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Thursday, 29 January 2015

This week's post is from the website beloved by indie authors - Indies Unlimited. They are running a survey about how writers go about self-publishing and would like as many responses as possible, so if you're a self-published writer, hop on over to their site here and fill in the survey. (Takes about 15 minutes.)
"When we realized how much variance there was in how each of the minion authors accomplished the task of going from first draft to release and the initial promotional push, we came to the conclusion that this was the perfect opportunity for a survey. We’re hoping that by asking you, we’ll all get a better feel for the most common approaches and possibly how well each works. To gauge the latter, there are also some questions about your personal goals on your writing journey and how far along you’ve made it on your path to success. Nothing in the survey will allow us to identify any particular person’s answers, so honesty and accuracy of the answers will help us all.
The survey will be open for a month (through February 23, 2015). The more respondents we get, obviously, the more data we’ll have from which to glean results. So, we ask that you spread the word to your fellow authors by sharing this any place you frequent where authors congregate such as writing groups on Facebook and Linkedin, and email loops, or suggest at the next meeting of your critique group that the members drop in and complete the survey once they get home.
The survey is open to any author who has self-published at least one book.
Because some of the terms we use might not be familiar and to make sure of a mutual understanding of what we mean, these definitions are what we’re thinking when these terms are used in the survey.
Critique Group
A group of fellow writers who meet regularly, either in person or possibly via live chat online, to discuss and critique the writing of the other members.
Under this heading are all the steps you take in revising your writing after the first draft other than applying edits specifically suggested by an editor or proofreader. Depending on the complexity of the changes and where it happens in the process, you might also hear this called rewriting or revising.
Beta Reader
A person, typically an avid reader, with the ability to critique a book from that viewpoint.  This is a volunteer rather than someone you hire. If there is any cost it is a gift you choose to give as thanks or a favor done in return. Many times an author will use multiple beta readers to get more perspectives and for the ability to compare and contrast their feedback in deciding how or even whether to make changes in their book based on this feedback.
Alpha Reader or First Reader
An alpha reader is no different in qualifications or lack of pay than a beta reader. Those who use alpha readers typically do this early in their book preparation process to shake out any big issues before passing the book-in-progress on to an editor or a beta reading team. They focus on the big picture: high level structure, completeness of story arc, plot holes, and identifying scenes that don’t work or aren’t needed. An alpha reader is looking at the forest while mostly ignoring the individual trees.
Content Editor
A content editor is a paid professional, although that pay might be accomplished using an exchange or trade of services. A content edit (sometimes called a substantive edit) often serves the same purpose and provides feedback on the same kind of things as an alpha reader. An author who uses both an alpha reader and a content editor would do so to shake out any issues raised by the alpha reader in order to minimize the cost of the content editor (plus the obvious benefit of getting multiple perspectives). A content editor is also more likely to provide ideas for fixing issues found than an alpha reader would be able.
Copy Editor (also called a line editor)
A copy editor focuses on the minutia, making sure that proper spelling and grammar rules are used. Rather than focusing on the forest, the copy editor is looking at the individual trees and even the leaves on each tree to make sure they’re correct (from the individual word up to the paragraph). Some copy editors might provide feedback on bigger picture items they spot, but those big picture items aren’t normally considered part of their job. Like the content editor, the copy editor is a paid professional: someone you provide hard cash or a quid pro quo in trade for their services.
A proofreader performs the final [polishing steps, focusing on strictly technical items, shaking out any remaining spelling, punctuation, and grammar issues missed by the copy editor. Historically the proofreader would compare the final version of the edited manuscript to the proof or test copy of a printed book to uncover any issues introduced during typesetting, but this role has evolved in non-traditional publishing to something slightly different.
Formatting is the process of taking a final edited manuscript (typically, but not always, in a file format used by a word processor), and converting it into the formats needed to publish the book. Typically this would be mobi or other Kindle compatible format plus an epub format. If you’re also releasing a paper version of your book, the formatter would create a file compatible with the needs of your printer or print-on-demand vendor.
ARC Reader
Sending their book to ARC readers (typically several) is used by some authors as a last step before a book’s release. This is normally done when the author believes his or her book is ready for release. That doesn’t preclude these readers providing the author feedback on minor issues (those last few typos that haven’t been eradicated for one) to be used in making final tweaks to the book prior to release.  However, the primary purpose of an ARC reader is the promise of an honest review to be posted as soon as the book is released in exchange for receiving the book for free before it was available to the general public. The primary difference between an ARC reader and a beta reader is the point in the process where they are used.

