When Blood Reigns: Cover Reveal

Barbara Custer's latest release, When Blood Reigns, is a sequel to Steel Rose.Marked for death, Alexis accompanies her lover, Yeron, and four survivors of a zombie invasion on a search for the renegades who created a chemical that induces a zombie-like state. On the way, ravenous flesh-eaters attack Alexis’s team; one survivor turns on her. She realizes too late that the renegades have been tracking her every move. When officials capture her, she becomes deathly ill. Can DNA splicing save her? Will Yeron’s attempts at rescue jeopardize all their lives?

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I had Walter Mitty dreams of having When Blood Reigns release slated for October 10. Given the preparation involved, I had to push that back, so there will be a December release. Still, I’d like to tell you a little about the book and what led to its completion.

At one time, When Blood Reigns was part of Steel Rose, which had grown to about 600 pages. Most publishers, including Yours Truly of Night to Dawn, frown on manuscripts much longer than 100K words. Howcumzit? From my observations, more words mean more pages manufactured, which means a higher price per book come distribution time. Someone of Stephen King’s ilk can get away with a 600-page novel—folks would buy his work at $30 if it came to that. But for the midlist and beginner authors, it’s best to work with forgivable prices, which requires keeping the word count at 100K or less.

So when I saw I’d arrived at 600 pages and still a distance from finishing the novel, I decided to split the book. I carved out an ending for Steel Rose and then moved into a beginning with When Blood Reigns. At the time, I called it by a different title—Blood Moon Rising. A wise publisher advised me to ditch that title because too many other books carried it. I came by When Blood Reigns by researching titles that felt right. Then I proceeded to take a democratic poll in my Facebook groups, and When Blood Reigns got elected. Steel Rose and When Blood Reigns got healthy edits before release—I strongly recommend Gemini Wordsmiths for edits.

You can expect to find many brutal zombies and renegade aliens. Alexis will have to do serious kickass fighting to survive. Remember the mummy of Atlantic City, described in an earlier blog? I had revisit Atlantic City and other personal demons because a few chapters will have a plethora of skeletal beings. During slower moments, I mellowed out with humor and tender moments between Yeron and Alexis. Around December 5 through 7, I will lay out excerpts and buy links.

You might wonder if there’s another sequel. The answer is yes, but I’m keeping the plotline under wraps until after I’ve finished the first draft. I’m introducing new characters, and it takes time to get to know them.

I’m offering two giveaway prizes to a randomly selected commenter. First prize is a $10.00 Starbucks gift card to a randomly selected winner. Second prize is a complimentary copy of Night to Dawn magazine. 

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Clarissa Johal

Anatomy of a Book Sale

This blog is dedicated to the marketing process for books.

Blogs dedicated to the horror genre in keeping with Halloween. Prizes available!

At different writing conferences, the speakers have said that multiple mentions of your book will make it more likely that people will buy. For example, an ad that runs several days instead of one. The marketing experts call this “effective frequency.” I used to consider it bunk because in most cases, I bought a book if I liked the blurb and that was that, but now I’m starting to reconsider.

So I put myself in the reader’s shoes, and the following scenario happened at a writer’s workshop. An author entered, placed his book on the table, and said he hoped everyone would buy his book when it went live. Like other readers, I have a budget. Expenses like food, balloons, doctor visits, house expenses, and more balloons take priority, and the home improvements I’m trying to make cost lots of dimes, too. So I wasn’t buying.

The book went around the room. I opened it and started reading, and continued reading until our speaker called the workshop to order. The author had written a compelling tale about two teenagers who happened upon an injured dog. I enjoy stories involving dogs, and one of the characters in my work, When Blood Reigns, are dogs, too. So the plot wooed me, and by the time our meeting started, I decided to buy the book.

After the meeting, I asked the author when I could find the book. He gave me a postcard and directed me to his website where I could order a pre-release paperback copy. So now you’re probably wondering if I rushed home and ordered a copy. Nope. You see, life got in the way. My balloons needed a refill; it was time to cook dinner. I had a pile of emails, and some of them included bills. Then I had to check my phone to see if my Scrabble partners had made any plays. By the time I’d gotten through all that, I plumb forgot about the book.

Next two days, I had my day job and my Night to Dawn chores at night. Come Wednesday, I had a leisurely day off, and I started thinking about ordering the book. Except that I couldn’t find the postcard. I couldn’t remember where I put it, but the title stayed with me … Taming Chaos. I looked up the title on Google, which was interesting because I didn’t recall the author’s name either.  I finally located the book on Amazon, which announced a Kindle version ready for release. So I ordered a Kindle copy, and I’m reading it now.

