Sunday, July 15, 2012

10 Tools for Writers



#1 Something to Write With

For years, I used laptops of various sizes. As I aged, I realized that my eyes needed an extra-large screen. And so I switched from laptops to an Apple desktop with a 26 inch screen...I agonized over this purchase for a long time because it was an expensive investment. But, after I crashed three PC's in one year before I switched to this computer two years ago...it was well worth it.


#2 Something to Write On

This summer it was so hot in my office, that I moved my bedroom and writing space downstairs to the walk-out basement where it was at least ten degrees cooler. I bought this 'desk' at our local thrift store for $35 on their 30%-off sale day. Of course, I now love it more than the $200 desk in my office, that I bought at Habitat for Humanity, our other thrift store in town. (I'm big on thrift stores).

Which is simply to prove, that you don't need fancy office furniture, just a good sturdy table.



#3 Space to Write

When I moved into our walk-out basement for the summer, I positioned my table and chair and computer in a space that would afford me a nice view of the mountains from the windows in front of me. 

However, this space is exactly 5 X 6 feet, wedged between a post on the right and a wall on the left. And I love it just as much as my office upstairs. Because this is our basement, it doesn't get a lot of traffic, so I have the solitude that I need to write. The point is, you don't need an 'office', but you do need quiet. And a space to call your own. 


#4 Expand Your Horizons

Read. Read. Read. I am a huge fan of our local library. I go there at least once a week to check out books. I read fiction across genres, so that I can learn from other authors. I also read non-fiction, particularly books on marketing, because as an indie-author, I'm in charge of everything!



#5 Grounding

The two things I could not live without are my Bible and my journals. I need to read the Bible for inspiration and encouragement.  This year I am working my way through the Daily Walk Bible.

I write in my journal to have a place to flesh out new goals, express my deepest feelings, and vent. I am a huge fan of Morning Pages (Julia Cameron's idea of writing three pages freehand first thing in the morning).






#6 Building Your Community

Whether you choose Facebook or Twitter or Google+ or any other social platform,  you need to reach out to other authors and readers to develop a community of support, marketing, and social outlet. 

Through these online resources I have met and learned from several other authors and experts in how to reach new readers. Best of all, for new authors, is that many of these resources, in the form of newsletters, are absolutely free.



#7 Inspiration

Reading is a great way to find inspiration. Yet, I have not found a comparable outlet to enjoying the beauty of nature. Whether you live in the city, suburbs, or in the woods, try to find time each week to get out and find visual beauty and inspiration outside your usual 'office' environment. This will do wonders to give your mind a fresh perspective and will help you to see your story from a new angle.




# 8 Exercise

Find something that will get you outside or into a gym and away from sitting at your desk all day. Yes, you need to work consistently at your writing. But for the sake of your health and your wellbeing, you need physical exercise to keep not only your body in shape, but also, your mind. For me, that means taking the dogs to our local off-leash dog park for a mile or two walk.



http://www.wmich.edu/registrar/calendars/

#9 Consistency

The absolutely best way to improve as a writer (going hand in hand with read. read. read.) is to write. write. write. I will wager that rather than twenty pages in one day, once a month.....one page a day for twenty consecutive days will lead to greater growth as a writer. Think of a toddler learning to walk...they master the mechanics through repetition. The same goes for writing or any other art form.

If you want to write your novel, don't wait for Nanowrimo to crank out 50,000 words in a month. Make time to write starting now, even if it's just a page a day.





#10 Encouragement

Find your group of friends or family who will encourage and inspire you to keep moving forward each day. Writing and publishing is sometimes made up of such small incremental steps that it's hard to measure your progress. That's when you need friends and family who will pay you on the back and let you know that you're on your way.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

How to Create a Book Trailer







When I decided that I wanted to create a book trailer for the re-launch of Mrs. Tuesday's Departure, I began with a google search of 'how to' articles. They were wonderfully informative and led me to finding the music and video footage that I imagined would provide a compelling visual story to describe my novel.

All I needed to do was upload it into imovies. Right?

Turns out, the only thing I've ever been able to get into imovies is a video of my brother John singing 'Happy Birthday' to me during a snow storm in March. Three. years. ago.

Luckily, I quickly remembered that my friend Mariellen Romer had recently left a prominent career in business to pursue her passion for film making. While I had no illusions that my little project would provide an adequate challenge, I wanted to ask if I could hire her to create the book trailer.

