Moving from Fear to Courage in Diversity Writing … by Rebecca Hopkins

The very first novel I ever started writing took place in a small town in Texas. The outsider newspaper reporter main character was on her way to solving some town mystery.

It was quite similar to my own life at the time. I worked as a small town Texas newspaper reporter from up north. And I was doing the one thing I knew about novel writing at that point, following the old adage—Write what you know.

But then I moved to Indonesia and I never finished the book.

Rebecca with Yuli's younger sister Erni at a Ramadan feast

I met a young Indonesian Muslim woman named Yuli. Yuli introduced me to her ancient Tidung tribal culture, took me to dance festivals where flicks of the wrist tell stories of war and love. She welcomed me into her family’s home for the end-of-Ramadan feasting, not caring that I’m neither Muslim nor had fasted for a month. And she shared her fears of evil spirits and of practicing her English with me, while I shared my own fears of cobras and of speaking Indonesian with her.

At the beginning, I understood very little of her world. But as I asked more questions, drank more tea with her mom, and then attended Yuli’s funeral after she tragically died from a motorbike accident, I fell in love with her people.

I also feel deeper in love with something I’ve always liked—the joy of not just “always knowing” something, but discovering something new.

I met many more “Yulis” over the years. The Indonesian language has an expression: “The guest is the king.” Even outsiders and strangers are embraced in the most welcoming of ways—abundance of food provided to mere acquaintances even on the most meager of salaries. Friends have invited me into some of their most intimate cultural and family events, opening their hearts about their beliefs, fears, struggles, stories, values. I feel like I get to take a look at their hidden treasure troves—at their urging. And that’s just the start. They insist my children call them “grandma” and have referred to me as their “daughter.” For a foreigner who sometimes still longs for my own family on the other side of the world, this is therapy.

I’m a writer who is passionate about sharing a good story. So of course, I wrote a novel about the things I was learning. (After five years of research.)

Indonesian Woman

I confess, I still can’t sleep on the hot Indonesian nights when the electricity goes out and I can never remember the name of the evil spirit that likes to steal babies out of pregnant women and I sometimes forget to offer tea to my drop-in guests. I’ve learned so much by being here, year after year, raising my three kids in this culture. But let me be clear, the longer I live here (finishing my twelfth year this spring), the more I realize how much I don’t yet understand about the home of most of my adult life. Though very welcome here, I am still a bit of an outsider, peering in, trying to figure out if there’s room for me here.

After I’d rewritten the twentieth draft of my first novel, the Diverse Books and Own Voices movements got under way. I’m cheering for insider voices from marginalized, underrepresented groups in the most personal way. My husband is a relief pilot into some of Borneo’s remote jungle interior villages, providing safe, reliable air transport for med-evacs and supply runs for some of the world’s most isolated and marginalized people groups. I live among these unknown (to westerners) tribes. They’re my neighbors, friends, my kids’ friends. I’d love to see the names of some of my Indonesian writer friends on a book someday in the libraries of American schools. I can’t wait to see what words and expressions and characters they use to tell their own stories in all the nuanced, deeply personal ways that only they can do.

But these well-needed movements left me feeling scared of what I’m doing—writing cross culturally. What right do I have to tell stories based in a culture that isn’t fully my own? What if I get it wrong? Am I stealing their stories?

Between the Army brat childhood in which I moved constantly (and interacted with and tried to fit into different subcultures), and my adulthood in which this Indonesian home of mine has grown and shaped me, I’ve seen many cross cultural interactions that look like crashes and ones that look like embraces. The “crashes” usually are caused by some amount of either arrogance or ignorance, and they leave behind bruises, cuts, scars, bitterness. If there’s a lot of force to it, a cultural crash creates a repulsion that knocks people far away from each other.

Indonesian Woman and Girl

Then there are the cross cultural “embraces.” They come out of the humility to know one’s limitations, the desire to learn, the listening ear, the value of another’s dignity, and of course, the welcoming that comes from the “other” culture. The embraces have a way of somehow recognizing and validating the unique differences between us while blurring those differences as we come close enough to change each other in little, but meaningful ways. We learn to feel at home in our shared humanity.

The more globalized our local circles become and the more cultures get close enough for the next crash or embrace, the more all of our stories will need an element of diversity in order to ring true. With this, the standard grows higher to treat these interactions with care and respect. The whole world is watching (and hopefully, reading).

I believe we, as storytellers, were born for this challenge. To some extent, we’re all doing these things as writers. Sometimes we’re researching people from past times. Sometimes we’re creating brand new worlds completely different than ours. And often times, we’re writing from jobs, genders, and other perspectives unlike ours. We have this drive in us to not just write what we’ve always known, but to love the discovery of something new to us, and somehow, timeless.

Unless we’re writing an autobiography (as my first novel was veering toward), we’re already, instinctually, drawn toward little d “diversity” writing. As we write, we are already asking questions for which we don’t yet know the answer, inviting our characters into a journey of figuring them out. We’re recording the unique, little-known elements of life that somehow, when written in touching prose—is so familiar to all of us. We’re creating characters who are entering journeys we’ve never had to enter…and yet somehow end up looking like places we’ve been ourselves.

I must be honest. I still have questions and struggles about the nitty-gritty of representing a story’s truth well, of figuring out which stories I was “made” to tell, and which, perhaps, I shouldn’t. But I’m learning how to welcome that process with courage, humility, understanding and a recognition that while I may not be able to achieve a completely “accent-free” rendition of the world I’m discovering, there is room for my stories—and all the mixes of cultures that continue to grow within me—on the page.

