Salami and Writing – to Self-Publish or Not

Barbara Custer enjoyed salami and cheese at the writing workshop.

Yesterday, I got to attend the Philadelphia Writer’s Workshop at the Sonesta Hotel. I began my day with salami and provolone cheese sandwich for breakfast; then I headed downtown. It was an excellent conference, but the classes that struck home related to the dos and don’ts of self-publishing (loved that class) and the advantages of traditional publishing versus self-publishing. I had my lunch over at De Bruno Brothers and took advantage of the opportunity to buy cheese. When you’ve tasted their fine cheeses, you’ll want to buy more.

Chuck Sambuchino discussed the advantages and disadvantages of both kinds of writing. With traditional publishing, there are no startup costs. The company will edit, handle the cover illustrations, and may even hire someone to provide marketing. Whatever money you get with your advance is yours to keep, and perhaps later, you might get film options. It carries an air of legitimacy; ergo people will be more agreeable to review your book and interview you.

Ah, but since the company is fronting the money, that leaves you at the whims of others. After the advance, the royalties run about 10 percent, and it takes a lot of time from contract signing to book release.  Assuming you get an agent’s attention right away, it could take several months before the contract between you and agent is signed; months before that agent signs you with a publisher; a total of two to four years before the book is released.

Self-publishing gives you control over the editing, illustrations, formatting, price, etc. The royalties are decent. The length of the book and genre don’t matter; self-publishing would be ideal for someone who’s focusing on a unique interest and has a ready market for their book. What’s more, depending on the company, you could have your book released in a week. It took me six months to a year for each self-pub work because the book went through an editor before I got into formatting.

The downside is, you become your own agent, editor, marketer, etc. or be ready to pay upfront fees for these services.  Self-publishing still carries a stigma; bookstores and reviewers will shy away from your book. There’s no help with marketing or subsidiary rights, and without a platform, promotion is an uphill battle.

The time factor mention hit me where I live, and that was why I self-pubbed many of my books. Up until February 2013, I queried agents and lined up at seminars for pitches, but in 2013, I had two admissions to the hospital for water on the heart. Last January my husband died, and recently the homeowners’ association discovered significant termite damage in my floors. I’m healthy now and have had no mishap with the floors, but my takeaway from these events is this: Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. With that in mind, I’ve had a rough time wrapping my head around the idea of waiting four years for a book to go live. Thankfully, I’ve found ways to work around some of the disadvantages of independent publishing. I’ve also published with small presses; this helps with the time element.

That’s not to say I’d never try traditional publishing again; I may change my mind years from now. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you feel traditional publishing is best or do you prefer independent publishing? What have your experiences been like?

In the meantime, there’s another salami and cheese sandwich with my name on it.

Darkness Whispers …

Darkness Whispers delivers deliciously chilling horror fiction by Richard Chizmar.Darkness Whispers will introduce you to the town of Windbrook, a sleepy little community nestled deep in the secluded Skullkin Valley of western Pennsylvania.

All is well in Windbrook, just like usual, just like always. Nothing changes here, nothing is different.

Except… except today something is different.

An old man with piercing gray eyes will arrive in town this morning. This man isn’t human. Not even close. And he isn’t coming alone. Death travels with him.

Richard Chizmar, award-winning author of A Long December, and Brian James Freeman, acclaimed author of The Painted Darkness, have combined forces to create an old-fashioned tale of horror, full of good and evil, with a breathtaking ending that will leave you wondering when this peculiar old man might be coming for you…

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Reviews and Praise:

“Anthology editors Chizmar (the Shivers series) and Freeman (the Dark Screams series) build tension and hook readers… with this svelte tale of modern small-town life gone wrong. The characters are instantly engaging, and the story moves at such a satisfying clip…” — Publishers Weekly

“Filled with enough plot, characterization and metaphorical heft to stuff a full-length novel, Darkness Whispers brilliantly depicts the supernatural exploitation of a small town’s moral failings. Subtly shifting from Bradbury-esque whimsy to badass horror worthy of the King himself, the novella is a major achievement by Richard Chizmar and Brian James Freeman.” — Bentley Little, author of The Consultant and The Influence

Darkness Whispers begins as a visit to a golden-hued, idyllic town that soon gets dark. Very dark. I quickly gave up trying to second-guess the formidable authors and simply surrendered to their lead all the way to the shattering conclusion. Chizmar and Freeman know that horror doesn’t work without humanity, and with this story they succeed in chilling our blood and breaking our hearts.” — Ray Garton, author of Live Girls and Night Life

Darkness Whispers offers chilling horror fiction by Richard Chizmar.

