Promotion—The Necessary Evil

My kitchen table about two hours ago.
My kitchen table about two hours ago.

Promotional plans, and lessons learned along the way.

I hate promotion. I’m sure I’m not alone. In fact, I’m not sure I know any fellow writers who tell me they love promoting themselves and their work. For me, it’s not even so much that I don’t like talking about myself and my work. It’s just a big workload piled on top of an already big workload, and most of the time it feels like it’s not really getting me anywhere.

I know it’s necessary, though, so I do what I can. I don’t think I do it particularly well, but sometimes I manage to find something that’s actually fun, and that helps.

In any case, when it comes to my current Kindle Scout project, it’s blatantly obvious I need to promote. So, while I’m finalizing my edits and figuring out what system I want to use for my final formatting, I’m brainstorming on some promotional ideas. Here are some things I think I’ll try for online promotion:

Thunderclap. I’m not sure this kind of “tweetstorming” approach works consistently, but I know people who’ve seen some decent results. I think it’s far better to have numerous other people tweet for you than to tweet the hell out of your own audience. Also? It’s easy. And free.

Blog tours. Also free, unless I decide to pay to have someone set it up for me, which I don’t think I’ll do.

Facebook boosted posts. I’ve done this a couple of times but not enough yet to have made any conclusions about the results. I think it’s worth a shot.

Facebook ads. I had some good success with these on a past project, so I think I’ll give it another go.

I’m also going to switch out my autoresponders on my newsletter signup site to send out a sample of the book I’ll be Scouting. I’ve been sending a romance short story to new subscribers, but I think it’s time to switch it up a bit. I’ll also send this sample to my current subscribers. I’ve found that I get very high open rates when I send out freebies. This so far hasn’t really translated into sales, but at least I get people’s attention.

I’d like to hear from anyone who’s tried these promotional techniques, or who’s had a particularly good response from any other on-line promotion approaches, so feel free to hit the comments. The promotional landscape is changing at least as fast as the publishing industry itself, so reports from the “front lines” are always useful and welcome.

In-Person Promotion

I also have an in-person opportunity coming up this weekend with Colorado Gold. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, so I took an informal poll. (This was while I was at my BFF’s house for brisket on Labor Day weekend. I said, “I gotta figure out what to make to take to the conference.” She said, “Chocolate. Everybody likes chocolate. Add a prize. Willy Wonka that shit up.” My daughter said yeah, do that. And that was my poll.) That seemed like a good idea, and it was a lot simpler than some of the things I’d been brainstorming. There are some lessons here: 1. Simple is good. 2. When it seems appropriate, have somebody help with your brainstorming. 3. Willy Wonka is applicable to numerous life situations. Also, listen to your BFF.

I was freaking out about the lack of time because I left it to the last minute, like I do, so my daughter agreed to step in and design a bookmark for my packages. She did a great job, and we printed them up (after much printer hijinks) and put them together with some chocolate for that Willy Wonka-ing. In addition, there’s a Golden Ticket—one person who subscribes to my newsletter over this weekend will win a $25 Amazon gift card. Lessons here: 1. Don’t leave things until the last minute (I will never learn that one). 2. Outsource whenever possible, especially when you have talented people living in your house. 3. Printers will always decide to stop working properly when you’re in a hurry.

If you’re at Colorado Gold, hit me up or look for my cards at the main table. Also, if you can’t make the conference and are reading this blog, you can enter the contest by signing up for my newsletter at katrienaknights.com. You’ll get a pdf of the first chapter of Call Me Zhenya, the book I’ve been working on preparing for Kindle Scout. You can see this either as a thank you for sticking with me through all these posts, or as an act of blatant self-promotion. Either way, I hope to see some of you at Colorado Gold!

Decisions, Decisions—Formatting My Ebook

html is so confusing...
html is so confusing...

I’ve been in the process of moving from Colorado to Illinois, which is very time- and energy-consuming, so I haven’t spent much time on the next stages of getting my book ready to submit. However, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I need to do for the next step and ways to give the book the best possible chances once it hits Kindle Scout.

It occurred to me that good formatting might give the book an edge. I have no idea what criteria KS uses to determined which books to publish—other than the crowdsourcing part—but there’s mention that the more complete and ready a book is, the better its chances. I’d been thinking of this in terms of finished text and quality editing, but then suddenly realized formatting could be a part of the equation as well.

