Why do I break rules

Editor’s note — I first encountered independent Authors International founder Scott Bury while trolling the web for writing tips. His blog Written Words is a rich repository of reviews, observations on the art, craft and business of writing and much more — all from the perspective of a man who is both a professional writer and one of us — an indie.

You might think a professional journalist and indie author of two novels would be all about the rules of writing. Scott knows ’em. He just doesn’t always follow ’em.

Why do I break rules?
By Scott Bury

Scott Bury

Scott Bury

I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the little kid in me, but my immediate reaction upon hearing about a rule, a restriction or a closed door is “oh, yeah? Let’s see what happens when you cross this. What is anyone gonna do?”

One of my goals for my writing is to break down the boundaries between genres, and both my published works (so far) do that. The Bones of the Earth is a historical fantasy, so it fits into at least two genres: fantasy and historical fiction. Set in a real time and place—sixth-century eastern Europe, the darkest of the Dark Age—it incorporates elements common in high epic fantasy, like vampires, witches, some magic spells and three dragons. But it’s also based on solid historical research into climate change, the Roman Empire, migration of peoples and ancient cultures.

Bones

It also includes a love story. Hey, there has to be a love story!

My second book, One Shade of Red, began as a send-up of the inexplicable bestseller, Fifty Shades blah blah blah. But it grew into something else during the writing. It crosses lines between erotica, romance and a coming-of-age story.

Shade

The rules about breaking rules
My next two books will also cross genre boundaries. The project closest to publication, tentatively titled Marching in Broken Boots, is a combination of a memoir and a novel, incorporating some military action, too. And the next one, Dark Clouds, will combine spy thriller and paranormal romance.

You’re not supposed to do these things in genre fiction, according to some self-appointed experts. Guns and high tech in a contemporary story about a witch? Did you see any witches or vampires in “24?”

I always do two things before I break a rule:
• I know what the rule is
• I break it to achieve something.

When I started writing The Bones of the Earth, I looked at the rules of fantasy. Some of them make sense. Many of the better fantasies draw upon ancient myths. This is important, because these myths speak to something very deep within readers — in all of us. They help make that vital connection between author and audience.

But many of the others exist just because some writers copy other writers, especially Tolkien and Martin. “Hey, if you liked Lord of the Rings, you’ll love my book. It’s the same thing, only different!”

This is the same phenomenon that sparked so many books (and movies, and TV shows, and graphic novels …) about sexy, sparkly and friendly vampires. How long until the “Hunger Games’ rip-off? Oh, yes, “Divergent.”

No, I set out to break some rules, bend others until they snapped, and perforate the boundaries of the genre to allow elements from other genres to invade. But there is one rule that I held to: I made sure it was still a story, a story about real people that interests readers.

Win free stuff
Everyone loves free stuff, so I’ll give away electronic copies of the winner’s choice of books to anyone who can describe three of the tropes, conventions or clichés I exploded in The Bones of the Earth or One Shade of Red.

To make it easier, you can read some excerpts:
Chapter 1 of The Bones of the Earth on my blog.

Samples from One Shade of Red, also on my blog:

Sexy sample one
Sexy sample two
Sexy sample three

Good luck!

About Scott
Scott Bury is a journalist, editor and novelist based in Ottawa, Canada. He has written for magazines in Canada, the US, the UK and Australia.

He is author of The Bones of the Earth, a fantasy set in the real time and place of eastern Europe of the sixth century; One Shade of Red, a humorous erotic romance;
a children’s short story, Sam, the Strawb Part (proceeds of which are donated to an autism charity), and other stories.

He is now working on the true story of a Canadian drafted into the Red Army during the Second World War, his escape from a German POW camp and his journey home. It’s tentatively titled Broken Boots.

Scott Bury lives in Ottawa with his lovely, supportive and long-suffering wife, two mighty sons and two pesky cats.

He can be found online on his blog, Written Words, on Amazon, on Twitter @ScottTheWriter, and on Facebook.

# # #

‘The End’ is just the beginning

Editor’s Note — Writing a book ain’t easy, but at least most of us know what we’ve got to do to get to “The End.” What happens after you write “The End” — the publishing and marketing — is where a lot of us suddenly find ourselves lost and without a clue.