She quickly (and amazingly) agreed. Then just as quickly introduced me to her partner, Ed Shoemaker. Together they comprise: Three Moon Bay, with the very appropriate slogan: Telling Stories Through Film.

After one phone call and many, many, many emails, they took my sketchy description and came up with the evocative and hauntingly beautiful book trailer you see above.

What I want to accomplish in my own 'How to...' post is to let Mariellen and Ed tell you, in their own words, how work with a filmmaker to create your own book trailer...how to get your vision across, while letting the filmmaker use their talents to create the best final product.

 Here's our conversation....

Q: When I came to you with my need for a book trailer for my novel, I'd already picked out my music and some newsreel footage that I wanted to use. Is that usual or helpful for a client to have that much of a formed vision for their video? Or do you want more creative latitude to choose the music and images yourself?
  
E: I think that it is very helpful to have a client that has a vision of what they would like to see. I think that it is far more difficult to work with someone who has no vision.

There were lots creative decisions that we made using the content that you provided us so I don't feel that we lacked any latitude when creating your book trailer. For example, in the footage you provided us there was the image of a very young child in a stroller being rolled along that in some respects looked very much like the footage we did incorporate of people fleeing with their children. One of the reasons I did not include that particular footage because the image was for me, just too powerful. It was emotionally overwhelming and I think it would have been a distraction in telling the story ofyour book. Maybe it's because I am a dad but this image will haunt me forever…

There were certainly other things that I would have liked to do. I really would have enjoyed doing an interview with you so that people could understand what motivates you to write and what compelled you to write this particular story. These, to me, are incredibly interesting questions…
M: We find that clients with a vision who are committed to a result  - a response of some sort in the viewer – are more helpful to work with than one with no ideas at all. But there’s plenty of latitude for creativity even where someone has already identified images or music. Clients who are willing to collaborate closely but are also open to alternative possibilities is our ideal. You certainly fit that bill, Suzanne.  


  
Q: One of the most astonishing aspects of working with you both is that the finished product is exactly what I'd envisioned without me ever expressing it directly to either of you. I guess another way of asking is: how do you create a video for a book that you've never read? How do you come up with the theme or concept for the video?

E: In creating this book trailer for you, you came to us with some fairly compelling content. That content along with the information that you did provide us about your book really informed us on how we might proceed. We also, with your help, did some research to determine what others had done in the book trailer space and started from there.

It was an interesting challenge in that I wanted the viewer to follow the story about your book on the right hand side of the screen without paying too close attention to the compelling visuals on the left side of the screen that were helping to tell the story.

If people haven't seen the book trailer yet there are a number of places that you can see it: http://vimeo.com/36143035 and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lVGVxjllFho

 M: Stories also carry universal themes that audiences tap into subconsciously – escaping from danger, the death of a close family member, hope against despair, the fear of going mad or the heartbreak of impossible choices. We used the content to tap into those themes and draw the audience into the experience.  

Q: Can you give us a peek into the video making process?

E: Creating this book trailer was little unusual in that we didn’t actually go out and film anything! It was a little unusual too in that we were working from material that had already been pretty tightly edited challenging us to get the "perfect" shots out of the material so we could tell the story of your book. But if we were to break the film making process down into the steps that we generally take it would be something like:

·        We try to discover the story that our client wants to tell
·        We try and film and photograph people, places and things that are germane and help tell that story
·        We gather and create elements, like music and graphics, that support the story and the film
·        We edit all of those pieces together
·        We try and test what we have produced as we go along to gauge peoples reaction and make sure what we have done is having the desired response
·        We refine what we have done until it works

Q: When we worked on the book trailer for Mrs. Tuesday's Departure, Mariellen was in England, I was in Colorado, and Ed was in Washington. All of our communication was via email, and yet it all worked. How do you two manage to work across continents?

E: The magic of the internet is how we span the distance! We use e-mail to communicate but we also use web based video conferencing (Windows Live Messenger in our case), VoIP for low cost phone calls (Vonage) and sites like Vimeo to share the film as it went from rough concept to finished product. As for the time zone difference, we just don't get all of the sleep that we should!

Q: If an author wants to engage you to create a book trailer video, how much time do you need to create video from first contact to finished product? 

E:  I hate to say this but, it depends. Things like access to content and other projects we have in the pipeline influence how long it might take to produce a book trailer. But if you want to know what our experience might suggest I would say between one and four weeks, depending

With all that being said for us it's still more about, did I get the story right, when someone watches something we've produced, than how much time did it take to produce it. It may take a little time to get it right.

Q: Now please tell us a little about yourselves....how did you come to video/film making? And what do you enjoy most or least about working with new clients?

E: I think that you can sum up, "how did you come to film making", by saying that it is about the passion for storytelling. Our tools and canvas may be a little different than say, a sculpture's tools, but I think that the same things drive us to do what we do.

I think that we enjoy working with new people because it's a new story for us to discover and tell…

 M: We enjoy working with new people because it's a new story for us to discover and tell. On the other hand, with longer term clients we find we can develop some of their stories in new ways as we get to know them more, which is also great fun. As they get more comfortable they are often willing to try new things which keeps things fresh for everyone.    




Q: And finally, if an author is interested in working with you, how can they get in touch with you?

E: The quickest way is to get in touch with us is to send us an e-mail at edward@threemoonbay.com or mariellen@threemoonbay.com. And if people would like to see some of our other work they can go to: http://vimeo.com/threemoonbay/videos


There  you go......if you need a reference from an author who has worked with Mariellen and Ed, email me. I highly recommend these two. They were a pleasure to work with, they're incredible perfectionists, wonderfully patient, and always insightful and creative. In the end, they created a mini-film that perfectly captures my vision of Mrs. Tuesday's Departure and which I hope will capture future readers' imaginations. What could be better than that?

Monday, February 13, 2012

How to Re-Launch Your Novel


How to Re-Launch Your Novel




I first published Mrs. Tuesday's Departure as an ebook on Amazon's Kindle a little over a year ago. It went well. But as the year went on, I felt that the book was not as good as it could have been. Which inspired me to take advantage of an ebook's fluidity, to make some changes and plan it re-launch.

This post will give you an overview of the myriad events involved in this process. Later I'll delve into some of these areas in greater depth to provide you with more information, so you may be inspired.

Changing the Story...

Mrs. Tuesday's Departure, in its original form, was quite a bit different from the book I published in some important ways: 

First it was written in the First Person Point of View, which gave it a much more intimate feel, which as it turns out, was the right POV for a story about a family experiencing the most terrifying moments of war.

Second, it was actually set in Budapest, Hungary during World War Two, not in the fictional other-world it was thinly disguised as.

And finally, it had a spiritual element that explored a particular element of religious faith that has always perplexed me....the challenge of believing in something we cannot see.

With that in mind, a few months ago, I resurrected the original manuscript and set to work dusting it off and making a few changes, hopefully clearing up things that in reviews of the first Mrs. Tuesday release had caused consternation for some readers.


Changing the Cover...

Then I decided to re-design the cover of the book. And with your help I finally decided on the cover you see at the top of this post. By the way, thank you for your invaluable input. It really did make a difference.

To create this cover I used the 'Cover Creator' on CreateSpace.com, which was part of the process of creating the new paperback version of Mrs. Tuesday which will also be launching in the next week or so....more on that later. 


Formatting the Different Book Files...

I wanted to make sure my ebook read like a professionally produced book, and not something I tossed online from a Word file (which is pretty much what my first book looked like). So I hired Lani Rich Davis from Storywonk.com to handle the formatting of the different file formats for Kindle, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords, as well as the paperback version for CreateSpace.

Lani and I had a wonderful time and quickly developed a terrific working relationship, made possible by her incredible patience when I went through my book cover melt down, which lasted about two weeks.

And the beautiful interior that she created for the paperback version of Mrs. Tuesday is truly special.

We'll discuss why it's important to work with a formatter, or how you can tackle this project yourself in an upcoming post.


Creating a Book Trailer....

Then I began to think about marketing the new book and decided that what I'd really love is to have a book trailer that would provide a quick visual story of the new Mrs. Tuesday.

I read a few posts online and was inspired to try it myself. I got as far as finding music and video images. And then stopped when I realized that I had no idea of how to operate 'imovie' and even less desire to learn how.

Then I remembered that my friend Mariellen, had recently embarked upon a new career in video and film making. I contacted her to find out if she would have an interest in creating a book trailer. 

Thankfully she said yes....and I was able to work with her and Ed, her partner atThreeMoonBay.com to create the video you see below. 

