The Second Novel Mambo: It Begins!

So I’ve started writing my second book, which is a sequel to We Could Be Villains.

It definitely isn’t easier to write a second book after you’ve written a first. You still have to do an absolute crap-ton of research, and outlining, and prepping. (Unless you aren’t the outlining type. But I’ve discovered that I totally am.) So I guess right now, it seems like it’s just as hard as the first.

I kept a list of general ideas for a month or so. (I’ve discovered that notebook apps like Evernote and such just don’t work for me; instead, I keep an email in draft, addressed to nobody, and write in that.) The idea-gathering period is a strange one. Sometimes I’ll just follow a link and find something I like, whether it’s an article about a new technology or a strange news story. Other times, I’ll be hit during the day with an idea, so I’ll jot something down in that draft email.

But what happens most of all is that I’ll have an idea, or a thought, or come up with a snippet of dialog, just as I’m trying to get to sleep. There have been nights where I’ve had to grab my tablet a half-dozen times off the nightstand so I could tap out an awkwardly-worded and usually-misspelled thought with my hammy thumbs. Scott usually laughs at me, and it disturbs the cats.

Once I get enough ideas, I start building my outline. I should really take a look at one of Scott’s outlines, because I bet they’re totally different than mine. I build mine with one paragraph per chapter, with a bunch of short sentences about what things/actions/discussions I want to tackle in that chapter. As I ask myself questions or have places that need to be filled in, I highlight them. And at first, there are a LOT of highlighted things. But I stew over those, and usually come up with answers to those questions, again, as I’m trying to drift off to sleep.

You’re probably seeing the theme to my creativity, which can be kind of a pain in the ass. I’ve come up with entire conversations in my head, and had to get up out of bed to go type them out at the computer, because it’s just too much for my tippy-tappy thumbs. If I could live my life in that twilight of just-about-to-fall-asleep, I’d be more prolific than Stephen King.

I’ve actually started writing with a couple of highlighted questions left on my outline. But they aren’t until late in the book, and I have high hopes that some sleepy-time thoughts will occur between now and when it’s time to actually write those chapters. There’s also the possibility that something I come up with earlier in the book will present itself as a perfect thing to call back later on, and that can take the place of one of those remaining questions.

So, outline in hand, I’m diving in. Last time, I averaged over 2,700 words per day, which meant that I pretty much didn’t do anything in the evenings besides eat, write, then sleep for a month. (Good thing it was June, when there were slim pickings for good TV.) Not sure if I’m going to hit those same kind of numbers this time, but if it takes me more than 30 days to write the first draft, so be it.


An Update on My Tea Habit

It’s been a couple of years since I really started getting into tea. Two years later, we’re still totally in love with the stuff. We started with Teavana, since there was one located very close to us, got frustrated pretty fast with their high prices and aggressive sales techniques, and moved online. We’ve tried a few different mail-order places; here are the ones we’ve tried, in order of how much we love them.

#1: Harney and Sons

This link will take you straight to my favorite tea of all time, Harney and Sons’ Decaf Hot Cinnamon Spice. They have other good flavors as well, and they have sample size packages of almost everything. They also sell their teas in these nifty pyramid-shaped “sachets,” so you get the convenience of a tea bag with the tastiness of loose leaf.

Harney & Sons Decaf Hot Cinnamon

I’m drinking the decaf these days, in all things. Back when my anxiety was really turned up to 11, I discovered that caffeine made it way, way worse. So I stopped drinking caffeinated things. After I got the anxiety (mostly) under control, every time I tried caffeine again, it would grab a random emotion and crank it way up. The emotions it chose made no sense — one time it would be joy, the next it would be rage. So I’ve embraced my new decaf lifestyle.

I still haven’t tried all of Harney’s decaf flavors, because the hot cinnamon is so, so perfect. It’s like hot tea with red hots in it, but in a good way. And in the evenings, it’s especially good with a glug of Fireball cinnamon whiskey in it. Right now we have three containers of their cinnamon tea in the house — both loose leaf and sachets of decaf for me, and some regular-strength for Scott.

Ooh, AND. You might be able to find some tins of 20 sachets at your local grocery store. Our nearest Target has eight flavors available, a couple of them decaf. The Publix only has one flavor, but it’s the regular Hot Cinnamon Sunset, so that’s cool. (We’ve also ordered Harney teas from Amazon, when they’re out of stock at the Harney website. Many of their offerings come with Prime shipping, so I can get my mitts on the tea that much faster.)

(Edit: Just got an email from Harney. Free shipping now through November 30th!)

#2: Adagio Teas

Adagio has a GREAT selection of teas, be it regular, decaf, green, or whatever tickles your fancy. My link here will take you to their Rooibos Vanilla Chai, a great decaf chai that rocks my socks with a shot of cream in it.

They also have small sample packages for around two bucks each, just like Harney and Sons. They say the sample packets make 10 cups of tea, but your mileage may vary on that. (We only get 5-6, but maybe we just like it strong.) So you can try a bunch of different flavors and see what you like. (Turns out, I don’t like teas made from dried fruit. The best of them is like drinking hot fruit punch.)

IngenuiTEA

Adagio is also the source for the IngenuiTEA teapot, which I reviewed a couple of years ago. I still think it’s a great device for some people; I just didn’t like having to clean all of the soggy tea leaves out of it. Which is why I’ve switched over to either pre-made bags with loose leaf tea, or filling my own empty tea bags with loose leaf.