Now all of that could have gone more smoothly if I’d seen serial ads about the story.

The article that explains effective frequency is a couple of years old, but it describes how a typical shopper will react to seeing the same ad again and again.  Having walked in the reader’s balloon-shoes, I have to endorse it. So I will be looking at advertising with a new pair of eyes.

Your thoughts?

I’m awarding prizes to random commenters. First prize is a $10 Starbucks gift card. Second prize is a comp copy of Night to Dawn Magazine.

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Clarissa Johal

Grammarly: Taking the Plunge

Blogs dedicated to the horror genre in keeping with Halloween. Prizes available!

Blogs dedicated to the horror genre in keeping with Halloween. Prizes available!

Rating: 4 Balloons

For some time I’d used the free version of Grammarly; it worked because I downloaded the software through Firefox. If you have Google Chrome or Firefox, you get a free version. On Internet Explorer, you pay from the get-go. Between editing of NTD tales and my work in progress, Grammarly was fixing my punctuation and misspelling if I uploaded the document. Well, lo and behold, I got a series of emails from Grammarly complimenting me on my dedication as a writer and publisher. They then offered me the premium version for a discount. The premium version will help you with word choice, line editing, and plagiarism. What’s more, they’re excellent at catching repetitive words and phrases, something I’m prone to doing; they’ll even suggest better word choices.

How much do all these goodies cost? Twenty-nine dollars a month, $59.95 if you pay quarterly, or $139.95 for an annual payment. I shied away from premium because I couldn’t ante up that much money, but Grammarly wooed me with a good discount for a year membership. I decided to run with it.

WhenBloodReigns_150dpi_eBook

Coming in December!

All up, I’m glad I did it. Grammarly has worked beautifully for my magazine stories. I’ve caught a lot of inconsistent spelling and preposition choices that my 61-year-eyes might have overlooked. For those of you who follow me, notice that many of my Facebook posts have gotten cleaner, except when I dictate posts from my iPhone. As for When Blood Reigns, Grammarly came in handy after I reviewed the changes made after a developmental edit by Gemini Wordsmiths, for it’s easy to introduce new typos when you’re cleaning up an edit. As promised, it has caught my repetitive words and offered suggestions that worked. What’s more, it’s great at finding those easily overlooked words like “the” and “a/an.”

So why am I only giving Grammarly four balloons instead of five? I found some limitations, too –ones I could live with but they are there. When I ran the plagiarism checker, I found that most items that came up were common expressions the story characters uses that were also written in another journal. For example, one character said, “the radio was left running.” Most people in my town might say that if someone forgot to turn off the radio. Also, if I’m editing a story where the characters use slang or words with British spelling, Grammarly will underline, and you either suggest “add to dictionary” or ignore. With fiction writing, there’s a time to bend the grammar rules, and Grammarly doesn’t get that because it focuses on formal writing.

That said, I’d recommend giving Grammarly a try, but go with the free version first. A test run will help you decide if this software is right for you.

Have you tried Grammarly? I’d like to hear about your experiences with it.

I’m offering giveaway prizes: first and second prizes are $10.00 Starbucks gift card to a randomly selected winner. Third prize is a complimentary copy of Night to Dawn magazine. 
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Clarissa Johal

Addendum:

Today I received the following email from Grammarly to clarify the use of Grammarly on Internet Explorer (to be fair I never tried using it myself on IE – I converted to Firefox before using Grammarly in earnest).

“I also wanted to point out some text in your article that sounds a little misleading. You wrote: “If you have Google Chrome or Firefox, you get a free version. On Internet Explorer, you pay from the get-go.” This isn’t accurate. Grammarly doesn’t have an IE browser app at this time, but we do offer a free online editor, downloadable desktop app, and Windows MS Office add-in, which people who prefer Internet Explorer can use instead. The Grammarly Premium upgrade is available for people to purchase regardless of what platform they use, but it’s never required.”

I’m also happy to include the link: https://www.grammarly.com

 

Writing after a Loved One Dies

 

Michael was very supportive of my writing endeavors.

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My family took the picture to the left a year before my husband Mike went into the nursing home. You hold onto the good days when you get them, and Christmas, 2009 was one of them. When he passed on January 29, the pain of losing him shot through my heart like an arrow. I wondered how this would affect my writing and other activities.