There are many ways to format your ebook. Probably the easiest is to upload a prepared .doc file (or similar) to Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Kobo and let their auto-formatting take care of it. However, I got curious and downloaded the html markup for a book I’d done this way and discovered it had been formatted in probably the most convoluted way possible. It had, for example, style tags on every individual sentence. Just looking at it gave me hives.

So I started looking into other ways to do final formatting for upload. There are numerous articles and series of blog posts, etc. discussing different ways to approach the task. One way is just to use straightforward, clean html markup, but you have to put it all in there by hand, more or less. Amazon offers a guide on their KDP site.

Some other approaches are presented here:

You’ll also find guides at Barnes & Noble and Kobo, Draft2Digital, and probably any other e-book outlet providing information on how to format in the best way for their particular system. There’s a lot of overlap, though some places are pickier than others *cough*ibooks*cough*.

I’ve been self-publishing for a few years now, so I figured I had all the formatting stuff down pat. However, as I’ve been reading (and looking at the markup actually created when I upload my books to KDP), I’m starting to suspect I’m not going about things in the most efficient or effective way. So I’m going to look into some other options.

I use Scrivener as my main writing software, and I’ve heard that it also does an excellent job of exporting manuscripts into various e-book formats. I haven’t tried it yet, mostly because I do my drafting in Scrivener, then export to Word for final edits. I’d have to pull the manuscript back into Scrivener and divide it up again to make use of this functionality (at least that’s the way I understand it). I want to try it at some point in the future to see how it works and how easy it is.

Here are a few articles about how to put your final e-book together using Scrivener:

What I’m really intrigued with right now, though, is Vellum. It costs money ($29.99 for a single book, or $199.99 for an unlimited license), but people seem to be raving about it. I’ve downloaded and fiddled with it, though I haven’t paid the licensing fee yet, and so far it seems to be easy to use and also allows you to easily add visual elements that give your book a very polished look. It’s Mac-only (sorry, PC folks), but it appears to be turning into an automatic go-to for a lot of self-pubs.

Some information about Vellum:

So basically, right now I’m wavering between using Scrivener, which I already own, or spending money for Vellum, which may or may not make the process smoother, easier, and prettier. Whichever way I decide, I hope a nicely formatted book will give me a little bit of an edge when it comes to being chosen for publication.

But What About Editing?

Even Walt Whitman did him some editing.
Even Walt Whitman did him some editing.

Pros and Cons of Automated Editing—a Discussion of AutoCrit

In the continuing saga of preparing a book for Kindle Scout, let’s talk about editing for self-publishing. This could also apply to editing for submissions, since you need to have your book in squeaky-clean shape before you start submitting to publishers (I know a good number of people who don’t believe this, but that’s for another post…).

If you’re like me, the idea of getting a book in solid shape for self-pub is a bit intimidating. I edit for other people on the side, but I have very little faith in myself to find my own mistakes. I know my manuscripts generally go to the editor far cleaner than many of the manuscripts I edit for other publishers, but there are still mistakes—typos, weirdness generated by Dragon Dictate when I use it, and of course the dreaded continuity issues.

Ideally, before you self-pub a book, you should send it to a professional editor. This can get pricey, though—I’m not sure I could afford myself as an editor right now, and my rates are really low. Nathan Lowell beat me to the punch in talking about using beta readers to crowdsource your editing in his article Bootstrap Your Book. The methods he discusses here are very useful and effective. If you’re lucky, you maybe have a proofer or editor on your list from a publisher you’ve worked with before who might be willing to give your manuscript a gander for a low cost. My group of proofers includes a fellow author I’ve edited for years as well as a proofer/editor from one of my publishers. It pays to make friends in this industry… Bartering can work, too—if you feel confident about your abilities to find typos or point out continuity issues, work out a trade with another author. Or offer large quantities of chocolate.

In any case, since Nathan covered the bases of crowdsourced editing, I’m going to talk about another low-cost approach—automated editing. Wait, wait—don’t run off. I have Important Things to Say.

I’m sure you’ve heard of Grammarly, which is a site where you can upload your manuscript and have it spit out a number of different grammar issues regarding your manuscript. I haven’t used this site, but I’ve used AutoCrit, which I believe is similar. I’m going to discuss my experiences, what automated editing can and can’t do, how it’s helped me, and why it might be worth looking into.