Right now (Thanksgiving weekend in the USA), they appear to be doing free shipping on everything.

#3: ESP Tea Emporium

We tried these guys way back when, and they come in a distant third place. Their smallest sizes are around $5 each to try (as opposed to Adagio and Harney with their $2 samples). A couple of flavors were all right, but not as great as other brands we’d tried, and a couple of the flavors we got tasted kind of stale and lifeless.

And, a new gadget!

As an early holiday present, I got a Panasonic 3.2-quart water boiler. Here it is with a cute tin of Harney regular hot cinnamon, and a giant ugly bag of 50 sachets of decaf cinnamon.

The tea nook

(I see they’re in the $90 range right now. If you keep an eye out and wait for a sale, you can get this model for under $70. Did you know that you can use sites like Camel Camel Camel to alert you when items on Amazon drop under a certain price? It’s awesome!)

Since we moved, we now have a fridge with a filtered water dispenser in the door (and I never want to go back to being without ice and water from the door, hoo boy). For hot beverages, we would fill a measuring cup with filtered water from the door, then microwave it. Now, it’s as easy as teabag in the cup, press a button, and blammo. Immedate steeping!

We weren’t sure it would be worth the money, but this thing is fantastic. It’s helping me cut down on pop (Caffeine-Free Diet Coke is a little Kryptonite-ish for me), because now a cup of tea can be almost as immediate as cracking open a can of pop. So it’s worth it for that alone. Scott also uses it for his coffee. I guess we could use it for ramen, as well, if we ate ramen. (I’ve tried these rice noodle soup bowls in the past; I should grab some more of those. They were almost ramen-ish, and delightfully gluten-free.)

Anyone out there have a favorite online tea shop, preferably one that sells little samples?


The First Novel Mambo: Print Layout

This is going to be a long one, friends. Buckle up! Writing a book can be difficult–anyone who’s tried to do it can attest to that fact. But laying out that book for print, especially if it isn’t something you do every day, can fill your soul with rage.

There are a ton of little fiddly rules that mean you’re going to have to nudge, adjust, wiggle, and poke at things until they sit just right on the page. All the way through the book, from front to back. And if you need to go back and correct something early in the book, that good ol’ butterfly effect may mean you have to make those adjustments all over again.

I’m very fortunate to have a copy of Adobe InDesign on hand, although I understand that it’s possible to lay out your book in Microsoft Word as well. It just takes a lot more work, and a lot more tinkering.

Let’s take a look at a number of headaches you’ll need to consider when laying out your book for print:

Margins

There’s a temptation, when using a print-on-demand system, to make the margins small. After all, the narrower the margins, the fewer pages you’ll use! Since POD prices are tied directly to the number of pages, it means you can charge a buck less or so!

In my first print proof, I had margins that were 0.4 inches on the outside. And the top margin was about 0.25 inches. Take a look here–compare them to the professionally laid out book underneath, and you’ll see why I re-did the entire layout with wider margins.

comparing margins

I read somewhere that the goal is for the reader to be able to hold the book and not have their thumb block any of the text. I really liked the sound of that.

You’ll also need a larger margin on top, because of the header up there. In my book, I went with the title on one side, author’s name on the other, page numbers on both (except in certain circumstances, which I’ll discuss in a moment).

Oh, and you’ll need a wider margin in the gutter, too! The gutter is the inside margin–the right side of the left-hand page, and the left side of the right-hand page. Because of the way the pages are bound together, you need some extra space in there, so the reader doesn’t have to crack the spine of your book in half in order to read the entire page.

Headers

Open up any novel you have on hand. It’ll have the author’s name, the title of the book, and page numbers on most pages. Sometimes it’ll be the chapter title instead of the title of the book or the author’s name. If it’s a collection of short stories, it might be the name of the current story instead of the title of the book. But almost every book you open up will have some sort of identifying information at the tops of the pages.

Some books will put the text (author name, book title, etc.) along the top, and page numbers on the bottom. That was one more confusing step than I wanted to take. Besides which, if page numbers on the top are good enough for Scott’s pro-printed books, they’re good enough for me. So I rolled with everything along the top, and I’m happy with that choice.

Headers like that would be easy, if they were consistent throughout the book. But of course, they aren’t. There are certain exceptions where you don’t have the headers. The exceptions are:

* Title pages and copyright pages in the front don’t have any of that header information. And the page numbering starts with the first page of the actual story.

* Blank pages don’t have header information on them.

* The first page of each chapter doesn’t have header information.

That leads us into the next thing to consider:

Chapters

Did you know that new chapters should start on the right-hand page? I didn’t even think about that, but sure enough, pick up most books, and that’ll be the case.

And since your page numbering will start with the first page of the first chapter, that means that odd-numbered pages are always on the right, and chapters always start on odd-numbered pages.

If you have a chapter that ends on a right-hand page, then the very next left-hand page is left blank, so that the following chapter can start on the right.

(Some will say it’s OK to start a new chapter on the left. But if you flip through the professionally printed novels on your bookshelf, you’ll see that the majority follow this right-side method. I’m sticking with the majority on this one.)

The whole blank pages/first page of a chapter having no header is where Microsoft Word users will run into difficulties. You’ll get into having several header sections, changing to a new header section each time you go from having a header to having no header. With InDesign, at least, you can apply headers to the entire document, then delete them only on the specific pages (blank lefts or new chapter rights) that shouldn’t have them.