I love the Indonesian Proverb: “I am you, you are me.” It shows, exactly, the hope I find as a writer, a reader, and a resident of Indonesia. Stories of all shapes and mixes have the power to connect us. All of us. Hopefully… in the most warm of embraces.

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Rebecca Hopkins writes novels about a world of ancient jungle tribes, sea-dwelling gypsies and isolated Balinese hand signing villages. It’s a world she’s trying to make her own—Indonesia. She’s lived in Indonesia with her relief pilot husband and three kids for eleven years.

Read more about her writing and life in Indonesia at www.rebeccahopkins.org. Rebecca can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Here are some interesting posts about this debate, looking at it from various perspectives.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/oct/01/novelists-cultural-appropriation-literature-lionel-shriver
http://writeoncon.org/2017/02/02/roundtable-writers-on-writing-diversely/
http://www.rukhsanakhan.com/articles/voiceappropriation.html
http://www.irosf.com/q/zine/article/10087
http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2012/09/michael_chabon_s_telegraph_avenue_can_a_white_guy_write_about_black_characters_.html
http://justinelarbalestier.com/blog/2016/06/20/how-to-write-protagonists-of-colour-when-youre-white/
http://readdiversebooks.com/white-authors-fill-your-stories-with-people-of-color-but-dont-make-them-your-protagonists/

5 Important Things to Know About Self-Publishing–Part 2 … by Laura VanArendonk Baugh

Part 1 of Laura's post was published on Friday, January 27th.

The Work Has To Be Competitive.

There’s a common refrain, heard around writers conferences and discussion forums, that runs something like, “If I can’t sell it traditionally, I’ll self-publish.” While there are some perfectly legitimate uses of this phrase, quite often it’s either meant or interpreted as, If the work isn’t good enough to sell traditionally, it can be self-published.

Well, it can. But it shouldn’t.

A self-published book should be indistinguishable from a traditionally-published book in quality, from cover to editing to layout. You know how you can spy the self-published book in a roomful of books for sale? That’s not good.

I will be among the first to say that self-published books can be just as amazing – or perhaps better, since they don’t have to be edited to a lowest-common-denominator committee – as any traditional book lineup. But the truth is, the off-cited tsunami of crap does exist, and we’ve no one to blame but ourselves.

The first time I made a piece of clothing, it wasn’t good enough to sell at a mall retailer. My early music lessons were in no way good enough to press an album. And my 5k time will never earn me a spot on the leaderboard. So why do we think early, developmental, or subpar writing should be published?

Imagine a boy, maybe 17, who isn’t sure he likes movies. He had to watch a few for school, stuff that never really caught his fancy and just didn’t connect with him because it was not his style or because the teacher made too much of the symbolism and camera angles and he hated writing the papers, but now he’s hearing from his friends that movies are really good. But he doesn’t want to drop $15 on a theater ticket to start, he’s going to try something cheaper first to see if it’s worth the investment, right? So he goes to Amazon Video to find a free or $2 flick. And he finds somebody’s basement-shot action wannabe with party-store costuming and bad sound obscuring the lame dialogue and whatever fight stunts their sixth-grade kid brother wanted to do before Mom got downstairs. (There are some… striking self-published movies on Amazon streaming video.)

Maybe that fledgling filmmaker will be the next Spielberg. But his current work isn’t impressive. And not only is he turning off his current audience (and setting up a hilarious retrospective to surprise him during his big talk show interview once he’s a household name), he’s probably just convinced our kid that movies really aren’t worth his time.

Okay, I know it’s hard to imagine anyone not familiar with movies in today’s society. But the truth is, a lot of people think they don’t like to read, because of bad school experiences or because reading was never valued in their family or whatever, and when they finally go to pick up a cheap book, they get something which just turns them off further.

Put out work which creates more addicted readers. Have a good critique group which constantly pushes you to be better. Make sure your stories are well-edited – both for structure and for grammar/typographical errors.

We Don’t Have to Be Competitive.

Look, we authors are not competing against each other. We’re really not. We’re competing against television and streaming movies and phone games.

No reader buys just one book a year; getting a reader hooked on another author just creates a bigger market for all of us. Promote other authors whose work your audience will also appreciate. But note that last phrase – I don’t promote just anyone I want to owe me a favor, I share stuff I think my readers will also enjoy. That does everyone good – other author gets a boost, my readers get something they like (they can’t spend all their time just waiting for my next release), and I gain a bit of additional reader trust so they’re more likely to stay with me. Pushing unrelated genres at readers will just confuse and annoy them. (And while I may or may not tell another author when I’m enthusing about their work, I never do it in anticipation of a favor owed. That’s not the point.)

I do several live book fairs a year, and I always if possible do a circuit before it starts to find out who is selling what. Then if I get someone at my table looking for something else – a Western romance, perhaps, or a middle grade adventure – I can point them directly to another author. They’re happy, the other writer is happy, the book fair organizers are happy, and I don’t have to deal with frustrated or disappointed shoppers. Everybody wins. (Well, except I didn’t make a sale – but then, I wasn’t going to, anyway, if they weren’t looking for what I sell.)

