Friday, June 17, 2016

Melody of Love: Year One (And What Comes Next)

It takes a great amount of courage to come up with a story, to play with fictional lives like they were plastic dolls. And it takes a mountain of confidence on top of that to think you can pick up someone else's pile of dolls and put them into your own little world.

This is the one-year anniversary of publishing my novella, The Callaways: Melody of Love. I took it upon myself to sneak into someone's toy chest and start playing with their fictional characters because this novella was based on The Callaways series by Baraba Freethy. I was able to do this through Kindle Worlds, a pretty fantastic place (though not really well known) where authors of popular series offer up their worlds and their characters for some of us to experiment with. I did this because I was in the middle of reading the series when I found out that it was available on Kindle Worlds. And when life smacks you in the face with a sign like that, you've got to take your chance.

Diving Right In

I think the reason I didn't find this project as daunting as I should have was because I wanted to be immersed in the world, not necessarily with the lives of the specific characters. One of my favorite novels in the series was the one about Sean Callaway--the black sheep of the family because he was into playing music and not being a firefighter, doctor or other public servant like the rest of the big Callaway brood. His novel led to finding his love, Jessica, and helped her reignite a desire to dance like she used to before she was widowed. The novel ends with Sean and Jessica opening a recording/dance studio in San Francisco. And that's where I found the perfect place to create a love story of my own.

I used original characters to create Melody of Love, but without Sean and Jessica in the picture, the story couldn't have taken place. This was my first attempt at romance, so I had to navigate the waters of what type of romance it would be. There's a huge sliding scale in this genre where from one end the goal is the story ending with the couple holding hands for the first time all the way to full-on smut that you only read on an e-reader so no one can see the cover. I decided to stick with a more middle-of-the-road approach because that's where this series falls, and it can be hard to please romance fans, especially when they are coming from an established romantic world.

Publishing Through Kindle Worlds

Once the story was written, the work had to go through more steps than I had before with previous independently published work. The formatting had to be correct, sticking to a few specific rules like not including a photo on the author bio page, which I happened to forget when I first submitted it. After all of the little things were taken care of, I submitted it and still got it rejected. I was totally and completely disheartened. What could I have done wrong when I spent weeks getting it just right? Turns out, it was something very simple and something I should have been aware of before submitting my work.

The problem was in my book's description. I can't believe I would overlook it, but I didn't mention a Callaway family member. Not once. And because the book is based on a specific series, something needed to be mentioned, not just the two original characters I created. After taking care of that problem, it was smooth sailing. This probably gave me a better idea of how traditional publishing could go--lots of back and forth, getting everything just right before it's finally published.

I must also address this point to any authors looking to publish something through Kindle Worlds: just like any other major publisher, there is a lot of fine print and not a lot you have control over once you submit your work (heads-up for authors: you don't get to set your own prices). Be sure to read all of the fine print before you publish so that you are aware of what rights you hold and what rights the original author or the publisher holds.

A Built-In Audience

Writing a book doesn't guarantee you'll find an audience. Writing a book based on someone else's popular romance series doesn't guarantee you'll find an audience either. This discovery surprised me. I thought that super fans of this series would be all over my novella, even if it did veer off to another, non-Callaway couple.

Guess again.

Like anything you create, you have to get the word out about it yourself. I know I have a few fans out there (okay, maybe just two), but nothing like the the fan base of the original series. I was banking on bringing a few of them over to read my work, but as of writing this post, none of the readers who read and reviewed Melody of Love were actually readers of The Callaways series. I can't tell you whether that's a good or a bad thing. Maybe it doesn't matter at all since I put a lot of effort into making it a standalone story while still honoring the atmosphere of The Callaways. 