Also, did you know that the first paragraph of a new chapter isn’t indented? Same goes for sections within a chapter. Go ahead, look at books on your shelf. I’d never noticed it, but sure enough, it’s usually the case.

Justification

You have pretty much two choices for justification: ragged right or flush/justified.

This blog post, for example, is ragged right–all of the text is lined up neatly on the left margin, but on the right margin, it’s mayhem. Lines end wherever, nothing’s squared up. Chaos!

You could do ragged right in your novel, but I bet most of the stuff on your bookcase is flush (aka justified)–both the left side and right side have the text touching the margin, giving you a solid rectangle on each page.

(The exception is the ending of a paragraph, which ends wherever it is. Especially if it’s a short last line–stretching it all the way over to the right would be really weird-looking.)

Hyphenation

You can set either Word or InDesign to take long words and break them into two if they show up at the end of a line. I personally don’t like hyphenation, so I always leave it turned off.

That’s not to say you won’t find some hyphen breaks in my book, but they always occur in a word that already has a hyphen. “Self-assured,” “pre-sorted,” that sort of thing. What I’m turning off is the kind of break like “justifi-cation.”

This one could really go either way. I’ve read some professionals who insist on hyphenation. I’ve read others who hate it. Those who use it don’t like the “rivers of white” that can appear when the spacing between words gets too large. On the flip side, one of the big arguments against hyphenation is that it can feel like every other line of text (or sometimes several in a row) all end in a hyphen, which distracts the eye as well.

I personally can’t stand the look of hyphens, and find they interrupt my reading much more than rivers of white, so I turned hyphenation off. I think my line spacing and font size keep the white space to a minimum.

Font, Font Size, and Line Spacing

This is a toughie, and there’s a lot of personal choice involved. What font should you use? What size should it be? And bear in mind, a size 12 in one font can be significantly larger or smaller than a size 12 in another.

Culled from various sources on the internet, it appears that some of the most frequently-used fonts in publishing include: Garamond, Minion, Caslon, Dante, Palatino, and Electra. Most of those are in the 10-12 point size range. (I chose Minion for my novel, because it’s a book with superheroes. Seemed the obvious choice.)

You don’t often see books set in sans-serif fonts, even though they can be easier to read for a lot of people. I can only recall a couple of books I’ve read in the last few years printed in sans-serif, and they were both young adult novels. If you want to be safe, stick with a good serif font (and probably not Times New Roman, which has a reputation as the font of choice for self-publishers. Plus, I feel like it gives the impression of being a report for work, not a novel.)

Line spacing is how much white space appears between the lines of text. It’s usually around 120 to 130 percent of the font size, so if you have a font size of 12 points, line spacing of 15 points (125%) would mean three points of blank white space between the bottom of one line and the top of the next.

Even though you could use a smaller font and tighter line spacing to make your novel take up fewer pages (and in turn, cost less), you run the chance of it being harder to read. I’d rather have 10 more pages than have a book that you have to squint at to read.

The best thing you can do is print out a test page and see how easy it is to read. And compare it to books on your bookshelf that you find especially easy on the eyes, to see what kind of adjustments you need to make.

Widows and Orphans

I’d never heard of widows and orphans until I started researching book layout. And the funny thing is, people are divided as to what particular problems are called what.

There are three things that fall under the widows/orphans names: the first line of a new paragraph at the very bottom of the page (with the rest of the paragraph on the next page); the last line of a paragraph at the top of a page (with the rest of the paragraph on the previous page); and a paragraph that ends with a single short word.

Of those three, the first two are kind of lumped together. And it goes back and forth as to which is a widow and which is an orphan. The last one isn’t mentioned by everyone, but when it is, it’s called an orphan (and the first two are both called widows).

Really, you could call them whatever you want to. (We could refer to them as Firsties, Lasties, and Teenies if we so choose.) Here are examples:

widows and orphans - first line of a paragraph

The first line of a new paragraph ending a page. Sometimes called a widow, sometimes an orphan.

widows and orphans - last line of a paragraph

The last line of a paragraph starting a page. Sometimes called a widow, sometimes an orphan.

orphans - tiny final word of a paragraph

A paragraph that ends with a short single word. Sometimes called an orphan. These aren’t necessarily always bad; it depends on the size of the word. A two- or three-letter word stands out a lot more (and makes it look like you’ve double-spaced between paragraphs), while a longer word might not be a problem at all. Most opinions are to only deal with them if the word is shorter than the indentation on the next line.

Now, some will say that widows are OK, but orphans must go. Others will say that orphans are OK, but widows must go. I say: they can all be kind of weird-looking. And if you’re laying out your own work, odds are you can make adjustments within your text so that you can get rid of all of your problems. Changing a couple of words here or there can make all the difference–replace “automobile” with “car,” or “dog” with “German shepherd,” and you might be able to add or subtract enough from a sentence to bump a line up or down.

Both InDesign and Word have settings for automatically avoiding orphans and widows. In Word, there’s a checkbox for “Widow/Oprhan Control”. In InDesign, I believe there’s a “Keep” setting–change it to 2, and it will always keep at least 2 lines together at the top or bottom of a page.

But I don’t trust either of those, primarily because they’ll both then result in an imbalance between facing pages (which, to my eye, is a much worse sin than orphans or widows). The automatic settings might shove the first line of a new paragraph to the next page, so that if you open the book and look, the left-hand page will have 32 lines of text, and the right-hand page will have 31 lines. Most sources agree that looks pretty unprofessional, and is something to avoid.

