Don’t Take Candy off of Strangers

Author Jerry Jenkins announced an “Innovative Publishing Firm.” According to Victoria Strauss, innovative in publishing press release speak means charges a whopping fee. But writers might be willing to trust Jerry and his company more readily, believing they’re dealing with good Christian folks. Well, let’s see about that.

Jenkins established Christian Guild Writers Publishing, a self-publishing company targeted toward Christian writers. CGWP offers a six-month writing course, basic stuff for beginning writers. The writers are paired with mentors, that is, published authors who walk them through the process. Only one of the seven members is a fiction writer. At the end, CGWP will edit, proof, design, cover, and produce a book. You’ll get copy-editing, proofing, and basic services like ISBN. Cost to the author: $9,995. There are several caveats. CGWP doesn’t provide distribution; you’re on your own. If your book runs longer than 75K words, there’s a surcharge. Content editing raises the price. Custom design for the interior and cover cost extra, too. CGWP offers the option of hardback, but for print runs of 1,000 copies. Methinks I smell a scam.

Now there’s nothing wrong with self-publishing. If that’s the way you choose to go, then you become a consumer evaluating a company that’s providing a service. You can publish your work on Smashwords and Kindle for free. Mind you, you’ll need an editor and someone to design your cover, but CreateSpace will provide such services for less than $2000 if you decide to use these services at all.

Speaking of distributing companies, let’s look at Autharium, a new British site. According to The Passive Voice, Autharium has made it easy for authors to upload, publish, and distribute their work. Out of curiosity I took a look at the site. At first glance, Autharium looks a lot like Lulu and CreateSpace. They’ve got a dashboard that enables you to upload files and directions on how to do it. You set your price the way you do with Lulu and CreateSpace, and they do a quality check before the book is approved for distribution. “At first glance” are the operative words. Things get ugly when you read Autharium’s terms and conditions. I posted some below.

 

  • “By submitting your Work to Autharium and accepting these Terms & Conditions, you grant to Autharium the exclusive right and license to produce, publish, promote, market and sell your Work in any Digital Form (as defined in paragraph 1.4 below) in all languages throughout the world for the entire legal term of copyright (and any and all extensions, renewals and revivals of the term of copyright).” That’s the author’s life plus 70 years under British copyright law.
  • “Please note that your removal of your Work from sale in accordance with paragraph 13.1 above will not terminate this Agreement nor cause the exclusive digital publishing rights that you have granted to Autharium pursuant to paragraph 1 above to revert to you. You maintain copyright of the Work at all times.”
  • “If you wish to sell your Work in any Digital Form through any other publisher, distributor or means then you will need to contact Autharium at support@autharium.com to agree transfer of the digital publishing rights to your Work.”

Let’s look at Starship Invasions, published by me and Tom Johnson through the Night to Dawn imprint. The contract runs three years, and then the rights revert to the author. I distributed the book through Lulu and CreateSpace, using different ISBN numbers. Suppose I decided to use Autharium, too? At the end of three years, Tom and I would have to get written permission from Autharium to continue publishing and submitting our stories. Let’s say a publisher comes by, offering a generous advance for our book. We’d still have to request permission and likely pony up a lot of money to get it.

Another scam, only this one acts as a distributor, enticing new authors who are anxious to see their books in print. My mother once told me never to take candy off of strangers. I think she had it right.

I’ve got to thank Mitzi Flyte for sending me the URL for Passive Voice. I’m also blessed to belong to a forum like The Writers Coffeehouse where I can find information like this. Jonathan Maberry originally recommended Preditors & Editors. If you’re testing an unfamiliar market, I recommend visiting as many watchdog sites as possible. If the candy the new publisher is offering really tempts you, these following watchdog agencies can advise you whether or not that company is legit.

