Tag Archives: writing

Cover Crafting and Looking Ahead: June in Review

June Posts
1. Silent Superheroes, Grimdark Comics, and Alternate Histories: My Most Anticipated Reads
2. Author-in-Training- 5 Tips for Soothing Self Publishing Stress
3. Packing for Camp NaNoWriMo
4. Roundtable: By The Cover — Speculative Chic
5. Author-in-Training: Revising with the Pomodoro Technique
6. Author-in-Training: The Days I Don’t Write

Welcome to summer! I’ve snarkily referred to this three month stretch as the one time of year that Maine doesn’t need to worry about snow, but that’s a little unfair to our seriously abridged (and seriously gorgeous) falls and springs. The weather here has been absolutely beautiful- hot, but not unbearably so-which makes me realize why so many people from other parts of the country flock up here this time of year. As a result of this beautiful weather, summer is also a very busy time, filled with family visits (just experienced one of those) and cookouts (we’ve been invited to two this weekend alone) galore.

Between work, writing, and increased social responsibilities, I’ve been getting really protective of my video game time. This probably sounds a bit odd, but being able to unwind at the end of the day with a game has proven to be really restorative to me, even if I can only squeeze in 20 minutes before I have to start writing a blog post or something. My current game of choice is Super Mario Odyssey, and holy shit is this a fun game. It makes me feel like a kid, picking up Mario 64 for the first time. From what I can see, it’s pretty easy just to zip through the storyline, but I’m choosing to take my time to explore each world a little more. I highly doubt that I’ll collect all 999 moons, but I’ve already surpassed the 124 minimum you need to finish the game.

June has also been a good month for music with my two favorite violinists, Lindsey Stirling and Taylor Davis releasing some very appealing music videos. Lindsey’s are both originals (“Stampede,” and “First Light“) while Taylor has released a duo of covers, “Go the Distance” from Hercules and “Fake Love” by BTS. All are worth watching (hence the links). In addition, one of my long time favs, Utada Hikaru, just put out a new album, Hatsukoi, and boy is it intriguing. Some songs, like “Play a Love Song,” “Anata” and “Forevermore” grab you right away, but much like Fantome, I can tell this album is going to be more of a grower than anything else. And given that I ended up loving Fantome, I don’t think that’s too bad.

Moving onto writing! June has been focused on two things: putting the finishing touches on Red and Black, and revising its sequel. Those finishing touches involved commissioning cover art, polishing my blurb, getting everything set up on sites like amazon and goodreads, and examining proofs. I am SO HAPPY at how the cover art turned out, and plan on doing a more in depth post about the process next week. But you won’t have to wait until then to see it. Red and Black will have its very own cover reveal over at Speculative Chic this afternoon at 1PM EST! (EDIT- Here it is!)

Thinking about transitiong from making a book to selling a book has gotten me a little stressed, so I’ve been pouring much of said stress into my edits for Red and Black 2. I’ve already put about a year’s worth of work into this book, so the first third of it required pretty minimal work (smoothing out dialogue, consistency of voice, punctuation, etc), and the second third only had a couple of speed bumps that tripped me up. In July, I’ll be tackling the final third, which, being the roughest portion of the novel, is going to take me longer to work my way through. To help keep me motivated, I’ve signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo, where I’ve set myself a goal of writing for 30 hours, or roughly an hour a day. It’s a modest goal, but given I’m also going to be putting a fair amount of work into the launch of Red and Black, I feel like that’s smart. Looking ahead is good. Forgetting about the task at hand is less so. This brings me to my…

Monthly Goals
I did well on my June goals, completing or surpassing every task save for one- creating a list of blogs that I might want to use for a blog tour around launch. So it looks like I’m going to focus on that in July. My goals are as follows:

  1. Writing– Camp NaNoWriMo- Spend at least 30 hours on Red and Black 2
  2. Publishing– Contact blogs about doing a short blog tour for Red and Black (currently taking suggestions!)
  3. Publishing– Contact potential ARC reviewers and distribute eARCs
  4. Blogging– Post at least nine entries
  5. Blogging– redesign website using Red and Black cover art
  6. Blogging– Pre-write some entries for Red and Black blog tour

Looks like July is going to be a busy month! Fortunately, I have a vacation in the middle of it, which gives me more hours to work with. Yay! Only… vacations are supposed to be for relaxing, right? And given that I haven’t had one in over a year, maybe I should do some of that too. Maybe that should be my 7th goal? Relax and recharge?