I stumbled across AutoCrit by accident. I’d gotten a sponsored email from Writer’s Digest with a free offer for a short video course on creating dialogue. I have a tendency to grab and hoard free things (SHINY! SHINY! FREE!), so I grabbed the course. I didn’t notice at the time, but it was from the AutoCrit website. They started sending me emails offering me a GREAT DEAL on a year-long membership to their site. After deleting several of these, I finally thought okay, wait. I’ve got a manuscript I need to get cleaned up. Let’s go sign up for the 7-day free trial and see what this puppy can do.

So I did that. I then uploaded Call Me Zhenya—all 93,000 words—onto the site and let AutoCrit do its magic. It generated about ten reports, which I then downloaded and looked over.

There are, of course, limits to what this kind of editor can do. It’s best to ignore a lot of the advice it produces, much like it’s best to ignore most of the green squiggly lines MS Word automatically generates to tell you you’ve committed a grammar infraction.

HOWEVER.

The reports I got from AutoCrit found a good number of things I had obviously missed on the forty quadrillion editing runs I’d done on my own. The report on “ly” adverbs was particularly enlightening (My name is Katriena and I am an adverb-aholic). It also found some typos I’d missed and put my horrible word repetition habit into stark relief. (Seriously? 1600 repetitions of “quietly?” Good grief, woman!)

I wasn’t quite as on board with the reports that supposedly showed me show vs. tell writing. The parameters they used didn’t seem realistic to me, as they were mostly keyed to certain verb tenses. The passive verbs report seemed equally arbitrary. I do, however, feel like the time I spent going through the reports and sifting out repeated words, typos, and adverbs was well spent. I also took the plunge and bought the discounted year’s subscription. It seemed like a reasonable price, though I probably would have balked at a full-price subscription.

Overall, I thought it proved to be a good addition to my self-pub repertoire, since it found a good many things a proofreader would have marked up. That means I can send a much cleaner version to the actual humans who read the story later, and that can only be a good thing.

For those who might be curious, the reports AutoCrit provides are:

  • Adverbs in Dialogue Tags
  • Adverbs Overall
  • Clichés
  • Generic Descriptions
  • Passive Verbs
  • Redundancies
  • Sentence Starters
  • Show vs. Tell Indicators
  • Unnecessary Filler Words

You can run these one at a time or all in one fell swoop. You can also decide whether to get a high-level report or a detailed report that shows you exactly where all the noted transgressions are located in the manuscript. This can be in a list form, or highlighted on a copy of your manuscript. You can upload a few pages, a chapter, or the whole manuscript for evaluation.

Never Do Your Own Cover Art. Unless You Want To.

Author Pic 2016-smallerThe continuing saga of KK’s quest to conquer Kindle Scout.

Last time, I talked about Kindle Scout, a book I wrote, and my decision to see what I could accomplish by trying out the program. In order to submit your book to KS, you need to have 1. A book. 2. A cover. 3. Lots of editing and formatting shizz. This post is going to cover number 2—the cover. And my apologies in advance—it’s a long one.

FIRST: If you'd like to Scout a book, here's one from an online acquaintance of mine. Moonlight's Peril, by Ashlynn Monroe.

One of the first things self-publishing gurus tell aspiring self-publishers is, “Never make your own cover art.” This is probably a good piece of advice. Unless you want to make your own cover art, and are willing to put in the due diligence to make one that doesn’t look like you put it together in MS Paint (unless MS Paint is an important theme of the book, of course [sets aside plot bunny for another day]).

So…confession time. I do my own cover art. Some of it is stanky (and is on my list to be redone). Some of it is, in my own humble goddess-like opinion, not too damn bad. Why do I do my own art? Because I like doing my own art. I like learning about graphics and Photoshop and Canva and GIMP and whatever else. For the most part, I enjoy the challenge and the process.

I learned to use Photoshop making Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel fan art. I made wallpapers with half-naked (and sometimes totes naked) David Boreanaz on them because it made me happy. And I learned a lot. When I started self-pubbing, I used those skills to start making covers. The first few I made—not so hot. But I started learning. I have a friend who works for the cover art department at one of my publishers, and she vets my work. My daughter is about to become a photography major, and has a great skill and eye for art. My college-age son has been making computer graphics for ages, and also has a great eye for art. So they give me feedback, too. Which leads to feedback like, “Mom, her face looks like it has a tumor on it,” and “No, those colors look like three-day-old poop.”