I highly recommend Mariellen and Ed, for their incredible attention to detail, their desire to exceed the goals of their clients, and in my case, for their infinite patience in working with a client who stares off into space and then asks, 'but,what if?' about one hundred times.

The good news is that they are wonderfully patient and produce beautiful work. Check out their website for more videos and stay tuned for another post, in the coming week, about their process of working with clients.

In the meantime, enjoy the video...and if you haven't read the book, please download a copy or order a paperback from Createspace.






This is just the beginning.....stay tuned!





Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Lessons in Procrastination for Writers


photo credit: National Geographic News


I'd planned to post a recipe today and later in the week do a book review, but then I finally got around to starting something I've only avoided for the past two months and decided to share a bit of that instead.

This morning after all sorts of nonsensical preparation I finally started editing my second novel, A MAP OF HEAVEN. 

I want to savor that announcement for a moment, so let's review the nonsensical preparation for a moment before discussing the work. 

First I couldn't begin until I got settled in the new house, which would surely included unpacking all my boxes of books and the multiple versions that this novel has taken over the past fifteen years. 

Actually, I didn't even intend to work on this novel. Last winter, I'd thought of writing something along the lines of the many historical romance novels I've been reading. But unpacking all those earlier versions of MAP and then a chance conversation with a former student on Facebook during which he asked me about MAP, made the decision for me.

That conversation was in February.

Because... I decided that before I began editing I should get myself back into the habit of writing by embarking upon my Forty Days of Writing During Lent experiment, which I wrote about in the 15 Minute Challenge post.

Then I decided that I really couldn't begin until I sorted through my previous drafts of MAP and decided which one to work with during the revision process...only to discover that I only had one version on my hard drive, which coincidently didn't match any of the versions I had in print. Which needless to say required me to take that version to the local copy shop to be printed out and spiral bound so that I could refer to it and the other versions on equal footing.

That was last week. You'd assume that I'd run out of excuses and would now get down to work. You'd assume wrong.

No. No. 

I surely needed to practice writing in my journal for another week. Then I must take the weekend off to read all those books I'd checked out of the library and which would be due sometime in May. After all, I'd checked out three different translations of Tolstoy's War and Peace and really needed to decide which translation I favored. (Truly, I did spend an entire evening on this particular chase down the rabbit hole.)

And then finally. Finally. This morning I sat down at my computer and began. I opened the file. I typed the Table of Contents. I typed the Prologue. And I am on my way. The two versions I'm working with, along with the revisions I will make, will put the book at around 80,000 to 90,000 words and I hope to be done in two months. Let's say the end of June? 

But here's the delicious irony. As I sat working this morning I realized that I was the happiest I'd been in months and that when they tell you to do what you love....this is it. 







Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Joy of Editing - Again




Lately I've been revising what will be my second novel, A MAP OF HEAVEN. This novel has rich significance to me because it is the first novel I wrote after my father passed away eleven years ago and because, to this day, it remains my favorite novel. It's also a book that I've revised and sent out several times over the years, always to no avail.

Last month, when I unpacked one of the many bound versions I had packed away in storage, I hadn't looked at the manuscript in over five years. In fact, because I've gone through so many computers in that time, I found out that I didn't even have a complete version of my longest draft of the novel on my hard drive.

This means that my revision process has entailed working from one version I have on my hard drive, while referring to a printed version that is twice as long, trying to figure out what has been left out and needs to be added back in from one page to the next. Oh and I've decided to change the POV from first person to third. Don't try this during cocktail hour.

Yet, as I work through the manuscript page by page, I come across sentences and images that I know so well that I find myself smiling as I type the words. I love them.

There are moments when I wonder why I am so obsessed with working on this novel yet again, when I have already failed so many times to get it right. Ultimately, the answer is that the subject matter is incredibly important to me. Interestingly, I can see in my mind's eye the book as it should be, what I want it to be. My greatest desire is find a way to bring that image to reality.

Last week I picked up the May issue of More magazine and read an article by Kathryn Stockett on how she spent eight years editing THE HELP, along the way enduring sixty rejections, before it was finally accepted and published. I understand Ms. Stockett's passion for her story, because I've come to realize that it is the same love I feel for MAP.

Embracing that epiphany makes this latest and hopefully final revision a joyful journey. I'd even wager that it will be just as joyful even if it isn't.