Help other authors with their writing craft and their marketing. (And just as important – take critique and advice professionally, not personally.) And remember, there isn’t really a divide between traditionally- and self-published authors. In fact, many of us are hybrids, doing both! It’s all about creating readers, not outselling the guy at the table or website next down from yours.

Enjoy it.

Okay, this is sixth in a list of five, but it’s true – self-publishing is more work than traditional publishing, but it’s also much less constrained and carries a great potential of fun. If you keep your eyes open and your hand to the plow, you can create an enjoyable career following your dreams.

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Laura VanArendonk Baugh writes fantasy (epic, urban, and historical), mystery, and non-fiction. She enjoys helping other authors and will be teaching on writing craft and self-publishing with Ireland Writer Tours in August 2017. Find her at her website, on Facebook, and Twitter.

Voices in Your Head: How Audiobooks Can Improve Your Writing … by Richard Rieman

Do you hear voices in your head while writing? It can be a very good thing.

As a veteran audiobook narrator, I am always impressed when the writing just flows smoothly without choppiness or a staccato pattern.

Write Music

The late, great author and writing coach Gary Provost says reading your written words aloud will make you a better writer:

“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words.

Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It's like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety.

Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and

I create music. Music. The writing sings.

It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony.

I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length.

And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with the energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals—sounds that say listen to this, it is important.

So, write with a combination of short, medium and long sentences. Create a sound that pleases the reader’s ear. Don’t just write words. Write music.” *

Audiobooks Bring Your Words to Life

Good audiobook narrators are actors. They don’t just read the words aloud in a pleasant voice. They are giving different voices to the characters on each page.

The best writing helps the actors and avoids repetition. For example, the “he said, she said” scenario.

“He whispered, she fumed, he rasped, she commanded.”

The basic rules of music, including rhythm, tone, and volume apply.

Not every reader or audiobook narrator will hear your words in your head exactly as you wrote them. In fact, “but that’s not the way I wrote it” is a common reaction from authors when hearing a narrator’s interpretation. In almost every case, you don’t get to direct an audiobook or movie version of your manuscript. It is the actor’s interpretation – in the case of audiobooks, self-directed interpretation. That does not mean it’s wrong. It’s just different.

“I want to leave now.” Five words, four ways you can emphasize each word.

I want to leave now.”

“I want to leave now.”

“I want to leave now.”

“I want to leave now.”

You can read the sentence slowly or quickly, angrily or happily, whispered or shouted. The narrator interprets how to play the music based on the character, the scene, and the hints you have given in your text. Readers interpret your writing the same way, playing the words in their heads the way they hear them.

Audiobook narrators should prepare by pre-reading your entire book and taking notes on characters prior to giving each a voice. Are they from Georgia? Boston? Originally from New York City? Are they shy, angry, grizzled, outspoken, edgy? How old are they? I create short sample audio files of each voice, so I can be consistent if a character appears in Chapter 2 and returns in Chapter 18. It’s a terrible feeling when you reach Chapter 20 and find out Johnny has an Irish accent!

Writing with Performance in Mind

Not surprisingly, the easiest books to turn into audiobooks are those written when the author had a screenplay or movie in mind.

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (West Wing, Social Network, Steve Jobs) told a writing Master Class I attended, “I’m not writing something that’s meant to be read; I’m writing something that’s meant to be performed. Just having written a screenplay is no more satisfying to me than if a songwriter handed out pieces of sheet music.”

Sorkin says it’s the difference between painting and a photograph. You are not just describing a scene, you are creating it, bringing it to life, letting it flow in both the dialogue and the surroundings. “Writing is painting,’ he says, “not photography.”

Writing with Audiobooks in Mind

Thinking of an audiobook performance can help your writing if you have well drawn, believable key characters. Paint them as real people with likes and dislikes. Give them dialog that makes them authentic, saying things real people say. Make them active, moving the story along. Don’t fall into the “this happened, then that happened, then that other thing happened” writing trap. It’s how the characters feel, how they are affected by events, that makes them more real, and makes your readers care about them.

So, pay attention to those voices in your head when you are writing your next novel and you may find yourself creating music, painting a picture, and telling a story that will be a great audiobook!

*Reprinted with permission from Gary Provost’s “100 Ways to Improve Your Writing"

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RMFW member Richard Rieman of AudiobookRevolution.com is an audiobook self-publishing consultant, a top Audible narrator, and in-studio producer of authors narrating their own titles. Richard is author of “The Author’s Guide to Audiobook Creation,” Gold Medal Winner of the 2016 Global eBook Award in Writing/Publishing.

You can learn more about Richard and his projects at his website Audiobook Revolution Productions. He can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and You Tube.

Not Yet … by Rebecca Hopkins

Her head covering was purple and she’s from an ancient Indonesian Muslim ethnic group. My pants were stained with ink marks and I’m American, now living in Indonesia. She’s pursuing journalism. Fiction writing for me.

We were two writers sitting next to each other in the airport as we both waited for our connections to different Borneo towns. We’d just been to the same Asia-wide writer’s conference in Bali. We both clutched books we’d bought from real-live published authors, both holding onto writing dreams. We mirrored that familiar mixture of desperation, inspiration and hope on both of our faces as we chatted.

“Where do you work?” I asked. “A newspaper? Magazine?”

“Not yet.”

I nodded. I’ve heard this answer hundreds of times since moving to Indonesia 11 years ago. Married? “Not yet.” Have kids? “Not yet.”

