Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Short History of How I Became a Self-Published Hockey Romance Writer

This is Part Two of my mini-guide to self-publishing. Part One is here.

Okay, where were we? Well, I had written stories and people liked them. In fact, a few readers suggested I begin publishing my stories, but that meant hard copies, which were way too expensive. Enter the e-book tidal wave. Eleanor, another author friend, started checking out Amazon, and clued me into the fact that there were a few hockey romances there. “Check this book out, Mel. Its terrible! We should publish because our stories are better!” As a side note, she hasn’t published yet, so she’s like the friend who says “Let’s do this crazy thing!” And then lets you get into trouble first.

So I started “looking inside” a lot of book samples and later, reading quite a few books. I decided to take the plunge into self-publishing. I looked on the internet for advice and found a ton from writing blogs. One thing that authors like to do more than writing is write about writing. And if you can understand that last sentence youre already a better writer than me. Just search writing on Google and get ready to be struck by a tsunami of information.

How To Publish 
Here are my steps to self-publishing. I’m taking it for granted that you have written an excellent novel, proofed, and edited it yourself, and you think it’s ready.

1. Beta readers
You should get a few people to read your novel and give you honest feedback. Are there continuity issues? Are your characters likeable enough for the reader to root for them? Is anything missing or needed? Have you accidentally switched the name of a character mid-story? (It's happened, okay.)
When you get negative feedback, take a deep breath, say thank you, and sleep on it. Then go back and address the point that was raised. Yes, do it. Otherwise, why have a beta reader?

Cost: usually free. Your friends, significant other, or fellow writers are all prime candidates for this job. I was lucky enough to have a built-in audience from my previous serial stories.

2. Editors
Now your masterpiece is done. Or so you think. Time to get a professional on the job, the editor will be your dominatrix on the road to publishing pleasure. From what I’ve read there seem to be a zillion types of editors, but I would say they fall into two main categories: story editors and copy editors. A story editor will look at the large-scale aspects of your book: structure, character, pacing. A copy editor will examine the details by proofreading your book and correcting the grammar, spelling, punctuation, and stylistic elements. IMHO, editing is vital. I use the lovely and talented Amy Duli, who does copy editing for me. Punctuation is my Achilles heel, as well as overuse of the word, “just.” I just finished taking out that word 74 times from my latest book. Noooo, I just used it again ... oh, dang it!
Naturally, you should clean up your manuscript as much as possible before submitting it to an editor. I recently discovered this helpful blog, where two lovely Canadian (yay!) editors give advice on editing and formatting.

Cost: well, obviously depends on the editor’s experience and the length & state of your book. $200 - $1000 would be a rough range for an average book. 

3. Formatting
Okay, with your polished novel in your hot little hands, now what? Since so many gazillions of books have been published on Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Apple, etc., it must be easy, right? Nope, uploading your manuscript is a tricky process, as all readers of ebooks know. Who hasn’t experienced odd gaps and spacing in an ebook, or an un-navigable Table of Contents? Or perhaps even a book that won’t open. All these problems have to do with formatting. Formatting is the process of converting the text of your book to a MOBI or EPUB format so it can be read by ereaders. Now, I only have experience with Amazon so far, and while the process is improving it’s still tricky.
You have two choices: do it on your own or get an expert. It is very doable to do this yourself, especially if you have a little familiarity with HTML, but more complicated than I can explain here. I did both of my books myself and I would recommend the sites and blogs below for more detailed instructions.

It takes a lot of time though, not just to proof your book but to try it out on as many platforms as possible (Kindle Previewer, Nook, Kobo, iPad) to make sure it’s readable since nobody will ever tell you if it’s broken. They’ll just return your book, and returns are the sad-making nadir of an author’s day. Just asked someone who sold 6 books in Germany and had 5 returned. Meine Güte!

Your second choice is to have it done, but then you have two further choices. One, you can use an expert. I recommend Jaye Manus, who has been helping me with my more recent books and gives tons of advice in her blog on how to do it yourself. If you want to do it yourself, read her blog for help first. Again, the cost will depend on the length of your book and its complexity (illustrations, graphs, etc.) She will send you back a perfectly formatted book which you then upload and list on Amazon, Kobo, etc. 