So, possible fixes for widows and orphans:

* Rewriting bits of text to change the length of sentences
* Breaking larger paragraphs into two smaller paragraphs (or combining two smaller paragraphs into one larger)
* Bumping a line from BOTH facing pages, so that the left and right both have 31 lines, then on the next page they both have 32
* Tightening or loosening the space between lines (could make things look wonky)
* Tightening or loosening the space between letters in a line (could also make things look wonky)

This was the part of they layout that had the most trial and error for me. I used the first three options in my list, because when you make your letters and lines closer together, they can make the whole page appear darker than the facing page, because there’s more text crammed in there.

(I will point out here that a paragraph that’s actually just a single line, like a short line of dialog, is perfectly OK as either the last line of a page or the first line of a page. It doesn’t count as a widow/orphan. Like the cheese, it can stand alone.)

Now let’s take a look at the same text on two sample pages, and the changes from the one to the other:

Layout with errors

layout corrected

1. This is the first page of a new chapter, so it shouldn’t have the header information there.

2. Since this is the first page of a new chapter, it would appear in the printed book on the right-hand side. And all right-hand side pages should be odd-numbered. So the numbering is off somewhere in this book.

2.5: Not numbered, but I did that header in Comic Sans. Please, please, don’t use Comic Sans inside your book or on the cover.

3. The first line of a new chapter shouldn’t be indented. (Ditto the first line after a section break.)

4. This one uses ragged right justification. Comparing the two, the flush text on the adjusted page looks much more professional.

5. Something I didn’t cover above: two different speakers having dialog in the same paragraph can be confusing. Always start a new paragraph when someone new is speaking.

6. Going back to dialog attribution in a previous post, I changed “said Bob” and “replied Jane” to “Bob said” and “Jane said.” The name should almost always go first (because if you change it to a pronoun, “said he” sounds like a pirate is narrating) and Jane is clearly already replying. No novel ever tanked because the word “said” was used in most of the dialog attribution.

7. Sometimes called an orphan, here’s a tiny word making up the last line of a paragraph. It makes it feel like there’s a double-space between paragraphs. I deleted one three-letter word earlier in the paragraph, and it pulled this lonely teenie guy up.

8. This is either a widow or an orphan, depending on who you’re talking to: the first line of a new paragraph at the bottom of a page. Fortunately, in dealing with #7, it automatically pulled another line of text up and solved the problem for us!

WHEW! That’s a LOT of information I’ve just thrown at you. I’m sure I’ve missed some things, but I think I’ve touched on most of the stuff that I had to learn about in order to put together the inside of my novel. Was it a huge pain in the butt? You bet it was. But I’m satisfied with the end product, and that’s the most important thing.

Are there any other parts of self-publishing you’d like to know more about? Let me know, and I’ll write up my experience with them.

We Could Be Villains
Check out my new novel, We Could Be Villains!

Kindle: (USA | UK | Canada)

Paper: (CreateSpace Store | Amazon – US | UK)

Also, if you’ve read and enjoyed my book, please consider leaving a review on Amazon! :)


The First Novel Mambo: The Cover

In previous posts, I’ve covered the planning and writing of my novel, as well as using early readers to develop and improve the book, and how important it is to hire an actual professional editor.

Now, it’s time to talk about something that could make or break a book: the cover.

I’m going to tell you right now, I designed my own cover. And I’m also going to tell you right now, this is something you might want to spend money on to have a professional do it. For all I know, a professional book cover designer would have thrown something at me that blew my socks off with awesomeness.

The problem with a lot of self-published book covers is that they’re bad. Some of them are really bad. If you want to see how bad they can be, just Google “bad self-published book covers”. There are multiple Tumblrs dedicated to them. Click over to Google Images with the same search, and you’ll see some real doozies. Kindle (ebooks) and CreateSpace (print books) have cover creator programs and templates, but that’s how you end up with covers that are more boring than ugly─a rectangle with a photo in it, with title above and author name below.

Personally, I think that self-pub covers are generally too busy. Too many images all crammed in together, or too many different fonts, or a mix of those two things. In my previous life as a graphic designer, I always preferred things to be simple and clean. When we finally buy a house, it’ll probably be mid-century modern.

I didn’t have my cover idea right away. I knew that a mask would be involved somehow. So let’s take a look at some of the various ideas I came up with, and why I threw them out!

Cobbled together initial idea

This was the first idea I put together, from pictures I picked up off the internet. I wanted to combine the mask with something (in this case, sand and flip-flops and feet) that let the reader know that it wasn’t a super-serious superhero book. I needed something to lighten up the mask.

From there, I bought a cheap mask and took some experimental pictures:

The very first idea. Looks self-pub.

Yeah, I know. Ugly. Amateur. Unusable. TYPICAL self-pub cover, with a terrible font and a crappy picture. But we must break some eggs before the omelet can be made. The mask I bought was too small, and I didn’t like the color. So I started looking at stock photo websites, to see if there was a picture of a mask that I could just buy and use. I built some mock-ups with a variety of stock photo masks.

Three experimental duds

I also, in poking around, finally found the font I wanted to use. It gave just the right light feeling, which meant that the beach / feet / flip-flop thing might not be necessary. Which was great, because that also took me more toward the clean and simple thing I liked.

I’ll throw in here another idea I had. I mocked it up and then discarded it immediately.

