Alycia Christine

Enchanting Tales, Intriguing Art

Category: Tutorials (Page 1 of 4)

Writing as a Business: The Myths of Self-Publishing, Part 3

A few weeks ago, I began a new mini-series on my Writing as a Business blog outlining a step-by-step guide on how to self-publish a book. Before we begin the main guide, however, I wanted to prepare by writing several posts dealing with some common self-publishing myths that can cause stumbling blocks for those new to the game. If you haven’t read the first or second self-publishing myths articles, I suggest you do that before tackling the article today. For those of you who are all caught up, let’s continue.

Writing Myth #6: Getting It Right on the First Draft

No matter the area of expertise, the difference between a professional and amateur is lots of practice. Consequently, you need to prove yourself as a professional by putting in the work required of you. In the case of writers, this means that the first draft of a manuscript is never good enough to publish no matter who you are or how long you have been writing. Professional writers know that publishable material only comes after several drafts of a manuscript are complete.

In my case, I finish a rough draft and let it “rest” for at least a couple of weeks. I come back to it with fresh eyes, and rewrite a second draft of the manuscript. If the second draft meets my expectations of quality then I’ll send it to my alpha readers. I write a third draft based on their suggestions, send the third draft to my copy editor, and write the fourth draft based on her critique. With four drafts under my belt, I should be done, right? Wrong! Instead, I’ll send the fourth draft to beta readers and write the fifth draft based on their comments. If all things turn out well, the fifth draft of the novel goes to the proofreader and the sixth draft is the one that sees final publication. However, before I click that publish button, I have to oversee the manuscript’s formatting for multiple book additions including three e-book formats and, at least, one print version of the work.

What about the streamlined version of the writing/publishing process?

Sorry but what you just read is my streamlined version of how to take a manuscript from rough draft to publishable form. If I find plot holes or other inconsistences in the book at any point during the second draft revision process, it will require additional rewrites for part or all of the manuscript. Skinshifter, for example, required about eight drafts before it ever even saw my editor. Dreamdrifter only took three.

If this all sounds like a lot of work to you, well it is. I know other writers—independent and traditional—who are far less picky in their revision process and, quite frankly, their lack of effort shows. They may call themselves professionals, but their writing still proves them as amateurs because they haven’t revised their manuscripts enough. To put it in simple terms, they haven’t put in the amount of practice required to write on a professional level.

So how much practice is needed?

That depends entirely on the writer. I’ve heard estimates of five to twenty years before a writer can be considered a master of the craft. I’ve also heard the 10,000-hour-rule applied to writing proficiency. One writer, the popular blogger and author Hugh Howey, recommends that the amount of practice a writer needs to be adept at his or her craft can be achieved by writing five hours a day, five days a week, for five years. If you do the math on that you get: 5 hours x 5 days x 52 weeks x 5 years = 6500 hours total. This is considerably less than the rule of 10,000 hours of practice that I’ve heard from other sources, but I suppose it’s possible to write on a professional level after five years if the practice is deep enough and the writer adept enough in skill. The truth, though, is that writers never really master our craft because there is always more to be learned.

For me, that journey of discovery and learning is part of the joy of the vocation. I love learning and so I try to discover something new about writing every day. I’m always reading to increase my general knowledge and to deepen my understanding of writing. As I read and as I practice the act of writing itself, I grow in my appreciation of this incredible craft as a means of shared communication and artistic expression.

Until next time, may we each rewrite our world for the better.

Alycia

~

The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) blog is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with vivid fiction, deep love, and epic art for all. As always, contact me with any questions or thoughts. Thanks!

Books:
Skinshifter | The Dryad’s Sacrifice | Thorn & Thistle| Musings | First Fruits | FREE STUFF

Artwork:
Drawn Art | BW & Sepia | Animal | Earth | Flowers | Trees | Mountains | Objects | Urban | Water | MORE

Writing as a Business: The Myths of Self-Publishing, Part 1

At the request of a reader, I’m beginning a new mini-series in the next few weeks on my Writing as a Business blog. My dastardly plan is to give all of you a step-by-step guide on how to self-publish a book. I plan to start with a general overview of the steps I personally take to publish each book. I’ll then discuss each step in the process in more detail during subsequent posts. Depending on your feedback, I can change and add to the blog schedule as needed. Before we begin the main guide, however, I need to make sure that you are in the proper mindset when it comes to self-publishing. This means that this week and next week, we’re going to be busting several self-publishing myths.

Myth #1: The Ease of Self-Publishing

People think that self-publishing is easy and I can’t really blame them. Compared to the seemingly endless cycle of submissions and rejections that a single book manuscript can go through in the traditional publishing world, self-publishing a book looks easy. It isn’t. Self-publishing may be a simplified publishing process, but that doesn’t make it easy. Anyone who tells you differently is likely trying to sell you the literary equivalent of snake oil.

As I have little faith in literary cure-alls and have zero patience for their petty proselytizers, let me tell it like it is instead of wasting all of our time by sugar-coating things. Self-publishing is a slow-growth business. If you want to be an indie author, then you need to understand that you are in this for the long term. You as an indie author are a self-employed entrepreneur. And, like most starting, self-employed businesses, you won’t get rich quick. In fact, you may not get rich at all.