 

Night to Dawn Then … and Now

Night to Dawn features zombie fiction along with vampires.When I reviewed a proof for Night to Dawn 31, it occurred to me that though I often blogged about writing and my Mylar balloons, I mentioned little about NTD magazine. Some folks have asked me what goes into putting a magazine together. An editor once told me about software he was using to do his magazine.

The thing is, new software comes with a learning curve, not easily navigated when you work a day job. I can do all right with old-fashioned Word if I start with a template from Lulu or Createspace. Word comes with Publisher, which I use to format the artwork, and I can convert files to PDF. When I took over the magazine in 2004, Word was just a word-processing program. Night to Dawn was a spiral-bound magazine. I knew nothing about the process, so I continued with the spiral, hiring a printer to make copies of the pages. I’d bought a coil binding machine to attach the pages. How I did it, I don’t know because I had arthritis in both hands. Three issues later, I moved to a perfect-bound book; the printer did the binding.

Mind you, printing magazines at a local printer cost over $400 back then, as opposed to Lulu or Createspace now. I had no way to make a PDF version, columns, or tucking art inside a story; I printed the stories on a plain Word document with the illustration downloaded after each piece. Thankfully, Editor Ginger Johnson talked me through the processes; so did Marge Simon and Cathy Buburuz, especially embedding illustrations.

My watershed moment came when someone at a writer’s conference told me about Lulu. I’d known about Lulu, but I thought they only handled novels. I never realized until later that I could print the magazine at a much more reasonable price. Why? Lulu and Createspace operate on a larger scale than a print shop, and can get away with charging reasonable while making a profit.  Lulu’s price enabled me to use four-color covers, whereas the print shop charged extra for doing so. I still use the print shop for supplies, but leave the magazine printing to Lulu and Createspace.

Nowadays, I use Createspace to distribute my books and magazine because I can charge reasonable, get fast distribution, and get a decent royalty, but I use Lulu for the initial print run because I like the work they do with the covers. Both companies provide the templates needed for the covers and manuscript. Letter designing isn’t my strongest suit so artist Teresa Tunaley has been designing my back cover. Sandy DeLuca does the front cover and a lot of interior art. I’ve also gotten great interior illustrations from Denny Marshall, Chris Friend, and Elizabeth Pierce.

Barbara Custer loves Mylar balloonsand horror fiction.Night to Dawn started out as a vampire magazine, but now it features different monsters, usually vampire or zombies. Night to Dawn 31, which has just gone live, has tales from the zombie’s point of view. The “welcome” page started out dry and flat, but I changed the name to “Pickings and Tidbits.” I’ve started dressing up the column by including a recipe and an anecdote about my Mylar balloons. People are always hungry and they appreciate a good laugh.

The one thing I haven’t been able to do is print Night to Dawn on Kindle. It’s more about time constraints – the formatting would need a radical change, along with the illustrations. One day in the distant future, I may want to revisit Kindle. For now, though, I’m focusing on the magazine and books, and perhaps creating a few nightmares of my own.

Revisiting “Where’s the Bread”

These Italian gluten-free pizzelles taste like my mother's.

Gluten-free pizzelles

I spent my recent days holiday baking. Unlike previous years, my gluten-free pastries were reminiscent of my Mom’s recipes, and my Mylar Balloons whispered, “Shouldn’t you blog about your baking?” No, I’m sleepy, I thought and promptly dozed off on my computer chair.

Then yesterday, I photographed my gf anginetti (Italian lemon-flavored cookies) and pizzelles, and people began asking how I came by these recipes. “You see?” my balloons crooned, “Better Batter and King Arthur cup-for-cup flour worked for you, right? And you’ve been posting some of your recipes in Night to Dawn. How about sharing your experiences with your followers?”