After all, I need to be rejuvenated in August for the launch of Red and Black.

 

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Author-in-Training: The Days I Don’t Write (or Writing with Mirgraines)

On this blog, I’ve talked quite a bit about the benefits of daily writing, as well as writing first thing in the morning, two things that have really helped me when it comes to my own writing productivity. At the same time, I’m not perfect. Take this month, for example. With Red and Black’s release date just around the corner, I’ve been focusing my attention on steering the publication process through its final stage, as well working on the sequel. This involves working on anything publishing/blogging related before I go to bed at night, and putting in a solid hour’s worth or writing on Red and Black 2 before going to into work every morning. And that’s worked out well, except for a couple days when I just could not find the time to write.

The first time was deadline related. I write a monthly column over at Speculative Chic, and this month, I found myself falling behind schedule. As someone who’s been blogging for a while, I could see the writing on the wall well in advance. I knew I was going to miss my deadline and sent a heads up to the woman who manages the posts. But even with an extra couple of days, I found myself sacrificing my writing time so I could get my column done in a timely manner.

The second time, I skipped out on writing was just this weekend. I had an exciting day planned with my family and was planning on getting my writing done before leaving the house in the morning. I didn’t have to be on the road until 9:30 or so, so I had plenty of time to work with.

And then I woke up with a stupid migraine.

I’ve been getting migraines for a few years now, and I feel fortunate because I have a much easier time than a lot of other people I know. I get them at least twice a month, and my triggers are my monthly cycle, and failing to take care of myself (usually lack of sleep, but it can also be food related). My migraines tend to follow predictable patterns. I’ll start with a light headache. As this intensifies, I’ll become sensitive to light and some strong smells (wood smoke really bothers me for some reason). This is followed by stomach problems, such as nausea and dry heaving.

Unfortunately, when I woke up on Sunday, I had already progressed to the nausea phase, meaning I was pretty miserable. I wasn’t able to pull myself together until it was time to leave (and, to be honest, I wasn’t at 100% all day). This meant that writing time had to be sacrificed.

Even though the outcomes were the same (no writing), the two situations listed above are completely different. The first one was totally on me. My deadlines over at Speculative Chic rarely change. The fact that I couldn’t get my shit together had 100% to do with my own inability to manage my time properly. This is something I’m normally really good at, but seriously, everyone has their off days (or, in my case, an off month. I blame the fact that I haven’t had a vacation in over a year). Looking back on this, I can recognize my mistakes, and know how I can improve.

On the other hand, the second example is a perfectly good reason to miss a day of writing. When my head is screaming, my stomach is roiling, and the gentle sunlight cutting through the blinds hits my eyeballs like a knife, then I really need to stop and listen to my body. Rest is more important than writing.


Ironically, I often feel like my migraines are the perfect metaphor for how necessary self-care is. Because if I take time to stop and take care of myself when they’re in an early stages, my recovery time is a lot easier. Just give me thirty or so minutes, a dark room, some painkillers, and a glass of water, and I can handle a migraine like a pro. It’s when I ty to muscle through that I end up feeling worse and worse, and my recovery time takes longer and longer. Days like Sunday, when I wake up and find that I’ve already progressed to the later stages are fortunately rare.

On Sunday, as I way lying in bed, the cat doing her best to comfort me with tiny mews and soft fur, the biggest emotion I experienced was frustration. I was supposed to get so much done that morning (and not just writing), and it was ruined. This is usually how I feel when I find myself in this situation. (my migraines almost always happen in the morning, meaning that they typically conflict with writing time). I hate feeling out of control, especially when its something as fundamental as my own body.

But as frustrating as that may be, it’s also kind of normal. I might happily cat about the importance of routines and writing every day, but there are some days when our bodies say “no” and we need to listen. For me, it’s my migraines. For someone else, that might be some form of chronic pain or illness. Other people suffer from more psychological (but just as legitimate) roadblocks such as chronic depression, or anxiety. And that’s just part of life. Yes, it’s true that we as writers should consider out writing time sacred and not make excuses to skip out. But these aren’t really excuses. They’re legitimate reasons to take a step back.