Or you can use a service called Draft2Digital, they will format and upload your book for a commission of 10% - 15%. Obviously, you have to make a guess on how much money you’re going to make. The more sales you think you’ll make, the less you’ll want to give away 10% in perpetuity. Hint: your first book is probably not going to make that many sales.
The good side to paying a formatter is that you can spend more time writing and less time tearing your hair out over formatting issues.
Cost: Free to several hundred.

4. Cover
Your book’s cover can be done at any time in the process. You want it to communicate what the book is about to prospective readers Despite the old proverb, readers do judge a book by its cover. Again, you can choose to hire an expert or do it yourself.

If you want to hire a cover designer, there are tons out there so you want to make sure you get one who understands ebooks. For example the Amazon image is pretty small so tiny type won’t fly.  This blog post lists ten recommended cover sites. If I had a ton of money, I’d just hire the #1 site listed: Damonza. It’s $400 but his covers look great. I’ll warn you though, if you do check out his site, you’ll get his ads for months afterwards whenever you surf the net. If you want to buy a good cover, but not pay too much money, you could checking out fivver (covers for $5! Can this be real? I’ve never used it, but it seems worth a look.) Or check out premade covers, the ones on #7 from the blog post, ebookinidecovers, look pretty good to me and cost only about $50. Another similarly-priced source is Go On Write.

If you want to do it yourself, and you don’t have any experience in design, you shouldn’t. Just kidding, but at the minimum you should study some good designs first and get a qualified friend to look over your finished product. Here’s one fun way to see what’s good in covers, Joel Friedlander at The Book Designer does ebook cover awards every month. After you’ve looked at his comments, you get a good sense of what is right and wrong with covers. I find the bad covers pretty amusing. But then, I stop and look at accident scenes too.

I did my covers myself, and maybe you can tell. It’s my theory that if I went to the traditional bare-chested man and woman embracing, I would probably sell more books. Two problems though. First off, a realistic portrayal of Jake’s Gumby torso is not selling books. And second, I like my covers. I like their fresh look because it communicates all the information I want: not a typical romance, hockey, a little chick-lit, and contemporary. Still, after seeing the ebook Cover Awards, I may still bump up the font.
Cost: Free to $400

5. Promotion
Well, I’m probably not the best person to ask about promotion. I don’t do a ton, because I need to prioritize my time and I think that writing the next amazing book is the best way to succeed. But it certainly helps to have your book reviewed on popular blogs and promoted on social media. Having a facebook page, a blog, twitter, etc. are all ways to promote yourself as an author. You can also get an author’s page on Goodreads once your book is published, and join in the discussions there. You can do book launches, online parties etc. Knowing other authors in your genre is a good idea, you can do blog hops, cross-promote, and support each other. There are many book promoters out there who would love to help you, for a fee of course. 
That’s all I’ve got, but these ladies have more for you.
Cost: Free to sky's-the-limit

And finally, a couple of general self-publishing resources: 
I do check out the sub-Reddit on Self Publishing . I have to confess that Reddit is a bit scary for me, I had my comment history stalked by some loser, so I removed my profile permanently and now I merely creep the page for information. This sub-Reddit is quite practical and helpful. 

Lots of writers recommend the KDP/Kindle Author boards for information, but I find them too thin on actual facts and too heavy on self-promotion.

My final word of advice: ask for help and take all you can get. Don’t be sensitive or defensive about your work, use the suggestions you get, and you’ll keep improving.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Short History of How I Became A Hockey Romance Writer

Recently, I had an email asking for advice on becoming a published author, so I thought I’d lay out my writing history here. There are two parts: todays post is about writing and part two is about self-publishing.

In the beginning there was hockey.

It all started around the time of the 2010 Olympic selection for Team Canada. In fact, I can remember the exact moment I got inspired. I was sitting on the couch with my friend, Daisy, and we looked up at the TV and said, “Who’s that?”  That turned out to be Jonathan Toews, who has both the boyish good looks and on-ice determination that are so appealing to hockey fans. Well, to Daisy and me anyway. And then he turned out to be from Winnipeg, which is where Mr. X, the man in my life, is also from. This gave me the excuse while watching games to point him out, “Hey sweetie, that guy’s from Winnipeg too!” As long as you don’t drool while speaking, this method will effectively deflect all attention away from your hockey crush. Sadly, I do drool.