The balloons had a point. Back in 2014, I posted a blog titled Where’s the Bread. There were no photographs of bread or other treats because whatever I attempted tasted awful. My cheese rolls hardened like baseballs. Though I contented myself with my homemade chicken rice soup and Udi’s bread; I continued to try different recipes.

I found a user-friendly method with Pamela’s Pizzelles, and these taste like my mom’s version. I use anise extract for flavoring. They’re hard to tell from the regular pizzelles, so I had to mark the containers carefully.  I also tried recipes provided by Nicole Hunn. She posts a blog and has written several books on gf cooking. Whatever food sensitivity is the issue, she can suggest ways to work around it. When I made cheesecakes, I substituted gf crust; there was Mike’s cheesecake, and he got a hearty slice with each visit. I haven’t been able to bake cheesecake since he died but found a lot of treats with Nicole’s recipes. I also tried her cheese bread recipe, but that didn’t turn out well. Italian cheese bread, called “pitz” (spelling?) is the Holy Grail in my family. I bake it every Easter but have yet to manage a gf facsimile that works.

These tasty gluten-free pastries were baked by Barbara Custer.

Gluten-free anginatti

I found tasty recipes on King Arthur Flour’s website, particularly their chocolate chip cookies. Last time I made them I substituted coconut for half the chips and they were awesome.  This past year, King Arthur came out with a Gluten-Free Measure for Measure Flour which you can substitute for regular flour to convert traditional recipes to gluten-free.  I used it to make butter cookies and anginetti, using concoctions similar to my mom’s. You might wonder how come I didn’t go with my mom’s recipes. Mom never measured flour, and neither did I. I’m not ready yet to try gf baking without measuring. The butter cookies taste like Mom’s; the anginetti came a little heavier than I liked but decent. For the anginetti and wedding cake cookies, I had to use more liquid than the recipe specified. So if the recipe called for one cup of orange juice, I used 1.5 cups. Better Batter Flour advertises as “cup for cup”, but they recommend that you add extra liquid.

Barbara Custer found a way to doctor a bread mix to get these delicious gluten-free rolls.

The bread’s over here!

Oh, by the way, I found my bread – Pamela’s bread mix has worked for me nicely as you can see in my photo to the left. And I will continue posting my recipes on Night to Dawn’s “Pickings and Tidbits” page. Even writers and connoisseurs of Mylar balloons and fiction have to eat sometimes! 🙂

Have you had to alter ingredients or find new recipes to accommodate a food sensitivity? I’d love to hear your experiences.

Interview with John Nicholl, Author of Portraits of the Dead

portraitsofthedeadbannerToday, I’m delighted a feature an interview with John Nicholl, author of Portraits of the Dead. His other books include When Evil Calls Your Name and White is the Coldest Colour. John is always happy to hear from readers, bloggers, or anyone interested in proposing a joint creative project. He can be contacted through his author website: www.johnnicholl.com.

Barbara: What is your favorite ice cream flavor?

John: Chocolate.

Barbara: Which mythological creature are you most like?

John: What the ….? My wife says I’m like a bear with a sore head. Does that count?

Barbara: First book you remember making an indelible impression on you.

John: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Barbara: How do you develop your plot and characters?

John: I start with the key characters in mind and let the story develop from chapter to chapter.

Barbara: Describe your writing space.

John: I write with family life going on all around me.

BLURB: Emma didn’t know how long he hid, silent and unmoving, in the large Victorian wardrobe to the side of her single bed. She didn’t know how long he peered out, salivating and drooling, between the two heavy dark oak doors, and watched, mesmerised, as she slowly drifted into fitful sleep. She didn’t know what time he pushed the doors open and crept towards her in the drab grey darkness of the night.

Detective Inspector Gravel finds himself floundering when a local nineteen-year-old university student is abducted and imprisoned by a sadistic serial killer, who has already tortured and killed five young women.

A gripping page-turner of a serial killer thriller packed with suspense. If you like Rachel Abbott, Robert Bryndza and Karin Slaughter, discover John Nicholl’s chilling new thriller today.