Myth #2: Getting Rich Quick

It’s rare that I meet an author—indie or traditional—who can make a full-time living through his or her writing. Those that do are usually the ones willing to do whatever it takes to put out the best-quality, more-professional products they can as quickly as they can. Full-time professional authors are the ones who have broken their backs writing and revising book after book. As I’ve said in a previous post, it’s usually the most persistent and persevering authors who win this race even over the most talented authors. Of course, those who strike it rich in this business usually do so because they have all of the talent, persistence, and luck on their side. To use a baseball metaphor, full-time authors are the major league players in our field. They are the fortunate few that spectators want to pay to watch even though there are millions of kids and adults who actually play the sport. To make a living as an indie author, I have to play harder, smarter, and better than many of the major league players hitting home runs in my genre.

The reason that getting rich as an author is so difficult is because book authors are the ultimate freelance writers. Unlike regular employees in any regular service industry, authors aren’t paid for the time that we work; we’re paid only for our end product. That means that we need a variety of products (books) to satisfy our customers (readers), and that we’re going to incur production, marketing, and distribution costs before we can ever see our product in the hands of our customers.

Authors get paid from the royalty off of every book we sell. For traditional authors, that royalty is usually 12-30 percent of every book’s sale price (not including any sales or vat tax). For indie authors, that royalty is often 30-70 percent. Indie authors get a larger cut than traditional authors because we do more work. Indies act as both the author and the publisher, which means that we are ultimately in charge of all aspects of the book. We deal with the writing of the book as well as its editing, formatting, legal protection, cover art, back copy/marketing description, retail distribution, pricing, and more. The extra royalty isn’t free cash for indies; every extra cent is well-earned.

Myth #3: The Small Cost of Self-Publishing

One of the biggest misconceptions I find among new authors is the notion that self-publishing costs less than traditional publishing. I never have understood that idea because when you self-publish as an author you are taking on the responsibility of publishing your own book in addition to writing it. This means that you will incur every single cost that an author and publisher will incur just to see your book as a finished product. Consequently, self-publishing costs more time, money, more commitment than traditional publishing.

If you are going to self-publish, you need to understand this high cost of self-publishing. While writing a book can be a hobby, publishing a book is never anything less than a job—complete with overhead costs, distribution deals, sales figures, taxes, and more. You as the publisher of your book will be in charge paying for the costs of editing, proofreading, cover art, marketing, and distributing your books. Note that I said books, not book. As I have previously said, a wise publisher knows that a profitable publishing business is built on a variety of products, not a one-shot wonder.

Such publishing projects can cost anywhere from $500-$10,000 per book. Depending on your individual strengths and skills, you may be able to mitigate publishing costs by taking on one or two of the publishing projects yourself; however, I caution you against doing things yourself or on-the-cheap unless you have a professional background dealing with the project in question. Remember what I said earlier about playing harder, smarter, and better than many of the major leaguers in the same genre? If your book’s writing, editing, cover art, or marketing copy can’t compete with the professional players, then you don’t have a prayer of stepping up to bat with readers.

Of course, my reasons for telling you all of this is not to discourage you, but keep you from walking into the role of an indie author blind. This publishing route is a very rewarding pursuit as long as you remember that it has its drawbacks just as traditional publishing does. I hope this helps dispel some of the misnomers associated with being an indie author. Next week, I’ll bust three more self-publishing myths.

Until next time, may we each rewrite our world for the better.

Alycia

P.S.-I am happy to announce that I’m looking for beta readers for my book Dreamdrifter, the sequel to Skinshifter. If you’re interested, contact me!

~

The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) blog is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with vivid fiction, deep love, and epic art for all. As always, contact me with any questions or thoughts. Thanks!

Books:
Skinshifter | The Dryad’s Sacrifice | Thorn & Thistle| Musings | First Fruits | FREE STUFF

Artwork:
Birds | Bugs | Graphic Art | Flowers | Landscapes | Leaves | Mammals | Romance | Objects | MORE

Writing as a Business: Two Secrets to Building a Solid Author Platform

Yellow_Gazer-AC4x6You’ll hear the phrase “Author Platform” bandied around a lot when you become involved in the writer community. For the longest time, no one even bothered to explain to me what an Author Platform was, so I assumed that it was an author’s blog, website, or another such marketing endeavor.

However, what editors and agents typically mean when they say they want an “author with platform” is essentially that they are looking for someone with visibility and expertise who has already proven that he or she can reach to a specific, targeted audience with their products.

When I talk about a person’s “visibility,” I am talking about a person who is known by others both personally and professionally. When you want to build your visibility as an author, begin by asking these questions: Where do people regularly see my work? How many people see it? How does awareness of my work spread? Where does it spread? What communities do I participate in? Who do I influence?

If you can answer all of these questions positively, then you have gained good visibility. If not, then your visibility needs some work.