It’s the only right answer to these very specific culturally appropriate small-talk questions. Marriage and family are so important in this traditional culture that no one I’ve ever met here chooses a hard, definite “no.” In other words, “not yet” is an entirely acceptable place to be when life isn’t (yet) as they hope it to be.

We understand this as writers. None of us are choosing that hard “no.” We aren’t choosing to never write again (though I’ve pondered it a time or two when in the query trenches). We don’t choose not to get published (though the odds , at times, seem slim). We don’t want to write only for ourselves, (preferring instead to keep the hope alive for the special connection with a reader will someday happen).

photo credit: Wirasathya Darmaja from Ubud Fiction Writers Readers Festival

Our dream usually lies—very acceptably —in that “not yet.” As in, not yet settled on the right idea, but still exploring and researching for just the perfect gems that will bring the idea to life. Not yet done with the plot line or the character arc but hitting the computer keys at 5 a.m. every day to watch/force/hope for it to unfold. Not yet done rewriting, but still plodding along, shining those drab first-draft words into magical prose. Not yet got this whole writer’s life figured out, but still tweaking schedules, reading books, reaching out to others who are a little further down the writer’s track than us, balancing other important aspects of life like family and work.

And maybe…not yet published, but determined to keep querying, keep writing, keep learning, keep trying.

We write and live and connect and survive and struggle and rant and fight and create and delight and delete entire chapters and sometimes get our hearts broken and then open our documents the next day to begin to heal again. All in the “not yet.”

My flight was called, and the “not yet” journalist and I exchanged contact information, determined to keep in touch to cheer each other on toward our “not yet” but now a little more revived writing goals. Join us?

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Rebecca Hopkins writes novels about a world of ancient jungle tribes, sea-dwelling gypsies and isolated Balinese hand signing villages. It’s a world she’s trying to make her own—Indonesia. She’s lived in Indonesia with her relief pilot husband and three kids for eleven years.

Read more about her writing and life in Indonesia at www.rebeccahopkins.org. Rebecca can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

GET READY – GET SET – GET GOING! … by Margaret Mizushima

Colorado Gold Conference is scheduled for September 8-10 this year, and that might seem like a long time away. But it’s not.

Many members of RMFW met our agents and editors at Colorado Gold. And now is the perfect time to focus your writerly energy and creativity on your work-in-progress, set goals, and determine your targets for that irresistible pitch that you’re going to develop. This is the absolute best time to start.

Get ready.

Finish your work-in-progress as soon as you can by setting weekly writing goals. If you write 5,000 words/week, you can finish a 90,000 word first draft in roughly four-and-a-half months. At 3000 words/week, you can finish in seven-and-a-half. This will give you time to let it sit for a week or so and than revise. But however you do it—writing at a scheduled pace or binge writing—get that manuscript done!

Get set.

Once the conference program is posted and registration opens up, take a look at the guest agent and editor bios. Decide which guests might be the most interested in your genre, register for the conference early, and request a pitch appointment with your top three choices. As the conference approaches, write a short synopsis (1-5 pages), develop a pitch of around twenty-five words that you can use in elevators or during table conversation, and run them both by a few of your writer friends or critique group. Practice the pitch on anyone you can. Maybe even a stranger or two!

I met my future acquiring editor by pitching to him at the Friday evening dinner in 2014. I pitched to all three of my targets that year: one in my pitch appointment, one in the hallway, and one at the dinner table. Colorado Gold provides you with the best venue for meeting a number of industry professionals in one weekend. Take advantage of it.

Get going!

The agents and editors that come to Colorado Gold want to meet you. They want to talk to writers and hear what they have to offer. That’s why they’ve come to Denver, despite having to brave that pesky altitude sickness. Unless your research fails you (and sometimes that can happen), most guests will either request that you send a partial (first 10-50 pages and a synopsis) or the whole manuscript.

Now here’s the key: Send it! Send it right away. Don’t wait. This is why you started early. This is why you completed everything in advance and were ready by conference time. The industry is fickle, and just because your target might be interested in your genre now, doesn’t mean he/she will be still interested six months or a year from now. If you’ve learned something at conference that you feel you absolutely must incorporate into your manuscript, by all means revise; but do it quickly. Take no more than three to six weeks.

Sometimes we do everything we can to get things right, and things just don’t work out. I had pitched four different manuscripts over the years and finally gained an agent, an interested editor, and a publishing contract on the fifth one. I’ve heard a few people tell overnight success stories in our industry, but most people tell stories of long-term persistence, preparation, and practice. And sometimes they mention they also benefited from a little bit of luck.

Don’t give up, and give yourself the very best possible opportunity. Your fellow Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers are rooting for you!

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Margaret Mizushima is the author of the Timber Creek K-9 mystery series, which includes Killing Trail (Crooked Lane Books, 2015) and Stalking Ground (Crooked Lane Books, 2016). She has a background in speech pathology and practiced in an acute care hospital before establishing her own rehabilitation agency. Currently, she balances writing with assisting her husband with their veterinary clinic and Angus cattle herd. She enjoys reading and hiking, and she lives on a small ranch in Colorado where she and her husband raised two daughters and a multitude of animals. She can be found on Facebook/Author Margaret Mizushima, on Twitter @margmizu, and on her website at www.margaretmizushima.com.