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portraitofthedeadmediakit_authorphoto

AUTHOR Bio and Links:

John Nicholl, an ex-police officer, child protection social worker, manager, and lecturer, has written three dark psychological suspense thrillers, all of which are Amazon international bestsellers, reaching # 1 in multiple categories in the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Australia, Canada and the USA. John is always happy to hear from readers, bloggers or anyone interested in proposing a joint creative project. He can be contacted via his author website at:

 

http://www.johnnicholl.com

https://www.facebook.com/john.nicholl.988

https://twitter.com/nicholl06

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/13795294.John_Nicholl

Buy Link: https://www.amazon.com/Portraits-Dead-John-Nicholl/dp/1786972670/

One randomly chosen winner via rafflecopter will win a $50 Amazon/BN.com gift card.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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portraitsofthedeadbookcover

Excerpt:

Chapter One, 2:20 A.M. Saturday, 2 May 1998

Emma didn’t know how long he hid, silent and unmoving, in the large Victorian wardrobe to the side of her single bed. She didn’t know how long he peered, salivating and drooling, between the two heavy dark oak doors and watched, mesmerised, as she slowly drifted into fitful sleep. She didn’t know what time he pushed the doors open and crept towards her in the drab grey darkness of the night. But he did. She knew that he did.

Emma woke with a start, tense, alert, and opened her bleary eyes, telling herself insistently that the dark silhouette slowly approaching her was the nightmare construct of her subconscious mind. But initial anxiety became blind panic as the inky shadow took on an obvious human form that suddenly gained pace and loomed over her. And then a hand, a large hot clammy hand, pulled the bedclothes over her head, clamped her mouth tight shut and silenced her scream before it materialised.

A myriad unwelcome thoughts invaded her troubled mind as he pinned her head to the pillow and raised his free arm high above his head, before closing his fingers tightly, forming his hand into a formidable weapon and bringing it crashing down, again and again and again, with all the force he could muster, rendering her unconscious and bleeding.

She didn’t know how long she remained senseless, or what he did to her while she slept. She didn’t know what time he lifted her from her bed and carried her from her student bedroom, down the creaking wooden staircase and out into the Welsh city street. But he did. She knew that he did.

Finding Time to Write

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

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

You sit down before your computer, revved up to write a beaut of a chapter, and then the phone rings. Maybe your SO’s car broke down, leaving them stranded. Perhaps the doctor called with test results, or the loan company has a question about your account. In either case, life gets in the way, trashing any plans you had for your chapter. A week ago I began my vacation with the intention of adding two more chapters to my WIP, writing four blogs for this week’s October Frights Blog Hop, and serious editing of my Night to Dawn submissions for the magazine. I started off at a good clip. I made it through a chapter, three blogs, and three edited stories. Halfway through the week, I came down with a killer stomach virus and spent the next two days between my bed and the bathroom. Even my Mylar balloons wisely stayed out of the way.

Some folks might consider house construction—I’ve had a lot of that in the last year—as a life-in-the-way event. Thankfully, much of the work involved painting and spackling, and when the drills came out, I was able to tune out the sounds and continue with my projects. When you have a day job, time management becomes crucial. The daily to-do lists help, and I cross each job off as I finish it. A workshop leader suggested running a timer, but I found that counterproductive. I started worrying about the clock, and when I did work, I kept looking at the timer to see how far I’d gotten. Not good.

Some articles recommend Freedom or other software that will block your Internet or phone, thus removing distractions. I have two problems with this. First, these programs cost money that I can use toward marketing, publishing, and buying Mylar balloons. Second, NTD is a small press, and it’s great to be available if an author or illustrator has questions. I do try to budget “fudge” time for emails and phone calls related to NTD projects. Do I reward myself? Yes, by heading to the store for another Mylar balloons or just browsing the shops online.

Long ago, I invested in having someone come over to clean my house and cut the lawn. Given my track record with orthopedic surgery, the docs advised me to steer clear of the lawn mower. I can’t help but wonder how someone with a day job, kids, and house chores finds any time for writing or any other pursuit. Before I’d gotten sick, thankfully, I had jotted down notes on what I wanted for the last blog. Once I got better, I managed to finish the blog and look at other NTD stories. For the WIP, getting back in sync is tougher—it meant going through the last chapter and moving on from there.

Time management has been something I’ve struggled with at times, and I’d love to hear about your experiences with this and how you’ve handled the distractions.

Barbara Custer is sharing thoughts on time management for writing.

Balloons can help you focus more than any software!

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.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Clarissa Johal

 

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