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.

An Intense Discussion on Italicizing Thoughts

Barbara Custer loves her Mylar balloons and science fiction tales.One evening, I headed to a writers’ group meeting where of all things, we had a discussion on whether or not to italicize thoughts. Why are we talking about this, I wondered? My mind kept wandering back to my visit to the Giant earlier in the day, when a humongous Disney Princess Mylar balloon waylaid me. I still kept reliving the touch of the balloon against my hair as it blocked my view from the other balloons that wanted my attention.

Italicizing thoughts? Indeed. All of my writing life, I’ve been taught that anything in thoughts should be italicized in fiction manuscripts. Actually that’s not true. In the early days, when I submitted, I had to underline my characters’ thoughts, with the understanding that the editor would then know to italicize. That’s not required now unless you’re doing a college term paper. Mind you, people send me work with stuff underlined, and I’ll change it to italics without complaining.

Ah, but when I went to my trusty references, I found that while italics can make a useful tool, something too many is overkill. Italics might definitely work for thoughts that are especially significant. Otherwise, find an unobtrusive way to express thoughts.

Barbara Custer edits Night to Dawn magazine, featuring horror, zombies, and science fiction.So let’s figure this out with a scene describing my balloon purchase. Example 1: The Disney Princess balloon called to me as soon as I entered the Giant. Whoa, I thought, that looks like one pricey balloon. (Internal dialogue) Using “I thought” and italics serves to distance me (the character) from this internal dialogue. Example 2: I examined the balloon, smiling, holding it up to the light, wondering how it would look near the butterflies in my living room. This sentence gives a different way to word thoughts, without italics, along with body language to demonstrate my feelings. This technique brings the thought closer to me. Which way is best? Either will work. It depends on your story and the effect you’re trying to achieve through your character.

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We also had a debate on whether intent was an adjective, and that maybe intense should be the adjective, while intent is the noun. So I headed to my trusty references. Sometimes Google, but often times Chicago of Manual Style.  Here’s another one just to confuse y’all: intensive. So let’s clear up the mystery.

Intense is in fact an adjective, meaning exerting extreme force, or being having strong feelings. So … if you want your book to read well, it may need intense editing. I have an intense interest in Mylar balloons.

Intensive means focused on one topic. So an intensive edit might be focused on characterization.

Cross genre horror / science fiction book by Barbara CusterIntent can work as an adjective or a noun. Intent is synonymous with intention which means a general plan to get something done. Intent is stronger, meaning a firm resolution to get something done. Example: In spite of the distractions from the Mylar balloons, I was intent on finding every item on my grocery list.

As a noun, intent can mean aim or goal. Example: My intent was to get all of the groceries, but the Mylar balloons got the better of me.

So … I’d like to hear your thoughts on italicizing and the use of intent versus intense.

I’m offering two giveaways: A signed copy of Steel Rose and a copy of Night to Dawn 28, to be given to a random commenter during this blog hop.

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Show and Tell

Barbara Custer writes zombie fiction and science fiction / horror.Today, I planned a show-and-tell with my latest book covers, never realizing that the activities would begin with my trip to the supermarket. I headed to the Acme to buy two gift cards for an early start on holiday shipping. The gift cards would have earned me a $20 coupon, but then Mylar balloons swarmed me as I entered the store. I hied over to Baking Supplies and bought needed items, all the while hiding; but at the fruit stand, I had to face the music. Six strawberry Mylar balloons hovered over the bananas I wanted. The store may have had gift cards, but all that was lost on me when the Mylar balloons waylaid me.

Maybe I deserve a balloon treat since I’ve got some new releases forthcoming through the Night to Dawn imprint. Night to Dawn 28 is making an appearance on Amazon, and its cover has drawn many compliments from viewers. Sandy DeLuca has done awesome illustrations and poetry duets with Marge Simon for Night to Dawn magazine.