It isn’t enough to just claim that you have visibility; you have to prove your reach to readers. You have to show how and where you make an impact on others. Quantitative evidence like the size of your e-mail newsletter list, website traffic, or blog comments is one form of this proof. Another form of proof is the qualitative evidence of your work’s impact such as high-profile reviews of your writing or testimonials from A-listers in your genre. Do not worry so much about your proven reach toward your “target audience”. This can only come through steady work, community interaction, and patience.

Your books’ visibility and reach need to be with the right audience, otherwise your efforts are wasted. For example, let’s say that you have visibility, authority, and proven reach with motorcycle riders, but your latest published writing is about a pink kitten who gets lost in Panda Land. It probably won’t be helpful to market that story to the bikers in your fan-base (unless, of course, the kitten is rescued by Sir Harley Honda Kawasaki, III).

Now let’s talk about author credibility. What is your credibility within the writing community? Your credibility is something that accumulates through the quality of your writing and through your cordial interactions within the writing community. For example, let’s say that you submit a well-written story to a publisher and your manuscript is accepted for publication. Congratulations! Not only have you made a sale, you have also established some credibility with that publisher. However, before the story shows up in print or on the publisher’s website, you still have to sign a writing contract, help the editor edit the work in preparation for publication, and get paid. If, at any point during the process, you prove difficult to work with, you will lose credibility with that publisher. But if you prove helpful, insightful, and punctual in you dealings with that publisher’s personnel, you have gained even more credibility. Your added credibility can then help win you more publishing acceptances in the future.

The same can be said for the writing community as a whole. If you publish well-written, accurate, factual, and insightful work on a regular basis, you will gain credibility with your readers. If not, you will lose credibility.

For some authors, credibility is substantially helped by credentials. Credentials are particularly important for nonfiction writers. After all, you would be more likely to pick up a book about healthy dieting if it was written by a certified nutritionist, wouldn’t you? Credentials are usually less important for fiction writers, although it can still help. Publishers will often take a second glance at a writer’s work if they discover that the writer finished the Clarion West writer’s workshop or graduated from the Iowa MFA program.

In general, an Author Platform is not about bringing attention to yourself, nor is it to be used to yell at every single person you meet, “Hey, buy my stuff!” The Author Platform is not about who screeches the loudest or, necessarily, even who can market his writing the best. It is more about putting consistent effort into building your relationship with readers through good work and sincere interactions over the course of you career. You cannot build an entire network overnight, you cannot buy your way into it, and you cannot create it solely through social media and blogging interactions (although those certainly help).

A platform is about doing unique and interesting things that attract other people to you and then making incremental improvements to extend your network and improve your financial gain. Your platform is never more important than your story or message, but it does grow out of your body of work (as long as it is great work).

The following list is not exhaustive, but it will help you form an idea of how your platform can grow:

Publish quality short stories in magazines, websites, etc. with which you want to be associated. These need to be outlets that your target audience reads. This is where Duotrope.com and patience comes into play. If you want to expand your reach by traditionally publishing a specific work, make sure to do some extra research and only submit your work to reputable publishers. Watch out for newly formed markets; some can be quite good, others will take your work and fold without you ever seeing a cent of the money owed to you.

Create and publish a body of work on your own platform. Find meaningful ways to engage with and develop your target audience. Authors usually accomplish this by having their own website and filling it with different pieces of personal media like: blog posts, podcast episodes, videos, and, of course, links to buy and download digital copies of their writings. They extend the reach of the website by creating e-mail newsletters, social network posts, and other things to help gather quality followers. This is usually a long-term process. One important thing to note when building your personal platform: once an author posts anything online (but especially on her own website), it is considered published. This becomes important if you are trying to traditionally publish a piece rather than self-publish it because many publishers will not accept submissions that have been previously published (no matter the form). Another thing to note is your copyright protection on everything that you post online. Make sure you know what your rights and the rights of others are before you start writing publicly. The last thing you want is to be sued for copyright infringement, libel of character, etc.

Speak at and/or attend events where you can extend your network of contacts. Sci-Fi and fantasy cons are excellent places to do this, but there are numerous conventions and conferences for just about every major type and genre of writing out there. Start with the smaller cons to really get to know other authors and then work your way up from there. You’ll be amazed at the friendships you develop.

Partner with fellow writers to tackle a new project and/or extend your visibility. This idea is very difficult to accomplish until you already have good credibility within the writing community. All I can say is choose your partners carefully. Case in point, I have been asked several times by new writers if I would co-author a work with them. My answer has always been no. I don’t give negative responses because I wish to be mean; I say no because the would-be partner’s inexperience would be a burden on me and on the project. It is not fair for me to do most of the work on a project while the inexperienced “partner” suffers writer’s block. Likewise it would not be fair to a far more seasoned author to partner with me when she is used to producing two to three novels a year and it took three years for me to finish my first. I look forward to the day whenever I can collaborate with another author on a novel or series, but for now I am learning and growing in my own skills while doing my best to encourage others who are still behind me on the writing journey.

Another thing to note: some people have an easier time building platform than others. Two adages to remember when running your writing business: a) it takes money to make money and b) it takes fame to make fame. I say this not to scare you, but to make you aware of what your major battles will be. Write your creative works now and keep writing them no matter what. Begin socking away money as you can for the eventual marketing costs that you will have as you push awareness about your writing.

