The Prize

Months ago I began my first “official” post to this blog by talking about my adventures in self-publishing and why I’d taken on such a daunting task.  It was a multiple-choice question, with “All of the Above” being the correct answer.  One of the answers (answer B, I believe) encompassed in that All of the Above was “I wanted it read, in its entirety, by someone who felt no imperative to like it.  No imperative to hate it either.”

For some reason I can’t fathom, I’ve put off sharing the results of that adventure on my blog.  I’m shameless in shouting it from the rooftops (irritating as well), but I’ve said nothing here.

Cue the drumroll….

I received my review from IndieReader the beginning of this month, and although I didn’t win, I did get a 5-star review from a reviewer who mirrored back everything I’d stuffed into my little 304 page tome.  She GOT it!  Not only did she get it, but I know now that my vision manifests on the page with such clarity that it remains intact once it reaches the reader .

Do you know how amazing to me that is?  I’ve been living with this vision for over 30 years.  Its ultimate fulfillment does, admittedly, remain incomplete until I’ve finished the last book in the trilogy.  (Do people even refer to them as “trilogies” anymore?  Or do they just use “series” to cover all contingencies?  Hmmm.)

There is a key to this reaching, and my reviewer even mentioned it.  A few years back, I made the decision to send Lisen, the hero of the piece, to spend a few years on earth.  Important years, ages 10 through 17.  Now we view a large part of the story and the strange, nonsexist world in which its characters live through the eyes of someone who knows us as her own.  She may be Garlan, but she often steps back to study her world as we as humans would, giving the reader a sense of accessibility that had previously been lacking.

I did it.  I wrote my best.  I rewrote my best.  I formatted for publication my best.  I designed a “professional” cover even though I’m anything but an artist.  I put every bit of best that I possess into Lisen and into Fractured, and it worked.  I hope one day that the borders of Lisen’s niche expand to include many more readers than she currently has nipping at my heals for volume 2 (Tainted, due out late this year).  In the meantime, I take pride in the fact that although I didn’t win a prize from IndieReader, to me I won the whole damn lottery.

Are We There Yet?

The rewards of all my work on my book, Fractured, flow towards me slowly, but they do flow.  I don’t know how to make the process move more quickly.  If I had more friends on Facebook, I’d probably be better off, but I don’t and that’s just the way I am.  And yet, the word moves, a person at a time, and I am being read, just not by millions.  Yet.

The interesting thing about marketing a book by an unknown author that appears to be just like any other young adult fantasy novel with a female hero but really isn’t—the interesting thing is that the few people who have read it are committed to it.  Admittedly, they are all friends, or friends of friends, or relatives of friends, so they took the risk on the book out of friendship.  But they come away with a real sense of my vision, and they care.  This means I’ve succeeded.  The words I put down on paper (or into the computer) have connected appropriately, as has my hero, Lisen.

Case in point.  One reader, a woman whose vocation I can only describe as somehow connected with helping people in third world countries because I don’t know much about what she does, admitted that while attending a conference (or seminar or some such), did something she never does; she missed a meeting, and she did so in favor of finishing my book.  That’s an amazing sacrifice made on behalf of a book by an author she’s only met once, an “unknown author” who is still struggling to get someone, anyone, to read her book.

Something in Lisen’s soul speaks to the reader.  Something in her journey stands out and offers readers a voyage of discovery.  Which is great!  It’s everything I wanted, and more.  Well, it’s almost everything I wanted.  I’d hoped to have a few strangers joining the rest of us on this road by now, but it’s possible that the strangers will show up after the second book is published.

Fractured blew the people I know away because they really hadn’t expected it to be quite that good.  The second book with its prohibited romance, life-threatening situations, murder and mayhem, and eventual clinging-to-the-cliff-by-the-fingernails ending should catapult my few very devoted readers into conversations with their friends and the young women in their lives about this gem of a storyteller and Lisen, the girl who does what she must to survive even when it may not be the most honorable path.

My reviews on Amazon—all four of them—are fabulous, and not because they are five-star reviews.  (One reviewer offered to give me four stars instead of five, even though in her mind I deserved five, so it wouldn’t look like what I believe she referred to as the “friend effect.”)  These reviews amaze me because each of these individuals GOT it.  They got why the book is titled Fractured.  They got Lisen’s broken state and how the mending is what this story is about.

One other thing these reviews have in common.  They want more.  All my readers want more.  They ask, “What happens next?”  They bug me to finish the second book (which is likely to leave them even more frustrated).  They keep me going when I feel like I’m getting nowhere.  Like children on a road trip, they keep whining from the backseat of the car, “Are we there yet?”  Soon, I’ll pull to a halt, put the car in park, set the brake and let them out to enjoy the next stop on the tour.

