseller, and Finish Your Book in Three Drafts which was released in June of 2016.

Ever enamored by the experience of others, Sami Lien has always sought out opportunities to put herself in the way of a really great story. After 10 years in promotions, marketing and business management in a variety of industries, Sami stumbled into the world of publicity in 2011 and has found a tremendous joy in connecting individuals all over the map to their own passions and pursuits. She provides professional guidance, coordinates national tours and works closely with online and print media outlets to create a memorable and captivating experience for her partners in work. In addition to authoring a number of feature articles for entertainment publications, Sami holds a degree in Journalism and a Masters in Business and Entertainment Management. http://www.rogercharlie.com/ https://twitter.com/samijolien

Anita Mumm is a freelance novel editor based in Denver. Before starting Mumm’s the Word Editing & Critique Services, she worked in submissions and foreign rights at Nelson Literary Agency. Her editing clients include traditionally published and indie authors at all levels of experience, from international bestsellers to first-time novelists. In addition to her editing projects, she frequently teaches classes and workshops about writing and publishing, both online and in person. For more information about Anita and her work, visit www.anitamumm.com.

Covers Matter…A Lot

All day long at my job at the library I watch people pick out books. Step one: the cover or the author’s name (if they’ve read them previously or heard something about them) catches their eye. Step two: they pick up the book and read the cover blurb to find out what the book is about.

The cover blurb process is for another blog or even a workshop, but I have a few observations about book covers. With the exception of literary fiction, which always seems to have very bland covers, covers can absolutely make or break a book. And I’m observing people choosing print books, where they can pick up the book and examine it closely. When you’re talking about the thumbnail-sized e-book cover, the science/art of book covers becomes even more crucial.

The first thing a good cover does is catch the eye. It shouldn’t have too many elements because that makes it look cluttered. Colors are important, as some colors are more striking/appealing than others. Also, certain colors subconsciously signal certain moods, and having the mood match the mood of the book is essential.

We have several shelves of paperbacks that are organized by narrower genre classifications than our general fiction collection. A lot of the time I’ll order a book that could fit into any number of these genres. For example, we have thriller-type books shelved in suspense, in romance, in mystery, in adventure and in general fiction. So, how do I decide?

If I’m familiar with the author and what they usually write, that makes it easy. Otherwise I start with the blurb: Is the focus on the romance? Is there a lot of action? Is there a clear puzzle/mystery at the core? Is the focus on nail-biting suspense, but not necessarily a lot of action? Is the book about an apocalyptic battle/struggle to save the world, or a more sedate courtroom drama?

When I can’t decide for sure where a book belongs, or it could fit into two or more categories, I often go by the cover. Is it dark and moody? Probably fits better in suspense. Does it show a couple? It will probably check out better in romance. Does it show a hot, half-naked, tattooed man on the cover? We’ll call it paranormal romance and put it on the romance rack. Does it show a hot, half-naked, tattooed woman on the cover? That signals urban fantasy, so I'll put it in the sci fi/fantasy section.

Colors are almost as important as the cover content. You don’t want dark/muddy colors on a romance, unless it’s a edgy romantic suspense. You don’t want pastels on an action-oriented book, a western or even a legal thriller. For mysteries, the covers should clearly signal whether they are cozies (with lighter, brighter colors like green, yellow and pastel blue), while darker stories use dark blues, blacks, grays and maybe a touch of red.

I said earlier that the cover shouldn’t be cluttered, and one of the most common mistakes I see is that the author will try to have the cover accurately reflect the plot, and hence include a lot of elements. They want to show it’s a romance and a time travel and so they show the couple and the elements that make the setting in the past clear. Or they show too many characters and images. Sometimes it works, but usually not. Simpler and subtler is almost always better.

Ultimately, you should rely on the experts. Which is the art department of your publisher, or your cover artist, if you are indie-publishing. And most important, remember that your vision of the book cover may be all wrong. I loved the cover of my first book designed by my current small publisher. It had all the elements I thought should be in my story: handsome, bare-chested barbarian type hero with a modern skyline in the background, perfectly capturing the time travel/fantasy romance plot.