You will start out ahead of the game if you already hold a powerful public position, if you know friends in high places, if you are associated with powerful communities, if you have prestigious degrees or posts, or if you otherwise have public-facing work. This is why it’s so easy for celebrities and politicians to get book deals. They already have their platform. On a smaller scale, those who live in large cities have an advantage over those in small towns because they have more marketing resources at their fingertips. Although the rise of the digital age and the internet has begun leveling the playing field, there are still authors who start out on the mountain tops and other authors who have to trudge up from the valleys. Figure out how to use your personal strengths and contacts to get yourself on that mountaintop or at least halfway up the slope.

Remember that the experience of building an Author Platform is as unique as its builder. No two authors are alike and so no two platforms are alike. What works for me may not work for you. Platform building should be more organic and less checklist-driven because it depends on: your unique writing, your unique strengths and qualities, and your unique readership.

Your Author Platform needs to be as fun and creative as your regular writing so that it appears as attractive as possible to new readers. It should reflect your unique style and personality. Just like your regular writing, your platform should be deeply personal and passionate. Don’t worry about doing it all overnight; just enjoy building it like you do your writing: little by little.

Until next time, may we each rewrite our world for the better! I wish you all a very happy New Year!

Alycia


The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with love, art, speculative fiction books, and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts about this particular post and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!

Flashes of Perspective: We All Live in a Yellow Train?

Union_Pacific_Yellow_1_AC4x6Okay, terrible Beatles’ song title ripoffs not withstanding, I had a ton of photography fun a few weeks ago. Not only did I have the rare opportunity to see my corner of West Texas in full bloom, but I also had the chance to shoot a bright yellow train in the middle of all of the floral festivities! The Union Pacific train engine was a perfect match to the thousands of Black-Eyed Susans littered the side of the train tracks near Monahans, Texas. I give special thanks to my awesome husband who maneuvered our car into just the right position for me to hop out and get this great shot of the locomotive just before it disappeared over the hill.

I shot today’s featured photo with an f-stop of f/11. I used a semi-fast shutter speed of 1/400 seconds to stop most of the train’s motion as it thundered along the tracks without sacrificing the bright hues of the flowers and sky. To keep the blue sky from getting washed out, I chose a low light sensitivity ISO speed of 200 and no flash. Since the train is a huge subject, I photographed it with the small zoom lens so that I could get all of it in the photograph. Consequently, the camera’s focal length was short—only 18 mm. Finally, I used Photoshop to add some of the contrast between my dark and light colors back into the photo, so that the scene looks more natural. I hope you all like the results of my work. Let me know if you have any questions about the photo or want to know more about how to shoot something like it.

Until next time, may we each rewrite our world for the better!

Alycia


The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with love, art, speculative fiction books, and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts about this particular post and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!

Writing as a Business: Critique Groups and the Writing Community

Three_Beauties_and_Beast_4x6ACSince we are mere weeks away from the annual writing phenomenon of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo.org), I think discussing the importance of being involved in writing critique groups and in the larger writing community is a good idea.

The writing community is called that for a reason. After all, the publishing industry is filled with far more people than just writers. There are agents, editors, story cover artists, marketing consultants, public relations workers, book distributors and retailers, and most importantly, readers. All writers are readers. We read our own work and we read others’ work. Part of the fun of being a writer is the fact that the more I learn about this business, the more I appreciate reading the written word itself. I get excited about my writing sessions and cannot wait to read and critique other people’s stories.

If you can do nothing else as a writer, join a good writing group. In the early stages of my career when writing fiction was little more than a hobby, my various critique groups helped immensely. When I got busier later on, beta readers took the place of critique groups. In either case, I look for a group of people who enjoy reading things similar to what I write and who are honest (sometimes brutally) in their critiques. An honest critique of your work is sometimes painful, but it is worth ten insincere pats on the back. Your ultimate goal for your work needs to be to make it as good and memorable as possible. The writing should please you and please your readers. If it does not do both of these things, it has failed. A good writing critique group should show you your strengths, but also graciously indicate where your stories are weak.

My suggestion is to find a local group or start your own group with writers that share your genre interests. One of the easiest ways to do this is to check if any colleges or universities in your area offer creative writing classes. Talk to the teachers of those classes to find out about either taking the course or joining any known private critique groups. You can also find numerous online writing courses such as some of the University of Kansas courses (http://www.sfcenter.ku.edu/courses.htm) and join cyber critique groups that such as Critters (http://www.critters.org/).

I suggest genre-specific groups because their advice usually will help you far more in the long run than that of generalized groups. I have also enjoyed going through a couple of paid courses over the years, but I will caution you to always choose a course or critique group that deals specifically with the genre of writing that you want to publish. I have been involved in a generalized literary course where I was forced to write mainstream literary fiction instead of fantasy or science fiction. I will never make that mistake again because my caliber of writing suffers when I cannot write what I love.

There are myriads of writers on social networks and forums such as Twitter, Facebook, and Kindleboards Writers’ Café that can help involve you in their respective communities and update you about events affecting the writing community in general. You can also follow other writers’ blogs and comment on them. I myself check Hugh Howey’s blog regularly for news specific to the science fiction genre and the publishing industry in general.