The paper doll idea.

I think the discarding part was a good decision.

I was torn on what mask to use, and kept poking around at stock photo sites. But then we were at Target getting groceries, and they had just started putting the Halloween stuff out, and I got this little guy for four dollars:

Original mask from Target

I took a bunch of pictures, monkeyed around in Photoshop, and was generally happy that I wouldn’t have to license someone else’s photograph. I mocked up a cover with beach and sand and stuff, just because that was my original idea, dammit, and I wouldn’t have been able to rest until I did.

The beachy test. Still too busy.

I got that beach photo online; I’ll just throw out here right now that mooching photos from Google is just fine for mocking things up to see if they work, but if you’re going to use them for realsies, you gotta pay for them. I was willing and ready to pay for a stock photo of a mask, until I found my own that I could photograph to my heart’s content.

So! I monkeyed around with the color, ran the mask through some filters, and was on my way to this:

Test cover, almost there...

When I accidentally tripped and fell into my cover.

I placed the mask artwork on the page, and it was way larger than the page, so I resized it down a bit. It was as I was resizing that it just happened to sit there on the top half of the page, and I realized, hey, the title doesn’t need to be in black on the white space above the mask. It can be in white on the mask itself!

There were a lot more small tweaks and nudges, adjustments great and small, and a few embellishments added (like drop shadows behind the title). And I tried out several different colors on the mask─it was pink for a really long time, because pink = ladies, am I right? But I finally settled on blue, because that’s the color mask that my lead character wears, when she wears a mask. (And I read an article about how chick lit covers were all pink, all the time.)

So there you have it, the four-month-long journey of finding my book cover. Of course, if I’d paid a professional a couple hundred bucks, I could have saved myself all of this heartache. But on the flip side, the artist in me would have nagged me forever if I’d let someone else do my art.

Next up: armed with a manuscript and a cover, time for the most irritating thing of all: laying out the book for Kindle and print.

We Could Be Villains
Check out my new novel, We Could Be Villains!

Kindle: (USA | UK | Canada)

Paper: (CreateSpace Store | Amazon – US | UK)

Also, if you’ve read and enjoyed my book, please consider leaving a review on Amazon! :)


The First Novel Mambo: Professional Editing

Last time, I wrote about having early readers give feedback on my novel (after several drafts and lots of proofreading, of course). I think it’s essential to get the opinions of a few trusted folks; they can only make your work better.

Today, speaking of someone who makes your work better, I’m going to tell you about hiring a professional editor.

First, I should address the fact that I self-published my book. If I’d gone out to find a literary agent, and that agent had taken me on as a client, and then shopped my book around and managed to sell it to a publisher, then the publisher would have hired (probably more than one) editor to make the book shiny and polished.

However, the book business has changed a lot in the last five years or so. If I’d written this book back then, odds are I would have gone through all of those steps. But I’ve watched the tools for self-publishing get easier and easier, and I’ve also watched a couple of friends go through the literary agent/publisher dance for years. For me, self-pub was the obvious and only choice.

So since I didn’t have a publishing house to do the editing for me, I had to hire someone on my own. I questioned whether or not I needed it for a little while─I thought my punctuation, grammar, and spelling were in pretty good shape. But in the spirit of “better safe than sorry”, I opted to shell out for a real pro to go through the book.

Thank goodness I did─he managed to find and fix TONS of things that had slipped by me in every single one of my read-throughs. Plus, I got a comprehensive stylesheet in which he included blurbs on every character, a huge list of non-words and unusual words that were staying put because of my writing style (“squaresies” should totally be a word, by the way), brand names, book names, and any other details that he double-checked for spelling or capitalization.

(I’m told that there are still a couple of typos and grammatical errors in the book. First off, please feel free to send those to me if you find them, and I can update the e-book. Second, any errors still in there are totally on me, probably because I was stubborn on a few of his changes, and also because I rewrote a few small things after the edit came back.)

My editor’s notes were also a wealth of knowledge. I got a great education on the Chicago Manual of Style, as well as a bunch of other stylistic issues I never knew about. Dialog attribution should be in the he said/she said format: Bob said, Mandy asked, Ralph exclaimed. Don’t put their name last, because you wouldn’t do that with a pronoun─don’t write “Right,” said Fred, because if you replaced Fred’s name with a pronoun, said he has a really weird cadence. Unless you’re a pirate.

I did reject a couple of his changes, but those rejections were very few and far between. And since I opted for a line edit (a step between copy edit, which is just checking spelling/grammar/punctuation, and developmental edit, which gets more into fixing and changing the structure), I got a number of notes about where things could be more clear, or where things could be swapped around.

All in all, I think it was money well spent. A lot of self-published books out there are put up for sale unedited, and the constant typos and issues can make them difficult to read. I’d like to think I’m a step ahead already, in that my typos and issues should be few and far between.

After my own read-throughs and revisions, plus Scott’s first read, plus the beta readers, plus the editor, my book was finally ready to go, on something like its 8th or 9th draft. (You really do lose count after going through it enough times.)

So onward next time to the next step, and an essential for getting people to look at your book: the cover!

We Could Be Villains
Check out my new novel, We Could Be Villains!

Kindle: (USA | UK | Canada)

Paper: (CreateSpace Store | Amazon – US | UK)

Also, if you’ve read and enjoyed my book, please consider leaving a review on Amazon! :)


The First Novel Mambo: Early Readers

Previously, I wrote about the prepping, planning, plotting, and writing of my novel.