5 Important Things To Know About Self-Publishing–Part 1 … by Laura VanArendonk Baugh

Self-publishing (or indie publishing) is a big deal this days, as more and more authors use it exclusively or to supplement their traditional publishing catalog. But while self-publishing can be surprisingly fast and easy – one could take a Word document to retail ebook in about three minutes, if pressed – it’s definitely not a fast and easy path, and there’s lot of effort and knowledge required to be successful. Here’s what you need to know before you get started.

Self-Publishing Is An Industry.

There’s a thing about this industry that many authors fail to realize – it’s an industry. That means work. You can’t just vomit some words on paper, check that your mom likes them (“Lovely, dear, I’ll magnet them to the refrigerator”) and expect them to be profitable. That’s not how any industry anywhere works, and not here, either.

Authors write. That’s what they do.

Publishers publish. That means they are responsible for (including contracting for) cover design, distribution, marketing, ISBNs, layout, ebook conversion, audiobook production, front matter, back matter, ARCs, reviews, tracking sales, tracking expenses versus income to ensure profit, tracking and reporting sales tax, etc. (Oh, yeah, sales tax. You are doing that, aren’t you?)

“But I heard you can self-publish without an ISBN!” Maybe, yes, depending on your goals – but you’re missing the point. There’s a lot to do to publish a book, and more to do to publish a book successfully.

I keep hearing from self-publishing authors who are unhappy with their sales but are either unskilled at the above tasks or just plain don’t like them. You know what? That’s fine. If you don’t want to take on all the responsibilities of being a publisher, then don’t be a publisher. That’s what traditional publishing does. That’s why they get a larger percentage of profits, because they’re doing all that work you aren’t. And that is fine. If you want to be a writer and not a publisher, be a writer! Self-publishing is not the best choice for everyone, and there’s absolutely no shame in choosing a traditional path.

But if you choose to be a publisher, and then you do only a few of the publishing tasks or you do them halfway, then there’s no complaining at low profits. There’s no profit without work, because this is an industry.

Self-Publishing Costs Money.

Like other business ventures, capital is required.

Even after POD has eliminated the enormous upfront cost of printing, self-publishing has real expenses. An author-publisher may need to pay for editing, cover art, cover design, layout, ebook conversion, and probably also ISBN and copyright registration. You’ll also want a decent website and probably some business cards or promotional bookmarks, perhaps a banner for fairs. A versatilely-skilled author-publisher can do many of those tasks on her own (I actually like doing print layout and ebook conversions, though apparently I’m in the minority, and I have a lot of website background) but will still need to pay for tools, such as layout or graphics software, graphics resources and typefaces, web hosting, etc.

Most of us do not have a professional background in graphic design, so we’re better off hiring covers. A $10 cover is likely to yield a $10 sales quarter; save up and buy something professional. If you can’t afford a great cover to start, go ahead and work on the cheap, but then put your royalties right back into your writing career, making your next cover better (or going back and adding a new cover to an existing work).

A cheap cover or a bad website will hurt your sales; paying a little more for professional work will yield disproportionately greater sales (if your book quality supports it). You won’t save money by going cheap or doing yourself a job in which you aren’t trained. Learn the skills (there’s more to cover design than Photoshop!) or hire someone who has.

Vanity publishing still exists – and it’s dangerous.

The terms “author-publishing,” “self-publishing,” “indie-publishing,” and “vanity publishing” are often used interchangeably – the last usually with a distinct tone of disapproval and condescension. These are not all synonymous, but there can be considerable overlap in their Venn diagram, and it’s important to know the difference for your own protection.

“Author-publishing” and “self-publishing” are largely identical – it describes the author as the publisher of the work. The key here is that the author is responsible for publication and all its many tasks, from cover design to copyright registration to distribution arrangements (more on that later).

“Indie publishing” can be used to mean author/self-publishing, or it can refer to a small (“independent”) press, perhaps putting out ten titles a year from various contracted authors. This can occasionally be confusing – “What do you mean, you aren’t happy with your pricing? I thought you were indie?” – so ask if necessary.

“Vanity publishing” was once an author paying a printer to publish a work, and because it was not traditionally purchased work, it was often (not always) viewed as a lower tier of literary quality. Traditionally this author was recognizable by the full print run of boxed books in his basement or car trunk, but POD (printing on demand) has relieved that burden. While a number of classically famous authors have utilized vanity publishing (Edgar Allan Poe for one), it was usually because they couldn’t sell the book traditionally and it often didn’t fare well (Poe put out Tamerlane and Other Poems and moved 50 copies).

Today, vanity publishing has rebranded itself as “self-publishing” but with more predatory tactics: an author pays a company to produce his or her book, and the company makes money not from retailing the book but from the author. These books are often poorly produced, receive little to no distribution or marketing despite promises, and cost up to hundreds of times what self-publishing may have cost. While there are legitimate self-publishing services, be very cautious of all-in-one packages – and particularly of those with inflated price tags. Considering that the vast majority of self-published authors make less than $1000 in a year, how likely are you to make back that $4,000 publishing package cost? $8,000? $12,000? I know a couple who nearly lost their house via a vanity press con (“we just need a little more this month, and we’re projecting big sales of $100,000 in half a year”).

An author, receiving not the round of expected congratulations but a collective gasp of dismay when she announced she’d signed with a big name predatory vanity press, protested, “But how was I supposed to know they were bad?” I hit Google and found that while the first search result was their own website, the next five were pending lawsuits against the company. Do your research with any company you sign!

Part 2 of Laura's post is scheduled for Friday, February 24th.

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Laura VanArendonk Baugh writes fantasy (epic, urban, and historical), mystery, and non-fiction. She enjoys helping other authors and will be teaching on writing craft and self-publishing with Ireland Writer Tours in August 2017. Find her at her website, on Facebook, and Twitter.

Bringing a “Mostly Dead” Book Back to Life in Audio … by Richard Rieman

As Billy Crystal’s character said in Princess Bride, “mostly dead is slightly alive.” You can breathe new life into your older books by giving them a voice.

There is revolutionary growth in audiobooks. The Audio Publishers Association (APA) reports audiobook sales are up over 38% in 2016, and Audible listening is up 35%, The cost to produce an audiobook has fallen to less than $3,000 – sometimes much less. If you use Amazon’s ACX.com, you have an option to share royalties with a narrator/producer without any other upfront costs.

In some cases, such as “The Martian,” audiobook versions are registering three or four times the sales number of the original work. They are, in effect, replacing the text version as the primary version of the book.

Why a book released years ago should be relaunched as an audiobook:

  • Treat your audiobook launch as a completely new way to reach your audience
    This is your new baby being born. Announce it with the same enthusiasm as any proud book launch parent.
  • Audiobook listeners are a new audience for your book
    The explosive growth in listening on smartphones and in “connected cars” is steadily increasing the number of audiobook buyers, especially over subscription services from Audible and iTunes.
  • More money from existing content
    Your manuscript will only need a few minor changes (refer to “listening” instead of “reading”) to create a new royalty payment income stream.
  • There are fewer books in audio in each genre
    In each genre – especially Young Adult, Romance/Erotica, and Mystery/Suspense, there are far fewer audiobook titles, making it easier for fans to find your book.
  • New reviews call attention to all versions of your book
    You can get reviews of your audiobook through services such as AudiobookBoom.com and reviews by genre, such as AudiobookReviewer.com.
  • New promotional opportunities
    You can create YouTube video trailers using audio excerpts from your book
  • Amazon’s Whispersync feature can help you sell Kindle ebook versions
    Kindle and audiobook buyers often buy both versions at a discount so they can pick up where they left off in each version.
  • Hearing the words you wrote brought back to life can re-energize you to write again
    Whether you voice your own book or find a great narrator, you can find yourself motivated to bring life to your next book.

Audiobooks are a wonderful form of storytelling. You have an opportunity to take the words off the pages and give them a new voice, and a new life.

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Richard Rieman of AudiobookRevolution.com brings both living and mostly dead books to life. Richard is an audiobook self-publishing consultant, a top Audible narrator, and in-studio producer of authors narrating their own titles. Richard is author of The Author’s Guide to Audiobook Creation, Gold Medal Winner of the 2016 Global eBook Award in Writing/Publishing.

You can learn more about Richard and his projects at his website Audiobook Revolution Productions. He can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and You Tube.

Give Your Characters a Sense of #Humor … by Rainey Hall

Just like a well-delivered one-liner, writers must have great timing and dynamics when their characters produce a sentence—or word—meant to be funny.

timing

noun
the ability to select the precise moment for doing something for optimum effect

Don’t forget—to show your character’s sense of humor—readers need to know the character’s usual personality, and/or the situation, that to most people, is serious.

In the following excerpts from my attempt at historical fiction, readers can see and feel the seriousness of the situation: (Please note, the passive voice is supposed to be passive.)

Today is the 23rd of October, 1861. My daughter and I are standing inside our home waiting for the preacher and his missus to arrive in their carriage to take us to the cemetery. Through the window, I study clouds surrounding the mountains, both which are practically a step away. The clouds seem as sorcerers brewing a storm, the first of the season. Several yellow and orange leaves cling to branches of aspen trees as if begging nature to stay the arctic frost, and let them live if for only one day more.

Then readers learn more about our protagonist and what is normal for her:

“She’s going to San Francisco,” I tell the elderly woman. (on the train) “Will you help her? Please?” I have never begged for anything, but as I kneel between my daughter and the woman, I clasp my hands together, searching the old woman’s eyes. The feeling, the situation is so very odd.

The set up:

Some moments later, I realize I am sitting on the ground. If more of my tears were to fall, they would practically create their own puddle.

The joke and in this case, the lesson:

A miner and his wife, new to the area…help me to my feet…Then he steps backward into a fairly fresh pile of horse manure. His wife holds her handkerchief over her nose. And then she giggles, almost unperceptively. Trying to hide his laughter, the miner snorts, steps out of the pile, and then wipes his boots in the dirt. He and his wife are now laughing quite loudly because, instead of cleaning his boots, the dry dirt only sticks to them, making an even bigger mess.

…I cannot help but chuckle. …But then laughter leaves my mouth before I can stop it. Perhaps I should be ashamed, but the moment reminds me what is the best medicine.

Okay, maybe you’re not busting a gut over this, but when the miner steps into manure and creates a bigger mess, all three characters laugh—allowing readers to laugh—thus lending a respite from grief.

dynamics

noun plural but singular or plural in construction
a pattern or process of change, growth, or activity; variation and contrast in force or intensity

The protagonist in my debut, *The Frozen Moose, a short story is a mess; such a mess she has planned her suicide.

The below scene shows her mindset, as well as a bit of her normal thought process:

My plan of self-elimination was simple. Winter was in full swing— International Skeptics Day, January, 13. The valley near the riverbed was coldest. I would simply freeze myself. Unsophisticated but effective….