And as much as that may frustrate me, there’s nothing wrong with that.

 

Author-in-Training: Revising with the Pomodoro Technique

Hello all! Sorry it’s been so quiet here this week. We’re in the final stretch in the production of Red and Black, which is soooo exciting, but it’s also consumed much of my regular blogging time. But before we head into the weekend, I’d thought I’d make a quick post about a technique that has proven to be really helpful to me as I’ve been working on my revisions for Red and Black 2.

My mindset for writing, and revising are very different. When it comes to drafting a new project, I tend to work best in one to two hour blocks of writing time with no breaks. If I can stick to this, I can produce a 80,000-100,000 word novel over the course of a month or two. I also tend to feel a little burnt, and need to take a few weeks off. Revisions, on the other hand, come with their own set of challenges. For me, revising a book takes much longer than one to two months, so I don’t want to burn myself out too quickly. In addition, while revising I’m less likely to find myself “in the zone,” so it’s more difficult to focus. To help combat these challenges I’ve embraced a new technique for my revisions of Red and Black 2, and it’s proven to be really helpful. It’s called the Pomodoro Technique.

The Pomodoro Technique isn’t new to the world, it’s just new to me. In fact, it’s been around since the 1980s and is a blessedly simple way to help you focus on work. Here’s the basic breakdown. The Pomodoro Technique alternates periods of work (traditionally 25 minutes) with short breaks (five minutes). After four rounds of this, you’re allowed a longer break (or, if you’re like me, have run out of time and need to head off to the day job!). The work times are meant to be periods of intense focus (so no messing around on your phone!), while the breaks can consist of whatever you want, such as getting up and stretching, grabbing a drink of water, or even messing around on twitter.

The Pomodoro Technique is named after one of those old tomato style kitchen timers, but I use an app called Focus Keeper to assist me. The app is free, and there is a paid version if you want to upgrade. The app gives off a light ticking noise that I suspect would drive me nuts if I was trying to draft something, but for revisions, it’s oddly soothing. Once you enter a new round, it lets off a sharp dinging noise and the screen changes from the orange-red of a tomato to blue. The longer breaks have a gray colored screen and the sound of calming ocean waves to hopefully assist you in unwinding.

I’ve found the Pomodoro Technique and the Focus Keeper app to be a great way to keep my off of twitter and focused on my work. If you’re the type of person that struggles with revisions or focusing in general, I’d highly recommend trying this. It’s an old fashioned method, but sometimes, old things work quite well.

Packing for Camp NaNoWriMo

Last April, I participated in my first Camp NaNoWriMo, the writing retreat-themed version of the famous NaNoWriMo that takes place each November. And while I still don’t know if the novella I crafted will ever amount to anything, I felt like it was a worthwhile experience, all around.

As a result, I will be doing it again.

Unlike NaNoWriMo, which is only once a year, Camp NaNoWriMo takes place in both April and July. Didn’t quite make it last time? Well now you have another chance! It’s also more flexible than regular NaNoWriMo, allowing you to set the goals that are right for you. Only want to write 20,000 words? Done. Want to measure your success in hours or pages instead of counting words? Go ahead! Camp NaNoWriMo is the perfect experiment for anyone that wants to knuckle down and tackle a writing project this July, and you don’t have to fit in a cookie cutter mold to do so.

As for me, I won’t be drafting anything new this time around. Instead, I’ll be working on revisions. As we speak, I am working my way through the sequel to Red and Black. Red and Black 2 has been through many hours of revisions over the past year or so. I’ve thrown out the second half completely, and then pretty much did the same for the final third during my next pass. And while it’s pretty common for me to have to re-write those final few chapters from scratch, this has been a little extreme. A lot of this has to do with the fact that this is a pretty emotional book, so nailing those character beats is even more vital than normal. It remains to be seen if I have to throw out an aggressive amount of words this time around (please, God, no!), but I know that the final third of the book still needs a lot of work.

To get in the swing of things, I’ve challenged myself to work on editing for 30 hours this month, or an hour a day. So far, I’m a little ahead of the game, but more or less on track. I’ve set the same goal for Camp NaNoWriMo, but find I may adjust that upwards depending on how motivated I’m feeling.