After writing, rewriting, and reading through and rewriting again, my draft was ready to be read by someone other than me. I’ve been Scott’s first/alpha reader for all of his books so far, so of course he was mine.

For both of us, we like to read the book in Word. It isn’t as convenient or hand-held as a copy on Kindle, but we both like Word’s commenting and markup features. On Scott’s two most recent books, my number of comments passed the 100 mark.

We made minor changes to each other’s manuscripts: putting in a missing quotation mark here, fixing a misspelled word there. But most of the notes were calling out any one of a number of issues, from confusion (anytime you have to read back and ask yourself, what just happened here?) to echoes (words or phrases that repeat in a sentence, paragraph, or throughout the book) to pacing and plot holes.

(We are both also careful to make notes when things delight us, or make us laugh out loud. There’s nothing worse than a huge scoop of criticism with no praise sprinkled on top.)

The worst part, of course, is getting back a marked-up manuscript with someone’s notes all over it. And then reading through it and thinking Seriously? How can that NOT be clear enough? (Although Scott and I are usually on the same page about things. It also helps that since we’re in the same house, we can get more clarity about the comments.

After taking in Scott’s notes and thinking about them, I proceeded to revise the book again.

Then, it was time for some beta readers who didn’t live in my house. We actually didn’t have too much overlap between our groups of readers─I think only one person has given feedback on every book that the House of Meyer has produced. I opted to send my book out to a half-dozen friends in various fields, and hoped that at least half of them would read it and send feedback. (Which is almost exactly the response rate. I don’t harbor any ill will toward those who didn’t get back to me; life gets in the way, and I realize that it’s a big ask.)

The responses were interesting, to say the least. Things one person had a huge problem with, the others didn’t mention at all. There were actually very few things that all readers agreed on. And on receiving each response, there was always that feeling of Really? Seriously? No way I’m making that change!

And then a couple of days would pass, and I’d think about the changes and suggestions over that couple of days, and I’d end up either adding in some detail or adjusting things. Or, in one case, rewriting two chapters from scratch with a totally different angle. I also changed a couple of names and stripped out even more echoed words and phrases.

There were, of course, a few notes that didn’t inspire any changes. One reader wanted some steamy sex, which wasn’t what I was going for. (Scott and I both write for adults, but our stuff could absolutely be read by teens.) But others helped out enormously─one of my readers was a woman who worked in software, and she cleared up some glaring problems in my understanding of the industry.

Bottom line, every one of the early readers had something to contribute that made my novel better. I think it’s just as essential as having a professional editor.

Next up: the professional editing experience!

We Could Be VillainsCheck out my new novel, We Could Be Villains!

Kindle: (USA | UK | Canada)

Paper: (CreateSpace Store | Amazon – US | UK)

Also, if you’ve read and enjoyed my book, please consider leaving a review on Amazon! :)


The First Novel Mambo: Prepping and Writing

This is the first in what’s going to be a series of posts about how my first novel came into being. Like so many people, I’d always wanted to write a novel, but always had excuses why it wasn’t a good time. Well, I finally did it, and here’s how.

Setting a Timeline

I’d watched my husband Scott write a pair of novels the previous year, and he was just starting into a third. Granted, he’d been working part-time, while I was working full-time, but I still figured that if he could do it, I could do it. NO EXCUSES.

I chose my start date carefully─since I had a habit of coming home, eating dinner, then watching TV for a couple of hours, I decided to start writing on June 1st, when most TV programs went on hiatus for the summer. If there wasn’t good TV to distract me, I could probably avoid the siren’s song of bad summer-replacement TV.

Prepping / Outlining

For about a month leading up to my June 1st start date, I worked on an outline. They say there are two kinds of writers: plotters and pantsers (the latter fly by the seat of their pants). The plotters draw up an outline and all sorts of lists in advance, while pantsers go in with a bunch of ideas in their heads, a couple of character names, and maybe a few scattered notes. I’d pantsed in the past, and the problem was always that I’d get stuck and put things aside, and only come back to them much, much later. I figure that’s how some books take years to write.

This was the first time that I plotted, and I know now that it’s definitely the way for me. I wrote up a character cheat sheet─everyone has a last name, and an age, and hair color / eye color / build / nationality / etc. Even if those things don’t come up in the book.

I also wrote a rough outline of the whole book, with a paragraph for each chapter. In the beginning, I’d just ask questions of myself in the outline, and highlight them. If I saw any yellow on that thing, I knew that meant there were blanks I needed to fill in before I could start writing, so that I wouldn’t get stuck on a problem and then stop while I waited for inspiration to come.

That’s not to say that I followed the outline precisely. Looking at it now, there are parts of it crossed off, and things are moved around all over the place, and there’s a chapter 10.5 in between 10 and 11. And for a lot of things, I found better solutions for problems as I was writing. But I had the original solutions there, in case they were needed.

(I’m actually in the middle of plotting and prepping for my next book, which I plan on starting December 1st. Because TV gets pretty crappy around the holidays, too.)

There are a ton of tools out there that you can use to help with strucure, from Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet (aka “Save the Cat”) to the classic three-act structure. I started with Save the Cat as a general baseline and branched off from there on my own.

Writing

When June 1st rolled around, I had an outline, a list of characters, and a pretty good idea of how the book was going to go. There were still plenty of places to take side roads and detours, but I had my outline to always go back to.