…Then the phone rang.

Now we get a glimpse of our protagonist’s normal world and the set up:

The caller’s monotone worked well either as a sleeping aid or entertainment, dependent upon the subject matter. Halley, my social worker friend, “Hey, my dear…. “I’ve got a foster child. She’s been in eight homes in the last six years. I need you to care for her.”

The one-liner:

...“Pretend I’m Catholic, and it’s Lent.”

funny

adjective
affording light mirth and laughter; seeking or intended to amuse; differing from the ordinary in a suspicious, perplexing, quaint, or eccentric way

tundracomics.com

Check these sites for additional advice on writing funny:

Humor Writing for People Who Aren't Funny by Jeff Goins at The Write Practice.
The Secret of Writing Funny by Ghulam at Write to Done.
Comedy Writing: How to Be Funny -- an interview of humor writers by Scott Simon on npr.org

Give the gift of humor to your characters, but remember one man’s humor is another man’s white elephant gift.

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A Colorado native, Rainey, (writing as L. Treloar), has been a RMFW member since 2012 (or so), and is happy to belong to one of the best critique groups ever: The 93rd Street Irregulars. She has self-published The Frozen Moose, is currently re-editing the first manuscript in a political thriller series, and has entered two contests with her 2016 NaNoWriMo Historical Fiction novella. In her spare time, she enjoys organizing anything from closets, to military family retreats, to rodeos and parades. Along with teaching her cat to retrieve, she volunteers at church and The Horse Protection League. With an Associate degree in Applied Science/Land Surveying, she learned she far prefers words over math.

*The Frozen Moose, a short story is available on Barnes and Noble in e-book.

What is Story Bundling and How Does It Work? … by Jamie Ferguson

2016_Jamie FergusonWhat is a story bundle?

A story bundle is an electronic collection of stories that is available through a bundling website, usually for a limited period of time.

The bundle may be sold as a complete set of stories, or there may be one price for a subset of the titles and another for the whole shebang. There are other permutations as well, like an extra book might be thrown in if the customer chooses to pay a higher price. The customer often has the option to choose to donate a percentage of the purchase price to charity.

The main story bundling websites right now are BundleRabbit, StoryBundle, and Humble Bundle. There are a few differences between the sites – for example, BundleRabbit provides the option for a bundle to be made available on outside sales channels after the initial run on the bundle website.

How does it work?

The curator sets the theme of the bundle, decides how many titles will be included, and what lengths are allowed (novels or short stories only?). Depending on the requirements of the bundling website, the curator may also provide artwork.

Each participating author formats their own ebook files, and provides their own cover and product description. These files are then ‘bundled’ into a package and sold together.

A bundle is more like a boxed set than an anthology. Even if it’s a bundle of short stories, it’s the responsibility of the author to make sure their stories are edited and their files professionally packaged.

The bundling site will do some promotion, but the curator should do additional marketing, as well as encourage the authors to help out.

Curator

The curator chooses which authors to invite, and should consider how well each author’s work will fit the theme of the bundle. Suppose you know an author who is a fantastic horror writer - that person might not be a good fit if you’re putting together a romance bundle.

Some things to keep in mind when selecting authors:

  • The quality – and consistency – of an author’s writing.
  • Each author will need to provide a professional-looking cover as well as formatted ebook files, so make sure the people you’re inviting know how to do that, or else have resources they can rely on.
  • Will you include previously published stories, brand new stories, or a combination?
  • You can request that an author provide a specific title or send a general invitation. If you do the latter, you’re opening the door to whatever story the author provides (as long as it meets the parameters you’ve set).
  • Are you inviting authors who will actively help to promote the bundle? If not, are you inviting someone because their writing is so good it will be worthwhile, or because they have a name/following that will help draw in readers?

Plan out the promotion you’re going to do. Will you make a dedicated Facebook page for the bundle? Post profiles about the authors and their stories? Tweet when the bundle is part of a special sale? Make special marketing images to post?

You can – and probably will – do some of this on the fly, but thinking this through ahead of time definitely helps.

One of my most important suggestions is that you make a point to communicate well with the authors. If you’re planning to put the bundle on sale, let them know ahead of time. If the bundle was mentioned in an article, let them know. They’ll appreciate the consideration, and the more they know about what to expect, the more they’ll be able to assist with promotion.

Authors

Participating in a bundle seems easy. You get an invitation, you package up and submit your files, then shazam! You’ve been bundled!

But… What if the curator changes the price, bundle duration, etc. without telling you? What if the other authors provide ebooks riddled with typos, or covers that look completely unprofessional?

Make sure you’re comfortable with the curator. You want to work with someone who is professional, good at communication, and who you trust to manage and present the bundle in a way that makes you happy.

Why bundle?

How well a bundle performs sales-wise depends on how established the bundling website is, which authors are participating, and how well the marketing is done. If you’re primarily interested in sales, consider these factors when deciding whether or not to participate in a bundle.

Keep in mind that visibility is a big advantage of being in a bundle. If twenty authors participate in a bundle, that means your story will be seen by fans of the other nineteen authors.

And on top of all that, it can be really fun to be a part of a collection where you and the other authors are collaborating to help promote your stories together.

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2016_ferguson_bewitcheryJamie Ferguson focuses on getting into the minds and hearts of her characters, whether she’s writing about a man who discovers the barista he's in love with is a naiad, a mail-order bride in the American West, or a ghost who haunts the house she was killed in – even though that house no longer exists.

She’s curated two bundles through BundleRabbit: The Fantasy in the City Bundle and The Witches’ Brew Bundle. Her third, The Haunted Bundle, will launch in February. She has stories in two other bundles: The Out of This World Bundle, and the soon-to-be-released The Very Merry Christmas Bundle.

Her second novel, Entangled by Midsummer, is a contemporary fantasy about a man and a woman together by both enchantment and betrayal. It will be released this fall. Bewitchery, released in September 2016, is available as an ebook.

You can learn more about Jamie and her writing at her website. She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Goodreads, Pinterest, and Instagram.

Sell the Premise – Foreshadowing … by Terry Odell

2016_Terry OdellJohnny Carson said, "If they buy the premise, they'll buy the bit." Without foreshadowing, you’re left with deus ex machina and readers don’t like outside forces solving plot threads, or things conveniently appearing just when they’re needed.

You have to be a bit of a magician. Think sleight-of-hand, although in this case, it's more like "sleight-of-words." No waving red flags. If readers stop to say, "Oh, that's going to be important; I'd better remember it," you've pulled them out of the story.

Some Foreshadowing Techniques:

Show the skill, clue, or event early on, in a different context. These Setup Scenes can occur throughout the book. These don’t need to be high-action scenes. In fact, foreshadowing is best done in quiet, “mundane” scenes.

In the first book of my new Triple-D Ranch romantic suspense series, In Hot Water, important clues are discovered in a series of journal entries. The reader learns immediately that Sabrina, the heroine, is meticulous about recording her days in a journal. The opening of the book:

If it weren’t for the whole funeral thing, today would have scored an eight in Sabrina Barton’s journal entry. Maybe a nine.

Thus, it seems logical for her to keep the old journals she finds in her brother’s apartment after his death. To her, they have sentimental value. When the bad guys steal the journals, she’s more upset about losing hers than his, but showing readers both sets of journals before the bad guys steals them sets the stage, while obscuring the clue that her brother’s entries are the important ones. And, even better if you hide the clue “in plain sight” so it’s even less obvious. Some examples of setting this up:

Sabrina still had her doubts. During the two days she’d been in San Francisco before John’s funeral, she’d gone through her brother’s things, keeping a photo album with family pictures of them as kids. That and his journals, something their foster parents had insisted they keep.

2016_Odell_Hot WaterAnd later …

When she’d run, she hadn’t brought a lot with her, but what she’d brought, aside from clothes, was the important—at least to her—stuff. Her journals. Years of her life. Pictures, her recipes, a few family heirlooms. Aside from her recipes, the rest was valuable for the memories they encompassed, nothing more.

Another major plot thread in the book involves a threat of bioterrorism. But rather than spring the first fatal case on the reader, it’s set up to look like a character shows up on the ranch having an allergy attack.

KJ sniffed, sneezed, then blew his nose in a red bandana. Derek noted the red-rimmed, puffy eyes. KJ shoved the bandana into his rear jeans pocket. “Damn sage is blooming like crazy. Allergies.”

Even that, however, might be waving too many red flags, so before that character shows up, I have one of my primary players complaining about his own allergies over lunch.

“Except for the sage,” Frank said. “Aggravates my allergies.” He reached into a pocket for a pill and swallowed it with a drink of lemonade.

Now, it’s just “stage business” (sage business?) and not so obvious to the reader that it’s important.

More Setup: The hero and heroine are hiding and the villains are closing in. The hero is injured. He hands the heroine his gun and asks her if she can shoot. She says, "I'm a crack shot," and proceeds to blow the villains away (or worse, has never handled a gun before, but still takes out the bad guys, never missing a shot). She’s an expert in first aid and saves the hero's life. Plus, she's an accomplished trapper and can snare whatever creatures are out there. Or, maybe she has no trouble catching fish with dental floss and a paper clip. Plus, she can create a gourmet meal out of what she catches, all without disturbing her manicure or coiffure.

Believable? Not if this is the first time you've seen these traits. But what if, earlier in the book, the heroine is dusting off her shooting trophies, thinking about how she misses those days. Or she's cleaning up after a fishing trip. Maybe she has to move her rock climbing gear out of her closet to make room for her cookbooks. You don't want to include an entire scene whose only purpose is to show a skill she'll need later. Keep it subtle, but get it in there.

When you give your character a job, or a hobby, don't forget to look at all the skills they need to do it. Know those 'sub-skills' and work them into scenes. Those basic real-life skills your characters have can be used to foreshadow the kinds of things they'll be called upon to do later in the book.

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From childhood, Terry Odell wanted to "fix" stories so the characters would behave properly. Once she began writing, she found this wasn't always possible, as evidenced when the mystery she intended to write turned into a romance, despite the fact that she'd never read one. Odell prefers to think of her books as "Mysteries With Relationships." She writes the Blackthorne, Inc. series, the Pine Hills Police series, The Triple-D Ranch series, and the Mapleton Mystery series. You can find her high (that's altitude, of course—she lives at 9100 feet!) in the Colorado Rockies—or at her website.

You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and she’d love to see you at her blog, Terry’s Place. For sneak peeks and exclusive content, sign up for her more-or-less quarterly newsletter. You can also be notified of new releases at her Amazon page.