July 23, 2014

Edit hell



When I wrote for traditional publishers, I had deadlines in order to comply with their production schedules. As an indie author, I try to do the same thing, although I do relax it a little...let's face it, the sky isn't going to fall if I don't have it done by X date when I'm my own publisher, but trying to adhere with a schedule helps keep me on track.

After I finish the basics of the story, I print it out and the "fun" starts (yes, I'm being sarcastic). By "fun," I mean doing pre-editor self-edits, which is more than just searching for typos. It's revising and polishing the story, which includes:

  • Eliminating any conflicting information, you know, when the heroine first has short hair and then long or when the hero first drives an SUV and later has a motorcycle.
  • Adding in physical characteristics of the major characters so the readers can visualize them as they read.
  • Making sure the story flows smoothly.
  • Looking for any unexplained or out-of-character actions on the part of my characters. Readers should have a good understanding of what the characters' motivations are.
  • Inserting a sense of setting.  For sections beginning with a conversation, readers have to know where it's taking place...on the phone, at someone's house, at a restaurant, in a car, etc.
  • Making sure character movements are smooth and natural. Ever read a book where the character is in one room and then mysteriously changes location to another room, in the same scene?  I find myself still thinking about a scene I just edited, which was particularly tricky. The heroine wasn't fond of the hero, whom she regarded as insensitive because of the way they butted heads at their first two encounters (other than an annoying, continuous observation of how handsome he is) and then he does her a huge favor, at which time she started looking at him through new eyes. To thank him, she invites him to join her and her son for dinner at their home (because the hero is a police detective, she feels confident he's not a serial killer). It occurred to me that I didn't include enough about his appearance. As a detective, he would be wearing a suit and tie. I had him removing his coat while the heroine excuses herself to change clothes, but what about his suit jacket? What about the holster he undoubtedly carries? I'll be going back and showing him removing both when he offers to assist the heroine with food preparation, and while I'm at it I'll have him loosen his tie and unbutton his collar, because those are both natural actions for a man to take.
  • Inserting all five senses. There's more to telling a story than visualizing it. Sounds, smells, textures, and tastes make the story come alive and should be mentioned.
  • Eliminate the nonsensical. I usually do this when I'm outlining the story (you can't have a secret baby story set in a small town where no one suspects, even the baby daddy's own mother), but sometimes thing slip through that need complete rewriting.
  • Timelines. I feel cheated whenever I read a book in which a timeline error renders the entire story impossible, or leads me down the wrong path if it's a mystery or suspense. I recently finished a novel in which friends of the heroine who are a few years her senior were in eighth grade in 2004. There's no way she, two or three years younger, could possibly be 29 years old in 2014, or that her friends could be in their early 30s in 2014. Remarkably, I seem to be the only one out of hundreds of reviewers who noticed this. 
  • Filling in the information I glossed over with a note to myself (which usually requires research I didn't want to stop writing to do).
  • Word repetition. It's amazing how many times I can use a single word within the same sentence.
  • Making sure loose ends are tied. All questions should be answered by the end of the book.

I call these "ruthless red pen edits," because I use a red pen to mark the manuscript and also add extra pages when necessary (I'm cheap, so I print on both sides of the paper, and since I format for eBook rather than traditional manuscript style, there's not a lot of extra space on the page). When I do all this, I guarantee that I'm submitting my best work to my editor, which in turn makes her job easier (and her fee less, since many editors charge based on the amount of work a manuscript needs)...but it's tedious work and often slow going. Nor will the manuscript be in perfect shape; my editor will still find plenty of things that need fixing (albeit small items like using the wrong character name--a particular weakness of mine that I can never seem to catch every time--or the wrong word or repairing my punctuation, not major plot holes). This is not being obsessive; these are the necessary steps to produce a book. Writing isn't always fun.

What do you do when you finish a manuscript? Do you do self-edits, do a quick read-through, or just submit it directly to your editor?
July 22, 2014

Kindle Unlimited:  One Writer's Take

The writing world was thrown into an uproar last week with the announcement by Amazon of a new eBook subscription service called Kindle Unlimited. Social media lit up with thoughts from worried writers and both readers and writers asking each other, "Do you plan to enroll?"