C. Lee McKenzie, a novelist who’s published indie and and also been published by traditional press has been down those confusing roads. She offers this advice on making it easier for your book to perform after you’ve written “The End.”

C. Lee McKenzie

C. Lee McKenzie

“The End” is just the beginning
by C. Lee McKenzie
Writing a book is not easy, at least not for me. I sit for hours (something that I truly dislike doing). I torture myself with self-doubt at just about every stage of the writing process. I turn down invitations from friends. My family often doesn’t see me for days. So when I finally do write “The End,” and I really mean it, then I should be ecstatic, right?

Well, not quite.

Now I have to launch my book into the world, so there are big questions: Should I sub to an agent? Should I sub to a major publisher who takes unsolicited manuscripts? Should I sub to a small press? Or, should I do it myself?

I’ve made this decision three times. Two of my books were traditionally published by a small press. The last book I put out there by myself. I’ve learned a lot about the publishing business, and most of it has been through the old trial and error method. I’m getting ready to sub another book, and so I’ve been doing a bit of research–that thing I do when writing is impossible.

I found a Mark Coker article that was very informative. Mr. Coker, as you probably know is the founder of Smashwords.com.

Mark Coker

Mark Coker

So when Mr. Literary Gary asked me to do a guest post, I thought I’d select the key points from this article, add some of my own ideas based on what Mark Coker wrote and share that today. I’ve marked my own ideas with asterisks. These are ideas based on my experience and not found in the Coker study.

So here goes.

If you can get your ebook into the top position as bestseller, it might sell double the number of copies that an ebook at fifth place sells. Mark Coker calls this the “power of the Viral Catalyst.”

So how do you get a book into first place? It ain’t easy, but might be doable if you:

Write a darned good book.

*Troll for some excellent Blurbs from well-published authors.

*Get the buzz going by contacting reviewers before your launch.

*Plan a dynamite blog tour that floods the internet with your cover, your interview, contests and giveaways.

*Get a following by publishing a second, third, fourth book ASAP, preferably sequels.

Write shorter book titles.

Know what price is most attractive. Coker says, “a $.99 book will on average sell 3.9 times as many books as a book priced over $10.00. A $2.99 book sells about 4 times as many units. Note how books priced between $1.00 and $1.99 significantly under-perform books priced at $2.99 and $3.99. $1.99 appears to be a black hole… $3.99 books sold more units than $2.99 books…” This information about pricing I found very interesting.

If you’re an Indie ebook author, you can expect to make more on royalties than traditionally published authors. So if you do sell to a publisher, Coker advises this, “…your e-rights are valuable. Don’t give them up easily.”

Coker’s last suggestion is to use common sense when interpreting the data. For example, if you have a three-word title that is right for your book, don’t shorten it to one or two. If you have 50,000 words and your story works, don’t expand it to make it longer. What he has set out is just data gathered at this time, and it’s very likely to shift.

In other words, be on your toes and keep up to date.

Here’s the Huffington Post article.

About C. Lee McKenzie
I’m a native Californian who grew up in many different places; then I landed in the Santa Cruz Mountains where I live with my family and miscellaneous pets—usually strays that find me rather than the other way around. I write most of the time, garden, hike and do yoga a lot, and then travel whenever I can. My favorite destinations are Turkey and Nicaragua, but because I have family in England, Switzerland, and Spain I love going those places, too.

Gators

In my books, I take on issues that today’s teens may face because I believe talking about fictional characters helps young adults open up about the sensitive issues that they sometimes find hard to discuss. My first young adult novel, Sliding on the Edge, which dealt with cutting and suicide was published in 2009. My second, titled The Princess of Las Pulgas, dealing with a family who loses everything and must rebuild their lives came out in 2010. I’m published in three young adult anthologies. Recently, I took a break from young adult and published my first middle grade novel, Alligators Overhead.

Cover story

Cover art by and courtesy of Laura Wright Laroche

You can get a great cover like this custom Laura LaRoche cover for your book, but it takes a little homework.

You can get a great cover like this custom Laura LaRoche cover for your book, but it takes a little homework.

Editors Note: Let’s say I’m a new author, just finishing up my first book and I need a good cover. But I don’t know any artists, or photographers, and have no such skills myself.

What do I do?