Fair warning: certain etiquette is required for blog and social media sites. You are welcome to comment, but not to harass people. Do not try to hard sell yourself or your work. Just be yourself and participate in the community. You will learn great information and make excellent contacts this way. These contacts will come in handy later when you do need to market your stories, but just enjoy the new friendships for now. Case in point, posting the occasional update on a specific story’s progress is fine, but if all people hear is “Please buy my story!”, they will usually start ignoring you because you have no “useful” information to share. You need to engage others about many different common interests. Tell others what excites you: a new book, a new movie, a new game. Then discuss it with other people. Write a blog on your own website about different aspects of writing or other related hobbies that fascinate you and add the links to your posts to your social media pages. Post links to interesting YouTube videos. Have fun with your participation in the community. The more people get to know you as a person, the more likely they will support you in your artistic endeavors if you are tactful in mentioning your work.

Until next time, may we each rewrite our world for the better!

Alycia


The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with love, art, speculative fiction books, and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts about this particular post and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!

Flashes of Perspective: My Face-Off with a Gorgeous Dragonfly

Gossamer_Beauty-AC4x6Hi, everyone! Sorry I’m so late in posting this. I would love to tell all of you some witty and charming excuse as to why my blog article is coming this late on a Tuesday, but the truth is that I flat forgot that it was Tuesday!

Anyway, for today’s photography lesson I wanted to show you one of the photos I shot while I was visiting South Texas last week. I had some time to shoot one afternoon and so my camera and I investigated the drainage creek running behind the Weslaco hotel where I was staying. The entire area had become this amazing microcosm of a wetland with cattails, tall grass, willows, flowering shrubs, fungus, frogs, ducks, fishing birds, water bugs and more. There were tons of dragonflies all around and I was lucky enough to get one of them to pose for me. The result was the best dragonfly portrait photo that I’ve ever shot!

I took this particular photo with an f-stop of f/8, a slow shutter speed of 1/160 seconds, a medium intensity ISO speed of 400, a long focal length of 300mm (i.e. I drug out the big zoom lens for this shot), and no flash. Since I was shooting under an overcast sky, I did use Photoshop to punch up the color a bit. However, what you see in the finished photo is practically identical to the colors that I saw when the sun was out earlier that day. I hope you all like the photo. If you have any questions about the technical aspects of it or want to know more about how to shoot something like it, let me know.

Until next time, may we each rewrite our world for the better!

Alycia


The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with love, art, speculative fiction books, and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts about this particular post and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!

Photographing Plasma and Reworking Blogs

Orb_Cloud-AC4x6I have several announcements today:

First of all, there is a new Author Interview page up in the Fan Corner of the alyciachristine.com website. If you want to know more about me, go check it out!

My second announcement is that I have decided to make some changes to the structure of my weekly SCRAWLS blog. Normally I post a blog article every Tuesday: story excerpts on the first Tuesday of every month, a writing lesson on the second, a general update on the third, and a photography lesson on the fourth Tuesday. While all of this is fine and dandy, I feel like some of the content posted each week is just too long. Therefore I’m going to post any book reviews or other off-topic articles I write on my website independently of my regular Tuesday blog schedule. I also plan to make the photography lesson into more of an individual photo critique and how-to piece rather than a huge monthly lesson. Since I have already covered so many basic photography rules, I now want to show how some of those rules directly apply in individual photos rather than explaining the overarching principles of dozens of photos at a time. I also eventually want to bundle the past two years’ worth of lessons into one easy-to-read Photography Beginner’s Guide.

Finally, I plan to host my first Bonus Tuesday vlog (video blog) on the last Tuesday of September. Whenever there is a fifth Tuesday in a month, I hope to post a special video for fans on YouTube and AlyciaChristine.com as a fun way to say thank you for all of your support. I thought it might be fun to do author readings as part of the Bonus Tuesday video series since doing an in-person book tour of Musings is beyond my budget right now. Because my section of West Texas scrub brush has finally received internet service upgrades, I think I can finally do this for all of you!

If you have any questions about the upcoming blog changes or suggestions of things you want to see me write or video chat about, please contact me!

Now for today’s photo:

I shot this photo with my trusty Canon EOS Rebel T2i at about 9:30 one evening so that everything was dark for except my subject. I used an ISO of 3200 with an aperture f-stop of f/11 so that the camera was very sensitive to light. I also used a 0.6 second exposure time. The focal length was 53 mm and there was no flash. This image is a handheld shot, which means that I took the photo without using a monopod or tripod to steady the camera against any shake. Believe it or not, 0.6 seconds is a long time to keep a camera still, but I still managed to do it by keeping my posture stiff and holding my breath during the shot. By the way, the luminous subject of this photo is actually a child’s Plasma Globe. I think it looks much more interesting when you photograph it with a long exposure rather than a shorter exposure. What do you think?

Until next time, may we each rewrite our world for the better!

Alycia


The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with love, art, speculative fiction books, and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts about this particular post and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!

What’s the Best Weapon against Writer’s Block? Find Out Now!