But the book sold dismally, and I’m sure a lot of it was because of the cover. It didn’t reduce down well to a thumbnail, and it was too dark, much darker than mood of the story. And the bare-chested guy who I thought captured the look of the dark-age Irish prince didn’t seem to do anything for readers. He looked more scary than hot, and that’s the opposite of his persona in the book. There were other things wrong with the book and they way it was marketed, but I’m still pretty certain the cover was in large share to blame for the poor sales.

The final thing is the cover should not look amateurish. Which is to say that the art isn’t interesting, or of good quality and/or the elements don’t flow well together. I meet a lot of indie-published authors who want me to add their book to the library's collection. (And we’re talking free here, not books I’m spending library funds on.) If the cover looks amateurish, I’m probably going to say no right away. Because even if I put that book on the new book shelf, which gets a lot of traffic, no one’s going to pick it up. It might be a great novel, but it’s never going to have a chance with a bad cover.

There are lots of blogs and articles on the internet regarding the "science" of book covers. It’s probably worth your time to do some research. Maybe a lot of research. After all, this is your baby, and if nobody notices it, your baby is never going to get the love it deserves.

Rocky Mountain Writer #79

Kevin Michaels & Still Black Remains

Kevin Michaels is the author of the just-released Still Black Remains, a novel that takes readers down into the gritty streets of New Jersey with gangs and the Mafia.

Michaels is the author of the critically acclaimed debut novel Lost Exit, as well as two entries in the Fight Card Books series: Hard Road and Can't Miss Contender.

Michaels' short stories and flash fiction have also appeared in a number of magazines and indie zines, and in 2011 he was nominated for two separate Pushcart Prize awards.

On the podcast, Michaels talks about the appeal of writing gritty crime fiction and he talks about an organization he founded called Story Tellers that works with under-served teenagers and young adults in a community-based effort to develop and promote literacy through writing.

Michaels left the corporate world to focus on writing but he's realistic about the work ahead. “Writing is a craft,” he says. “Study it, play with it, keep improving.”

Kevin Michaels on Facebook

Literary Wanderlust

Intro music by Moby Gratis

Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com

Perspective Lost and Found

Sometimes, if you take a break from your current WIP for an extended period of time, you lose focus on it. The next time you sit down it becomes hard to recapture the tone, the pace, the perspective on the work that you had when you started it. This can sometimes be especially true for those who write series, between books. This is what I'm struggling with now.

The first book in the series was so much fun to write, and I had all the time in the world to play with it, make it fun and exciting and frankly just wing it. That one was a phenomenal success. Now, faced with the daunting task of writing the second, having taken a few months off to write two other books (one a part of another series, the other a stand alone) I find myself struggling to make this one meet and, to some degree, exceed the first.

The problem is tone and perspective. There is a particular mix of chaos and complexity to the first thriller that made it so popular, the sense of not knowing what was going to happen next. But also a sort of Romancing The Stone pseudorealism to the action, things a little too fantastical or whimsical to ever happen in real life, but still fun to read. That's what I want to recapture in the sequel, while upping the stakes.

Here is how I got past the block.

First, I reread the first book, taking notes on things that I might revisit in the second book. Not just big things but little things that might make the reader chuckle to see reprised. Then I outlined the second book. While I've sometimes done this in the past, I usually just wing it. In this case it was absolutely essential that I outline the book, to help me with pacing. Lastly I watched several of my favorite pseudorealist action movies; the aforementioned Romancing The Stone, The Man With One Red Shoe, Knight and Day, the Indiana Jones flicks, etc.

When it's time to write, I set my Pandora to music conducive to the mood I want to cultivate, certainly not brooding or mellow, but not hard and driving rock either. Something strong, but also quick and exciting. For me, often, soundtracks to other movies help.

Lastly, I sit and before I touch the keyboard, I take a brief moment of meditation, wiping my mind of any ancillary concerns or stresses, concentrate on the feelings I want to put on paper. Then I write. I don't stop, I don't take breaks, I don't go back and edit myself. I write. I push away any other thoughts that may stray in, and I keep writing, building a momentum that will hopefully stay with me when I do walk away from it for a meal or whatever.

I know I'm doing it right if I find it hard to walk away, if even when eating or running errands or watching TV, I keep thinking about my book and feeling excited about what I'm writing, eager to get back to it.

So that's what works for me. Let me know if this helps you, too.