That’s the question I posed to book-cover artist and fellow author Laura LaRoche. I’ve read plenty of blog posts telling me how important a good cover is for your book — here’s solid advice from Laura on how to get one.

Research!

Start with asking other authors who they would recommend. Then search for the kind of cover design that fits your book. There are so many different talents out there creating covers that research is the best and most informative way to find the designer best suited to the author.

What kind of design is needed? Laura creates photo manipulations like the cover shown here.

What kind of design is needed? Laura creates photo manipulations like the cover shown here.

Common questions to ask before hiring a cover designer
1. What kind of cover is needed?
Is your book paranormal, fantasy, thriller, Christian? Ask designers if they are familiar with the genre needed.

2. What kind of design is needed?
Illustrated, photo manipulation, electronic graphics? Ask what kind of art the designers offer, and if it is right for your book.

3. What’s the price range?
Ask what the base cost is and if there are any other costs involved in the process.

4. Do they offer e-book and print?
Ask this question if you think you might need a print cover, either when you order or in the future. Not all designers offer both. Or they may not be able to make covers compatible with some print publishers. So be sure to mention which print site you have chosen.

Other cover-issues indie authors may wonder about
How do I identify and choose a reputable service? What’s a fair price? How
does the procedure work? Should I expect the cover artists to read my book
so they know how to represent it graphically? If not, how do they know?

To find a reputable service simply look at the cover designers’ web sites and see if they have testimonials to back up their work. Double check authors’ names on the designers’ sites with authors’ book sites.

Research for finding a reputable cover artist includes checking designer and author websites, Laura says.

Research for finding a reputable cover artist includes checking designer and author websites, Laura says.

How many covers do you see on the designer’s site? That’s important for checking experience. Then e-mail and ask for references, or look at their cover designs and directly ask any author listed in their galleries.

I find most authors don’t mind direct questions, and they are usually eager to share their experience about the designer they used.

The procedure is fairly easy. After an author contacts me, I reply with all needed info on what I can design and offer, the cost, how to pay, and turnaround time. Once I get started, I will send a cover design to the author for approval or changes. Once all is done and the author is happy, I supply a royalty-free cover license for the image.

That’s it, all done.

Pricing is difficult to estimate. It depends on what kind of service and detail work is needed. Illustrated covers tend to be the most expensive because of the nature of the art and time. Keeping that in mind, I believe a good price range for custom e-book covers is $25-$75. I know that’s a big gap in price, but authors’ needs will determine if they should buy on the low or high side of the spectrum.

I’m not sure if other cover designers take the time to read the book they’re covering. In my opinion, they don’t need to read it. I don’t, and it’s not because I wouldn’t love to. It’s because I wouldn’t have time to design multiple covers a week if I took the time to read each book. My backlog would be a year long.

So to answer the next question, how do designers know what to create if they don’t read the book?

Cover artists don't usually have time to read the books they illustrate, says Laura. Instead, they rely on authors to supply pertinent information.

Cover artists don’t usually have time to read the books they illustrate, says Laura. Instead, they rely on authors to supply pertinent information.

Again, I suppose each designer has a unique way. I ask authors to provide whatever they feel is important to the book and cover, including

-Synopsis
-Genre
-If it is a series
-What color scheme they like
-Do they have a website where I can read and learn about the author
-Reviews

So many things can influence the design.

Laura, as a cover artist, what have been some of your favorite or most challenging projects? Have you ever found it hard to come up with a cover for a particular book? What was your favorite cover experience?

I’ll start with challenging projects. I’ll finish with favorites. I have a few authors who pose challenges for me by giving me little info with which to work. (They know who they are! Grin).

Though I will expose two of them now with some examples of their designs.

First, there’s Zoe Saadia, who likes to ask with a giggle if I’m ready for a challenge.

Ed. note ~ By a curious coincidence, I just reviewed this book at Honest Indie Book Reviews.

Ed. note ~ By a curious coincidence, I just reviewed this book at Honest Indie Book Reviews.

When she approached me for her first cover design she was hesitant, but that faded quickly as I worked with her. She had an idea of the style she wanted, but no clue about how to portray it.

After several questions and a couple of changes, I created the first in her “The Rise of the Aztecs” series, The Highlander.

Needless to say, I’ve went on to finish this series and seven others for her. I love when she pounces on me with an idea, and she is a joy to work with. If you would like to check out her writing, here is her Amazon Author page.