Rivulets_AC4x6Sometimes writing isn’t fun; sometimes it’s a real chore. I guarantee that you’ll have to trudge through episodes of writer’s block just as much as you’ll skip past easily-crafted scenes. But never fear because we authors have a few weapons in our arsenal to help us break down those ugly creative barriers to get to the beautiful prose on the other side.

One of my favorite personal siege engines against writer’s block is research. Now calm down before your collective groans start drowning out my sentences. Research can actually be a ton of fun because it helps satisfy our natural curiosity as human beings. The other reason research is fun is because it makes our jobs as writers much, much easier.

Imagine this: you are writing a scene where two characters are eating in the middle of a deli-style café, but you’ve never actually set foot inside a deli. It’s going to be very difficult to accurately describe what’s going on around your characters or even what they’re eating if you have no experience in a similar sort of setting, isn’t it?

We writers have words as our only essential tools for building a story, so we must describe everything to our readers. That is extremely difficult to do if we don’t understand how something works or the way an object or person looks. This is why research is so essential to writing and why it becomes one of our most important weapons against writer’s block.

There are essentially two types of research. One is what I call focused research and the other is called ambient research. Ambient research is a type of research that most people don’t even know they are doing when they do it. Ambient research usually happens while writers learn something new about a subject while they are doing something unrelated to an actual focused study of that subject. This could be anything from learning a piece of trivia while playing a game or experiencing a new place for the first time while on a vacation. Ambient research is very different from focused research.

When most people hear the word “research”, they immediately think of hours spent studying dusty volumes in the stacks of a local library. Library reading is part of what I call focused research and it is quite useful when authors need to answer specific questions in their writing. However, focused research is much more than simply wading through library bookshelves. Focused research also means that an author might need to interview a key expert in a particular field or participate in a certain activity in order to “really get a feel” for a specific aspect of his or her story such as its plot, setting, or characters. While focused research seems to happen more often for nonfiction writers, I promise that fiction writers will find it just as useful no matter their genre.

We’ll use me for an example dealing with the two types of research since I am an easy target. Like any good author, I write what I love. I am a fantasy author and I also love watching movies and reading books in the fantasy genre. I learn a lot from fellow speculative fiction authors, but I principally read their stuff because it’s highly entertaining. Keeping all of this in mind, let’s say that while I’m watching the Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides movie for the thousandth time that I suddenly become interested in reading more about pirates. I pick up Tim Powers’ book On Stranger Tides, which loosely inspired a couple parts of the movie. After I read that book, I go on to Michael Crichton’s Pirate Latitudes novel because I’m still interested in reading more stories about 18th Century buccaneers—both real and fictitious. This is called ambient research because I have learned more about a particular subject through various forms of entertainment without doing a serious study of it. Some of what I have learned will be inaccurate because the information that I learned came from entertainers instead of scholars; however, some of my new knowledge—like the basic parts of a ship—will be accurate. However, if I suddenly decide that I want a deeper knowledge of the actual pirates who lived in the 1700s, my interest is now intently focused and so my research will be specifically directed toward nonfiction sources such as The Republic of Pirates by Colin Woodard with the specific goal of gaining a deep understanding of my subject. Hence my research will become focused research.

Because I write what I love, I don’t mind doing research of either type because the research that I do—whether ambient or focused—is about subjects that I find genuinely fascinating in the first place. I often like to approach writing a specific story by reading fiction and nonfiction books of a similar nature or subject-matter before, during, and after the writing process. This constant flow of focused research, ambient research, and general inspiration helps me more easily work around those writer’s blocks caused by a lack of knowledge. I also love to use photographs from my and other people’s travels as a guide to help me describe certain scenes more easily. I use focused research in the form of personal experience, expert interviews, scientific journals, and full-on, library-haunting study sessions for those more persistent blockades.

Whatever research you do, please remember that the key to getting the most out of research is to always make sure your stories reflect your personal interests. Making your stories personal and your subject matters interesting will help drive your passion toward them and your passion will help you ensure that your stories are written accurately. Accurate research is one of the best ways to create high quality writing that readers adore, so make it count. Your readers will pay attention to your story’s details and they will complain when something is incorrect. The last thing you want is to be remembered as a lazy writer, so get your details right before you share you work with the world.

For instance, if your story is set in downtown Chicago, make sure that you know what downtown Chicago looks, feels, and smells like. If your story is set in early 19th Century Montana where horses were the main form of transportation, then talk to cowboys about how they care for their steeds. Study horse anatomy, western-style riding, and tack terminology. Then give subtle hints of your new-found knowledge to build your story’s accuracy. Even if your characters set foot in a completely imaginary realm, you should do some research to find out what realistic place and time period most closely resemble the fantasy world you are trying to build. Remember, good writing drops the reader smack-dab into the middle of a story’s scene. Good research should do the same for the author.

Until next time, may we each rewrite our world for the better!

Alycia


The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with love, art, speculative fiction books, and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts about this particular post and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!