After dinner every night that month, instead of sitting in front of the TV, I sat in front of the computer. And for about two hours a night, I pounded out as many words as I could. Some people edit as they go; I just wanted to get the words out, knowing that I could edit them later. I kept a spreadsheet and plugged in the total number of words each night (thanks, Word, for putting that in plain sight down in the corner) and used a formula to show the daily totals.

writing-spreadsheet

My goal was 2,000 words per night, though I ended up pretty much writing a chapter a night, whatever length it turned out to be. Although if a chapter was under 2,000 words, I kept going until I passed 2,000. (Looking at the spreadsheet, there’s one day that’s exactly 2,000. Which is eerie.) As you can see, some days I did a bit better. Scott writes on a timer, but I need to keep going until I get to a natural place to stop. The times I tried to stop writing in the middle of a scene, I couldn’t stop thinking about it until I went back and finished. But if I made it to the end of a scene or a chapter, I was able to relax afterward.

The first draft took exactly 30 days. On June 30, I hit 81,606 words and typed “THE END”. Which I then erased, because books don’t end with that anymore. Still, it felt good to write.

Editing the Draft

Some authors will tell you that for your second draft, you should cut 10% off of your first draft. That may be what works for them, but it wasn’t what worked for me. I ended up adding almost 10,000 words through a couple of passes through the manuscript─a new scene here, more detail there, swapping plot points around so that things made more sense. If I read through and asked myself if a reader would have a question about something, I rewrote for clarity or added more detail. My edits took over a month.

Finally, in mid-August, I was ready for someone other than me to read the book.

Next up: beta readers, and how totally amazeballs they are.

We Could Be Villains
Check out my new novel, We Could Be Villains!

Kindle: (USA | UK | Canada)

Paper: (CreateSpace Store | Amazon – US | UK)

Also, if you’ve read and enjoyed my book, please consider leaving a review on Amazon! :)


A Novel Idea: We Could Be Villains

So some of you may already know, and some may not, but I published a novel this week.

A lot of writing advice boils down to: write the book you want to read. So that’s what I did with We Could Be Villains. It’s primarily a lighthearted action/adventure story, with elements of superheroes, sci-fi, heists, and chick lit. (If you’ve read any of Scott’s books, you already know that ours is not a household dealing in super-serious dramatic works.)

At first I referred to it as “a geek girl beach read,” but half of the early readers were guys who enjoyed it. Plus, beach reads were more of a thing back in June, when I started writing. Anyhoo, if it sounds like something you might enjoy, the book is currently available on Kindle, with the paper version coming in the next week or two (it takes more time to get the print formatting just right). And it’s available through Kindle Unlimited as well.

We Could Be Villains

This was my first foray into the self-publishing world. I actually didn’t even consider going through the process of trying to get a literary agent, who would then try to get a book deal at a big publishing house. Self-pubbing means keeping all of my rights, and getting better royalties.

I’d watched Scott go through the entire self-publishing process a couple of years ago, when he first put out Off to Be the Wizard. But I didn’t really pay close attention to all of the necessary steps, from cover design to layout to formatting to uploading. So I got to learn most of the steps through my own trial and error, and by using tutorials and blog posts online.

I figured I’d add to that pile of blog posts, since they’re what I found the most helpful. I’m putting together a list of topics — things I had to learn in order to get this book out to the masses — and I’ll be doing some posts on those topics in the near future. If there’s any part of the process you’ve wondered about, let me know!


Photodump: 2014 So Far, and Introducing Cheddar

It’s only been, what, nine months since I’ve updated over here? It’s because Holiday Doodles has pretty much eaten up the time I used to be able to put into writing blog posts. Someday, when Scott’s books are making a bajillion dollars, I’ll be able to quit working full-time and do more creative works. Until that day, though, the hours outside of the day job are scant and precious.

I never did introduce Cheddar, aka Tillamook Medium Cheddar, our new cat. So I’ll combine that in a photodump that’ll catch up on the last nine months.

Cheddar and Scott at the shelter.

We got Cheddar the day after Thanksgiving. We were ready to go on Thanksgiving, but the shelters were closed.

Commie had passed just a week before, but Trouble was very mopey, and so were we. I looked at the pictures of cats on the shelter’s website, and really liked the looks of this little orange and white girl. But of course, we decided to let a cat pick us, as we always have.

We went into the large room where all of the well-socialized adult cats were (no kittens for me; way too much hassle) and I sat down, and what do you know, the very same orange and white girl jumped immediately into my lap, lay down, and started purring. SOLD! Her former name was “Blonde”, and I’m not sure if that’s pronounced like the hair color or like the cartoon character married to Dagwood. At any rate, it took about a week after bringing her home for her name to appear. (Of course, we have 100 nicknames for her at this point.)

She was 2-1/2 when we got her. She’d been in the shelter just a couple of days shy of SIX MONTHS. Which right there is why we’ll always get adult cats. The kittens fly out the doors, and this sweet and gentle cat had to wait a half year for us to come along.

Moving with Cheddar

The biggest thing of the year so far is that we moved house a couple of months ago. Our old apartment complex had upped the rent significantly for the previous couple of years, and they tore down the greenbelt between the apartment and the turnpike. Then they started construction on the turnpike, which included some awesome pile driving in the middle of the night.

We decided to move much closer to work, so I wouldn’t have to drive on the interstate anymore. That was, and continues to be, one of the big triggers for my anxiety.