After reading Allan M. Heller’s 40 Frightful Flash Fictions, the lights will stay on long after bedtime, assuming you can fall asleep, for devastation is served with a smile. The anthology is going through the formatting stage. Stan Horwitz provided the images—real beauties; and for lettering and design, Teresa Tunaley pulled frightening birds out of her hat. Look for 40 Frightful Flash Fictions in the coming weeks.

In Infinite Sight, guilt over an infant’s death motivates protag Lilly into a rescue that catapults her into a war between two alien armies. Infinite Sight originally appeared in Fading Shadows’ Alien Worlds magazine as “The Good Samaritan Revisited.” It’s gone to Gemini Wordsmiths for a developmental edit, for no published book is complete without a healthy edit. At any rate, I’ve got a stunning front and back cover, thanks to Marge Simon. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Marge since I first took over Night to Dawn magazine as a spiral-bound book. I estimate a publication date during the holiday season or shortly afterwards.

What happens when the human brain spirals, cutting a swath between a masterpiece and monstrosity? You’ll find out in early winter (estimated) when L. M. Labat’s The Sanguinarian Id goes live. I anticipate a cover image shortly.

Ditto for When Blood Reigns, sequel to Steel Rose. I don’t have a publishing date or estimated time yet. It has gone through developmental editing and should be worth the wait.

Tomorrow I’m heading to the Giant supermarket for the remaining groceries still on my list. This week presented a heavy grocery list, and crunch time for budgeting. Will I remember that when the Mylar balloons come calling? I’m going to try, but when the Mylar “I gotta” bug bites, look out.

Barbara Custer's Night to Dawn features vampire and zombie fictions.Allan Heller's 40 Frightened Flash Fictions features creepy zombie tales.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barbara Custer's science fiction novel features a protag with "Infinite Sight."

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

Hiring a Publicist Part II: After the Contract


In Hiring a Publicist…or Not, I described considerations to make before embarking on a publicity campaign. Things like finances, weather, health, timing, your tolerance for risk, and your personal preferences. JoAnna Senger is a warm, outgoing author who lives in a warm, dry climate. Her book, Reservation Ravaged, went live July 1st. Having contemplated her circumstances, Joanna Senger hired JKS Communications, a literary publicity firm.

JoAnna and JKS were a great match in that JKS places a heavy emphasis on face-to-face contact. The cost wasn’t as steep as what most publicists charge, but still in the four figures range. JKS formulated a beaut of a press kit, including a press release. This kit provided material that I used for a Facebook ad that revolved around JoAnna’s interview tour. JKS set up a concentrated interview tour by phone with about ten top AM/FM stations such as Dave Malarkey’s WISR-AM. They sent out 50 to 75 Advance Reader Copies to garner book reviews and publicity for media events. No one’s reported any book reviews yet, but they’re coming.

JoAnna took a 5-city tour that spanned across several states. Basically this included signings and meet-and-greets at libraries, bookstores, book clubs and meet up groups. I posted three of these events on Facebook.

So…if you bring a publicist like JKS to the party, let your publisher know straight away. Your publisher may have ideas for promotion which ties in with the campaign. Your publicist will need the ordering links for your book when they become available, and your publisher can make that happen. After each interview, the radio hosts and other interviewers deserve a big “thank you.” One caveat: the retainer fees only cover the setting up of interviews, press release, and other things your publicist agrees to do in the contract. This means that JoAnna had to pay her own traveling expenses, the purchase of books for her events, and the cost for mailing the ARCs ($8.00 per package). Any service that fell out of the scope of the contract would cost her, too.

As soon as the contract was finalized, JKS contacted me and JoAnna for a release date (July 1st). Like many publicists, JKS wanted to begin the campaign four months before the release, so they started April 1st, 2014. To their credit, JKS Communications were willing to work around JoAnna’s schedule (day job and a bout with pneumonia). Each month they sent a publicity update to me and JoAnna. Reservation Ravaged came with a great cover, so I’m hoping for the best. This should give you some idea on what to expect from a publicist.

So…have you given any thought to hiring a publicist for a publicity campaign? Why or why not? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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