When my mother died in 1990, an instructor advised me to keep a daily journal. This journal evolved into fiction pieces, and months later, I submitted them for publication. In 1995, after my father died, I sat down and penned a short story in three hours. It got published within a week. Losing Mike has come with its own circumstances, though.

I seldom discussed Mike on social media, but if one wanted a true measure of my grief, they only had to look at my checkbook entries for March. I’ve had to scribble out and rewrite most of the entries, and it was hard to read what I’d written when I had to balance the checkbook. The writing dried up as well; I have written only two or three blogs during the last six months. It was like my internal gadget for blog making had gone into hibernation. As it was, the handling of Mike’s estate and increased need for sleep left no time for blogging. On my days off from work, I had numerous appointments lined up with the lawyer, the bank, insurance folks, etc. By 7:30 at night, I was ready for bed. Thankfully, I had previously pulled together Night to Dawn 29, and my authors have been understanding regarding other projects.

The story writing did a big slowdown, too. I’ve been trying to work on a sequel to When Blood Reigns, which should see a fall, 2016 release. I began writing it with visions of Alexis and Yeron setting up house and beating down the renegades. The thing was, when I attempted to write from Alexis’s point of view, I managed only a few paragraphs at a time. The appointments and the phone calls that came with them got in the way.

I found a lot of help from my writer’s support group in Hatboro and The Writers’ Coffeehouse. This has helped get the words moving. Night to Dawn 30 has gone together without a hitch; NTD released Sandy DeLuca’s Lupo Mannaro, and I’ve just released a new edition of Rod Marsden’s Ghost Dance. I will likely do a blog tour after my book When Blood Reigns goes live, so there should be more blogs coming.

The parade of Mylar balloons has grown, although the intense heat we have now has laid some to rest. At any supermarket, you’ll find a balloon or two trailing me to the cashier’s line. I tried getting around the writer’s block by introducing a new character into the book, one who likes balloons. She was supposed to be a secondary character, but … she’s taking over the book. When I work on a chapter that involves this character (she’s also dealing with grief), the words flow like balloons do toward me at the markets. Perhaps I am journalizing after all. In any case, I find myself jumping around and writing the material from her point of view. I anticipate completing this book, but it’s liable to turn out way different from what I had imagined.

This leaves me to wonder how grief affected other writers. Did you find yourself changing genres or going off on a different tangent? Did you keep a journal? I’d be interested in hearing your experiences.

Ghost dance, a horror tale written by Rod Marsden.

And … There’s Grammarly!

Mylar balloons and zombie fiction is Barbara's chief loves.I first heard about Grammarly a couple of years ago. It sounded like a great editing tool, but I couldn’t afford the fee required to use it. Let’s face it: I like Mylar balloons, and that fee might cut into my balloon fund; I couldn’t have that. I was using Internet Explorer, you see, which means that you can’t use any of Grammarly’s perks unless you’re willing to pay. My siblings use IE and warned me to steer clear of Chrome & Firefox several years ago after my laptop crashed, necessitating repairs over $500.

Trouble is, Night to Dawn requires me to edit, and I need to be able to do it well. Punctuation errors are the hardest things to find, and to be honest, I tend to be generous with commas. Spelling compound words have been an issue for me, too, as folks who’ve edited my manuscripts can attest. Then a few months ago, I read that Grammarly’s services were free if you used Firefox and Chrome. I really needed to use something, but I had tried Chrome and didn’t care for it. So I contacted my writer buddies at Caliburn Press, and no one there used Internet Explorer because it was too slow. The consensus was that Firefox had improved its security, and Chrome was ideal. After speaking with the tech that fixed my computer I went ahead and downloaded Firefox.

Grammarly came next. First up, Firefox is indeed faster than IE, and what’s more, I’m able to open legit attachments and photos easier. Heretofore, I used to complain that I had trouble opening attachments on IE. Sure enough, I was able to use Grammarly for basic editing on my Night to Dawn documents. There’s an add-in that you can download for Word. I couldn’t figure out how to load this add-in into Word, so I copied the contents of my document onto Grammarly directly, and this did the job. As for my online correspondence, Grammarly went ahead and cleaned up my posts afterward, including the ones on Facebook.

Up until now, I’ve been sloppy with my grammar on Facebook. On Facebook and other social media, I’m relaxed. I might daydream about my recent balloon purchase, planning my next, or admiring the Mylar butterflies in my living room. In any case, grammar goes by the wayside. But now Grammarly calls me on these lapses with the offending phrases underlined in red. Caveat: sometimes the grammar you set up is legit when you’re stressing a certain point, or if your story characters speak in dialect. In that case, you do have the option to select “ignore” when Grammarly red-lines you.