My biggest setback in the marketing game is that I'm reluctant to use the original author's name in the way I advertise the book. For some reason, it feels wrong to bring up her name just to make a sale, even though she clearly gave permission for authors to come in and write. (Just to be clear, I also feel the same way about books advertised as Stephen King-meets-Judy Blume or whatever big-name authors they choose to compare themselves with.) I've also purposely not approached Facebook fans of hers or posting about my work on her fan group pages (of which I am, of course, a fellow fan) because it seems like it would be in bad taste. So I haven't yet found out what her fans think of my work--and readers coming in as non-fans all have the same issue: it's too short.

That is a problem I can remedy. I wouldn't mess with Melody of Love to make it longer, but I would provide more novellas featuring my original characters. In fact, the novella I was working on last fall was a continuation of this story. So this October I'm going to be releasing a second novella called Haunting Melody (you heard it here first, folks). There is also a third novella in the very early planning stages, which would take my Kindle Worlds experiment from a good little story to a mini-trilogy within the world of The Callaways.

It was a thrill to work with someone else's characters with permission, especially since I spent some of my high school years honing my writing skills on unpublished fan fiction. It was also a great learning experience to publish work through Kindle Worlds. Even though Amazon is a giant in the world of all things written and published, it's nice to see that they have programs to help provide the space for independent authors to grow.

Monday, June 06, 2016

What's New for June

It's the first full week of June and I have a lot of plans for this month. I have do a little in a short amount of time because I'm heading back to Camp NaNoWriMo in July. I skipped the April session because I didn't have a project ready to work on, but now there's one on the horizon that I really want to get down on paper.

For this month, I'm focusing on getting submissions in because many lit journals close their reading periods in July or August. I'm concentrating on flash fiction and poetry submissions this time because I have plenty of these sitting around, and I would like to find a home for them.

I also still have some work to do to find journals, magazines and other outlets that are sympathetic to rhyming poetry. I have a couple pieces that I really like, but they have been all but shunned from the literary landscape. You've never seen a piece of writing rejected so fast. For anything else, the typical wait for a reject (or if you want to be an optimist, an acceptance) is six weeks to six months. When I try to submit one of my poems that happen to have a rhyme scheme, the longest I've ever had to wait is two weeks. One time it was rejection after only two days. If all lit journals worked that quickly, writers would either have no more confidence left to go on or little time to dwell on a reject, upping their confidence to an astronomical level.

It's a funny thing about using a rhyme scheme in poetry--today's literary elites think rhyming shows the skills of an uneducated moron whose only exposure to poetry is mass market greeting cards. Though if you go back a generation or two, those trying to get published with free verse instead of a steady rhyme scheme were also met with that label of ignorance to the literary canon. Luckily, the elite crowd is still relatively isolated inside university libraries and tend to find mild internet use blasphemous to the writing process. There's still hope for all of us writers who dare to break the mold by reminding the last generation that we are actually reforming the mold they dared to break first, making it into something new again.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Mid-Month Roundup

It's the same old thing around theses parts--having a lot of stuff on the to-do list, and feeling like a snail trying to check it all off. And to have to do it all in unseasonably chilly weather? Please. I've had enough of you, May. You can go home now.

My plan for May was to finish the first revision of In Another Life and finally finish up that novella I put off from last fall. I still have a good chunk of the month to see these things through, but I'm no superwoman (too bad... I'd love to wear a cape like it was no big deal). There are also poetry revisions that I would like to get to, another first draft I would like to finish writing, and of course there's always submissions--I need to set aside more time for that, or I'll end up like Dickinson with ninety-nine percent of my work undiscovered until my ultimate demise.

So that's all I've been vacillating between and not getting completed. What have I actually done? Well, I've developed a huge book crush on Real Artists Have Day Jobs (And Other Awesome Things They Don't Teach You in School) by Sara Benincasa. It's filled with lots of good advice for the artists, writers, comedians and non-9-to-5-ers of my generation. But it's also funny and honest (oh, and here I go again... you can read my review to continue this love fest).

I've also been inundated with free stuff (not a bad gig, if you can get it) and I've been starting to catch up on reviews of all the neat things like mud masks, snacks, lotions and the occasional sleep aid. I've just reviewed the latest Pinch Me box I received and my Influenster Bloom Vox Box review should be up by the end of the week.