I love hockey and I love reading, and I wondered why those pastimes could not be combined. So I went in search of hockey romances. I read a few paperbacks from the library, but to be honest I found them to be fairly lame. Either the writer had no clue about hockey (they’re hockey pants, not hockey shorts!) or the stories themselves were too predictable. But then one day, I was reading a hockey blog for women, and I clicked on the profile of one of the commenters who looked slightly familiar. She followed a number of other blogs, which all seemed to be about hockey, so I clicked on one.

Whoosh, talk about falling down a rabbit hole! Suddenly I was whisked into a world where there were serial stories about hockey players. I had certain preconceptions about fanfic, and all of them were negative. But although many of the stories turned out to be lame and occasionally laughable, (it’s not possible to have intercourse for five hours, especially if you’re Dave Bolland) a number of them were pretty darn good. However, most of them were about Sidney Crosby, who doesn’t really do anything for me. I wondered why nobody was writing about the player I wanted to read about, and I figured I’d have to do it myself. At the time, before the Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup, there was only one about young Captain Serious. Now there are zillions.

Creative writing was already something I enjoyed. As an oversensitive teenager, I journaled my every boring thought and emotion. Then, as an English major at university, I was used to reading and critiquing three books a week. However, after that, most of my writing was restricted to (yawn) business writing. But now I had the writing bug and some new inspiration. I got encouragement and advice from one very kind author, and I started my own serial. She told me that optimally I should post an update every day, which I did. Looking back, I think I must have been insane, but my chapters were pretty short at the beginning. And after 170 posts, I wrapped up my first story. Yup, even from the beginning, I wrote long books.

At first, nobody, except my mentor and my friend, were reading. I begged Daisy to leave comments so I’d look legit. But slowly the blog readership grew, and by the end, I was getting about 200 hits a day and a ton of enthusiastic feedback. You know your blog is popular when it gets ripped off by content scrapers. I wrote two more long serials, and two short stories. All the time my readers were so encouraging, telling me how much they liked my writing and getting emotionally involved with my stories. My big highlight was when someone told me the post made her cry. In my stories, I like to have a bit of everything: laughter, sexual tension, dramatic tension, and tears. Just the way life is.

I have to say that serial writing was the best apprenticeship that I could have had for becoming an author. I had to produce chapters to a deadline and I had to plan everything out ahead of time. 99% of the comments were positive, because c’mon, who is going to criticize something that’s free? But I could still see if readers didn’t like a post, because I would get fewer comments. And comments for blogger are like crack for Rob Ford: completely addictive. I’m always encouraging authors who are starting out to try serial writing, and now it’s even easier with Wattpad. You get to see what appeals to readers, and you get to work on a deadline, even if it’s self-imposed. But the more frequently you post, the more readers you get. In addition, while fanfic does get a bad rap, it has the advantage of having a built-in audience. I did debate whether to “come out” as a fanfic author, but I’ve since found out that a lot of hockey romance novels began as fanfic. So, why not be upfront about it?

Okay, there I was, sitting with a ton of finished books. What to do? Well, I think you know already. Tune in for my next post on how I began e-publishing. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

What's New, Pussycat

get this stupid hat off me

Happy New Year, everyone! Hopefully your hockey teams are starting 2014 well, unlike mine, which began with losses and injuries. And speaking of bad news, I have bad news and good news, which would you like first?

The bad news is that Valley of Gold, the novella I said would be published for Christmas, is obviously not done. Well, actually it is done, but I’ve decided to add another novella to it before publishing. So, now I have to write the extra novella.

The good news is that I am editing my next long book right now, and it’s even longer than How The Cookie Crumbles. So long in fact, that it’s divided into two books. Don’t worry, the first book will have a proper ending. I hate those cliff-hanger books, they seem like a cash grab to me. Anyway, it’s already done, but I have to do some severe editing before it's ready to publish. Sigh. Editing always takes longer than I think. So I’m not even going to make a promised publication date, because I’m way too optimistic. Examples of my magical thinking: “Why yes, I can have that 50 page report done by tomorrow morning.” “Why yes, the Canucks are going to win the Stanley Cup!” “Why yes, I’m going to have my next book done by the end of January.”

