Lulu versus CreateSpace III

After much kvetching and discussion about CreateSpace, I’ve started to publish the NTD paperbacks through them. The latest release, Tales of Masks & Mayhem V4, saw publication through CS. Why? The short answer: money. The Global Distribution package on Lulu costs $75.00 plus whatever you pay for ISBN’s. The Pro plan of CS costs $39.00 (plus what you spend for the ISBN). You can get an ISBN for free from CS, but if you want to establish your own imprint (as a publisher), best to purchase the ISBN from Bowker.

Recently, CS did away with their Pro plan. They now offer you the option of extended distribution for $25.00. The royalties for Amazon based books are far better – about $5.00 per book and that’s without charging exorbitant fees for your books. CS charges a reasonable price for contributor copies too. Contributor copies cost more through Lulu. With retail sales, I’d get a dollar something per book, and when you’re splitting royalties between two or three people, it comes out to pennies per book. Caveat: you do not get discounts by ordering extra contributor copies through CS. Lulu will discount the contributor copy if you order five or more books, plus they offer frequent specials.

Also, with CS, your book will go up on Amazon straight away, whereas you have to wait six to eight weeks (longer if there is a backup) for Lulu distribution. Promotion and book releases won’t do any good if your book isn’t showing on Amazon and other retailers. Another caveat: CS will format any eBook version for you but there is a hefty charge. I format NTD eBooks myself and get the ISBN from Bowker.

Does this mean I will publish all future NTD material through CS and kick Lulu to the curb? Absolutely not. Lulu does a superior job on the magazine. NTD magazine comes in 88 pages, which results in a narrow spine. Lulu allows you to resize the print so you can read the label off the spine. CS does not allow any print on the NTD spine because in their opinion, the spine is too narrow. Another issue: when I print reviews, I must list three retailers that carry the respective book. I did that with NTD 20, and the magazine is available on Amazon. I don’t mind listing retailers but putting NTD out there with a bare spine gives me the creeps. Especially with the upcoming issue, as I’ve gotten a lot of compliments on NTD 21’s cover. Kudos goes to Marge Simon and Teresa Tunaley for their brilliant artwork.

The magazine has a lot of illustrations, and I’ve had limited success with putting illustrations in the eBooks. Smashwords does not recommend illustrations at all, and most eBooks look best if you stick to B&W illustrations and one font. NTD has about three different fonts, so I offer the eBook version in PDF format. Lulu carries the magazines and the other NTD books in eBook format for no charge. I just ordered the print run for NTD 21 and got a generous discount from Lulu.

Some overseas authors prefer Lulu because Lulu will market your book to other countries besides the USA, where said authors will realize their best sales. CS does not have a global distribution plan.

This past week, I released two books. Tales of Masks & Mayhem V4, edited by Ginger Johnson and Night to Dawn 21. One through CreateSpace and the other through Lulu. Which company is better? For magazines, Lulu; for paperbacks, CreateSpace. It all depends on your market and publication.

 

 

When to Hire an Editor

Some time ago I posted the advantages of Autocrit software, and the wisdom found in Writing the Breakout Novel. Autocrit enabled me to catch repetitive words, and I ferreted out problems in my novel when I applied techniques from Writing the Breakout Novel. However, the devil is in the details, and a small press editor once told me that no writer sees their own mistakes. So I kept going through my work again and again.

The time is coming for me to step up to the plate: either submit my next novel or publish it through Night to Dawn. A lot more authors are turning to independent publishing, but I’m hearing complaints about the spotty editing found in self-published books. The books on the table are Steel Rose, the novel following Dark Side of the Moon, and Dead Folks Stalking, a short story collection. The child in me insists that since I edit Night to Dawn material, I should be able to edit these books myself, right?

The adult in me hollers, “Wrong!”

After looking at comments workshop leaders made about so-called “ready” material, I decided to send Steel Rose off to an editor. This will include content editing. Editing any book is a big job, and takes time, so I proceeded with work on a sequel and the short stories.

I went through the short stories that had seen publication in small press magazines. There’s a lot to be said for putting one’s work aside and then reviewing it weeks later. When I looked at the tales with a fresh pair of eyes, I saw areas that needed rewriting. Perhaps a paragraph had too much tell and not enough show. So I did some rewriting and sent these off to an editor for polishing.

Good thing I did. The content in these stories was addressed by the editors who published them, but there were quite a few typos. Had I sent these tales to press, the errors would make them look less than professional. Mind you, typos make it to print in a lot of books. Two or three errors in a book may not harm sales, but two or three typos on a page will. “Sunset Kill,” a tale featuring dead nursing home residents who resurrect and feed on their caregivers, had that many on some of the pages. Not any more.

So why couldn’t I see my own mistakes? I think because I consider my stories like family members, and I’m too close to them to edit them effectively. At most hospitals, policy dictates that health care workers not treat family members because they’re too close to their situation. Perhaps the same policy should apply to writers and editors with their own stories.

Barbara Custer is the publisher of dark fantasy and science fiction.

Dark Moon Presents Zombies – Review

  • Title: Dark Moon Presents Zombies
  • Edited by: Jason Shayer, Stan Swanson, Jennifer Word, and Frances A. Hogg
  • Available as: eBook ($3.95) and Paperback ($12.95)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0983433538
  • Where available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other retailers.
  • Rating: 5 Balloons

A few weeks ago, Julia Jansen offered me the pleasure of reading Dark Moon Presents Zombies. I can’t resist zombie tales any more than I can balloons, and will always make time to read one no matter how many other projects I have cooking. All up, this one was a real treat for zombie aficionados like me. A short story collection, it provides quick reads you can enjoy at the doctor’s office or on a train. Each author offers a unique twist, and I feel compelled to comment on all the stories.

Shannon Farrell tells “Bouvier des Mort” from a dog’s point of view. The dog stands by his ailing mistress and never leaves her, even when she dies and starts to decay. After she reanimates as a zombie, her dog follows her everywhere she goes. When she feeds on people, the dog feeds too. This one sent chills up my spine.

AE Stueve’s “I, Zombie” portrays a meeting between “reformed” zombies,” people who have taken an injection to eradicate the virus from their bodies. This makes an interesting premise, and as I read, I kept wondering if someone would attack Dr. Yvonne, the pompous speaker who talks down to the “cured” zombies.

“Thicker Than Law” kept me turning the pages. Author John McMullen brings us into the horrific action from the first page with the threat of the “billies.” Protag Elizabeth discovers her brother is one of them. Worse, her parents have turned their home into a slaughterhouse, with her as an intended meal. Brrrrrr!

Dennis McDonald’s “Black Friday,” gives shopping after Thanksgiving a horrific meaning after multiple people die in a train wreck. Protags Cameron and Scott start the evening dreading a write-up from their boss. Their boss wants everyone ready for the hordes of customers, but the unspeakable greets the salespeople when the store finally opens. Definitely a page-turner.

GK Hayes tells “Papa Doc’s Zombie” in the first person by an elderly grandmother who assures her grandchild that her voodoo will protect them from zombies. It left me with a nostalgic feeling as I read about the grandmother’s youth and how she stood up to a voodoo priest. A worthy read.

Kate Putnam’s “The Five Rules” is the diary of Vodoun living in a world overrun by zombies. He talks about the everyday hardships of getting supplies, and that made me care about him as a character. Aside the horrors of becoming a Blue Plate Special for the zombie, I got a sense of Voduon’s depression and loneliness.

CW LaSart’s “All The Rage” is another tale that takes us into the everyday hardships of a group trying to survive a post-zombie apocalypse. Food is scarce, malnutrition has set in, and as for medical care, well there isn’t any, unless you can get your hands on antibiotics. LaSart turns up the heat by introducing a pregnant character, raising a new problem: how can someone survive with a newborn in tow? Another member of the group, Zak, bullies the other members. His insanity and strength makes him more dangerous than the zombies.

“Gingerbread Man” is a nickname for an ex-football player whose would-be career was cut short by an accident that severed his spinal cord. Now a quadriplegic, Andre “Gingerbread” is trying to escape in his motorized wheelchair, with a zombie in pursuit. Will he make it? Author Barrett Shumaker teases the reader with the zombie at first touching, then grabbing, and the suspense builds.

“Legio Mortuus” features zombies of the early Roman times. Severus, the prefect, makes an effective fighter with his sword, except the enemies he fights are all walking dead. These men are hungry as they show when they fall on a lone person. Beggar and noble alike become fodder for these monsters. Jason Shayer demonstrates great characterization skills, making me hope that Severus escapes. Does he? That’s for you, gentle reader, to find out.

The protag in “Death on the Newsfeed” is addicted to Facebook and his laptop. So engrossed in reading the “shares” that he ignores the destruction going on around him. CD Carter paints him as a cyber-stalker who cares only about his Facebook characters. I found Kevin somewhat pathetic. He doesn’t lift a finger to get himself out of danger. When the zombies outside break into his home, he ignores them too!

“Sound Set Off” is one of my favorites. David AET takes me into the action from the first sentence. His protag has the same first name, and he is up against it, locked in his house, little food, no water, and a hoard of zombies breaking through his windows. I followed him as he thought of ways to distract them so he could escape, even get away. He makes a great hero, and I kept rooting for him to escape.

“I am a Candle” is told from a zombie’s point a view. This was the first time I read a zombie tale like this, and Roberta Kowald crafted hers well. The narrator portrays herself as lonely, not one of the popular girls, and is dismayed that she can walk the earth. Her so-called friends hold a rite to bring her back to life, but other not-so-friendly zombies come back too. This zombie can think, and I found myself almost hoping she can “bite back” the people laughing at her.

Kendra Lisum’s “Broken Down Lives” portrays two young children who are seriously hurt, appearing dead, but they come around. As they get older, they start feeding on dead animals and remain four and six forever. Kathryn the mother is newly widowed and struggling to make ends meet, and she deals with the behavior by pretending this would go away. Denial only anesthetizes so long, and Kathryn deals with the budding horror in her own way.

Rebecca Snow’s “Step Right Up” features two monsters: the flesh-eating zombies and the greedy salesman who uses high pressure tactics to get people to buy his “zombie repellent.” As I read through the story, the salesman chilled me to the bones more than the zombies did. By far.

Stan Swanson’s “Hail to the Chief,” the last tale in the collection, makes a great political satire. Zombies invade the White House, and I can imagine having a zombie in the Presidential chair. Not too much blood and guts here, and drugs keep the zombies peaceful, but the satire makes this tale a delightful read. As an aside, I think we already have zombies in the White House.

Zombies presents oodles of horror fiction.

 

Autocrit Revisited: When Your Book Needs More

Some time ago I raved about the merits of Autocrit. I ran Steel Rose and other work through it and became ecstatic when the software ferreted out repetitions, cliches, and problems with sentence structure. I showed up at the PWC with Autocrit-edited work, and learned that Autocrit made a great proofing tool indeed. The extraneous adverbs became history, and so did problem sentences.

But workshop leaders told me the manuscript needed something more. The one-dimensional characters had to go. The villain was all-evil, with no saving graces. Even Dracula had his sympathetic moments. I took a figurative slap on the wrist because my villain turned from a medical professional into a monster who wants nothing but blood. Where’s the conflict?

There wasn’t any. Shame on me.

At the conference, the workshop leaders preached the merits of Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. I got the workbook, started reading it, and got a strong awakening. For starters, my protag Alexis whined too much. Granted she has serious problems, but don’t we all? Not many people sympathize with a whiny character. So I’m whittling down the whining as I go through each chapter.

By the way, Alexis grew up in a strict religious family. During her treatments, she falls in love with and beds down an alien lover. Whaaaaat? This goes against her religious beliefs, not to mention her mother’s feelings. In my rewrite, Alexis will have to fight with her conscience before she agrees to love this fellow.

Maass encourages the writer to think of his protagonist’s defining quality. Then he prescribed the writer to write a paragraph in which their protagonist does the opposite. Okay, in Steel Rose, Alexis loves her mother and would never do or say anything to upset her. As the book reads now, Alexis doesn’t mention squat about her alien romance, knowing her mother would get angry. For my rewrite, Alexis will tell her mom, “Hey, it’s my life, and I’m the one who has to live with him.” Just thinking about this makes me respect Alexis more.

I just did the same exercise with a secondary character. After I rewrote the respective chapter, I saw a big difference in the way it read.

With the chapter on antagonists, I softened villain Laurel a bit, and gave her an extra dimension. Now I’ve got to do the same with another antagonist. I will need to work those exercises a lot more before doing the chapters with the villains.

After I’ve walked through (there’s no running here) each chapter through Writing the Breakout Novel, I will revisit Autocrit for help with proofing.

Has anyone else worked with the Breakout Novel workbook? How did it help you?


 

Revisions and then More Revisions

Over the months, I’ve alluded to a sequel: Steel Rose. Steel Rose wound up with its own cast of characters, so I can’t call it a sequel any more. Maybe this is good. At workshops, speakers have advised everyone to put their manuscripts aside for a few weeks, and then rework them. I put Steel Rose on the back burner while I worked on Starship Invasions. Now I’m back with fresh eyes, and I brought along my Autocrit program.

Putting the manuscript aside was the best advice anyone gave me. When I went back to it, I found a lot of inconsistencies and need for line editing. The big thing was repetition. One chapter was cluttered with “that.” There is nothing wrong with using “that” or “was,” but those words shouldn’t clutter the pages. In this, Word has been a staunch alley with its find and thesaurus features. Since I’ve gotten into publishing books and marathon revisions, I’ve made peace with Word, and I’m starting to appreciate its assets.

But let me not digress. The more revisions I make, the more I see that need to be done. Writing comes naturally, but introducing characters that people love can be difficult. The body language needs work, and I’ve seen that with others’ manuscripts. I found research helpful, and even more, the critiques I get from my writer’s group. Reading out loud enabled me to catch problems if I stumbled over sentences.

Some days, the revisions come easy, especially after a good night’s sleep. Other days, it might take three or four of my best curse words to do the job, especially when life gets in the way. On the bad days, I try to remind myself I’m making progress. And if later, an editor should suggest revisions, I will consider that person a good friend. It is better to fix the problems before the manuscript goes to print, than to have a reviewer or reader comment on them later.

That said, I have to wonder how Jonathan Maberry and other great writers get through the revision process. With deadlines, you have to move fast. I can edit fast. I have to sometimes for the NTD tales but revising comes slow. Perhaps if necessity was involved, I’d speed up my revisions.

I’d like to hear about your revising process. What was most difficult? What has helped you?

Steel Rose features cross-genre horror / science fiction by Barbara Custer

This tale received a lot of pruning before it went to press. Props to my editors!

Editing Software, Anyone?

I’ve read good and bad about writing software over the years, and once considered such gadgets a handy way to flush your money down the sewer pipe. About a year ago writer Gregory Frost talked up Scrivener software, which enables you to edit writing and research at the same time. Scrivener works well, once you get through the learning curve, and comes with a reasonable price tag at about $40. I was all set to try it out, until I found out that only Mac computers accommodate it. Both of my computers have Windows. So I cursed in three languages, went back to my editing for Night to Dawn, and forgot about the whole thing.

My thoughts on software changed when arguments developed between me and blurred vision, particularly when I read long passages. I will reserve the matter of my vision for another blog, after I’ve seen the doctor, but I came to realize no writer can see his/her own mistakes. I’ve gone through work done by professional editors and found faulty passages. Do-it-yourself editing, even for editors, is like a physician performing surgery on a family member. Alas, a content editor can cost about $1000, and a proofreader about $400 for a novel. Not many of us have that kind of money lying around. I was grateful indeed that Ginger Johnson edited my Starship Invasions stories. Now I’m back to Steel Rose and my blurred vision. Then I stumbled on Autocrit software, recommended by Writer’s Digest.

I tried out sample passages and was pleased to see Autocrit weed out weak words. The free version will point out repetitive words and sentence variability. You have to pay to edit longer passages and to get the other types of editing. This I did, and was amazed at the repetitions it turned up and cliches too. The readability report offered limited value, since I write for adults, but it did turn up several run-on sentences. When I used words like “look,” “have,” and “was,” the substitution forced me to use more “show” to substitute for the “tell” verb. Ditto for the dialogue tags. I found myself cutting unnecessary words. The people managing Autocrit are fast to reply to technical questions.

You can flush out repetition with Word’s search-and-replace feature, but Autocrit color codes the errant words. Color codes work best for me.

There are several caveats. I don’t believe the sentence variability, pacing, and homonym sections offer much. It might for a first-time writer, but most experienced writers vary their sentence lengths instinctively. Autocrit won’t catch misspellings, and neither will Word’s spell check. Use your judgment for cliches and sentence readability; sometimes changing the passage can ruin it. Autocrit will not guarantee a sale, but it may improve the chance of your story finding a publisher. Caveats notwithstanding, I was glad I purchased the software.

Have you ever used Autocrit, Scrivener, or other writing software? Would you consider trying it? I’d like to hear about your experiences.

The Gunslinger's Companion by Michael De Stefano features historical fiction with its own brand of horror.

 

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