And to fill up what little time I had left, I started writing an essay on birthdays. After I start typing away, I realized I had much more material than a single essay could hold. It's turning into a series of essays. Eventually.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Goodreads, Ebooks, and an Unexpected Price to Pay

If you are an author on Goodreads (or an extremely voracious reader like myself) you may have notice over the past couple days that ebook giveaways are starting to roll out. Goodreads giveaways have always been close to my heart--it's what got me started on the road to semi-pro book reviews (not totally pro--I still only get paid in free books). And I own a Kindle, so ebook giveaways just seem to fit perfectly.

Until it doesn't.

There are a lot of people that benefit from the new arrangement, most importantly the readers. The person that gets the short end of the bookmark? Writers. Specifically, independent writers who may have a small or nonexistent marketing budget for their book. Why am I talking about marketing budgets? Because Goodreads charges a flat $119 fee for listing an ebook giveaway for up to 100 copies (print giveaways are still free because the giveaway host has to purchase and ship the books themselves).

What do you get for this fee? The convenience of not having to deal with the whole giveaway thing once you pay up. You don't have to go into Amazon and gift the books, you don't have to do anything but flash the cash. Sounds like a sweet deal... if you have never bothered to do any marketing for your book before. What independent authors know is that this is just another exploitative fee: "Pay us and we'll do it all for you!" When in fact it would probably be easier to gift ebooks myself, if I chose to host a giveaway--and I wouldn't have to give away 100 copies just to get my money's worth.

But surely you get something more for $119, right? These 100 copies will show up as sales!
Uh... nope. Not going to happen.

Okay. Then at least if the giveaway winner reviews the book on Amazon, it will be marked as a verified review!
Again, probably not. If KOLL/KU reviews aren't marked as verified, these won't be either (and reviewers can turn this label off if they choose).

Normally I wouldn't be this outspoken about something like this, because if it isn't for me, I just wouldn't use it. But I want independent authors to be aware of what they are really getting for this fee. Take the case of my haiku collection Unfolding Life. I published it on Amazon and within the first 90 days hosted free days through Kindle Unlimited. Those first free days yielded around 90 downloads, and they counted as sales (only in the free store, but still...). I didn't have to spend time contacting each person to give them a copy, I didn't have to pay any money to promote it, and I was working only with social media promotion as a completely unknown writer. I'll tell you that subsequent free days for this book and my other works have not yielded this high of download numbers, but my point is that you don't need to, nor should you, pay someone to give away your work. Because let's be honest, how many of those 100 giveaway winners are really going to review your book on Goodreads and Amazon? I know I make an effort to read and review all the free books I get, but I am probably in the minority.

This new rollout isn't entirely without merit. It does give authors and readers another option for participating in book giveaways. But it's comparable to traditional publishing deals where authors get cents on the dollar in royalties for ebook sales when it costs the publisher practically nothing to produce and sell. It can get your book exposure, but it's not going to do any favors for your wallet.

These last couple weeks have sucked in general. And when I saw this, I thought I could have another tool to happily add to my marketing bag. Sadly, this news just sucks too. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

National Poetry Month Nearing the End

It's the last week in April, so that means National Poetry Month is starting to wind down. I've been diligent in writing the poetry I've set out to do, but I know that when it comes to revisions, I haven't been quick to get on it. That's why Monday's normal post is happening on Tuesday. That, and the Indiana Comic Con commercial on TV keeps distracting me--I mean, who decided to mix "Shake It Off" with cosplay? It boggles my mind. It's definitely apples and oranges (no offense to T. Swift or cosplayers, of course).

Anyway, once I finally focused on the poetry again, I started playing with alliteration and this is what I came up with:

A Losing Pursuit

Priorities pronounced in pencil
But they can all be pushed away
Pressures take precedence
Puckish people clamoring to use you like a plastic bag
Purposeful in carrying their baggage
Placed in the trash, not even preserved for recycling
Once your practicality is brought to pass