Writing as a Business: Convenience is King

CryingMonkeyClockFaces-AC4x6There are no good rough drafts, only good rewrites. I rolled my eyes at this statement before I began editing Skinshifter. Now that my beta readers have finished hacking and slashing at it, I’m proud to say that the book is currently on rewritten draft number six. Why would I put that much effort into a single manuscript? The answer is that I believed and still believe that this piece of writing is worth the investment of my time, resources, hard work, and money. From an artist’s standpoint, I believe in the power of this story. From a business viewpoint, I see it as an excellent product and a wise investment. Time will tell if I am correct in my assessment of this particular product, but I do at least know that if I am passionate about my characters and my story, then other readers will be, too.

The reader’s want is the endgame in this business. Whole corporate chains rise and fall because of it. Borders is gone largely because it could no longer satisfy readers’ wants. The corporation heavily invested in physical stores and outsourced its online presence at a time when more and more readers began shopping online for their books. With the convenience of shopping online for books, most readers stopped frequenting physical bookstores. Now the simple convenience of buying and reading an eBook almost instantly on your pc, tablet, or phone has upended the giant puzzle board called the publishing world once again. No one is quite sure how the pieces are eventually going to reorganize, but I have been watching the shifts of the industry enough to make a fairly educated guess. First, however, we need some business background.

In traditional publishing, there are at least ten steps to get a single novel to change from a writer’s manuscript into a paperback book in the hands of a reader. First, the writer has to write her first rough draft and, second, she has to edit it multiple times with the help of beta readers and informal editors. Once the manuscript is cleaned up, it can be submitted to a publishing house. Every publisher has its own standards and rules for manuscript guidelines and so the writer must pay careful attention to every last rule when submitting his manuscript to a specific publisher, otherwise her story will be rejected unread. The manuscript still might be rejected if the receiving editor found major flaws in the manuscript or did not think it a good fit with the house’s overall publication theme. In the tradition publishing model, manuscript rejections are an unfortunate normal part of a writer’s life.

Once a manuscript is accepted by a publisher, the author signs a writing contract which essentially sells his manuscript to that publisher for a certain period of time in exchange for an “advance” payment of a specific amount. Advances vary as much as the publishers which pay them, but you can expect very little money when you first start writing. Once the legal stuff is finished, the author and his publisher’s assigned editor will go through their own editing sessions to perfect the manuscript. Once all editing is finished, the publishing house will send the book to a cover artist to design the book’s cover. Depending on the publisher, the author may or may not have much say in how the book cover looks. As the cover is finalized, a marketing budget will be determined. Again most new authors can expect very little money in their book’s marketing budget and so most of the marketing will be done by the author himself. The book is then registered for copyright, ISBN number, and Library of Congress catalog number. Once its page formatting is finalized for the physical printer, the book is sent to press, printed, readied for shipping, and shipped to distributors all over the country (and maybe the world). Many but not all modern-day books are also made into different eBook formats for distribution to major online retailers. Once all of the hard copies and electronic copies are distributed to the various book stores and book sellers, then the author has to swing into full-time marketing mode to try to launch the book. If the book does not gain enough popularity among readers, the book will be dumped by bookstores. I have been told that the grace period for a new book is about six months in stores, but having never gotten this far in the traditional book publishing process, I could be wrong.

In recent years, the rise of electronic media and its simplification of self-publishing has caused a lot of concern within the traditional publishing industry at large and some downright panic in the fantasy and science fiction publishing industry in specific. The reason why is because bookselling tycoon Amazon.com and its industry rivals have begun streamlining the publishing process for authors who wish to self-publish their works in eBook and print-on-demand formats. Amazon has essentially created a free way for authors to directly upload the Microsoft Word document version of a manuscript and a book cover image to Amazon’s distribution website. Amazon offers no monetary advance because the company does not take possession of the author’s work at time of publication. In other words, the author owns the publishing rights to his own work and can therefore decide how to edit, distribute, and market his work at any time during the publishing process. While Amazon has pioneered the eBook form of self-publishing, other competitors have begun perfecting it. Smashwords, for example, has devised an automated system to create multiple eBook formats out of the same manuscript so that an author can sell his manuscript in .mobi, .pdf, .epub, and many other popular e-reader formats.

The independent or self-published author has always been his own writer, editor, cover artist, publisher, and marketer. Such multitasking was horribly difficult, but now the advance of technology allows the self-publisher those vast abilities and responsibilities with the clicks of a few buttons. Currently Amazon’s royalty rates are much higher than that of traditional publishers, which dole out 10-25 percent of a book’s profits to its author. Part of this is because Amazon accepts less responsibility for the actual production and marketing of the work. The higher royalty rates of 30 and 70 percent in combination with cheap upfront publishing costs and easy distribution are making self-publishing very enticing to new authors—a fact that has made traditional publishers quite nervous.

At this point there is still a social stigma toward self-published authors because it is so easy to publish any quality of content on Amazon’s and other online booksellers’ sales websites, but I have seen that perception begin to shift with the success of eBooks such as Hugh Howey’s Silo Saga series. Howey has proved that a self-published author can still be a polished author of skill and technical brilliance. Like many in the new crop of successful self-pub authors, Howey invested in his work by having it vigorously edited and critiqued with the help of a few free beta readers and a paid independent editor. The industry shakeup between the old publishing method and the new is by no means resolved, but I think I can fairly accurately predict how the puzzle pieces are likely to reorganize.