Next author and definitely one of the most challenging is Robin Nadler.

Wow! That’s what I can say about her and her writing. She is one of the fastest writers I’ve met. She is so talented and challenging when it comes to her covers. When Robin asked me to design a cover for a series, I had no idea how many she would need. I gave some thought to how and what to create to make her series look unique.

Laura has covered all 12 books in Robin Nadler's 12-book "Family by Choice" series, starting with this one.

Laura has covered all 12 books in Robin Nadler’s 12-book “Family by Choice” series, starting with this one.

After some sample exchanges and a few changes, we had the look of what started out as one book, and is now 12; a series titled “Family by Choice.”

I’ve also created other covers and book trailers for her. If you would like to know more about Robin, her website is nadlersnovels.com.

While I do have other authors I would love to feature, I believe this will give most authors a chance to look at the different style and approach to making a series. I’ll include some other covers from different authors for a broader look at designs.

Okay, on to the next question — have I ever found it difficult to create a book cover for a book?

Yes, there have been times when it took several attempts to get it right. There have also been times when I offered refunds and pointed them in other directions for cover help.

Those occurred after we started, then realized they needed an illustrated cover, not a photo-manipulated cover which is what I offer.

Do I have a favorite book cover I’ve created?

I have deep admiration for each author I’ve covered. Each work is as unique as the author. I can’t pick a favorite. Each cover tells the story of all the author’s hard work inside, with the hope and expectation that the design will make readers want to pick it up.

I hope I’ve been of some help on how to choose a cover designer.

In a world of words anything is possible. ~ Laura Wright LaRoche

About Laura

Laura Wright LaRoche

Laura Wright LaRoche

I am a bookcover designer working with both traditional publishing companies and freelance authors. I love creating “one-of-a-kind” cover designs for authors. Being a published author myself, I know the difference good covers can make.

If you would like to learn more about me or would like to connect on social media, here are my links.
Website, www.llpix.com
FB Page, www.facebook.com/LLPix
Twitter, www.twitter.com/WrightLaRoche

# # #

Revise it first

Ed. Note — I sure wish I’d read this advice for authors when I was writing my own first novel. Alas, Lily hadn’t written it yet. Here it is now, though — some hardheaded writing advice from fellow author Lily Bishop, author of No Strings Attached. I, for one, am paying attention.

Revise it First
by Lily Bishop

No-Strings-Attached-Amazon

These days, everyone wants new content. Indie authors are pushed to get more titles out there, and to follow up on those sequels. But how can you produce novel-length works faster without sacrificing quality?

My big tip: Don’t Edit Until you Revise

You’ve finished the first draft of your book. Congratulations! Now put it away. Yes, I’m serious. Put it away for a few weeks. Ruminate on the ending. Think about your character’s goals. Give it to your spouse to read.

Revising Tips

After at least a week (some people say longer), sit down and read it cover to end without doing any edits. If you must, highlight parts that you stumbled over, but don’t rewrite them yet. Try to read it in as uninterrupted stretch as possible, over one or two days.

Ask yourself these questions:
• Are you starting at the beginning of the action?
• If you have flashbacks, are they short and absolutely important?
• Are your character’s goals clear?
• If you are writing a romance, does your male character have his own story arc?
• Did you raise the stakes enough?
• If you are writing in the romance genre, is your ending happy or at least happy for now? If it’s not, and you’re committed to that ending, please don’t classify it as romance – you’ll have some very dissatisfied readers.
• Does the ending resonate with you now that you’ve read the book straight through?
• If the ending is a twist, were the seeds planted early in the story? Or is an unknown god or character rushing in to save the day (Deus ex machina)?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, it’s not time to edit. You need to look for key scenes where you can flesh out the characters’ goals or elevate the stakes. If you still feel it’s done, now you can tackle editing.

Editing Tips
Edit for flow:
Where do your chapters end? Does each chapter end with a question, something to keep the reader turning the (virtual) page?

Are your chapters roughly the same word count? Sometimes during the revision process, chapters expand and shrink as words are added or deleted.

Do you balance heavy action scenes with times for the characters to reflect? You don’t have to, but sometimes that can help with the pacing if the story feels rushed. Make sure each scene moves the story.