(With thanks to N. for the whining-kids-in-the-car metaphor.)

Beware of Falling Rocks along the Learning Curve (Part 2)

As a too-poor-to-pay-them-to-do-it independent publisher, every decision was left in my hands.  Some indies say this is one of the main reasons they chose this route.  Others will tell you that it had more to do with royalties, typically a much higher percentage when dealing with a POD than a traditional publisher.  I made this choice, as I wrote previously, because I wanted my book read and that wasn’t happening via the query-and-wait process.

But here’s the thing I discovered on the way to doing it all myself—I like making those artistic decisions.  For one thing, a traditional publisher would likely have balked at my using two separate fonts.  It’s a lot of extra work, and the way I had it set up originally (for a manuscript) did increase the work on my end.  I had used Times New Roman 12 pt for the great majority of the text (what I call my “Garlan” font) and Century Gothic 10 pt for the “Earth” font.

CreateSpace, my POD publisher, provides advice on a multitude of publishing topics, and one of them is font choice.  The font I wanted for the Garlan font was Book Antiqua 11 pt.  I liked how it looked.  It was not one of the fonts CreateSpace recommended.  But it did, in my opinion, fit the criteria they laid out for a good book font.  One problem solved.

I then began looking at fonts for “Earth.”  I had my own criteria for these.  First, the font I chose had to look dissimilar enough to Book Antiqua to be discernible as something different.  Second, it had to match Book Antiqua size-wise at 11 pt so the reformatting from one set of fonts to the other would be simplified for me by one step, allowing me to change an entire chapter to 11 pt before proceeding with other formatting changes.  And third, the italics in the “Earth” font had to stand out from its own regular version and look like italics when standing as one or two words in the middle of the “Garlan” font.  In addition, the space between lines had to match between the two fonts.  (You’d be surprised how many fonts leave huge amounts of space between lines.)  Kabel BK BT fit the bill.

So, if I haven’t totally bored you with all of that, let me move on to the cover.  I’d had a very unsatisfying experience with the cover of my book with my first POD publisher back in 2000.  Their first design—mind you, for a fantasy novel with a medieval/almost Roman setting—looked like the cover of a psychological thriller, all reds and blacks and harsh images.  I cried.  They offered to redesign it.

The second cover had my shero in a long flowing dress looking quite distressed as a young man, presumably her brother, threatened her with a sword.  Clearly a heroine in need of saving, not a strong young woman capable of saving herself.  This time I begged them to take mercy on me and try again, admitting that if I must, I would accept this cover, but must I?

I did eventually accept their third attempt, a nondescript, stock photo of a small Greek-looking ruin on a hill—but only because it didn’t offend the crap out of me.  It said nothing about the inside of the book, but it didn’t lie about the inside of the book either, and for the $99 I’d paid for them to do everything, I couldn’t ask them to do it again.  I just couldn’t.  I also couldn’t market the book.  How can you get enthusiastic about something so mundane and boring.  Here it is:

See what I mean?

This time I didn’t want to end up with something I couldn’t live with.  I wanted to give it my all.  But I was flummoxed.  I can’t paint or draw.  I don’t know how to make a photograph look like a painting or modify it to get rid of boobs on a female model (you’ll understand why that was important when you read the book).  I looked at fantasy book covers on Amazon and looked for the name of the artist inside.  Perhaps I’d be able to Google one who didn’t charge an arm and leg for a good cover.  Then I came across one I liked, and it turned out it was an old painting.  Public domain!  Find a painting by a painter who died more than 70 years ago and I’m home free.

But what painting?  I sat at my table and looked around my living room.  Van Gogh?  No.  Picasso?  Not dead long enough.  Then, I remembered.  Over my right shoulder behind me hung a print my sister had given me a very long time ago.  “The Lady of Shalott” by John William Waterhouse who died in 1917 one month before my father was born.  That was 94 years ago.

It was a painting of a woman clearly fractured emotionally.  She had red hair like Lisen—long and curly like hers, too.  It wasn’t until later (but before I finalized all my decisions) that someone pointed out one minor problem.  She had breasts.  But I hadn’t chosen this painting because she looked like Lisen; I’d chosen it for the emotions it evoked.  And for the way it popped on the cover I’d designed with the help of CreateSpace’s template.  I liked it and I kept it.

And that’s how I made sure my vision of Lisen and her story was maintained throughout the final product.