We estimate that it will take 15-20 minutes for an average author to complete the survey.
Here's the link again.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Jenny Harrison on why you should read REAL books!

I read recently of the damage that can occur while reading in bed. Not the normal holding a book at something like eye level with a bedside lamp of low wattage next to your pillow, but using an ebook in bed. Seems that the light emanating from backlit e-readers affects the body’s circadian rhythms and, as a consequence, it will take you longer to fall asleep resulting in lower morning alertness. All this from researchers at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and they’re the experts.
Apparently it has something to do with blue light or short-wavelength-enriched light from things like phones and iPads which reduces levels of melatonin. And of course, we all know that melatonin has a role to play in inducing sleep.
Melatonin, or more popularly known as N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine, is a hormone found in animals, plants, fungi and bacteria. It is synthesized in animal cells directly from the amino acid tryptophan. Besides its function as synchronizer of the biological clock, melatonin is a powerful free-radical scavenger and wide-spectrum antioxidant as discovered in 1993 (Wikipedia). By reading in bed using an iPad you could be compromising those scavengers!

But you knew that, didn’t you!
So, it isn’t the ghoulishness of the latest Maureen Green book or the hilarious antics of Rusty and Slasher Naills in the Panui series, or the sweet lyricism of Jean Allen’s River books or the nail biting will-he-make-it-home of Bev’s Robitai’s latest Sunstrike novel (all these books are available at letsbuybooks) keeping you awake at night. There’s a much more prosaic and boring reason.
But you knew that too, didn’t you!

Jenny Harrison
(Mairangi Writers' 'Rural Advisor')

Friday, 16 January 2015

A Short Story from Jean Allen

Hello readers. Despite its title this little story is light and relatable. It is the first draft of a chapter in one of my books and taught me brevity is often best.

Aunty’s Funeral
Already late at two minutes past midday I scream the car uphill and around corners, into the wrong gate of the Crematorium, back out, roar back up the road to the right gate and can’t find a carpark. Finally, I squeeze into an end slot, half on the grass and cut the engine. It starts to rain. Using my purse as a hat I run across the parking lot, take a shortcut through the gardens, rip my pantyhose on a bush and make the porch. My suit is clingingly wet.  
The Minister has beaten me. He’s already at the lectern.  I squelch along the back wall and squeeze into the corner. Hiding and dripping on a Chapel carpet is not a good look but everyone is standing straight and tall and righteous. Good. Now everyone sits down. The place is packed. I know dear old Aunt Madge had been a sweet lady but this number of mourners takes me by surprise. I shrink into the corner. 
The Minister adjusts the microphone. “We are here today to pay our respects and our farewells to our dear friend Cecil Bathurst.”

I’m at the wrong funeral and if I try to leave this funeral service now that it’s started I’ll be the cause of a maximum, congregational head turn. I could sprint out. I could shuffle out - or even pass out. I give up and decide to see it out.
At twelve-thirty I leave, the last unidentified mourner, sneaking away; but over by the gardens stand the cousins … waiting. There’s no escape.
“I tried to stop you going in,” Cousin Stan winks with a wicked grin, “but you did such an amazing sprint over those rose gardens I couldn’t catch you.”

We are all in black according to Aunty Joan’s wishes and we all go in together to sit like ten blackbirds in the two front seas.  Damp but in the mood by now I relax with my family.

This is Jean Angel Allen hoping that whatever the weather your 2015 is happy.


Saturday, 10 January 2015

Guest Post from Mike Crowl, Dunedin writer

This week for our group blog I'm reprinting the best article I've seen on book promotion - something we all need a bit of help with!

Promoting your product
I've been spending a lot of time in the last year promoting my three e-books. It's a tough task but it has to be done. Sometimes it's fun, sometimes it's a chore. You meet interesting people online in the process, and there's always plenty of advice as to how to do it better - too much, perhaps.

But one thing is certain, if you're not a big name and not already a big seller, you're going to have to be patient and let the sales trickle in bit by bit.

I was thinking about this while walking the dog this afternoon. I came across a sign on the roadside which had blown over (not the one in the picture; that's just an example, and doesn't look as if it would blow over easily). It was advertising firewood and so on. I wondered if it would have been anymore effective even if it had been standing up.