The new books, which have no titles yet, are about Kelly Tanaka, a girl who plays hockey. Yup a girl, because we follow her from high school to university to the working world. It’s a sprawling epic that crosses generations, continents, and world wars. Naw, just kidding, it’s another hockey romance.

I’m excited because the first seven chapters in the first book have already been edited and finalized. So only 70 to go. Really. But in the meantime, here’s an excerpt for you. Let me set this up. Kelly is obsessed with hockey, she plays hockey and trains hard. In fact, she’s so focused on hockey, that she hasn’t had any interest in doing what normal 17 year-old girls do. Important things like shopping for clothes and dating. But a dare from Laura, the captain of her new hockey team, leads Kelly into a whole new world: guys.

In this excerpt, Kelly is going on a “fake date” with Nicklas Ericcson, a good-looking winger from the local rep hockey team. It’s not a real date, because in order to win her bet, Kelly had to beg and bribe Nicklas. One of his conditions was that the tomboyish Kelly get dressed up, since he has a reputation to maintain. So, in the previous chapter, April, Kelly’s best friend, orchestrated the obligatory chick-lit makeover scene, and voilá: a whole new Kelly. Just in time for the fake date.

After fixing me up, April even dropped me off at the movie theatre. She wanted to stay and have a look at Nicklas, but she had a date of her own. While I was waiting in the lobby, I saw two girls from my hockey team there. I figured they were spying on me, so I went over to chat.
“Sorry, Kelly. Laura did not believe you 100%, so she made us come. We were seeing the new Katie Holmes movie anyway. Don’t worry, we won’t follow you into the theatre or anything,” said one of them, a d-man named Hilary.
“You look really nice,” said the other girl, called Sara M. to distinguish her from the two other Saras on the team. “I like your top.”
I don’t think anyone had ever liked my top before, so April certainly knew what she was doing. The second sign that I looked different came when Nicklas walked right by me without noticing. To be exact, he checked me out but never got as high as my face so he didn’t recognize me.
“Hey Nicklas.”
“Kelly? Kelly! You clean up nicely.” He seemed surprised, and smiled.
“Nicklas, this is Sara and Hilary. They’re on my hockey team.”
“Hello,” both girls said at the same time. They had these goofy expressions on their faces. Nicklas seemed to have this weird effect on women.
“Ladies,” Nicklas nodded at them. Then he turned his megawatt smile on me. “Shall we get the tickets?”
I held them up. “Way ahead of you,” I replied. I kept looking at his lips. Seriously, I just wanted to kiss him again. What was wrong with me? This was charity on his part, and I had to be cool.
“Excuse us then,” he said to the girls, who were apparently stunned silent. He put his hand on the small of my back. Electricity again! I took a huge breath in, which caused him to focus on the V of my top.
“You sure look different, Kelly. You look—hot.”
“Um, thanks,” I replied with automatic politeness. Another first, no guy had ever called me hot before, unless I was actively sweating.
We sat down in the theatre. Nicklas started telling me about how his team was doing and who the best teams in his division were. As he was talking, he kept leaning towards me and getting really close. Once, he played with the fringe on my jacket, and his knuckles brushed my breast. I was torn between punching him and jumping him, so I pretended not to notice. Finally he paused and gave me this intense look.
“You know all the time we played hockey, I never knew you had a body like this underneath the equipment.”
“Well, I probably didn’t. I mean I was only 13 or 14 when we last played together.” Wow, could I have sounded any dumber if I tried?
He laughed. The movie was starting, so I was spared making any more stupid comments. As the previews began, he put his arm over the back of the seat. 
“What are you doing?” I asked. Really, I couldn’t stop my inner eleven-year-old from hijacking the date.
“I figure if your teammates are watching, we need to make things look good.”
“I don’t think they’re here. They were going to another movie.”
“You never know, Kelly.” And he pulled me in a little closer to him.
The movie was actually pretty good, in a cartoony way. There was a strong female star, so it wasn’t like a formulaic action flick. The only downer was that it was going to be continued, so the ending wasn’t very good. But honestly, I had been distracted by Nicklas the whole time. He was so close, his arm was touching me, and I could smell his masculine smell that was a combination of cologne, soap, and sweat. He seemed to be able to generate the whole electrical thing without even kissing me. I was feeling a little dazed when we finally got up to leave. It was a good thing that this date was almost over, ’cause I needed time to gather my wits.