I would love to have the book ready for Beta readers by the end of July, but that’s soooo unrealistic. Red and Black will be published in August after all, and I want to make sure that I am properly prepared for that. So instead, the goal will be to get as far as I can and see where we end up on July 31st (which is also my birthday).

Will you be participating in Camp NaNoWriMo this July? If so, will you be counting words, hours, or pages this time around? Feel free to let me know in the comments.

Author-in-Training- 5 Tips for Soothing Self Publishing Stress

When I write these Author-in-Training posts, they’re all about taking what I’ve learned from my own personal experiences, and sharing them with the wider world. Hopefully, that means that I help a few people during my self-publishing journey.

But with this post, I’m also looking to help me.

Red and Black is on schedule to be published in mid-August, and the closer the get the more often I find myself feeing unsettled, and (let’s be honest) more than a little insecure. I mean, who the fuck would buy my book? They don’t know me! Fortunately, I can usually push those feelings away. After all, we’re still pre-publication, and the process is more or less under my control. But the closer we get to August, I know that those unsettted feeling are going to be ramped up, big time. So I’ve put together a little list of things that have proven to help calm me down when dealing with writing or publishing-related stress. Hopefully, they’ll help you out too.


Tip #1- Cats (see also, dogs, rabbits, or your pet of choice)- I sometimes joke that my cats are the reason I don’t need therapy. And while furry friends are no substitute for actual medical help when it’s needed, there’s no denying the fact that they’re good at keeping me calm. Sitting down and petting a cat at the end of the day is the perfect way to help me unwind, and looking at their cute faces can be a welcome distraction from whatever is stressing me out.

Tip #2- Go the fuck outside– Seriously, as much as I joke about never leaving the house, I know that spending time outside is actually good for me. I make an effort to go for a walk every day, which is good for my physical health-not to mention my Vitamin D deficiency. Also, it gets me away from whatever might be stressing me out, from a frustrating edit, to my day job. And while the benefits of going for a walk are sometimes oversold on the internet (it will not, for example, 100% cure your despression), there’s no denying that it’s helps me. I put on a podcast, or an audiobook, catch some Pokemon, and give myself permission to relax, even if it’s only for a half an hour.

Tip #3- Motivation Clips- In Michael R. Underwoord’s Geekomancy series, his protagonist, Ree Reyes, has the ability to obtain superpowers through pop culture. So she’ll watch a clip of Buffy taking down a whole lot of vampires, and gain temporary ass kicking skills. And while this (unfortunately) doesn’t work in real life, there is something that we can take from it. Sometimes-like with cats and walks-destressing is more about giving yourself a mental break. Other times, it’s about building you up. Find different types of media that has been known to motivate you, whether it be a chapter in a book, or an episode of a podcast. For example, I find this interview with Rachel Aaron-one of my favorite authors-to be very motivating for some reason. Find the elements that you know will help build you up when your feeling down, and keep them reserves for when things get dark.

Tip #4- Focus on the process- As frustrating as it is to admit, you don’t have any control over whether someone buys your book. That’s their decision. And yes, you can try to stack the odds in your favor through marketing, but the “to buy or not to buy” decision isn’t yours. So instead of stressing over what you have no control over, focus your attention on the things you do, like writing the next book, or investing in attention grabbing cover art. Actually doing something is far more productive (not to mention satisfying) then just sitting around and freaking out.

#5- Remind yourself why you love about your book– Why were you motivated to write your book in the first place? What about it excites you? If you’re writing fiction, who are the characters you’ve fallen in love with? Go back and read over passages that you’re particularly proud of, and remember how much you enjoyed writing them. Maybe your book doesn’t set the literary world on fire. Maybe you don’t get as many sales as you wanted, but at the end of the day, you still made something that your proud of, and that should never be forgotten.

