Monday, September 22, 2014

Writing, Revising, Editing, Formatting, Marketing, Publishing and Other Demanding Challenges

The company Formatting Experts delivers top-notch, personalized service with no money required up front to format my books for print and electronic distribution. Relax, I keep telling myself, but I still wake up in the middle of the night thinking about the most recent set of formatted pages I've approved or returned for corrections.

For instance, we've massaged the text of Arrowstar multiple times while getting the new e-book’s end page ship-shape for readers. We've included a link to Charade  and  the  chance to read the first chapter immediately following the end of Arrowstar. Doing so makes buying the second book in the series a snap. Finalizing details like these generate email decision-making that clearly reminds me of those long-since-past, eight-to-five workdays.

This adventure into authorship has taught me to be very forgiving when I find copy-editing mistakes in books I’m reading. Arrowstar has been read for errors multiple times by me and my copy editor, and yet I found one more change to be made just yesterday! I believe it when I’m told that the brain sees what it expects to see on the printed page and not necessarily what is really printed. In other words, our mind’s eye makes tiny corrections for us based on our expectations.

An eye to marketing the books also figures into this “formatting” process. Although Arrowstar has been available as an e-book since 2011, I don’t have access to Amazon’s email list of people who have bought the book. With this re-launch of all the books in the series and the first publication of The Storm Women, there exists a need to communicate with loyal readers. The end-pages of the books provide  an opportunity to gather not only an email reader list, but also request reader reviews.

On the surface, these add-on’s seem easy, but the “devil” truly is in the details. Building an email address list requires signing up for a mailing service like Mail Chimp where the addresses can be stored and a process for mass emails can be established. Beyond that, an automatic return email must be created along with incentives for readers to enjoy giving up their email addresses. And this example describes but one of the many layered steps to publication and distribution.

I now have so many websites, passwords, and accounts to keep straight that I have to refer to my secure password keeper multiple times during a day’s work toward launching the books. I consider myself very fortunate  to have my granddaughter, who just got her BA in Communications, putting in as much time as she can spare to act as publicist for the books.

In the midst of the anxiety surrounding the series launch, I’m pushing myself to get “out there” to promote the books in person.  I've joined a networking group for authors, and I’m looking  for local book clubs where I can pitch the series. Will all this activity actually lead to book sales? I’m hopeful and determined and cautiously optimistic about the chances, but in all honesty, I’d rather be back in Mineral City exchanging barbs with my characters.

A quote that keeps me sane: “Determination and persistence alone are omnipotent.” Silent Cal (President Calvin Coolidge)

Write on, Read on, and Keep on Keeping On!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Horses of the Arrowstar Series: Marmalade, Toast, Syrup and Buttermilk, the burro

I’m an urban cowgirl with imaginary horses. There are 32 acres of Arizona ranchland in the southeastern corner of Arizona I call my own, but I don’t own a horse or ride one on a regular basis. Not long ago I wrote a blog titled What if You Must Write What You Don’t Know?  In spite of not being able to claim the elite title of Arizona Cowgirl, I’ve created characters who fit that mold very well. Kat owns a ranch she inherited from her grandmother and at one time trained to be an Olympic equestrian. Star, on the other hand, has always wanted to be a cowgirl, but like me grew up in the city. Now that she’s moved to Arizona, she’s going after that dream by taking riding lessons from her friend Kat. Both Ricki and Jim Kane grew up in ranch country and have been riding since they were kids.

There is a mystique about horses and riders that sends our thoughts roaming into the western landscape. I believe characters who choose animals as companions express depths of compassion and caring readers appreciate. These horse-country dwellers have a certain toughness and confidence about them. After all, they not only ride their horses, but know how to rub them down after a long ride, brush out their tails, saddle and bridle them and make sure to feed and water them properly. Not to mention having the knowledge to tend to their ills and have the good sense to call the vet only when it’s warranted. My granddaughter who rides the “range” up north in the state of Washington tells me that a truly accomplished rider not only masters all the equestrian skills, but cares for her horse as well, including feeding, watering and mucking out the stall.