Firstly, it was right on the corner of the road that the customer was expected to go up. No warning further down the road, nothing. Just the one sign.

Now this isn't a road where motorists are doing any great speed, but even at 50 kmph, it takes a bit of doing on the motorist's to read the sign, understand it, think about whether he really wants that product, think about whether he really wants to stop or if he's got better things to do; it takes him time to realise the sign relates to the road they're just about to pass, to discuss it all with his wife, to find a way of turning around and then going to investigate. Even if he thinks about all this and decides to come back later, it's possible he'll forget, or find something else more urgent needing to be done.

I know all this because I've often not stopped when going through the orchard area in Roxburgh. At 100 kmph it's even harder to make all these decisions.

At the very least there needs to be two or three signs further down the road at considerable intervals (and yes, I understand that's all a cost to the seller), each one pointing to the road that's coming up, and giving the driver plenty of time to consider whether he wants to make the effort of stopping and buying the product.

Without those warning signs, however, it's unlikely anyone will stop, unless they're absolutely desperate for what's on sale.

Now compare this to an author trying to sell his/her book on line. If I post a tweet, or a facebook comment once, and don't bother again, all I've done is announce to a few possible followers that I have a product. Big deal. If they happen to know me, happen to have read my previous books and enjoyed them, then it's vaguely possible they may suddenly decide on the spur of the moment to purchase the latest one.

It's more likely they'll pay no attention at all. In a digital sense, they'll keep driving.

However, if I post tweets at regular but not annoying intervals, and make them different, enticing, and interesting (that is, not just sales blurbs, but like real tweets or comments) then over the course of time, interest will be aroused, and the reader/follower may think: I remember that from a week or two ago. I might be interested.

They may still switch off and go to the next more interesting tweet or pretty picture. But after seeing these tweets/comments several times, couched in creative ways, they may start to say: Yes, I will look into this. They may click on the link, investigate further, check out the sample. They may even buy.

But notice what a long process this is.

This is why advertisers keep on hammering away at us on TV, in the newspapers, online. They know that the first time we won't pay any attention. We might like the ad, if it's clever, but as for the product, we may find we have no use for it, or it doesn't appeal just at that point. But over successive weeks, months and so on, the product starts to click in our memories, and we slowly change our view. We may resist forever - some ads make me resist, though obviously the advertisers don't realise that. Equally, we may finally think: now's the time.

Perseverance, creativity, continual exposure. All keys to telling the world that we authors have got something they'd like to read. Just this week, a person who has their own online app and with whom I've had a lot of contact via email about what he's selling, suddenly announced he'd bought my book. I think the only way he'd have known about it is because it's on the bottom of my emails. And has been for months.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Kristen Lamb on breaking rules to be creative

This is a guest post borrowed from Kristen Lamb. You can find her blog on the link at the end of this excerpt.

Kristen says “For the past several years, I’ve always begun the New Year with predictions of what the publishing industry would or wouldn’t do in the year to come. But this year? I’m being a rule-breaker and taking a different perspective—one I believe has greater impact and longevity. Algorithms rise and fizzle, publishers go out of business, change paths, or change rules. Heck, Amazon changes its mind more than my mother trying to pick a restaurant. So…eh. Not going there this year.Unlike the days of early artists, we live in a light-speed society where something can fall flat or catch fire in an instant. This is an exciting time to be a writer.

We are in a New Age of the Artisan. When I give advice to young people about a future career, I simply want them to ask these simple questions. Can what I do be outsourced to a low-wage worker in another country? Can it be broken down into a procedure/manual and reproduced? Can it be done by a computer? Can I do/produce something consumers WANT that ONLY I can do, and do it really well?

I believe the future belongs to the artists and the rebels.


Breaking rules. We all want to do it and, to be blunt, we should. I’ve dedicated most of the craft posts on this blog to teaching fundamentals, why they are important. If we don’t understand the rules, then we aren’t taking our profession seriously.

We can be Rebels with a Cause or Rebels Without a Clue ;) .

First, to be a really GOOD rebel, it helps to study successful rebellions of the past. This is all highly redacted because this is a BLOG, but I hope it will educate and inspire you…”

[Read the rest of the article here – it’s well worth a look to inform and inspire your writing for the coming year. Ed.]

Happy New Year and good luck with your writing for 2015. Let's see if we can top last year's total!