That’s the kind of feedback you need for this kind of venture.

So what do you need to make your own covers aside from somebody—preferably multiple somebodies—to tell you when your painstaking work is a piece of crap?

1. An idea of how cover art works. There’s all kinds of advice on the internet about how to improve/create cover art. My current favorite guru is Derek Murphy, from creativindiecovers.com. On his site, you can find templates, author tools, and even an online tool where you can create your own covers (I haven’t tried it, so I don’t know how well it works, but give it a go if you’re so inclined). He also has published a book on the topic, which has some interesting advice in it, much of which seems to fly in the face of the advice of other cover gurus. For example, Murphy says it’s not necessary to make the title big enough to read on a thumbnail, which you’ll find as the Number One Guideline for Proper Ebook Cover Art just about everywhere else. Since I’m super contrary, I figured this was the advice for me.

His templates are very cool, but they’re in Microsoft Word (!) and MS Word hates me, so I was unable to bend them to my will. However, I imported some graphics into one of them, got a general idea of what I wanted my cover to look like, then assembled everything in GIMP.

2. Some graphics software. I used Photoshop for a very long time, then I upgraded the OS on my computer and the old, old copy I had stopped working. This was very stressful. I swore a lot. Then I consulted my Tech Department (above-mentioned son and daughter) for recommendations. After some fiddling with various freeware packages, I ended up with GIMP. It’s free, and it does darn near everything Photoshop does, and with a similar workflow. (I still needed a tutorial from my son, who helped me with my cover for Lord of the Screaming Tower, but I’m getting the hang of it.) I recommend finding something you’re comfortable with, and then playing with it until you feel comfortable. Find online tutorials or a mentor-type to get you on your feet.

3. Some PICTURES!! Pictures are the most important part of cover art. Because cover art, duh. There are lots of places to find photos—istock photo, fotolia, bigstock, dreamstime, etc. Some pictures are pricier than others. My favorite price is free, so I’m going to talk about how to get free pictures you can use for your covers.

Firstly, though, you have to be VERY CAREFUL about this. Be absolutely sure you have the right kinds of licenses for your photos before you put them on your book cover. Some places, like morguefile.com and Wikimedia commons, are mostly public domain, but still be sure to read the fine print. Some pics at both these places require you to change the picture, or require you to credit the photographer. Don’t take shortcuts here—respect the photographers.

Anywho… Another way to get free pics, almost all of which will have the right type of licensing for book covers, is to wait for free trial memberships for major stock photo sites. I coincidentally was offered a free trial to graphicstock and bigstock within a couple of weeks of each other, and as a result ended up with close to 150 images for free. Once the trial is over, you just cancel, and then feel guilty every time they offer you another free trial (in all fairness, though, I’ve spent quite a bit of money at these sites, so I should probably chill). All the pictures I used for this cover came from the collection I downloaded during these free trials, and I have a bunch more that I grabbed with an eye toward future projects.

4. Fonts!! Never underestimate the power of a flippin’ awesome font. You’re probably good with two for a book cover—one for the title and one for your author name, possibly with an eye toward future branding. You can spend as little or as much as you like for fonts, from what I’ve seen. Again, I like free. My current site of choice is fonts101.com. They have a gajillion fonts, and they have a Font O’ the Day mailing list, and how cool is that?

You also have to look at licensing with fonts, so keep that in mind. If it says only for personal use, I’d suggest not putting it on a book cover. Look for fonts that are free for any usage or that specifically say free for commercial use. Or, of course, pay for the commercial upgrade if you really like the font.

That’s my basic how-to when it comes to covers. If you’re comfortable doing it, I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t. If you’re not comfortable doing it, it’s probably better to outsource it.

So here’s my cover, if you’re interested in having a look-see. I’m fiddling with the eye/font color. If you want to weigh in with your favorite, feel free.

Call Me Zhenya-goldCall Me Zhenya-redCall Me Zhenya2

 

Trying New Things–Kindle Scout

Photo from Morguefile by semiphoto.
Pick your book--Before it's published! Photo from Morguefile by semiphoto.

