Discussing Your WIP

science fiction tales by Barbara Custer

The writing pros advise us to write your next book while shopping your current book proposal. I did just that after I finished When Blood Reigns but I haven’t sought any critique on it. Nor have I discussed details in my blogs, FB pages, or at the writers’ meetings. Only my Mylar balloons know the details.

You might ask, whyyyy?

I never worked in a linear fashion with any tale. I tried writing out an outline first but couldn’t work with it because I’m a pantser. An outline can come after the draft but not before. But that’s not quite the reason for my silence either. A budding story idea will call to me the way the Mylar balloons do at the supermarket. In the developing stages of my first draft, I’ve found that if I start talking up the book too soon, I can wind up deflating the interest and motivation I had for the book. Why? Like the balloons, the creative process needs nurturing and motivation. Steel Rose. Ditto for The Forgotten People. If I feel strongly about a subject, the words will float as easily as the Mylar balloons do through my house. Once I’ve discussed it extensively, I’m talked out. The words then leave me the way air escapes a punctured balloon, and the manuscript goes into a drawer.

This actually happened with a book I attempted to write after Twilight Healer. Pennsylvania’s winters were getting brutal, and cold provides lots of grist for stories. I imagined glass-domed cities and a race of vampires that thrived in the cold, and proceeded to write another book. Trouble was, I discussed the plot with every Tom, Dick, Harry, Mary, and Sue, and the book motivation fizzled out. So when I began Steel Rose, I didn’t whisper a peep to anyone until the first draft was finished. By the time I reached the conclusion, I had enough material for two novels, so I made it a series. Since I already had a first draft in my pocket, I was peachy keen with discussing When Blood Reigns during interviews. I don’t have any first draft for the next book, so for now, what I do have written will stay between me and my Mylar balloons.

Does it sound superstitious? Maybe. But I’ve heard other authors express the same reluctance about discussing their budding work. I’ve learned not to ask other writers too many questions about the WIP. The book will come when it’s ready.

Your thoughts?


When Mylar Balloons and Manuscript Rejections Go Together

Night to Dawn features zombie fiction, vampire tales, and poetry.Night to Dawn has had to close to submissions again because a lot of folks responded, and I hate to make writers wait three years to see their work in print. A lot of acceptances went out, along with rejections.

How do I approach story submissions? When a story intrigues me, I take that work along with several others to the meeting room, where twenty-five Mylar balloons float around a long table, each with copies of the manuscripts, prepared for a go-no-go discussion on each tale. I ask every balloon for their thoughts on the first story, and a heated discussion follows. The heart-shaped balloon complains that the story needs more romance. The Smiley face might prefer a humorous piece. The flower points out that the story will need a lot of editing. The pink butterfly might holler, “Damn all edits, let the story fly!” With six stories on the table, the meeting might last three hours, and maybe three stories will make it to Night to Dawn. If I bring a novel manuscript to the table, I’d better pack a lunch. The ensuing meeting could take all day.

At least that’s how it works in my balloon world.

In the real world, like many other small publishers/editors, I read submissions borrowed from time needed for editorial and writing chores, not to mention my day job and life events. There is no editorial board or meeting room, though I might enlist the help of beta readers. I read each one, at least the first three pages. If the first pages keep me in suspense, I’ll continue to the end. The stories that spoke to me outright got an immediate acceptance, especially if they haunted me long after I closed the file. Some tales read mostly well, but something along the way stopped me. These went on my shortlist. Some folks haven’t heard from me yet because their story’s on the shortlist.

Several folks sent a cover letter addressed as “Dear Editor.” You don’t want to do that with any editor, balloon world or not. When you’re ready to submit, take the time to visit the website and find out the person’s name. Other publishers—and agents—have complained about “Dear Agent” or “Dear Editor” submissions on their blogs, too. My name is plastered all over my website, so a “Dear Barbara” cover letter would work. Heck, if someone sent me a letter addressed “Dear Balloon Lady,” I’d smile and think, this person sure did their homework.

On many of the rejections, the story doesn’t begin until page four or later. One story had a beautifully written setting that went four pages, describing the heat in the protag’s town. I imagined an egg frying on the pavement, but I couldn’t use the story. If you want to start with your setting, litter the ground with some dead bodies. Cleaning out a closet is backstory, but if the character stumbles into a corpse dangling by a rope, that will keep me reading. And, by the way, there’s no need to send “you’ll-love-this-work” cover letters. Like a Mylar balloon, a well-crafted horror tale will get my attention on its own merit.

Beware of typos. We’re all human, and no writer sees their own mistakes, but…a submission littered with typos would give any editor pause. Most authors review their submissions before sending, but folks who use their eyes a lot (like writers) can run into visual issues, especially as they get older. I know – I’ve dealt with cataracts and now, scarring. So if you’re straining to read the print, turn up the zoom feature. For editing, I magnify mine and use Word’s “search and find” feature.

Occasionally I get well-written work in a genre I don’t publish. Though I can’t use them, I might ask to see more work. Anytime I ask to see more work or offer a though critique, take heart. I never waste time picking dust off of battered balloons. And if I have nightmares after reading your Night to Dawn tale, you’ve done a great job. My Mylar balloons would agree.

Your thoughts?

How Much Do You Charge for an EBook?

Close Liaisons features Mylar balloons and science fiction by Barbara Custer

SF involving balloons and war $1.49

How much should you charge for your eBook? Some folks believe that charging $2.99 and less will result in more sales. The 99-cent novellas will make good publicity, an easy way to get to know an author’s style of writing. If nothing else, it will generate balloon money for the author and publisher. But I know of people who started out at $5.25 for their book, and when they lowered it to $2.99, sales tanked. What’s more, the lower price cut into their royalties.

Amazon likes to recommend prices when I upload Kindle books for myself or for NTD authors.  Basically, anything over $7 or under $3 won’t earn much. However, if you’re charging more for your eBook, you might want to run promos and specials where people can get the book for much less, thus meaning a larger audience. Many variables go into pricing and you might want to consider several things when you price your eBook, especially if you’re selling through multiple distributors.

  • The size of your eBook. If you’ve written a 10,000 word novelette, you’d charge much less than you would for your 80,000 opus magnum. It’s a matter of fairness. Why charge $4.99 for an eBook that would only have twenty pages in print form? It would be like charging someone $20.00 (the cost of a balloon bouquet) for one balloon. In tandem, consider your primary goals, that is, education versus entertainment. People will shell out more money for vital information, such as tips on winter driving and survival then they might for tales about Mylar balloon adventures.
  • Consider what other authors charge for the same size and genre. If you’re charging $10 for a 30,000 word zombie tale, but other authors are charging $1.99 for the same type of book, yours won’t sell many copies. If you’re only selling off your own website, you might have more leeway with price. My experience has been that most people prefer shopping through Amazon or Barnes & Noble over a private website. Why? If you shop on the NTD website, you’ll need a PayPal account, which requires a password. For that reason, I always provide links to Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble. Most seller websites involve setting up an account and a password. It’s easier to remember one password (Amazon) than tracking different passwords for multiple websites.
  • What are your plans for your book? If your work is a 10,000-word novelette, it can serve as an intro to your larger, more expensive works. Most folks won’t mind shelling out 99 cents for such a story. Your book—and your ideas—will fall into more hands. If they like your work, you’ve got more potential buyers for your larger stories. If you don’t have a 99-cent eBook, you might want to create one. Your entry-level priced eBook will give readers a chance to know your work.
  • How large is your following? If you’re anything like Stephen King or Jonathan Maberry, your publisher might sell your eBooks for $10 each and more. That’s because both authors have dedicated fans who love their writing so much that they’ll gladly pay that to read their fiction. If you’re pitching to total strangers, they’ll balk, especially if they see other books of the same genre sell for $3.99.

You might consider having a list price but discount that price from time to time. This way, you’ll drive more interest in your books. No price is ever set in stone, and because the eBook world is constantly changing, you should evaluate your prices from time to time.

Your thoughts?

Blue Plate Special is zombie novel by Harold Kempka

Tidbits of horror for $2.99

They Can Smell Your Fear

Horror fiction by Kevin Doyle involving feral children
When people contemplate horror tales and movies, zombies, traditional monsters, gruesome scenes, and death come to mind. Its roots started in folklore and religious beliefs revolving around the afterlife, supernatural, and death. Other types of horror involve nature, hostile aliens, rabid animals, killer insects, and perverted criminals – anything that will make people afraid. A good horror tale will scare people with fears they might not have. Take Mylar balloons, for example. I can’t pass a store without stopping in to buy one. Yet Pennywise’s balloons scared the bejesus out of me. I enjoy being around children, but when I edited Kevin R. Doyle’s The Litter, his feral children gave me nightmares.

The Litter offers a traditional monster, death, and feral children. These feral children terrorize a city in brutal ways. They can scent their victims’ fear and capitalize on it in nasty ways. According to some reviewers, Doyle’s book addresses the potential consequences of the breakdown of society and homelessness. That’s possible. Ever since my visit to Atlantic City’s mummy pavilion at age ten, I’ve been a lover of horror and Kevin’s tale was a delight to edit and publish. The body count started with page one. Sure, I had bad dreams along the way, and thus, his mission accomplished.

A great horror tale will keep the surprises coming. Why did Pennywise’s balloons frighten me so much? It’s the surprise element – the clown luring his victim to a brutal death. Kevin filled his tale with lots of surprises – people who knew how to defend themselves, but getting killed. The feral children hungered for meat, and they knew how to catch a victim unaware.

An element of suspense is crucial to an effective horror tale. The action needs to start on page one and keep me reading. In Stephen King’s It, a team of children banded up to fight Pennywise and his minions. All through the book, I kept hoping that the team would survive, but I had my doubts. As I read The Litter, I kept thinking that protag Karen was going to become the next meal.

An element of mystery will give flavor to the horror tale. I’m not talking about whodunits. Sometimes characters can surprise us – even the good guys. Perhaps halfway through the fight, we learn what the major character fears. There’s a strong element of mystery in The Litter. You won’t find out how the feral children got that way until toward the end of the book.

Spoilers (foreshadowing) play a crucial role in any good horror tale. People love them the way I like Mylar balloons. For example, during the first few pages of Steel Rose, Alexis and Johnny were reading about zombies. That spoiler hints that Alexis and Johnny were going to fight some zombies. The Litter has plenty of spoilers. In the prologue, Doyle drops a hint that something ugly is about to happen to one of the characters. And when Karen searched for a missing child, I thought, oh, oh, any second the killers will jump her.

Horror addresses the concept of good versus evil, but some tales will touch on social issues. Does The Litter? Whatever you decide, you’ll meet engaging characters. There’ll be some gruesome moments, so you might want to sleep with the lights on. The Litter debuts this week and will be available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble.

So if you love horror, crime, and suspense fiction, stop by and read an excerpt from The Litter. Kevin’s feral children would love to have you for dinner.

Writer’s Trial: The Synopsis

Night to Dawn 27 features horror and zombie fiction by various authors.People have asked what I find most difficult about writing. Every job has an unpleasant aspect, and for me, writing the synopsis is the toughest. Basically, the synopsis is a summary of the story, or if you prefer, an outline in prose form. For a pantser like me, outlines and synopses can be particularly daunting. I’m getting to the end of reviewing the edits, making final tweaks, and putting together a synopsis for Blood Moon Rising. Meantime, another sequel is calling to me, pleading to be written, presenting an opportunity to write by the seat of my pants, suspended by Mylar balloons. Ah, but I’ve got to stick to the task at hand and quit daydreaming about balloons and what-might-be-next plots.

Why a synopsis? It gives a potential publisher an idea of what the story is about. Is it a story that interests the publisher enough to read the whole manuscript? Does it have a cohesive plot? The synopsis can answer those questions. I myself have requested synopses from authors before reading their books. The synopsis makes a handy-dandy tool when it comes to approaching reviewers. The shorter (maybe one to two pages) the better. It provides material that I might use to advertise the book on my website, or to send to people who are doing promos for the book. What’s more, it provides grist for a back cover blurb and later, a description which goes to Amazon and other distributors. These last pieces of wisdom were whispered to me by my Mylar balloons when I started grousing that the task was oh, so hard.