 

  • The Passive Voice – the Passive Guy (David P. Vandagriff) is a contract lawyer. He does not offer legal advice on his blog, but he discusses the trends in publishing. He also points out potential minefields for the writer, such as bad formatting or scam distributors.
  • Writer Beware – Victoria Strauss will dig through the underworld of literary scams, schemes, and minefields. She’ll also welcome guest bloggers for Writer Beware. Most of the guest blogs are related to writing advice or perhaps a current problem in the industry.
  • Absolute Write Water Cooler will give you the full disclosure on most agents and publishing houses. In addition, they post basic writing advice, how to handle rejection, “ask the agent,” and other good topics.
  • Piers Anthony is a well-known author, having had a lot of his books published by Tor. If you click on his link “Publish on web,” you’ll get his evaluation of eBook publishers in alphabetical order. Pay attention to the red print – that’s his latest update on the given publisher.
  • Preditors & Editors, an oldie but goodie, will give you the low down on publishers, agents, bookstores, editors, software (yes, writing software), magazines, workshops, game publishers, and so forth.

When you go through the watchdog sites, consider the date of the evaluation. A complaint written in 2008 won’t tell you much because that was then, and this is 2013. New management may have taken care of the problem. Sometimes you’ll get conflicting stories. If you do, I recommend my Balloon Rule. If one person says you’re a balloon, ignore them. If two people tell you you’re a balloon, listen. If three people call you a balloon, get a ribbon and float.

I wanted to include the watchdog sites because I’m a firm believer in writers covering for each other. Are there any sites I haven’t mentioned? What has your publishing experiences been like? I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this.

 

Barbara Custer never takes candy off of strangers.

This candy looks delicious, but I wouldn’t accept it from a stranger.

 

When the Balloons Call

These lovely balloons came from the Giant.

These lovely balloons came from the Giant.

Lately, I’ve been watching my budget; I’ve set my sights toward a Kindle e-reader or tablet. That means working overtime hours at my day job. My downfall came when I went food shopping this morning at the Giant and got waylaid by an enormous pink butterfly balloon.

I’ve already got two pink Mylar butterflies at home, but that’s not the point. I’ve got a weakness for Mylar balloons in general, and every time I shop at any supermarket, more balloons call to me, tempting me to buy. At my usual haunts, the cashiers have gotten to know my tastes, and they will lay out a huge assortment, knowing I will succumb. At the pharmacy where I get Mike’s medicine, the Mylar assortment goes out in the aisles as soon as I call in for a refill. So I wind up leaving with something in addition to the medicine. One cashier assured me that they had plenty more of balloons with which to tempt me.

As soon as the pink butterfly flew my way, it squatted on my head, marking its territory. There was no point in running because all the aisles were riddled with balloons–Mylar flowers, insects, Disney characters, roses. They popped up in strategic places. I walked in, thinking about a fruit platter, and then those butterflies swarmed my way. All thoughts of fruit and anything else left my head. The last two visits to the Giant have matched me with pink butterflies, and now the inside of my car has taken on a pinkish tinge. In the interest of conserving resources, the Mylar butterflies hold their helium well.

Because it was getting near 90, I turned on the AC as soon as I got to the car. This enables the balloon to keep cool while I stowed my groceries. I must be the only person this side of Pennsylvania who will cool down a car to protect a balloon.
I’m still planning to get that e-reader, perhaps sometime in August. I’m thinking along the lines of Kindle Fire, or something that I can use for reading and sending email, as well as reading eBooks. But the balloons will always lure me into buying at the store. Always. They don’t call me Barbara of the Balloons for nothing.

CreateSpace versus Lulu

My mother once told me that when you leave your old street for a new street, you know what you’re leaving, but you don’t know what you’re going to find. I kind of felt that way when some of my fellow small press publishers encouraged me to do my NTD printing through CreateSpace. The royalties are better, they told me, and copies are cheaper.

If you want extended distribution, such as Published By You in Lulu, it runs about $100 ($75.00 for distribution and $25.00 for an ISBN if you buy yours in lots of ten). I saw that I could get extended distribution in CreateSpace if I got the pro plan for $39.00, and then I read the fine print. CreateSpace does not sell overseas. Lulu does. Once you plunk down the $39.00 charge, you have to pay $5.00 a year to keep the distribution going. So..let’s say the book stays in print ten years. That’s $50.00. And there is still your $25.00 for the ISBN. CreateSpace will supply an ISBN but you can’t use it anywhere else. Funny thing, I never read anything about the $5.00 a year charge when I visited blogs to see why people esteemed CreateSpace.

There is another caveat I didn’t find on these blogs. When you upload files on CreateSpace, you must have them in PDF. That goes for the cover as well as the interior. Better go out and spend several hundred on Acrobat software to make PDF files if you don’t already have it. I don’t have Acrobat, but I have Word 2007, which enables me to convert the interior file to PDF but not the covers. Lightning Source is another company that requires you to own Acrobat software and be savvy about it.

If you don’t intend to go for extended distribution, CreateSpace may well be cheaper, and with that in mind, I contemplated CreateSpace as an adjunct to the Lulu printer. Perhaps it might work for the Night to Dawn magazine. So I gave it a try, using a PDF file I had gotten off of Lulu.

With the right kind of file, the uploading process wasn’t bad. The files passed muster, and it came time to order a proof. This brings me to my final caveat, payment. Lulu will give you the option of PayPal. CreateSpace only deals with credit cards, and the company wouldn’t accept mine. I’ve used the same credit card for ten years with no problems but CreateSpace would not accept it. I only keep one credit card that I use regularly, and I’m not getting another credit card just so I can place an order. So I did not get the proof.

Well, well. Two other sayings come to mind, these gotten from my husband. When you buy cheap, you get cheap. Stick with the one who brought you to the dance. If I tell Mike about my experience with Lulu and CreateSpace, that is exactly what he would tell me. And so with that in mind I will be happy to release Tom Johnson’s new book, Cold War Heroes, using my familiar Lulu printer, smile, and kick up my heels.

Which company would you use to print your books? What were your experiences with that company, and would you recommend it for others? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Ghost Dance features zombies, vampires, and werewolves.

 

The Call of the Wild

I never thought I would blog about my balloon collection, but as the cliche goes, never say never. Today was an unusual day for grocery trips. I went to a different supermarket, one that didn’t tempt me to buy balloons. More bad weather was coming our way, so I concentrated on buying supplies. I decided to check out the dollar discount store to see if I could buy some of the things needed for less. The dollar discount had a huge array of paper products, everything costing $1.00 each. Since birthdays are coming up for people I care about, I headed down the gift aisle for wrapping paper and cards.

That was when the balloon trees nailed me.

Actually, the courtship began as soon as I walked in. Balloon trees filled with bright reds, silver, and Valentine messages swarmed toward me. The individual balloons there, plenty of them at that, didn’t tempt me so much, but they might have if the balloon trees hadn’t overwhelmed me. There were so many, they literally ran wild. Even the storekeeper couldn’t contain them. Each tree boasts six smaller foil balloons, plus one large one. It could be a Valentine frog or bear. I went with the frog because of its pretty shade of green. Total: seven balloons for $8.00.

I had to sit my passenger seat flat to fit the balloons in the car. They threatened to break loose, so I shut the door fast. Later, after I’d gone to the supermarket and came back, I noticed balloon ribbons sticking out between the door and floorboard.

Why a balloon tree? Perhaps I am celebrating Alien Worlds, the book that I collaborated with Tom Johnson. Newly released, it will be available on Amazon in a few weeks. Maybe I was thinking of giving a couple to Mike for his birthday, and I will. Maybe it’s just because I love balloons so much and couldn’t resist the call of the wild.

City of Brother Death features zombie tales and horror fiction by Barbara Custer

To Lie or not to Lie; that is the question.

While lying with balloons, Barbara Custer contemplates novel ways to lie to her readers.

We lay in bed all day waiting for Barbara to lie down.

I’m referring to one of the verbs that give me and other writers a lot of grief –  the difference between lie, lay, and laid. That and certain words that mean one thing when used as a compound, and something else when used separately, can mess up an otherwise well-written tale.

And so therein “lies” the problem:

Lie as an intransitive verb: I am lying down with my balloons.

Lay as a transitive verb: John, please lay the balloon tree on the table.

Sounds simple but when we move to the past tense, complications arise. For example, the present tense of lie is lie. Example: He lies on the rug. The past tense is lay. Example: Robert lay on the floor. The past participle is lain. Example: He’d lain in that bed for some time.

The present tense of lay is lay. Example: I lay my purse on the table. The past tense is laid. Example: Barbara laid her balloons in the cart. The past participle is laid. She’d laid the bags on the table an hour ago.

Looking at compound words, I found that certain words, when used separately or as a compound, mean two different things. One example is setup. Is it set up, set-up or setup? So I went to my trusty dictionary.

“Setup” is a noun, while “set up” is a verb. But it’s not quite that simple. You always use “set up” when you’re using it for a verb, so….

You must set up your computer software.

Mary set up her balloon tree.

Frank set up a bank account for his client.

As a noun and adjective, you would use either setup or set-up and each means different things. Setup is the noun or adjective used pertaining to computers and their setup. Set-up is the noun or adjective used pertaining to things unrelated to computers and their setup. So…

This PC setup screen is unique.

The computer’s setup is compact.

But:

That bag of pot was a set-up from the beginning.

Some banks charge exorbitant set-up fees

The set-up of her entertainment center is precarious.

Sometime versus some time. It sounds simple, but isn’t…quite. When “some time” is used as a certain / unspecified duration of time, use “some time.” Example: I spent some time looking for the rose balloon. When “sometime” is used as an adjective meaning “former,” it’s one word. Example: That balloon salesperson is my sometime friend. If we’re referring to an unspecified point of time in the future, either “sometime” or “some time” is appropriate. Example. I plan to travel to the islands sometime / some time next year.

As I continue my work, if I find other compound words that stump me, I will post them in a future blog. For now, I have it clear in my mind which of the above words to use in my work-in-progress. Somehow, though, when I get engrossed in the heat of the scene, I’m liable to forget and mix up the verbs. A wise instructor once told me that English was the most difficult language to learn. I think she had it right.

Do you find yourself struggling with “lie” versus “lay,” or any of the compound words? I would like to hear about your experiences with compounds and words like “lie/lay,” and how you worked your way around them.

 

Interview with Author Sharon Maria Bidwell, Writer of Dark and Light Fiction

NightsinPinkSatin

Tonight, I am honored to talk with prolific author Sharon Maria Bidwell, who hails from Britain. Her latest, Nights in Pink Satin, has just been released as of June 19. She writes in slipstream, romance, horror, gothic, cross-genre, and other genres. Though she is best known for her longer works, her short stories have appeared in many magazines, including Sam’s Dot Publishing, Night to Dawn, Roadworks, Epiphany Magazine, and others. Her secret to success? She takes the bull by the horns and writes away…

BARBARA: Congratulations on your new release, Nights in Pink Satin. Tell me a little about your book.

SHARON: NIPS (as I’ve taken to calling it) is the story of Vincent, a vampire, who is as old as the hills and essentially bored. He fills his time with little diverting pleasures such as the annual ball for which he’s seeking a new coffin. When he assumes a female vampire has placed an order for a pink coffin lining he mistakenly breaks into the home of a young gay vampire called Martin. Martin is so painfully lonely that at first you think he’ll be a pushover for any attention that Vincent bestows on him but like most of us there’s a moment when we’ll speak up for ourselves. Vincent’s in for a few surprises. Vincent is also lonely but he’s not aware of it in quite the same way as Martin is and yet the meeting changes his awareness. The result makes for an interesting, humourous, and quirky love story.

If anyone is interested, I have to thank fellow British author, Fiona Glass, for drawing my attention to a news story of an abandoned coffin. As you can see from the news article, the lining looked rather “pink”. It was the spark for my idea. You’ll also notice it’s quite an old piece of news. I just didn’t have time to finish it until this year: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/norfolk/6590769.stm

BARBARA: How do your readers react to your writing in diverse genres?

SHARON: I’d have to say I receive mixed reactions. There are readers who will focus on one aspect of my work and there are some who want to hear about all the things I do, even if they don’t always read it. They may try a story out of their “comfort zone” and so far (fingers crossed), I’ve always received a favourable response when they do. I don’t expect every reader to like or even show an interest in everything I do. I don’t expect a reader of my gay romances to read a heterosexual romance (or menage) or vice versa, and I don’t expect them to seek out my darker stories.

I can’t and won’t say I’ve been “sidetracked” by the romance genre (although I also write various sub-genres within that category) because that makes it sound as if I perceive it to be something I’m doing until something better comes along. I’m saying that because I think early on a couple of mistaken individuals made that assumption. I’m as surprised as anyone to be writing what I’m writing but I’m delightfully surprised, and while I’ve many GLBT titles to date, I do hope to write more het titles too (I have another due later this year). I also hope to get back to writing some of my darker stories (although I believe some of my romances can be darker and deeper than some readers expect).

If I could write exactly the way I wanted to write, I’d do exactly what I’m doing now…I’d just be able to clone myself and have about three avenues of writing open to me on a regular basis. The problem is finding time for them all and there are moments when life itself interferes.

BARBARA: What motivated you to begin writing?

SHARON: Love of books. Life. I didn’t have an easy childhood. It can’t be easy when one parent suffers ill-heath and my mother had many personal and physical problems, yet one of my earliest memories is of her reading to me. I still have many of those books. She even taught me to read where my school failed but that’s a longer story. Books were always my friends. They never let me down. Books enabled me to live through so many adventures, several lifetimes in one. I think to be a full-time writer would be the best job in the world, even though like any job you have your good and bad days. Anyone who doesn’t think writing is work has it wrong.

BARBARA: What do you find most challenging about the writing process?

SHARON: What springs to mind is time. Just finding the time. The truth is most writers have at least a part-time if not full-time job and even if you don’t there’s everyday life, family and friends to consider. Maybe that’s not the dream everyone wants to hear of but it’s the truth. Writing is a solitary pursuit and sometimes it’s difficult to be solitary, especially if it doesn’t come naturally to you.

What’s difficult about the process itself? I’d have to say waiting for or seeking out that one thing that makes a story special. I’m not even going to pretend that I manage to do that every time. You can take any plot and break it down into basics, but there’s got to be “something” that clicks into place, that changes a story that has been written a million times before and turns it into someting that will stick in a reader’s mind, make it memorable, even haunting. Not all stories can or even need to do this but they are the ones readers will keep for a lifetime.

BARBARA: What books would you recommend to aspiring writers?

SHARON: Ah…now you’re asking me to give away all my secrets. LOL. Hmm…oh god, you really are! I wouldn’t buy most of the ‘how to write’ books out there…or, to put it another way, do be selective. They can be entertaining and most have “something” to offer but you’ll read an awful lot of books to glean very little information from each. I’m not saying they’re worthless but there comes a point when you have to accept that’s time you can spend writing.

I’d tell every aspiring author that they may think they understand punctuation and grammar but check they really do know what they’re talking about. I’d recommend “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” by Lynne Truss. You’ve probably heard all about this book but really, everyone should read this because if nothing else, it highlights the woefully poor attitude to the subject. If you think a publisher never turned down a story owing to terrible punctuation and grammar, think again! A few errors can be overlooked — it’s what editors, line editors, and proofers are there for — but if a writer displays a lack of care and disinterest in how they present their work, many publishers notice. Penguin produce a good punctuation guide and another good book I’ve recently come across is “My Grammar and I (or should that be me)” by Caroline Taggart and J.A.Wines. If you really can’t stomach the convoluted methods of learning grammar that applied in my grandmother’s day (and really who can?) then this is a lighthearted educational way to look at an old approach that works. Even so, I’m not going to pretend to be a punctuation or grammar expert. The one thing I excelled in at school was spelling but I’m not going to pretend I never put a comma in the wrong place. The damn things just love to slip in when you’re not looking.