Night to Dawn authors reading this might wonder if this means more red ink on their manuscripts. Not necessarily. For one thing, Grammarly won’t work if you’re doing track changes. Too, sometimes I’ll ask for mini-rewrites if I think a scene won’t work. My thinking is that it’s best to use Grammarly for polishing after the author turns in edits. The charge for Grammarly’s still applies for the premium version, in which you get plagiarism detection, tweaking of vocabulary, and other goodies. I may consider using the premium version of Grammarly for editing the next NTD novel, but I have other resources I can use. There is that Mylar balloon fund to think about.

Your thoughts?

Sandy DeLuca's Lupo Mannaro features werewolves and dark fantasy.

A look at Createspace, Lulu, and Lightning Source

Steel Rose is an unholy matrimony of zombie fiction and horror fiction by Barbara Custer.

Recently my writer buddies and I had a lengthy discussion about the best way to publish a book. Some went for Lightning Source, others Lulu, and many went for Createspace. I then posed this question to my Mylar balloons and got the answer: “Whatever earns you the most money so you can buy more of us.”

My balloons had a point.

All three companies will offer a professional-looking book. Lulu and Lightning Source use the same files, and what’s more, Lulu works with Lightning Source. I used to publish my books through Lulu. I still do Night to Dawn magazine through them because I can get nice-looking print for the spine. Createspace will not put print on the spine unless the book is 100 pages. Sometimes you can get really great sales through Lulu; otherwise, Lulu’s shipping fees are steep, along with the cost for author/publisher copies. This cost then gets passed down to the readers who pony up the money to buy the book.

I’ve never worked with LSI – I was too frightened by the $35.00 yearly fee they charge small publishers per book to remain in print. To set up your book, expect to pay $37.50 for the cover file and $37.50 for the interior file. The big boy companies prefer LSI, which has the means to distribute books to the brick-and-mortar stores. Because they have an excellent sales team, set up costs are not an issue.

However, the small publishers have to consider that yearly fee, and if they’ve published ten books, that means $350 a year, not to mention the cost for proofs ($20 plus nine cents per page and $40 for revisions per cover and / or text file. If the bookstores decide to return books, and for some reason, the publisher says okay to return book on the contract, they must pay LSI the wholesale price of each book plus postage. They can also have the books destroyed. Given the price to set up the book, the publisher or author will have to sell an awful lot of books to make a profit. The Jonathan Maberry brand of writers would have no trouble selling books, but unknown authors might.

Because Lulu works with LSI, they, too, pay for those revisions and distribution, then pass the cost to the publisher. Make sure your book is error free before approving for distribution; otherwise expect to pay hefty fees to revise.

Enter Createspace. At first I shied away from Createspace because I had trouble adjusting my margins to meet their specs, but using their templates took care of the margin problem. Soon after I got comfortable using Createspace, I felt as if I’d been given keys to a kingdom. For one thing, there aren’t any set up fees. You go on their website, set up your account, select “create a book,” and follow the prompts. Createspace and Lulu will give you free ISBN numbers, but you can use your own. Your book gets to go on expanded distribution for free. Author/publisher copies are reasonable, which means you can charge a reasonable price for the book and still get a decent royalty. Once you approve your book, if later you decide to revise, you can do so without charge. Michael De Stefano, JoAnna Senger, Tom Johnson, and I decided to get new covers for some of our NTD books years after they were approved. Createspace allowed me to change the covers without charge. There is a charge for a proof copy, unless you get an online proof. I wanted a physical proof so that I have a better look at the product.

As the old saw goes, there are no free Mylar balloons. Createspace is part of Amazon, but they, too, work with LSI to get extended distribution. But they don’t accept returns, and most brick-and-mortar stores want the option to return. What’s more, once the book goes to Ingram, and Ingram takes its cut, the discount offered to outside stores is only 25% – not enough to justify stocking the book. They’ll take orders for the book from paying customers, but not actually stock the book.

If you’re lucky enough to have really great sales, consider using LSI and Createspace. That way, you can get a generous royalty and a shot at the brick-and-mortar stores. But use different ISBN numbers. Anytime you publish through two different distributors, you must use separate ISBN numbers.

Like my Mylar balloons advised, I went with the option that offered the best royalties and lowest expenses, given my situation. Your thoughts?

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