Subscription plans are nothing new.  Think Book-of-the-Month club or the about-to-be-dismantled Black Expressions (African-American titles in special hardcover editions will now be available strictly through its parent company, the Doubleday Book Club, where it first began).  The same things existed for music, dating back to the days of the LP.  The big difference is that Kindle Unlimited, for a monthly membership fee of $9.99, allows its members to borrow (it is my understanding that books will be returned after reading rather than remain on members' Kindles--which I've heard are the only devices accepted on this plan; no apps allowed) an unlimited number of books, hence its name.

There are two catches for authors that I see immediately.  One, their book has to be enrolled in KDP Select, requiring it be sold only on Amazon and nowhere else. Indie authors with huge followings are given the option of enrolling in Kindle Unlimited without being on Select, obviously because of name value. Let's face it, no one back in the day would want tickets to a Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes concert if Teddy Pendergrass wasn't going to be performing with them, and the same concept holds true today. Amazon needs big names to draw in readers. 

The other catch for indie authors is that they only get paid when/if 10% of their book is read. The amount paid to indies per borrow is the same as the amount received for books borrowed through the Prime plan (a discount plan on all types of merchandise Amazon sells, which includes the ability to borrow one book per month), which is currently in the $2 range. The effect of this new plan on the KDP Select Global Plan remains to be determined. Amazon has added an additional $800,000 to the fund, but if the plan catches on big, the possibility exists that the author's share of the pie can be significantly reduced unless Amazon substantially increases the funding.

I've heard it said (I haven't been able to substantiate this, but I feel I can trust Hugh Howey) that the payments differ for books published by traditional publishers, with each borrow being paid at the full 70% royalty, as if it had been purchased (I'm unsure whether or not there is a reader obligation to complete a portion of the book for the writer to be compensated). This strikes me as a back-of-the-bus type of attitude that frankly makes me uncomfortable. (In the interest of full disclosure, I see that three of my traditionally published titles are enrolled.)   

I recently had one of my eBooks (Isn't She Lovely?) enrolled in Select to run a Countdown deal celebrating five years as an indie author. Unfortunately, I forgot to un-check the box to prevent automatic re-enrollment at the end of 90 days, and it rolled over for another 90-day term. I have since learned that Amazon is offering writers the option of removing their book(s) from Kindle Select, effective "right away." I don't know a) if this works, or b) if it is as quick as they claim, but I did submit a request form. Amazon simply asks writers to include the book's ASIN with your request. (Update: It took about 15 hours for this book to be removed. Once I confirmed its removal I added a lower-priced book, A Love of Her Own, to the program. That went into effect in just about 1 hour, so I presume there's somewhat of a backlog for removals.)

This action on my part might give you the impression that I'm against Kindle Unlimited, but that's not true. I just don't happen to feel that Isn't She Lovely? is the right title for the program. At over 100k words, it's (reasonably, in my opinion) priced at $4.99. I would be taking a loss on borrows that pay about $2.  It makes more sense to me to enroll a book priced in the $2.99 range (or even less than that, since I don't believe Amazon has minimum word counts for participation, meaning that a 99-cent, 50-page tome can be enrolled and possibly earn the author double the cover price per borrow).

Everyone's experience as an author is different...some sell well on Amazon but not in other places, others sell well at Amazon and at other retailers as well, while still others sell better at Barnes & Noble than at other retailers. Because of this, everyone's experience with Kindle Unlimited will be different. There is no right or wrong; there is only what is right for you as an individual author.

That said, I've also noticed that these newfangled ideas regarding publishing have bred many a success story for those who get rolling with it right away...people whose careers got jump-started by enrolling books in Kindle Select upon its introduction...people who advertised on Bookbub in its early days who made five figures from a single ad...people who sold one of their books at 99 cents and made tons of money on their other titles before Amazon changed their algorithms. I'm not much for jumping on bandwagons, but nor do I see a need for prolonged hesitation. I feel that if it's not a lengthy commitment (each Select enrollment lasts for 90 days) and it isn't something illegal or underhanded, what can it hurt by giving it a try, preferably while other authors are sitting on the fence (or waiting for indie publishing guru Joe Konrath to weigh in)?

I've seen many authors objecting to taking their "books" (plural) off the cybershelves of other retailers to give Amazon exclusivity, but this is not an all-or-nothing deal. To date I have indie published 12 full-length novels and two short prequels, and I don't see the harm in taking one of those full-length novels and enrolling it in Select, and therefore in Unlimited, and leaving the others where they are. Yes, there are still unanswered questions, among the most pressing being what will happen to the program after all those 30-day trial periods people are currently signing up for expire...will it thrive, or will people decide not to continue past the trial; and also how this will work out financially for indie authors. The way I see it, the sooner I get in, the sooner I can get out if I decide it's not working for me.