Writer’s Digest has some good articles on writing synopses. A writer buddy suggested I start with a short back cover blurb and highlight the scenes from there. I’ve gotten a few days off from work which I have in mind to make a serious dent in the synopsis project, among other things. First, I’m getting some fortification from my Mylar balloons. I’m hiring Gemini Wordsmiths for an edit. And after the deed is done, I’ll reward myself by reading Stephen King’s Revival.  Your thoughts?

Horror fiction by Kevin Doyle involving feral children

Is Amazon the Author’s Friend or Foe?

Horror fiction by Kevin Doyle involving feral children

Some of my fellow scribes badmouth Amazon using words that would make my Mylar balloons cringe. Others view Amazon, Kindle and all, as a nice way to earn greenbacks. I’ve sat on both sides of the fence, but the spokes on that fence get thorny after a while, even with my balloons supporting me. So I decided to get off my fence, especially with Kevin Doyle’s book, The Litter, coming out. NTD is offering it for preorder on Amazon and Smashwords now, and the book goes live February 13.

Up until now, the preorder option hadn’t been available for me. But when I got the chance, I jumped at the opportunity. Given the temperament of Pennsylvania winters and the weather’s effect on power lines and servers, I wanted that book uploaded ahead of time. So I got to work on Kindle first. It came time to choose a price. I was thinking $4.99, but a window popped up with Amazon’s advice on what I should charge. They pointed out that similar books sold best at $2.99, with the worst sales being $6.00 and up. So they recommended $2.99 at the 70% option.

Here’s a secret, buckaroos. If you go with Amazon’s 70% option, you have to accept the lending option. That means readers may borrow your book for two weeks. If they finish before that time is up, they can return the book without paying a dime. Ergo, fewer sales for you. If you go with 35%, you can refuse to lend, get more sales, but only realize 35% royalties. Amazon keeps the rest.

I went with my $4.99, and refused lending. Other things play into the price of choice which I don’t think Amazon considered – the size of your following, the strength of your platform, reviews, and publicity tours.

I know one author who made fair to middling sales. Hoping to get more, he dropped his price to $2.99. His sales tanked. Why? Because sometimes it sends a message that author didn’t think his work was worth much. By the same token, I can see why Amazon doesn’t recommend prices at $6.00 and up. For Stephen King and Jonathan Maberry, most people will shell out $7.00 or more for their eBooks, but it’s a big ask for them to pony up $7.00 for an unknown author.

So with Kevin’s book going live, it’s time I got off my fence. Here are several things I’ve noticed.

  • Amazon is the self-published author’s best friend. It’s easy to upload a cover and manuscript in HTML, and simple to set up a website on Author Central. A big plus!
  • Amazon discourages an author (and publisher) from charging a decent price for eBooks, and thus devalues the worth of their hard work. Not good.
  • Amazon grants incentives to people for buying books through them, thus driving business away from bookstores, and in effect putting them out of business. This is sad, because the employees have to seek work somewhere else. I hate the repercussions.
  • During the winter months, Amazon has been my ace in the hole when I can’t get supplies at my local stores. I can often find books that I can’t get at local stores, too.
  • The KDP Select program promises sales but demands that you not use any other distributors. I tried this on a book and it didn’t improve sales. I’ve heard this observation from others.
  • CreateSpace lures authors by promising more exposure on Amazon. I notice better sales I think because Amazon’s popular with readers. They do a great job on trade paperbacks; I’ve been happy with Twilight Healer and City of Brotherly Death. With NTD magazine, I got a slightly better quality of cover with Lulu. I’ve checked out Lightning Source and note a yearly charge to distribute books before I can publish and sell. So I’d give Amazon props on this one.
  • Amazon makes it difficult for the small press publisher because of what I said earlier about the 70% option versus the 35% option. Before I pay authors, I get 35% of the sale if I want to avoid lending. Grrrrrrr!
  • The Amazon reviews offer a great boon for platform building. Prospective readers will take those reviews to heart, and that’s a big plus.
  • Amazon can be controlling. You do what they say or else reviews and like buttons disappear from your site. That stinks.

So there you have it – four good points, five bad. I have found Amazon neither friend nor foe. I consider him like a business partner who might surprise me with a Mylar balloon, but will try to sell me wolf tickets. Your thoughts?

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