Last month, I talked about trying new approaches in the aftermath of losing a publisher. Starting with this post, I’m going to talk about some of the new things I’m trying.

The book I’m focusing on right now is a full-length paranormal romance novel about spies who’ve been genetically altered to have special powers. The hero is a Russian werewolf; the heroine is an American super-brain. Together, they fight crime!

I wrote this book quite some time ago, then spent a lot of time editing and fine-tuning, but mostly ignoring it while I worked on other things that were already contracted. In the back of my mind, I always thought maybe I’d send it to the Amazon contest, or find some other semi-unconventional place for it.

Then Kindle Scout came along. This is a crowdsourced publishing platform—you put your book up, cover and all, and people vote you up or down for a publishing contract. Amazon’s editors then evaluate the books and pick the ones they want for publication. Publication is not entirely based on how many votes you get—KS is looking for well-written work that doesn’t require massive editing. (Although I've read in some of the links below that some authors have gotten editing as well as cover-art work from Amazon before their book was published.)

So KS ended up in the back of my mind, too. But when I finally decided it was time to do something with the book, I submitted it to a lot of traditional places first. I really felt it was one of the more mainstream-type books I’d written in a long time (HA HA HA HA I used “I” and “mainstream” in the same sentence pardon me), and might just have a chance with agents/publishers.

Apparently not. The responses I got were either, “This doesn’t suit our needs at this time,” or “Wow, I liked this a lot, but it doesn’t fit our line/paranormal isn’t selling right now.”

So, after numerous rejections, I decided to move on, and now I’m preparing the manuscript for Kindle Scout. I have some misgivings, but then I always have misgivings (“Do you really have sufficient justification to eat lunch right now?” “Are you sure you really need to stop what you’re doing and go to the bathroom?”). Aren’t you glad you don’t live in my head?

On to some meaty stuff:

Kindle Scout offers a good many pros and not many cons that I could see. The manuscript has to be unpublished—not even on a blog or Wattpad, for example. You also have to be sure you’ve done all the heavy lifting editing-wise, and you have to supply your own cover. Then, during the voting process, you have to run some marketing to get votes. If you’re chosen, you get an advance of $1500 plus Amazon’s marketing machine working for you. The contract is very straightforward, and outlines exactly what the conditions are for you to ask for your rights back.

If you don’t win—here’s where I was a bit surprised. To prepare for this, I started scouting books (4 out of 9 of my choices have gotten contracts—pauses to buff nails and look smug). If the book is NOT chosen for publication, a couple of things happen that I thought were actually pretty neat and author-friendly. First, if you subsequently publish the book through Kindle, Amazon sends out an email to everybody who voted for your book. So if you get, say, 300 votes but no contract, you can then Kindle-fy the book and all 300 of those people will be notified that your book is available. In addition, if you vote for books, those books stay on your Kindle Scout page. The ones that have been published on Amazon will now have a link to their buy page even if the book was not chosen for publication by Amazon. Now that’s a perk.

If a book you voted for is chosen for publication, you receive a free copy and are encouraged to read and review the book to further assist the author you voted for.

Some additional info can be found here:

Getting Ready to Go Scoutin’

My first step to prepare my book was to sign up for Kindle Scout and start scouting books to find out how the process works and also to check out what kinds of books are being submitted (gotta scope out the competition, natch). The KS page presents the cover, the first chapter or so of each book, a blurb and an interview with the author. I usually check the blurb, then read the first chapter until I nope out of it. If I don’t nope out before the end of the excerpt, I give it a vote. That’s my full process. I am lazy. And I’m still scoring almost 50%. (I actually have no idea how that fact is relevant to anything, but I’m still bragging about it. Because I can.)

The next step is marketing. Not for the specific book, but for everything else I’ve ever published. (Okay, maybe not EVERYTHING.) The goal here is just to get some additional people’s eyes on me. I’m focusing on my mailing list and my Facebook page. I also revamped my website (actually both websites, but the Elizabeth Jewell site isn’t as relevant to this effort). I’ve read several books and articles about marketing as a self-publisher. From those books, I’ve pulled out all the advice that’s common to all or most of them, figuring those are probably the most efficient and effective approaches (they’re also the ones that make the most sense to me). In the mean time, I’m also preparing the manuscript and the cover art.

I see I’ve run on quite a bit, so I’ll stop here. Next time, I’ll talk about the nitty gritty of getting a cover prepared and cleaning up the manuscript. In the mean time, go check out Kindle Scout on your own and vote for some books! It’s fun! I promise!

What Do You Do When It All Falls Apart?

Photo from Morguefile.com
Photo from Morguefile.com

What Do You Do When It All Falls Apart?

Cry.

That’s the whole post.

Okay, not really.

If you stick with this writing gig long enough, sooner or later everything’s going to fall apart around your ears. That’s not pessimism talking—it’s just the way publishing goes. Although, if you’re really, really lucky, maybe it won’t happen. Honestly, I hope it doesn’t. I hope somebody out there gets to have a happy, untroubled writing career.

I do know that person is not me.

I contracted my first novel in 1999, and since then I’ve had more publishers disappear under me than I care to count. Right now, I’m waiting to hear if Samhain Publishing is actually going to disappear or if there’s going to be another solution. I have seven books there. Weirdly, when the initial announcement was made that they were going out of business, I didn’t panic. Instead, I started thinking about options. I had a book out on submissions at the time, and within the next few days, it came back with yet another rejection. Which surprised me, because I really thought this was going to be a book with a wider appeal. Apparently not. But that’s life.

So what do you do when publishers disappear? When nobody wants to buy the manuscript you were sure was going to be your big break into mainstream publishing? When the manuscripts you do sell are selling in single figures on a reliable basis?

Well, you can quit. Or you can not quit.

Thing is, writers are the most stubborn creatures God ever invented. And if writing is your thing above all things, you’re not going to stop. You’re going to keep going. And going, and going, like that stupid bunny with the drum.

But should you keep going on the same path? Maybe, or maybe not. It’s my thought that if you start to feel like you’re slamming your head into a wall, then it might be time to reevaluate.

No, not quit. Reevaluate. There are so many paths to publication nowadays that it’s dizzying. If your quest to crack into traditional publishing is making you want to play in traffic, maybe it’s time to try something else. I’ve been focused on small press publishers, and I’m thinking it might be time to dive really hard off the board into the deep side of the pool of self-publishing. (Was that a good metaphor? It felt a little forced…)

So I’m reevaluating right now. I’m planning something new with the manuscript that was rejected (it’s been rejected several times). And I’ve got a few new projects that I’m thinking about tailoring to a focused self-pub effort. I’m also revamping my websites and trying to build some social media infrastructure to support those efforts when I get the stories finished. I’m also trying really, really hard to rewire my thought processes so I can set my goals according to what publishing is like now instead of what it was ten years ago. It’s a never-ending process.

So what should you do when it all falls apart? Cry if you want—sometimes it helps. Eat chocolate. Take a long, hot bath. And then get back to work.

Rigors of Research … by Katriena Knights

Knights_SummoningSebastianOne of the great things about writing is that you can use it as an excuse to research almost anything. String theory, exoplanets, the Alaskan bush, ancient Sumerian literature, conspiracy theories—you name it, it’s story fodder. In fact, I’ve been known to tweak a story plot specifically to give me a reason to read up on something I’ve found that looks interesting.

Sometimes I might take it a little too far… But heck, that’s part of the fun, right?

In my new book, due out August 5th, I researched something that’s interested me for a long time—the Tunguska event that occurred in Siberia in 1908. I first heard about it on The X-Files (I’ve learned a lot of things from The X-Files); in fact there’s an episode called “Tunguska.” (It’s part one of a two-part mythology arc sequence—“Tunguska” and “Terma,” but I digress.) In that show, the mysterious explosion is blamed on aliens (because of course it is), but in my book I’ve come up with a different explanation.

Interest in Tunguska has come into popular culture again since the 2013 meteor flyby in Chelyabinsk, also in Siberia. That gets into the story, too, although not in terms of mystical origins.

This all sounded pretty cool when I came up with it. Then I started writing the story and realized how much research I had to do. My characters spend time in Chelyabinsk, then go to Vanavara, which the nearest small town to Tunguska. In the process, I ended up researching the layout of Moscow’s main international airport, including reading Russian maps that showed where to find the Burger King as well as menu items from a couple of airport restaurants (including one where you can get a baked potato with crab on it). So the time I’ve spent learning Russian—which came about partially due to another book, which has a Russian protagonist—paid off for that one. Otherwise it might have been tricky to figure out what was on those potatoes, because Google Translate, while an awesome innovation, isn’t always the most accurate.

I spent a lot of time on YouTube, too, watching video tours of Chelyabinsk and Vanavara, and then on Google Street View, taking a tour of a pedestrian mall in downtown Chelyabinsk. All the time, I was thinking not only that it was a hell of a lot of fun, but that it’s amazing the kind of access we have these days to details we previously could only get by spending time in the places we want to write about.

That’s not to say everything in Summoning Sebastian is a hundred percent accurate. I’m sure I made mistakes. But I did the best I could, and I enjoyed writing the book. And, best of all, I was able to travel to Siberia without having to deal with the bugs.

Summoning Sebastian is currently available for pre-order from Samhain Publishing at a reduced pre-order price.

Stop by my blog for news on upcoming books and other ramblings, and follow me on Twitter.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Katriena Knights wrote her first poem when she was three years old and had to dictate it to her mother under the bathroom door (her timing has never been very good). Now she’s the author of several paranormal and contemporary romances. She grew up in a miniscule town in Illinios, and now lives in a miniscule town in Colorado with her two children. Visit her at her website or her blog.

Do Yer Own Thing

Xmas TreeBy Katriena Knights

Over the holidays, especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas, it seems like we get inundated with messages about how we “should” celebrate the holidays. What you’re supposed to eat, how you’re supposed to decorate, who you’re supposed to invite where—it gets overwhelming.

A few years ago, I realized Christmas was getting far too stressful for me, mostly because putting up the tree was so time-consuming, and the tree itself took up so much room. So we went out and bought a 3-foot-high, purple, pre-lit tree. My daughter decorates it every year with pictures from whatever fannish thing she’s into that year. This year it’s a Sleepy Hollow tree, and instead of regular Christmas lights, we have jack-o’-lantern lights hung among the stockings. We’ve had a Luigi tree, a Teen Wolf tree, and an Assassins’ Creed tree.

This year for Thanksgiving, I decided to mix things up with that holiday, as well. My kids took a vote on what we wanted to eat and discovered nobody really likes turkey. So we had tacos for lunch, then for dinner we had sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes with corn, and green bean casserole.

What’s the point of this, other than that my family is weird? Well, I often find myself similarly overwhelmed with what I “should” be doing with my writing career (and even more overwhelmed sometimes with what I “shouldn’t” be doing). With all these differing voices, I end up chasing other people’s ideas, following other people’s advice, and never quite focusing on what I want from my writing.

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to apply my holiday strategy to my relationship with the publishing industry. If the “experts” say I should be eating turkey, I’m going to stop and think really hard about whether I really want to eat turkey. If I’ve got a major jones for a drumstick, then fine—I’ll grab me some drumstick. But if it feels like the right thing to do, I’m going to have tacos instead.

This is my last monthly post for the RMFW blog. I want to thank everybody who’s read my posts for the last year or so. It’s been super fun, but I’m going to focus on my own blog for a while and see if I can’t blow some of the dust out of its nooks and crannies, as it’s been pretty neglected lately. I hope everyone has a fantastic holiday season, followed by a new year overflowing with successes and a career direction that feels right for you—even if it means your Christmas tree is full of Abbybod fan art.

The Research Conundrum

By Katriena Knights

For some reason, I keep developing plots for my stories that require a ton of research. I don’t know why I’ve been doing this. I guess the need to just learn stuff overcomes the desire to get a book done quickly and efficiently. For example, my current WIP is a sequel to Necromancing Nim, which took place in Denver and Urbana, Illinois. Both places I’m pretty familiar with. But the sequel, Summoning Sebastian, sends my little vampire/vampire/human ménage off to the wilds of Siberia.

I’ve never been to the wilds of Siberia. I’m not sure I ever want to go to the wilds of Siberia. But the book ended up there. So I have to do research.

The conundrum comes when I try to figure out how to do research. My first instinct is to learn EVERYTHINGALLOFITRIGHTNOW. So I buy a ton of books, print out a bunch of websites, and collect a metric whackton of information.

And then almost never read it. Or at least not all of it.

I go ahead and plow through my story, stopping here and there to look up items, but mostly extrapolating from what I actually have managed to read from this information-collection orgy. So the story gets written. But then when I’m done I feel like I have a ton of research gaps.

So we go back to LEARNEVERYTHINGALLOFITRIGHTNOW. That creates a vicious circle.

I’m working on a piece now where I’ve constructed the plot based on some things I already know will work, but that I’ll need to do a bit of research on to clarify. When I go back to do the rewrite on each section (this is a really fast turnaround job), I do the research on just the bits I need to know about, make whatever additions or changes I think are going to work, then move on.

When I started Summoning Sebastian, I collected a ton of books about Russia. (In all fairness, I’m doing research on I think two, maybe three other WIPs with the same materials.) And yes, a lot of what I learned in the initial reading made it into the story. But when it came down to it, I did a lot more on-the-spot research, writing sections in a fairly vague, generic way, then coming back and filling in details as I got to individual scenes that needed them.

I really have no idea which is the better approach. I know I tend to over-research. In the midst of researching for several stories set in Russia or with Russian protagonists, I ended up actually learning a bit of Russian. Which is overkill in the extreme. On the other hand, while I was cleaning up bits of Summoning Sebastian, it was really handy to be able to read menus of airport restaurants in Chelyabinsk without having to run everything through Google Translate. Your mileage may vary.

What are other ways to approach research? Is binging an acceptable method, or should I reconsider my life choices? Has anybody else been crazy enough to learn an entire language just to write a foreign character? Talk to me below. I promise not to judge.

Photo credit: "Old Books" by zdelia, from freeimages.com

The Perils of First Person

by Katriena Knights

Many beginning authors start their writing adventures with first person. To many beginners, it feels more natural, more immediate, and even easier. But writing in first person carries a number of stumbling blocks and dangers that aren’t as obvious in third person.

So what’s the big deal? Write in first person, and your reader will feel like they’re right in the middle of the action, right? In fact, this leads to the first peril of first person writing—keeping your protagonist in the middle of the action. Which isn’t always as easy as it might seem.

If you decide to write your story in first person, you can’t recount any events that happen while your protagonist is absent. This can cause all kinds of problems, especially with a more complex story. You should take this into account when you’re plotting your story, and be sure your main character participates fully in any major plot twists. In Twilight, Stephenie Meyer commits a major faux pas in this regard by having Bella fall unconscious during a critical moment of the story’s climax. It’s a really good way to lose your reader. Apparently this didn’t bother her jillions of readers, but it bugged the heck out of me.

Another question to ask is particularly important if you plan to write a series. Can you sustain a first-person narrative over the course of your series? This approach is common in the YA and Urban Fantasy genre, but keep it in mind as you’re constructing your initial plans and proposals.

In the Outlander series, Diana Gabaldon manages to make it through nearly two massive tomes without deviating from the POV of her main character, Claire Beauchamp-Randall-Fraser. But it’s not long before her story outgrows this POV, and Gabaldon starts dealing with the shortcomings of first person by using third person in various scenes. At first, she frames this as Jamie relating stories to Claire. But then she also needs to tell Bree and Roger’s story, and that’s when the first-person train goes completely off the rails. The bulk of Gabaldon’s epic series is told in alternating first and third person, with the only first-person sections being those told from Claire’s POV. I’m not saying it doesn’t work—it works very well in these books. But it’s a tricky thing to balance, and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that approach.

Another fairly common approach to first-person narrative is to alternate the POV characters, telling each section from a first-person perspective. This can be an effective way to explore more than one character, but there are some pitfalls here, as well. Don’t try to use too many characters—your reader is likely to get confused about whose POV she’s in. Also, it’s very important to vary the narrative voice. I’ve read some alternating first-person POV stories where the voices of the characters were virtually identical, even though one was female and one was male. This made it very difficult for me to orient myself, since there were few proper names to let me know whose head I was in.

I’m not one of those readers who’ll flat-out refuse to read a book if it’s in first person—although they do exist—but like any reader I can be pulled out of a story if the technique falls short. So when you’re considering the structure and plot for your first-person story, think about addressing some of these possible problems so you can head them off at the pass.

(By the way, this post is brought to you by my laboring over my recent WIP, the sequel to Necromancing Nim, which is written in—you guessed it—first person.)