For plotting, if you can find a copy (which was difficult last time I searched) check out “Plot & Structure” by James Scott Bell. The fact is stories do follow patterns, and even if you want to break the patterns up, recreate the universe as we know it, like any rule you wish to break, it’s best to know exactly what the rule is in order to know how best to break it. I haven’t read many books on personal success stories. However, I did find “Sometimes the Magic Works” by Terry Brooks very entertaining, and to contradict something I said above, if you wish to specialise in a particular subject, be it for example, poetry, children’s books, or crime, I would look for a “how-to” book focusing on that specific genre. Learn your market. Learn how to research.

BARBARA: I know a few writers who are also illustrators, and on your website, you mentioned an interest in drawing. Have you explored that interest?

SHARON: Only as a way to relax, and alas, I get little time for it these days and I am woefully out of practice. I have been playing around a little with illustrating in case I ever decide to self-publish something, but that’s mostly with digital programmes. We moved last year and I’ve been knocking down a dilapidated garage. Don’t laugh. Yes, I’ve actually been wielding a sledgehammer! The plan is to have a summerhouse put up in its place very soon and as well as a place to enjoy the garden, read, write, and entertain, I want to use it as space for drawing. My father died a couple of years ago and left an entire art course. I want to follow that coursework. With drawing even more than writing, I can forget what day it is, and even how much time is passing. Nothing else exists apart from the project in front of you. You forget all your worries. I’m thinking that maybe I don’t manage that so often with writing because there’s a certain amount of “worry” involved in that kind of creation. The drawing is really just for me. The writing is for sharing.

BARBARA: How would you define slipstream writing?

SHARON: Difficult to define. LOL. It’s writing that slips around the edges of and takes from a variety of genres, containing elements of more than one or even many.

BARBARA: How did you make the transition from short story to novel writing?

SHARON: It was actually sort of the other way around. I always wanted to write novels and plunged straight into them but none ever pleased me. I’ve since realised I needed to learn the craft of writing first in order to support my storytelling ability. I seldom wrote short stories. I think I felt as my father did that no sooner had he got into them than they were finished. Then I decided to take a creative writing course. Because of the nature of the course, I had to submit shorter work and my emphasis changed to short stories. I would recommend every writer to write short stories. The process teaches you how to be concise with your writing, how to characterise swiftly, how to make a story more vibrant. You stretch this process out somewhat when writing a novel but you learn so much from writing short stories and even grow to appreciate them more. A good short story can haunt you as much as any novel can. I don’t think I would have ever written a publishable novel if it hadn’t been for writing short stories.

BARBARA: What advice would you give aspiring writers about time management?

SHARON: I am NOT the person to ask. I wish someone could teach me. The internet is a blessing and curse as it can be terribly distracting. I try to write before I check email etc but then I can’t write because I’m wondering if I have email. Then I’ll see to that only to think “I’ll just pop into that forum…or drop a good friend a line…or maybe I ought to do a bit of promo…or I could see what books I could add to my towering to-be-read pile.” I struggle with time and my worst trait is procrastination, although once I get caught up in a story I can type for hours, forget to eat or drink, and come away from the keyboard feeling physically and mentally shattered.

BARBARA: Where may someone purchase print or ebook copies of your works?

SHARON: My longer works are in ebook formats from my publishers and I’d prefer readers to purchase from the official sites:

http://changelingpress.com/author.php?uid=129

A couple of my titles are available on Amazon’s Kindle. If you see any listed elsewhere they’ve probably been pirated. Please don’t purchase from pirates or take part in file sharing. It’s illegal and the writer receives nothing. My short stories are mostly in small press magazines available from individual outlets.

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