So those are my five tips (mostly to myself) for soothing self publishing-related stress. Let’s hope that they end up working,

 

Final Edits, Cover Art and Self Publishing Stress: May in Review

May Posts
1. April in Review + Farwell Camp NaNoWriMo!
2. Author in Training- Real Advice from Real Indie Authors- The Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast
3. Infinity War Reviewed
4. Author-in-Training- How I Used Reedsy to Find Editors for my Indie Novel
5. Roundtable: Villains Have The Most Fun — Speculative Chic
6. Author in Training: On High Volume Publishing
7. Sound Off! Deadpool 2 — Speculative Chic
8. Magic, Steel, Power: A Review of Born to the Blade, Season 1 — Speculative Chic

Damn, where has the time gone? I feel like I was just typing up my end of the month post for April. This month, I passed my six month anniversary at my day job, and they didn’t fire me at my review! Yes, that was highly unlikely, but I sometimes find it hard not to stress about even the tiniest chance of complete and utter failure. Now that I’m out of the probation zone, I have access to things like vacation time (I’ve scheduled one for July!), as well as a bountiful amount of sick time that I will likely barely touch.

Outside of work, I’ve spent a whole bunch of time on spring cleaning, which is equally parts frustrating and satisfying. Trust me, I’m the last person to gets excited over dusting/scrubbing something I haven’t touched in months, but I’m not going to deny that the place look nice when done. I only have a few things left on my list (including some work that will require a landscaping company, which I’m sure won’t be cheap). Is there a chance that I’ll actually finish my spring cleaning before summer rolls around? Only time can tell. On the less boring/adult side of things, I’ve put plenty of hours into playing the second Banjo-Kazooie game, Banjo-Tooie. I’ve found it to be plenty of fun, albeit not as satisfying as the first, which is admittedly a childhood favorite of mine.

 

On the writing front, May was a bit of a transition month. After two rounds of edits with my proofreader, I’ve fixed the last comma and formatted the final ellipses, meaning that Red and Black is officially doooone (!!!). Of course, there are plenty of steps left to follow before I can press the “publish” button. Cover art and formatting is a big part of that, two topics that also took up a lot of my mental space over the past month. On the cover front, I’ve done a bunch of research into potential artists, finding the most interesting candidates on Reedsy and the e-book cover design awards (although 99designs looks like a neat idea too). I’m not a particularly visual person, so I’ve known from the start that cover art is something that I was going to need a professional for.

Formatting, on the other hand, is something that I was looking to DIY. And after struggling for a little bit with it, I think I’m going to end up going with the Reedsy book editor. This is a free book formatter, where you basically copy and paste your manuscript in and get an epub/pdf at the end. It has its quirks-and a somewhat rigid structure-but I ultimately found out how to make it work for me. If you’re looking for a free formatter,  I’d encourage you to give it a try using this link, which will credit me with $25 if you decide to use some of Reedsy’s paid services (the book editor itself is free).

By the end of the month, I also figured out what I wanted to do about my cover art. To be honest, the process end up being a bit harder than I thought it would be. This, of course, wasn’t the artist’s fault, but my own limitations. As previously mentioned, I am not a visual person. Sure, I can look at a piece of art and go “I like that!” or “that fits in my genre” but actually mentally piecing together my own cover was a bit of a challege. Fortunately, the artist was super nice about the whole thing. If all goes to plan, I should be receiving the final cover art in just a few weeks.

At the end of May, with Red and Black officially hitting final draft stage, and my mind on cover art, it’s really hit me that I might actually do this. Actually publish my first novel. And while that’s exciting, it is also fucking terrifying. Because remember what I at the beginning of this post? How it’s hard not to stress over even the tiniest chance of complete and utter failure? Well guess what, there’s more than a tiny chance of that level of failure here. Let’s be serious. What’s the likelihood that my book attracts any attention beyond my close family and friends? That all of this money and time I’ve invested into this project will end up amounting to nothing?

I know that stressing over this is the opposite of healthy. That it will result in sleepless nights and stress eating, which do nothing towards getting me towards my goals. Instead, I try to focus on the process, like writing the best book to my ability. Commissioning fantastic cover art. Pricing the book fairly. Writing an intriguing blurb. Contacting reviewers who are open to accepting eARCs. And working on the next book. Those things are within my power and, to be honest, take up plenty of mental energy.

But even though I know that these are the right steps to take, I still feel that doubt creeping in from time to time. And I have a feeling that as we get closer to the publication date (still aiming for this summer!) that shaking off doubt is going to get more and more challenging.

Monthly Goals
I did well on my May goals. As previously mentioned, I did the final edits on Red and Black, selected a cover artist, and dug into ebook formatting. I also made nine blog entries (if you include this one) over the course of the month. So what are my goals for June?