Cheddar and toy stacking.

Both cats were incredibly patient throughout the move, and kept their mellow for the most part. Although only Cheddar is mellow enough to let me stack toys on her. (My record so far is seven.)

Cheddar helping Scott.

Scott’s been getting a lot of assistance when he works. His fourth novel is in the draft stage right now, and I think it’s his best so far. Since I last posted, two out of three of the Magic 2.0 trilogy have been published: Off to Be the Wizard came out with its second edition in March, and Spell or High Water came out in June. The third book of the trilogy, An Unwelcome Quest, is currently available for pre-order and comes out in February of 2015.

Trouble and Cheddar and a book!

The girls modeled OtBtW when it came out. As you can see, they’re pretty chill with each other. They don’t cuddle at all, but they spend quite a bit of time near each other. And there’s often some exciting play-chasing around the apartment. Trouble has lost some weight, since she now has a more active cat to frolic with.

The Cheddar is in.

In the new apartment, my inbox is apparently really comfortable. Though sometimes she’ll plop right down on my graphics tablet, or in front of the keyboard.

What have I been working on while Scott writes novels and Basic Instructions? Well, there’s the Holiday Doodles, which just turned two years old in concept (two years ago, I was doing them on a whiteboard at work) and just turned one year old online. There are also other various projects at home.

And as for work, I changed jobs there too! I’m with the same team, but doing different tasks. Now I get to listen to a lot of music and discover a lot of new bands, which is pretty cool. I’ve never been this up on the Billboard Hot 100 in my life, not even when I worked in radio. I’ll have to post some new and exciting music for you all.

Cheddar loves boxes.

Our new apartment has laminate floors, which is a first for us. And I LOVE IT. Carpets are gross. We do still have carpets in the bedrooms, but it’s tolerable. Especially since it’s a newly constructed apartment, so we’re the first people to walk on these particular carpets. This apartment has already taught me that I don’t necessarily want granite countertops when we finally buy a place (we got a whole page on the care and feeding of our granite counters), but I’ll definitely want one of these flat glass cooktops, and a side-by-side fridge with ice and water in the door. Heaven!

So, to sum up the last 9 months: things are busy, but good. And these cats are delightful.


Photodump: The Tail End of 2013

Well well well, if it isn’t 2014. I haven’t dumped photos for quite some time, so here are some things that I saw in the tail end of 2013.

turkey cake

My cube neighbor at work has a late November birthday, and 2013 was one of the years where that birthday fell on Thanksgiving day. So I tried my hand at making a cake with marshmallow fondant. I’d made it once before, but several years ago. (Overall, I judge it as pretty easy, but really time-consuming. And really delicious.) I was going to make the turkey golden-brown cooked color, but as I added the food coloring bit by bit, I came out with this flesh-tone before I got to brown, and figured I’d stick with it. Because it has more … character.

Scott's warty foot

Scott had some plantar warts. The podiatrist put acid on them, repeatedly. The entire affair was fascinating. The best part was when he’d go in two weeks after the acid treatment, and they’d carve away all of the dead skin, then sand him down with a Dremel tool. To celebrate the final acid treatment (which happened a few weeks ago), we’re going for pedicures. I will try to convince him to go for nail polish, but I will most likely fail.

Holiday Doodles art

My little Holiday Doodles continue to be a delightful project. My phone is chock full of pictures of the drawings, because it’s easier to take pictures than to try to use our printer/scanner. Half the time, it won’t connect wirelessly. Then half of the time it does connect, the scanner doesn’t want to work. I don’t know if we’ve EVER had a printer that’s worked seamlessly; for some reason, they’re always twitchy and buggy for us.

The Doodles also premiered on GoComics this last month, which is totally awesome. I’m tickled to be a part of the same family as Dilbert, Garfield, and Basic Instructions.

Queen of Cakes

I’ve also been dabbling into other artsy projects. I got a box of blank playing cards, and a package of fine-point Sharpies; here’s the “Queen of Cakes” card I made for my friend Jen.

Personalized plates

I’ve started playing a little game, in which I give backstories to people with personalized license plates. For example, here’s TOY LNDR. Lots of options when you throw in vowels, but I think he’s a Toy Lender. He owns a small company that will rent you whatever toy you desire, rare or common, from Tickle Me Elmo to Tomagotchi to the Barbie Dream House, so for an hour or two you can enjoy a return to your childhood.

Yesterday on my way to work, I was behind WAGG1R1 for a short while. It felt like she probably meant “Wag Girl”, and is probably just a huge fan of dogs. I, however, took the double use of the number 1s to both be analogues for the letter I. She is, then, The Great Waggiri, a world-famous magician with a dog-specific act.

naptime cats

Our new cat, Cheddar (ooh, I should do a post introducing her) is getting along quite well with Trouble. They’re not snuggle buddies, but they are usually within a few feet of each other when they’re lounging around. They definitely both like naps, and were patiently waiting for me to get my butt into bed on this particular lazy afternoon. (They also like to wake us up at 5 or 6 in the morning, so they’re totally to blame for the need for an afternoon nap.)

Scott would like me to point out here that HE’S THERE, NAPPING. One Scott, no waiting. Curl right up. And yet they’re both waiting for me. Poor guy.

Edward James Olmos

Last but not least, I love where I work. It’s not every workplace where Edward James Olmos (who I’m convinced is one of the nicest guys on the planet) stops by your office holiday potluck.