That's my opinion. I'd love to hear yours!
July 18, 2014

Speaking of movies...

Yesterday I talked about the Forgotten First Wife Syndrome, using The Godfather as an example.  This morning, I caught the tail end of the Al Pacino remake of Scarface, and while my first thought was that it was a pure high keeping him standing during that hail of bullets, it occurred to me...shouldn't he have bled to death, considering how many bullets actually struck him?



Shutting down my writer's mind for a minute, I also saw a commercial for the new James Brown biopic.  Chadwick Boseman nails James, right down to his speech pattern.  Also in the cast are both Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer.  August 1st, y'all!

Anybody else planning on seeing this one in the theaters?
July 17, 2014

Forgotten First Wife Syndrome

As many of you know, I love movies, especially old ones.  The first two movies in The Godfather trilogy are pretty close to perfection, in my opinion.  The Godfather Part III wasn't a bad movie, but to me and many others, it's not anywhere near the almost flawless first two, although I still find the final scene (the death of Michael Corleone) haunting.

Last week I watched a documentary about the making of the three films in the series, and as always, I'm blown away by the subtly masterful reactions of Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen, and of Al Pacino's metamorphosis from personable World War II hero to the ruthless, trust-no-one head of the criminal organization founded by his father (played, of course, by Marlon Brando).

Sure, there are a few continuity errors in part I (Vito asking Michael if he was happy with his "wife and children," when they only have a son; Tom warning Sonny that "All the Five Families will come after you" when the Corleones are supposed to be one of those Five, and that is definitely not the George Washington Bridge they are crossing when Michael asks Sollozzo if they are going to New Jersey); and part II (Kay slides out of bed on her own in the scene where her and Michael's bedroom is shot up, but by the time Michael reaches her she's back up in bed and he pulls her down to safety; Tessio's declaration that "30,000 men enlisted this morning" when most of the country wouldn't have learned of the morning attack in Hawaii until the afternoon, due to Honolulu time being 3 and 6 hours behind the East and West Coasts (plus recruiting centers had to be manned and opened on a Sunday), but there was one glaring error.  Hint:  It's mentioned in the title of this post.

The murder of Michael's Sicilian wife, Apollonia, in a car bomb meant for Michael, was never avenged, at least not in the theatrical release.  Anyone who saw the combination of the first two Godfather movies, marketed under the subtitle A Complete Novel for Television, will probably remember a scene inserted during Anthony Corleone's splashy first communion celebration (during which Michael took meetings) in which he was given a photograph of Fabrizio, his former bodyguard who betrayed him to one of the rival crime families.  It was intimated that Michael had been searching for Fabrizio for years before finally finding him in Buffalo, of all places (no wonder it took so long to find him; they were probably searching the Sunbelt).  In the next scene Fabrizio is shown locking up his pizza parlor and getting into his car, which blows up the moment it starts.  

At 3 hours 20 minutes, The Godfather Part II ran about 30 minutes longer than the first movie, and this was one of the scenes cut before theatrical release, but unlike some of the other cut scenes (like Michael giving his blessing to his late brother Sonny's daughter and her fiancĂ©), I believe this scene was necessary.  Eliminating it put a hole in the story, but I'm not surprised that the producers decided to cut it.

In movies, and in books as well, deceased first wives (and husbands) are usually forgotten. In The Godfather, Michael's first marriage occurred after he had to leave the country without any word to Kay, his first, "true" love, with whom he later reunites and marries, with the dead wife relegated to a distant memory who isn't seen or mentioned again until Michael's life flashes before him as he dies in The Godfather Part III. That bomb turning Apollonia into a rag doll is all the more horrible because she was in the first trimester of pregnancy (a detail only mentioned in the book, not in the movie), yet it appears that Michael never even told Kay, his original love who he later married, about her. Yes, by the time Michael and Kay married, Michael was well on his way to shutting himself off, so there were quite a few things Kay didn't know, but shucks, a first wife is a pretty important detail. The feeling I got was that Michael wasn't just looking for some booty but genuinely loved Apollonia. Had she lived, Kay would have either married someone else or become a spinster. But Apollonia didn't live, and the producers most likely figured it wasn't important that anyone be made accountable for her murder, even when payback was sought for every other family victim, whether they survived or not.