Do you have a writing project that you just can't get out of your mind?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Using Digital Photos to Create an Ebook Cover




This afternoon I decided that I wanted to try out a new cover for my novel, Mrs. Tuesday's Departure. I've actually been toying with this idea for quite some time because I'm one of those readers who really does judge a book by its cover and have had a long love affair with beautiful or compelling cover art. 




As lovely as this original cover is/was, I felt that it had a few flaws. One aspect of the shortcomings are simply due to the constraints of publishing as an ebook, where the picture of the cover is limited in size and by the graphic arts capabilities of yours truly. With my original cover, I loved the art work but felt that it might have been too dark given the small size and complexity of the picture. Then there was font that I used for the title and author's name...as pretty as they are, they are also difficult to read in the size presented on Amazon's website.

And of course, there's simply the fact that I love to tinker.





To start, I wanted to find new cover art. I considered using royalty free stock art and visited a few sites. Since I didn't find anything that immediately drew my interest, I began looking through my own digital photos. Which is when I came across this picture I took last winter.

The picture of the bird in winter ties in nicely with a compelling scene in the book and as a bit of esoterica, I will share that the original title of the book, during its first draft, was The Bird Feeder.




Once I'd chosen the photo, I went to my favorite site for fooling around with photos: www.fotoflexer.com and started working. I cropped the photo, sharpened the focus, and then added the title and author's name.




Then, thinking again of size, I made another version of the same cover increasing the size of the title and changing the color. I then uploaded the new cover to my book's page, replacing the original cover.

What is of greatest interest is whether the change of cover will have any impact on sales of the book. While the new cover may not be as 'pretty' as the original, I wonder if the larger photo subject and fonts will make it more compelling to browsers.

Of course, I changed my mind again and went back to a variation of the original...but that will be the subject of another post. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Why I Chose to Self-Publish




This week my novel MRS. TUESDAY'S DEPARTURE will be published on Amazon.com as a Kindle book and on Barnes and Noble.com's Pubit ebook platform.

So to celebrate the launch, over the course of this week I will share with you why I made the decision to self-publish, the mechanics of doing it, and why this option might work for you too.

Why did I decide to self-publish?

Actually there was a perfect storm of several inputs, consisting of people I admire and my perception of industry trends, that provided the impetus to self-publish. Allow me to share them with you:


  • A couple months ago, my friend Larramie, who features up and coming authors at her blog, The Divining Wand, interviewed another of my blogging friends, Keetha whose blog I have followed for over a year. Keetha has written two delightful books on Southern cooking and Southern life called: Culinary Kudzu and More Culinary Kudzu. While I knew that Keetha had written these books, it wasn't until I read Larramie's interview with Keetha that I realized that she had self-published both books. I was so impressed that I immediately went to Amazon and ordered both books for my sister-in-law, Kathy, who loves all things Southern. But even more than the books themselves, I was impressed with Keetha's courage and creativity to self-publish both books.

  • Last month, Larramie featured an interview with Karen McQuestion, who self-published A Scattered Life as a Kindle book through Amazon. Karen has made headlines when A Scattered Life was optioned for a film and then picked up by Amazon's Encore publishing arm and brought out in trade paperback. Once again, I was very impressed with Karen's courage to put her work out there. After reading Larramie's very informative interview, I wanted to learn more about self-publishing.

  • Which led me to J.A. Konrath's blog: A Newbie's Guide to Publishing. JA Konrath's blog is, in my opinion, the singular best source for self-publishing authors. Mr. Konrath not only knows the ins and outs of ebook publishing, he's published several of his own books on these platforms, made money, and shared his views and tools. He is probably one of the most knowledgeable, generous bloggers on the 'net in this regard.

  • And finally, there was simply my interest in the growth of Kindle, the growth in self-publishing via ebooks, and the impact of both on the publishing industry. JA Konrath has written a very compelling article on how Amazon's agressive royalty structure and flexible pricing structure influenced his decision to publish on the Kindle platform.
All of these events and my own interest in anything entrepreneurial compelled me to dip my toe into the water and see what happens. I believe the most empowering aspect of publishing via these platforms is that it allows writers to get their books directly into the hands of readers, and then the market will decide what happens from there. 

I've already learned a great deal about editing, formatting, designing a book cover. All of which I will share with you over the next several blog posts. I'm looking forward to learning about marketing my book (your suggestions are welcome!) and I'll share what I learn here as well. 

So there you have it! Another excellent adventure is launched.