  1. Writing– Spend 30 hours editing the sequel to Red and Black.
  2. Publishing– Complete cover art for Red and Black
  3. Publishing- Finalize the back of the book blurb
  4. Publishing– Compile a list of blogs that look like they might be willing to review an eARC of Red and Black, or be a stop on a short blog tour
  5. Blogging– Publish at least eight entries

That’s right, editing-not drafting-the sequel to Red and Black. I’ve already put quite a lot of effort into book two, and I hope to continue to make some headway this month. Let’s see how I can juggle two writing projects! I’ve also been toying with the idea of redesigning this blog, but am not sure if I’ll have the time for it.

So that was my May! I hope that everyone enjoyed their month. Don’t forget to get out there and appreciate that beautiful spring weather while it lasts! Before you know it, we’ll be sweating through summer.

Author-in-Training- How I Used Reedsy to Find Editors for my Indie Novel

Last month, I talked about three different kinds of professional editors you may use as an indie author: developmental editors, copy editors, and proofreaders. For Red and Black, I knew I wanted both a copy editor and proofreader, but when I began my self publishing journey, I found myself at a loss. Being new to the process, I felt like I was ripe for being taken advantage of. An editor may have a nice website, but what did that really say about the quality of their work? Hiring a professional editor isn’t cheap after all, and that’s because it’s important. Wasting my money here could result in putting out a sub-par book to the masses, which is the last thing I want to do.

Which brought me to Reedsy, a website I first found out about from The Creative Penn. Reedsy is a marketplace where writers (mainly indie, but traditional as well) can solicit the services of editors, and designers (including cover art and typography), as well as publicity and marketing experts. You can also find ghostwriters and web designers. The site is highly curated, only accepting the top 3% of applicants, so you know that people coming into Reedsy have already been vetted. On top of that, users provide reviews of their experience on a five-star scale. So if anyone’s been a problem in the past, you know about it.

The way the website works is pretty simple. You head over to the Marketplace section and let them know what you’re looking for. For example, when I was searching for a copy editor, I was able to specify that I was looking for someone that had experience with urban fantasy, which is what my superhero book most resembles. I must admit, when I did my first search, I was just a wee bit disappointed. Only eight results? Fortunately, once I actually dug into the recommendations (each editor has a profile that displays a resume of sort, including previous works), I felt much more positive. One of the benefits of being so curated is that all of the results were high quality. I didn’t have to dig through piles of garbage in order to find gold.

From that point, you can select up to five people that you would like to work with (I chose three). You’re required to fill out a quote that includes some pretty basic information, like word count, genre, and what kind of a timeline you’re working on. In addition to that, attach a sample of your writing (the first 3000 words, if I remember correctly). Once the sample edit is complete, the editors will send it back to you, alongside a suggested price and time frame. You pick the one (if any) you think will work the best for you, and then your off! The money is automatically charged to your credit card on the agreed upon dates (the payments are usually broken up over the course of your collaboration), and the rest of your communication happens through the Reedsy messenger function.

So the question remains, what did I think of the experience?

Petty damn good! I’m happy to report that I found both a copy editor and proofreader. Both were friendly yet professional, communicative, and really knew their stuff. The website itself is super easy to navigate, and the payment process was error-free. I really liked how they sent you emails a few days before your credit card is charged. The editing process can take multiple weeks, meaning you might forget when that payment is supposed to come out. The extra heads up was a nice touch and is indicative of how the site wants to create as smooth of a process as possible.

There are a couple of drawbacks, from what I can see. For one, the process of hiring professional editors is expensive in the first place, and Reedsy does charge a ten percent fee on top of that. So if you’re struggling to scrounge together the money, then that additional fee may prove to be a bit much. Also, on the boring adult front, the topic of taxes doesn’t appear to be addressed anywhere on the website, which is really something I should have figured out before hiring anyone. Ah well, plenty of time to straighten that out before tax time.

Ultimately, I was really happy with my experience with Reedsy, and I will be using the marketplace again in the future. If you would like to try out Reedsy, please consider using this link. Reedsy isn’t sponsoring this post or anything, but for everyone I bring on board that hires a professional, I get $25, which is sure to be super helpful!

Reedsy is a great service, that addressed many of my concern as a new writer. I hope you will find it just as useful.