This type of thing drives me nuts, as does its reverse, also often-used subplot in movies and books: The second spouse who is conveniently killed off (sometimes even sacrificing themselves or after saving the lives of the spouse and stepkids) so the formerly married husband and wife can rekindle their love for each other...which they usually do while the body is still at room temperature.

Do you have an opinion about this type of storytelling? Does it bother you, or have you not noticed it?
June 26, 2014

Celebrating 5 Years of Indie Publishing

Happy Anniversary to Me! (No, not that anniversary...I was one of the crazy people who got married in December (although at least it was in Florida). 

On June 26, 2009, amid all the media coverage about the sudden death of Michael Jackson the day before, I published my first indie book, Save The Best For Last. I was taking a giant leap of faith and didn't half know what I was doing, but I did know that I had written a good story that deserved to be read (despite my hero having no money and the sex coming relatively late in the story), and that was good enough for me. Fortunately, most readers agreed, and the book was a success (it is now permafree on Amazon and Nook, at the latter under its original cover because Barnes & Noble has been very difficult to work with), and it's been followed by 7 more original titles and 4 backlist titles, with more to come! 



To celebrate this milestone, 1 of those original titles and 3 of the backlist are on sale for the next few days...(with a special deal on another book available only to my newsletter subscribers)...The eBooks pictured below are all just 99 cents as of right now on Amazon

 
 

I certainly don't want to leave out readers who have eReaders other than Kindles, and since as I mentioned, Barnes & Noble has been giving me grief all year, I've made most of these titles available for the 99-cent price at my eStore. This does not include Isn't She Lovely?, which is on a Kindle Countdown Deal and per the terms of that agreement cannot be sold anywhere else (the 99-cent price on this book is only effective through Friday, June 27th, after which the price will be increased in increments until it returns to its full price by July 1st).

The sale price for these three backlist titles will run only through Sunday, June 28th, so get yours today! 

Please feel free to share this announcement with your reading friends, and as always, I wish you good reading!
June 19, 2014

Thrifty Thursday Tip

That heading is actually deceptive, for there is no tip today.  I just wanted to let followers of this know that I'm assembling my best thrifty tips, plus new ones, for publication as an eBook.  

I've put a few other things ahead of my writing the first five months of this year, but I'm back at it with a vengeance.  I can't give a specific date or even a title, although I'm leaning toward It's What You Keep:  Money-Saving Tips From a (Not Quite) Starving Artist.  I hope to publish this sometime this fall.  It'll be my first nonfiction project. 

I'd love to hear your thoughts about my plan and/or my proposed title!    
June 18, 2014

Presenting Chicki Brown's latest,
Till You Come Back To Me
(Book #2 of the Stafford Brothers Series)




Chicki Brown has released the second book in her Stafford Brothers series (if you haven't read the first book, A Woman's Worth, by all means do so; it was a fabulous read!).  Here's the 411 on the latest from this gifted writer:

Where to get it:
http://amzn.to/Snj9wb (Kindle only for the first 90 days)

How to contact Chicki:
Amazon Central Author Page: http://amzn.to/l2kjXQ

About the book:
Atlanta plastic surgeon Charles Stafford is giving up his successful practice to volunteer his services in Nigeria with a medical organization. Even though he’s excited about this major career move, he has no idea how much his life is about to change.

Nurse Adanna Okoro is one of the six medical professionals working at a small village hospital thirty minutes outside of Lagos, Nigeria. She loves her job and is devoted to the people she serves. When the hospital is notified that it has been chosen to host a team of foreign doctors, Adanna meets the man she has always dreamed of.   

Excerpt:

Manny returned from the dance floor and eased into the empty seat beside her. “Can I get you another beer?” he asked, nonchalantly sliding his arm across the back of her chair.
“Yes, please. Thanks,” she said, hoping her acceptance wouldn’t encourage his interest in her. Femi swore Manny had a secret crush on her, but Adanna didn’t put too much stock in her claim. He always told her she needed to be married and start a family rather than working long hours, but he had never asked her out. She assumed he had come to the realization that he just wasn’t her type. Manny worked in a bank in Lagos, which was a decent job, but he never talked about what he wanted in the future. He seemed quite content with his current position, and that was fine for him but not for her. And he knew it.
He signaled the bartender and pointed to the empty beer bottles on their table. “Femi told me things are getting ready to step up at your hospital. What does that mean for you?” Manny took the cold beers from the bartender when he approached and slipped a bill into his hand.
“It means a lot more work, but it also means I will get to observe some amazing surgeries. There is a plastic surgeon on the team who will be doing reconstructive surgery on the children and perhaps a few adults, depending on the severity of their conditions.”
 “You’re very impressed with doctors, aren’t you?”
Adanna didn’t appreciate the resentful edge in his voice. “I’m impressed by what they can do with the knowledge they have, Manny. Being a doctor means nothing if you aren’t using your skills and training to alleviate suffering. These men and women have given their time and regular incomes to come here and do this work at no charge. I’d say that’s worthy of a little admiration.”
“I suppose,” he said with a dismissive wave. “You’ll be working even longer hours once they arrive, won’t you?”
“Most likely, but I don’t mind. I want to be there to help them handle as many patients as possible during their stay, but until they get here, I just want to relax and enjoy myself.” She grabbed him by both hands and pulled him up. “Come on, dance with me.”
They wriggled in among the moving bodies in the center of the room and stayed on the floor for the next three songs. Winded and thirsty, when Adanna stepped off of the shiny wooden dance floor and headed for the bar, she stopped in her tracks at the sight of her brother staring right at her.
She strode up to him with her arms folded and asked, “What are you doing here, Emeka? Are you spying on me?”
He squinted and mimicked her stance. “No, my dear sister. I am not spying on you. I just happened to stop in for a drink. It is a public place.”
Already hot and sweaty, Adanna’s temperature rose as if she were walking over hot coals. “Don’t tell me any bloody lies, Emeka! You don’t even like nightclubs. I’m sick of you skulking around to find out what I’m doing.” She shoved her hands onto her hips and jutted her chin toward him. “Your time would be better spent trying to find a wife instead of playing guardian to a grown woman.”
“I promised Dad I would watch over you, and I will keep that promise until you have a husband to look after you.” His patronizing smile only made her angrier.
“Don’t you understand that I can look after myself? I’m not helpless. I’m not stupid, and this is not 1950, Emeka.”
He took her hand. “I know you’re not stupid. I love you, and I’m going to protect you until you find a man who will.”
“Please go away.” Determined to put a stop to his interference for good, she pulled from his grasp. Adanna stormed across the room in search of Femi as if her hair was on fire. She found her friend standing at the bar talking to one of the men with whom she’d been dancing earlier.
“Excuse me,” Adanna interrupted. “May I speak to you for a minute, please?”
“What’s wrong?” She must have read her furious expression. “Pardon me,” Femi said to the man as she hooked her arm through Adanna’s. “I’ll be right back.”
Both women moved to an unoccupied table nearby. “You’ll never believe this! My brother is here spying on me.”
“Why do you think that? Maybe he just happened to drop by for a drink.”
“First of all, Emeka doesn’t do nightclubs, Femi. And when I asked him what he was doing here, he all but admitted it.” Adanna waved her arms in the air like a demented symphony conductor. “He must’ve found out from Manny or Agu that we planned to come here tonight. The nerve of him! This is crossing the line. I’m going home.”
“Breathe, girl.” Femi grabbed her by the shoulders. “You can’t leave now. It’s late, and it’s not safe to be out there alone. Why don’t you order yourself another beer and just ignore him? If it were me, I’d show him I didn’t care whether he was here watching me or not. I’d go on dancing and having a good time.”
After a few seconds, Adanna dragged in a long breath to calm herself. “You’re right. He just gets me so upset.” She took a napkin from the table and patted her brow. “I’m going to get another drink. Sorry, I disturbed your conversation.”
“No big deal. He was boring as hell.” Femi laughed. “I think I’ll look around for someone a little more interesting.” She walked away, swishing her ample hips to the beat of the music.
Adanna took Femi’s advice and stayed on the dance floor for the next hour. Even though she’d kept one eye on the crowd the entire time, she hadn’t seen Emeka again. Either he had relocated to a less conspicuous spot or he’d given up and gone home.
Actually, she had a good time once she’d decided to stay with her friends and pushed Emeka’s interference to the back of her mind. Regardless, something needed to be done about her brother.
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Till You Come Back to Me, available now! Show Chicki some love by leaving a comment below for a chance to win a complimentary copy!