If it doesn’t, cut it.

Edit dialog:
Do you have pages with long strings of one-line dialog that is unbroken with any narrative? This type of dialog can look a bit like a tennis match. Break it up with dialog beats, little actions that let the reader picture the speakers.

Do you have buried dialog? Buried dialog is spoken words in the middle of a large paragraph. Try to start or end the paragraph with dialog, or have it stand alone. Don’t stick it in the middle of exposition.

Strengthen your verbs:
Search for “was” and “is”, and gerunds (walking, running, speaking, etc). These are weaker verbs. See what you can do to strengthen them.

Strengthen description:
Do you have huge paragraphs consisting of nothing but description? Look for ways to break it up or focus on only a few key details.

Show don’t tell, and don’t do both. (A character can have an angry reaction (slamming a door) but you don’t need to add angrily. The same is true for restating dialog in the narrative.

Bottom Line:
Don’t start editing (working on language) until you are completely happy with the story (revisions).

A Hard Lesson
I learned this lesson the hard way. No Strings Attached took four years to write, with massive time breaks in between because I couldn’t decide what to do with it.

I wrote a version for the Golden Heart Competition for Romance Writers’ Association (RWA) that I was fairly satisfied with, but I never liked the ending. There was also a really long flashback that completely disrupted the flow. The flashback was almost a third of the book. When I rewrote it, I moved the flashback to flow sequentially, and I completely changed the ending. Again, I was fairly happy with it, and I edited and polished to my hearts’ content.

But then, when I read it again, the ending still didn’t resonate. My main character had slipped into a passive rut, and she was sitting around not advancing her goals or her story. She was letting everything happen to her, and a good bit of the final action was “off camera,” meaning she found out what had happened third-hand.

The last rewrite had her in the thick of the action, and read much stronger. I was finally satisfied with the ending, but I wasted a ton of time in the process.

How I fixed the process with my current book, Under His Protection, the sequel to No Strings:
When I finished the first draft, I wasn’t satisfied with the ending. My husband read it, and he wasn’t either. So I rewrote the last chapter, but he still wasn’t satisfied.

Now I’m on the third attempt at an ending, and this one resonates, but my editor in her initial read-through said that it felt rushed. So I’m in the process of slowing down the last chapter, pacing it out, making sure I’m not introducing new elements that haven’t been explained before.

The difference? I didn’t edit the entire book three times. I’m focusing on the part that was giving me trouble, and once it’s set, I will go through the editing steps above. So I’ve intentionally stayed away from style issues until I’m done with the story.

The end result? Under His Protection will take about a year, instead of four. I’m also not taking six months off while I try to figure out what to do.

Revising and editing are hard work, and you can also edit the life out of a story. My hope is to go through one edit cycle with this one, and then send it to my editor for her polish. She did a quick read-through and already told me areas that I can work on to strengthen the story.

With those notes in hand, I’m moving forward.

The hardest thing to do is to push those baby birds out of the nest.

About Lily and No Strings Attached
Lily Bishop published her first novel No Strings Attached, in May 2013.

LilyBishop

It’s a contemporary romantic suspense set in exotic locations like Vegas, Miami, and then the Bahamas.

Laura Todd travels to Las Vegas to do a presentation for her company in the hopes of gaining a promised promotion from administrative assistant to consultant. While she’s in Vegas, she meets a consultant for the hotel industry, and they hit it off.

Fox Thornton is impressed by Laura’s presentation, and she’s not bad at the blackjack table either. They feel a connection, and the heat between them increases.

Unfortunately, like all weekend romances, everything ends too quickly and they both return to separate cities. Then Laura learns that the owner of her company has hired Fox to investigate why profits are down for their office, and unknown to her, she’s the primary suspect.

Can Fox trust the connection he feels for her, or has Laura been playing him like for a fool? Can Laura get past his suspicions and still move her career ahead? Or is her career, and her love life, dead in the water?

Available at Amazon

You can view the book trailer on YouTube

Here’s an excerpt

You can follow Lily at her blog, Don’t Call Me Sugar, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/AuthorLilyBishop, and on Twitter.

Lily can also be found at GoodReads. Add No Strings Attached to your To-Be-Read list today.

She is currently polishing the sequel to No Strings Attached, Under His Protection.