Think about this. Technology always drives industry. Anytime a new technology makes something more convenient for people to use, that new technology will replace the old. A few examples of this include: the horse verses the automobile, the tape versus the compact disc, the cd versus the mp3, the typewriter verses the computer, and the physical bookseller verses the online bookseller. There will always be small niche pockets of the old technology left, but most of these hold-outs will likely be considered more collector’s items or high-end art than they will be viewed as actually functional. Therefore it is fairly safe to assume that in the competition of print books verses eBooks, eBooks will eventually win since they are cheaper to produce, faster to make, simpler to buy, easier to store, and more convenient to carry and replace than print books.

Most experts are doubtful that eBooks will overtake the overall book selling market anytime within the next couple of years, but I have no doubt that they will eventually overtake the market as readers become more and more comfortable with reading on a screen. If eBook sells continue to rise and eventually overtake the book sells market, then self-published eBooks and print-on-demand may also eventually win the competition between traditional publishing verses self-publishing. The only ways this will not happen is if Amazon and like distributors do something to cheat independent authors or the publishing houses find a way to streamline their own publishing models and add extra incentive to authors. Both options are not only possible, but likely.

Time, of course, will always be the final judge of what succeeds and what does not. This is why the creation and publishing of books is, by its very nature, a long-term investment. In each step of the creative process, you must do what is necessary to make your product the most valuable and cost-effective good possible. However you do that, always remember that since consumers (your readers) drive product sales, revolutionizing convenience will always change the industry. Always watch for the newest technology to revolutionize people’s ease of doing something and try to adapt to it.

Until next time, may we each rewrite our world for the better!

Alycia


The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with love, art, speculative fiction books, and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts about this particular post and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!

Flashes of Perspective: Shooting Cityscapes

Palacio_del_Rio_Christmas_Colors-AC4x6Over the past two years, I have discussed several different Rules of Photography. From Leading Lines to Color and Contrast, we have covered it all. Now that we have a firm foundation on how to shoot, I want to delve into different scenarios in which artists can use the rules and bend them to suit their needs.

We had already begun bending the rules during my explanation of using and abusing shutter speed to shoot April’s Blood Moon. Now I want to take that train of thought a little further. In this case, let’s talk about cityscape photos and how they differ from landscape shots.

Let’s Get Started

At first glance, a budding photographer might expect that cityscape photos would be shot in the same way most landscape shots are. However, the photographic subjects of cities are very different from those in landscapes and those differences can cause serious frustration for people not used to adapting to them. One of the major reasons why is because landscapes rely heavily on the Rule of Thirds while cityscapes usually rely far more on Leading Lines and Framing.

Dynamic landscape photographs are defined by the relationship between land, water, and sky or some lesser combination thereof. These shots require a specific balance between their different composing elements and the Rule of Thirds because landscapes so often feature strikingly different textures thrown together such as: mountains, water, grass, trees, flowers, sky, hills, sea, and/or more. The Rule of Thirds helps to order the seeming chaos of so many different elements into something structured. It is this order of thirds that helps move the viewer’s eye seamlessly through the photograph without causing distraction and confusion.

In contrast, dynamic cityscape photos are often defined by the relationships between different pieces of architecture. By necessity, architecture is usually created using straight lines, points, and angles. Instead of the softer curves that often dominate natural scenes, cityscapes are dominated by hard lines and sharp angles. Of course, cityscapes can have within them a relationship between sky, land, water, or other more natural elements, but those elements are almost always dominated by elements of architecture. Consequently cityscapes demand a certain amount of softening on the part of the photographer. This is why Leading Lines are often far more important in cityscape photography than in landscape photography. To see my point, let’s compare a few examples of cityscape and landscape shots.

Let’s Break It Down

Cityscape Leading Lines

“Steel Sun”

“Fair Fare”

“Wharf Wheel”

Cityscape Framing

“Needle Arcs”

Cityscape Flanking

“Welcome to Texas”

Landscape Rule of Thirds

“Sunset Twigs”

“Sun Dabbled Dune”

“Lone Tree”

There are, of course, some exceptions to the rule that landscape shots are usually governed by Rule of Thirds and cityscapes are usually photographed using Framing, Flanking, or Leading Lines. I have listed a few examples of these exceptions below for you.

Landscape Framing Exceptions

“Twig Window”

Landscape Leading Lines Exceptions

“Split Sea Falls”

“Ice Streams”

“Dune Trek”

Cityscape Rule of Thirds Exceptions

“Midnight Carnival”

Homework

For this assignment, I want you to shoot cityscapes practicing the rules of Leading Lines, Flaming, Flanking and the Rule of Thirds. You must choose based on the photo’s intended subject, which of these four rules will best showcase your photograph’s subject. I want to see a minimum of 20 good photos captured using these techniques. Once you have done that I want to see another five photos in which you find some creative way to bend on of the above-mentioned rules. I highly suggest using static subjects for this bit of homework, although that is not mandatory. Good luck and have fun!

Until we meet again, I wish all of you brilliant flashes of perspective!

[ O*] Alycia

Page 1 of 4

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén