Kingdom in Word’s Backyard

Barbara Custer's Night to Dawn features vampire tales and zombie fiction.If you look at the front page of my website, you’ll notice five items under my “Coming Soon” list. While recuperating from foot surgery, I took on additional projects. It means separate folders for each item so I can better track my files. I’m making up these folders at the recommendation of my Mylar balloons. As everyone knows, the Mylar balloons like to give their input on all my projects.

I’m mailing out copies of Night to Dawn 28, and it should become available on Amazon in a few weeks. Two of the projects are on hold, awaiting notes from editors. I’m actively working on 40 Frightful Flash Fiction Tales, and the edits on The Sanguinarian Id will begin after that’s gone to press. When you juggle several balls at once, one is bound to fall and bounce—in this case, a printing glitch. I’m doing Night to Dawn 28 with two printers, and they both noted that some interior images are less than 200 dpi. I couldn’t understand this, because I always upload images at 300 dpi. After talking to people I learned that some folks use Adobe InDesign because Word compresses interior images. Thankfully, my illustrators—Teresa Tunaley, Marge Simon, and Sandy DeLuca—do much of the work on my covers. Sometimes I design the lettering, and for that, I use Publisher.

Not that Publisher isn’t capable of compressing images. Publisher 2010 has an option for compression, too. You don’t want blurry images, but you don’t want an oversized file that becomes impossible to email. Too high a resolution can make a document impossible to upload.

Barbara Custer loves her Mylar balloons and zombie fiction tales.

Remember–we’re da boss!

You see, this little balloon lady here can’t afford InDesign. The true-blue software costs over $1400. They do have a digital cloud version for $156.00. Ditto for Photoshop; one version costs more than $1400, and another about $160. Now maybe I could save for the cheaper versions, but there is a steep learning curve to consider.

I started thinking woe is me until I Googled ways to get around the compression problem with Word. It turned out to be an easy fix for Word 2010 which I have, but can be done in Word 2007 which I also have, since I have two computers. For 2010, you go under “file” and select “options” on the bottom of the left hand side. A drop down menu comes up, and you select “advanced.” You scroll down to where it says “images” and select “do not compress images.” For 2007, if you click on the image in question, a range of options for the picture will show up on the ribbon. One of them has to do with compression. Word also gives you the option of shadowing illustrations. I did play with one image and it looked much sharper. So I just might consider adding different background shadows for Night to Dawn 29. Finding all these extra benefits was like stumbling on a king’s ransom of diamonds –or in my case, Mylar balloons.

One thing the experts warn is that resizing on Word may compress dpi. Mind you, I’m just finding out about this.

Publisher came with the Microsoft Office software that my sister got me. I use it to make birthday cards for work and for the wraparound Night to Dawn magazine covers (and books when I do them). Publisher 2007 is nice, but the 2010 version has many more tools for dressing up images.

The thought crossed my mind that one day formatting the magazine in Publisher then converting to PDF. I think it might be doable because my sister did a multiple-page document in Publisher, about four pages. First, though, I’m going to check out these treasure troves I discovered in my Word backyard. Maybe the Mylar balloons and I will have a tribal conference about software.

Do you use any specific software images to format them? I’d love to hear your thoughts and your experiences.

Blurbs Dress up your Cover

When I was offered a contract on When Blood Reigns, I was ecstatic—still am. I’d already put together a blurb and logline because most publishers anticipate their authors will provide them. When I sent out When Blood Reigns, I made sure I had a logline and blurb prepared ahead of time. So when my publisher sent me an Author Information Form requesting such information, I moved to copy my ready blurb onto the sheet. That was when my Mylar balloons called out their siren chorus, “Bar-ba-ra!”

Here we go again, I thought. “What’s the matter?”

Balloons: Why are you in such a hurry to send out that form? Don’t you remember our chat about covers making the author?

Me, sighing: Don’t worry. I’ve got an awesome artist. She did a beaut of a cover for Steel Rose.

Balloons: You need a strong blurb, too. The one you’ve got is too wordy, flat, and gives away spoilers.

Me, fetching a deep sigh: Gee, whiz! Do you expect me to write another blurb?

Balloons: Dat’s wight, wabbit. The one you’ve got won’t work. Read posts from well-known authors on how to write a decent blurb. Then do it over.

So I brought up recent articles on what makes a good blurb and learned about “buzz” words, “pickup” lines, and the dangers of spoilers—that is, giving too much away. Basically, when your book goes to the marketplace, it’s going on a job interview. On any interview, you want to wear your best suit. Cultured pearls for the women and cufflinks for the men to dress up the suit. It wouldn’t do to wear costume jewelry with a Neiman Marcus suit. Well, the blurb is the pearls / cufflinks and the cover is the suit.

Realizing that concept, I slept on some ideas that night while my Mylar balloons made shushing sounds around me. The next day, I woke up with an idea for a blurb and headed for the computer. When I read it out loud, my balloons grinned. “This sounds better, but we recommend you ask your beta readers to review it. Betcha they come up with some interesting tweaks for it.”

The blurb went off to several writer buddies. They agreed with the balloons that the new blurb was better, but needed a more help so after a flurry of emails and brainstorming, I came up with a blurb I used for the author information form. My Mylar balloons gave it their blessing.

My publisher is reviewing my blurb and other items now. Since When Blood Reigns is in the initial stages of publication, it’s a little early for posting blurbs, in case the editors want to make further changes. I’ll definitely give updates as things move along. My Mylar balloons wouldn’t have it any other way.

horror & sF about aliens and zombiesThe Gunslinger's Companion features Michael De Stefano's historical fiction about the Depression.


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

Anne Michaud’s Hunter’s Trap



Seventeen-year-old Dayton Mulligan is stuck looking after his little brother Jeremy when their father goes off on his annual hunting trip. But when Dad’s last phone call ends in a shotgun blast, it’s enough to send both boys out into a blizzard to search for him.

Caught in the killer weather, Dayton and Jeremy take refuge in an abandoned hunting cabin, which isn’t as empty as it first seems. A ghost inhabits its walls and promises to reveal the truth behind their father’s disappearance, but the brothers doubt their host’s sincerity as the spirit demonstrates its hatred for anyone who trespasses on its land.

Far from the safety of civilization, Dayton must swallow his fears, fight for himself and for his family before it’s too late and Hunter’s Trap claims them all, forever.



Author Information and Buy Links:

She who likes dark things never grew up. She never stopped listening to gothic, industrial and alternative bands like when she was fifteen. She always loved to read horror and dystopia and fantasy, where doom and gloom drip from the pages.

She who was supposed to make films, decided to write short stories, novelettes and novels instead. She, who’s had her films listed on festival programs, has been printed in a dozen anthologies and magazines since. Now, novels bearing her name are seeing the world, one title after the other.

She who likes dark things prefers night to day, rain to sun, and reading to anything else.

She blogs

She tweets @annecmichaud

She Facebook

Goodreads link:

Amazon link:

“Shhhh…” Dayton whispered to his brother, and Jeremy hid his mouth behind his scarf, eyes so big they ate his face.

Mumblings, vestiges of a fight. Not one but two voices came from above, and neither of them their father’s. “You have responsibilities, son,” a man said. “You can’t just leave me and never come back. We are family, we share the same blood.”

“I want none of it,” the other answered, sounding younger. “I hate you, I always hated you.” Stumps and clunks came from the first floor.

A trickle of sweat made its way down Dayton’s neck. His mind was racing as to why neither of these men had answered his calls, why they’d remained hidden until now, and how long it would be before they called the forest rangers on the brothers.

“Remember where the front door is?” Dayton spoke so low, Jeremy kept his eyes on his brother’s lips. “When I say go, you run, ‘kay?” After a quick nod from Jeremy, Dayton held his breath and climbed the steps as silently as possible.

Above their heads, footsteps creaked on the floor­boards so heavily that dust fell from between the planks. Dayton’s blood froze, unsure if his body reacted to the danger of being discovered or to how he found it hard to breathe in this airless basement. The fight started again, but fainter, from the back of the cabin.

The younger man screamed, “I took care of it, it’s more than you ever did.”

The second barked, “You shot him in the back, like the coward that you are.” Distorted but discernible, each word sent electric shocks down Dayton’s back.

The first added, his voice peaking, “That’s what he deserved. Just you watch what I do to the next trespass­ers.” Dayton and Jeremy were the unwanted, the strang­ers, the people that didn’t belong there. “They can hear us,” said the last man.

A gunshot exploded so close and loud, Dayton crouched down, bringing Jeremy down with him. Dayton stayed strong against the awkward hug, feeling his broth­er’s nose and opened mouth against his thick clothes, reaching his skin and bones with the same horror. No holes broke the door, untouched as they left it minutes before.

Dayton climbed a step, then another, always making sure Jeremy stayed close behind. Grabbing his knife, Dayton shook fear out of his mind, and twisted the knob. The door whined. He stopped pushing, swallowing bile down.

“Who asked for help, Dayt?” Jeremy asked, his ques­tion a tremble. “Was it them? Do they want us to go help them?” he sounded about ready to cry, again.

“I don’t know, but let’s not find out. Can you still hear them?” Dayton searched the dark hall and the open space before him, both empty. “In the room.” He pointed with the tip of his blade toward the first door, the locked one, where the two men must have been hiding and still were. But they’d come out, Dayton had seen the floorboards move, and crack and leak dust.

But right now, he didn’t see or hear them: he felt their presence, as if they were waiting for the brothers to show themselves. As if they were facing him but he was blind; as if they were screaming at him but he was deaf. All that fresh air must have gone to his head, making him dizzy and hallucinating.

Another shot echoed and Dayton grabbed Jeremy’s hand and pulled him to the front door. “Go!” Dayton speeded to the bright light coming from the window on the door, but his brother slowed him down.

“Our stuff!” Jeremy cried out, pointing to the opened backpack by the fire.

“Shit!” Dayton raced back and bent over to grab the opened backpack, but in his haste, its contents spilled to the four corners of the room: the flashlight, the food, the extra clothes he’d made Jeremy roll tight like cigars. “Leave it,” he screamed, dropping the bag altogether when a shadow moved toward them, faster than the blink of an eye.

The knob’s cold metal chilled Dayton’s cuts as he pulled the door and faced the accumulated snow. With Jeremy right behind him, Dayton stumbled down the porch, not looking back. The cabin’s warmth left behind, the cold blizzard hit them in full force.

Dayton expected another gunshot, maybe two, this time aimed at him and Jeremy. He could almost smell the gunpowder, feel the pain in his chest as the bullet rippled through his flesh. He could almost hear the ringing of the shot. He waited for it, as he pushed deeper into the fury of snow and wind, but it never came.


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Getting through Tough Edits

Gemini WordsmithsThe denizens of hell attack in Barbara Custer's Steel Rose. completed the developmental edit on Blood Moon Rising, the sequel for Steel Rose, and the edits needed are extensive. Many of the fixes involve point of view, repetitive words or phrases, and inconsistencies in the plot. Better that these problems are caught now when I can fix them rather than having a reviewer call them out on her blog later. Yay, Gemini Wordsmiths! All the same, it’s taken several Mylar balloon acquisitions to fortify me for the work needed.

Most of the fixes are easy, and my editors have been patient with my questions. Some things I’m finding out I can look for when revising before sending to an editor. I’ve been struggling with repetition, clichés not so much, but I have seen clichés on others’ manuscripts. Solution: Prowriting Aid. I’ve found Prowriting to be a useful tool for winnowing out clichés, redundancies, and repetitive verbs and phrases. In this way, it works as a second pair of eyes. I regret not using Prowriting for Blood Moon Rising. Live and learn.

The Prowriting Aid didn’t help with the POV problems, however. I’ve noticed POV inconsistencies on other people’s manuscripts, too, problems similar to what you see in the following paragraph.

A bouquet of six Mylar butterflies, a rainbow assortment of red, greens, blues, and purples, called to Cassandra from the display stand. The soft shushing sounds they made when she ran her fingers through them brought a smile to her face. She just had to have them. The cashier, upon hearing the balloon sounds, called out, “Can I help you?”

That last sentence is a no-no because we’re in Cassandra’s head. So how would she know what the cashier heard? A better way to word that last sentence might be: The cashier’s voice impinged on her thoughts. “Can I help you?” he asked.

I can resolve most POV issues without making major structural changes. The plot flaws require more work, the guidance of an editor, plus lots of Mylar balloons to get me through a tough chore. Many of my plot inconsistencies happened in the second half of the book. The first half got evaluated, rewritten, and evaluated again through writers’ conferences, etc. and thus saw editing done before Gemini Wordsmiths got the file. Not so for the second half. If I had my do-overs, I would have completed the first draft before attempting any revisions like the pros recommended. Instead, I wrote two chapters, edited them, moved on to the third and fourth chapters, edited again, and so forth.

I’d like to recommend a blog “10 Words to Search For,” which helped me cut the fat in my manuscripts. Juliet Madison suggested ditching words like very, just, almost, began, and start. I did a Word Search and Find, which enabled me to substitute the word with something better or ditch altogether. The plot issues are the hardest to fix, because even in a horror or SF novel, the world has to stay consistent. The characters should act consistently, too; if not, then I’d better come up with a good reason for the aberration in behavior.

So…what do you find most difficult about revising a manuscript? How do you get through the tougher edits? Do you use any shortcuts for self-editing? I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this.

I’m offering a signed copy of Steel Rose (first prize) and copy of Night to Dawn 26 (second prize) to a random commenter. Overseas winners will receive Starbucks gift cards and PDF copies.


Book Spotlight Struck by Clarissa Johal



The shadows hadn’t been waiting. 

The shadows had been invited.

After a painful breakup, Gwynneth Reese moves in with her best friend and takes a job at a retirement home. She grows especially close to one resident, who dies alone the night of a terrific storm. On the way home from paying her last respects, Gwynneth is caught in another storm and is struck by lightning. She wakes in the hospital with a vague memory of being rescued by a mysterious stranger. Following her release from the hospital, the stranger visits her at will and offers Gwynneth a gift–one that will stay the hands of death. Gwynneth is uncertain whether Julian is a savior or something more sinister… for as he shares more and more of this gift, his price becomes more and more deadly.


Author Bio and Buy Links:

Clarissa Johal has worked as a veterinary assistant, zoo-keeper aide and vegetarian chef. Writing has always been her passion. When she’s not listening to the ghosts in her head, she’s dancing or taking photographs of gargoyles. She shares her life with her husband, two daughters and every stray animal that darkens the doorstep. One day, she expects that a wayward troll will wander into her yard, but that hasn’t happened yet.






Amazon Author page:



A bolt of blue-white lightning snaked from the sky and hit the ground in front of her. The thunderclap that shattered the air was deafening. Gwynneth slammed on her brakes and skidded. It was a slow skid, or it seemed to be. Spinning around and around in a circle, she felt like she was watching herself from afar. Time felt like it was slowing. Oddly enough, she found herself wondering if there would be white or red flowers on Hannah’s casket. Or maybe none at all.

Gwynneth’s face smacked against the steering wheel. Reality hit her along with the pain. She had forgotten to wear her seatbelt. She pressed her fingers lightly to her throbbing temple and winced. “Shit!” Thankfully, she was in one piece. Gwynneth opened the car door. Lightning lit the area and bathed her senses in a flash of blue-white. Icy rain hit her skin. Stupid! You left your jacket back at the funeral home. She ran around the car and checked all the tires. The back one was flat, and on top of that, her car was quite obviously stuck in a ditch. “Great.” She had no spare tire, she knew that for sure. She also had no idea which way led back to the retirement home. Her headlights cast a weak glow through the rain. Soaked to the skin and shivering, Gwynneth peered into the darkness. A muddy road meandered across saturated fields and off into nothingness.

She sloshed back to her car and quickly turned the engine off. She certainly didn’t need a dead battery on top of a flat tire. “Okay, Gwen,” she said aloud, “you need to figure out what to do.” Rain ran in rivulets down her face and her tie-dyed T-shirt stuck to her like a second skin. I’m a soggy, shivering rainbow. She started to walk and cursed the fact that her cell phone wasn’t charged. Seth was always bugging her about that. “Suck it up, Gwen. It rains in Oregon too.” The inky blackness was disconcerting. Lightning intermittently illuminated the area like the flash of a camera. A snapshot of a road to nowhere. Gwynneth hoped that she was at least walking in the right direction. Her teeth were chattering so hard she was in danger of biting her own tongue. Thunder rolled up her spine and along her scalp like probing fingers.

Her thoughts wandered back to Hannah. A diary. I wonder what she wrote about? She wouldn’t read it, of course, it was private. I’m sure she just wants me to throw it away so her children don’t either. A pang of loss sliced through the cold and Gwynneth shook it off. They had spent countless hours chatting and Hannah never mentioned a diary. She bit her lip. If she could only turn back time, Gwynneth would have told her how much their time together had meant. Hannah had always encouraged her to start painting again, but also understood why Gwynneth couldn’t.

A loud ‘crack’ sounded and an iridescent white light surrounded her. Two things registered: a searing pain that ripped down her back and the ground which seemed to be pulled away from her at an alarming speed.

* * * *


Pain shot through the back of Gwynneth’s head as she opened her eyes. Somebody was standing over her. She tried to focus on the face, but it hurt too much. A cool hand slid across her forehead. She opened her eyes again.

Pale, almost white eyes. High cheekbones, aquiline nose, and a well-shaped mouth. Long, white hair. Ageless. Beautiful, like a Michelangelo. All of those details registered with clarity before agony ripped through her body. She arched her back and cried out. The man murmured something into her ear which she couldn’t understand. She could feel the vibration of his voice and his breath on her neck as he gathered her in his arms. She opened her eyes and saw lightning fork to the ground silently behind him. She blacked out again.



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