I’ve schooled myself in various ways in order to write about horses and cowgirls. Many years ago I earned the horsewoman badge in Girl Scouts by attending camp where I learned to ride using either a Western or an English saddle. Before the badge became my trophy there were plenty of chances to master quite a few of the above-mentioned skills. Unfortunately, when camp ended, so did my association with the horses. Of course, I’ve participated in trail rides over the many years I’ve lived in Arizona, but I would never answer the question, “Do you ride?” with a resounding, “Yes.”

I have a good friend who has owned, ridden and cared for horses her whole life. She kindly took me out to West World in Scottsdale to watch a competition in the huge covered performance arena there. Walking the dusty path between the stalls while kicking up dust that settled on our boots and jeans, we talked about the joys and also some of the hard realities of horse ownership. That day gave me a feel for the cost, the time and the effort that goes into this popular, but somewhat daunting pastime.

Having heard in the news about horses used by drug runners in Mexico and Arizona that often are abandoned in the desert, I researched this growing problem. Considering the cost of keeping a horse healthy and well fed, it’s a credit to the groups taking them in that they’re able to operate at all, barely surviving on donations and volunteer help. In Charade the second book of the Arrowstar series, having Star find Syrup the horse she desperately wants to adopt among a group of those rescued horses, seemed like a good way to highlight this little- known effort to rehabilitate and adopt these horses out to caring owners. Ricki’s horse Marmalade and Jim’s horse Toast turned out to be part of the glue that brought Ricki and Jim together in Arrowstar the first book in the series. After all, if you’ve got toast, you definitely need marmalade!

The Storm Women, the new Arrowstar release in October 2014, introduces a little gal called Dusky to Buttermilk the burro. In the aftermath of a very difficult time, Dusky’s aunt claims, “In a way, I think that colt saved little Dusky,” Sarah told Margaretta as they worked side by side in the garden, keeping an eye on Dusky as she mucked out Buttermilk’s stall in the small barn behind the kitchen house. And perhaps Sarah is right about that, but I’ll let you decide as you turn the pages of this new addition to the Arrowstar series.

The nitty-gritty details of ranching, horse training and care come, as usual, from sites dedicated to horses on the Internet. Here are some links you might want to investigate if your interests run to horses and the hardy souls who love them: - Horse Ranching in Arizona

Read on! Ride on! Write on!


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Monday, September 8, 2014

Are Petunias Lonely?

Some of us are old enough to remember the song that goes, “I’m a lonely little petunia in an onion patch, an onion patch, an onion patch – Oh, won’t you come and play with me?” by The Happy Gang. Writers spend lots of time in the onion patch trying to make their words bloom into pages of prose their readers will enjoy and possibly even treasure. When a petunia sprouts in the garden, it needs nurturing of all sorts like watering, fertilizer and maybe even a few whispered endearments to help it grow and eventually bloom into its deep purple, blue, pink, or red glory.

Novels, like petunias, need all kinds of nurturing, too.  Books need T.L.C. delivered by writers, publishers, and promoters before landing in the laps of readers. Writing a novel, I’m quickly finding out, represents only one quarter of the effort it takes to bring a novel to a reader. Three-fourths of the effort to catapult a book into the hands of the public goes to formatting and marketing.

If most “indie” (independent) authors are like me, they would much rather be putting words on paper than struggling with fonts, gutters, front matter, back matter, sizing, pricing and selling. Launching the Arrowstar series on October 1 in both print and e-book format across many electronic platforms and through many print distributors often seems to me like being smack-dab in the middle of “an onion patch!” Some days I find myself wanting to pick up my petals, hike up my leaves, and run screaming from the garden! And then I think about the quote that I always include at the end of my emails, “Take a chance; amaze yourself.”

Being a lonely petunia probably doesn’t describe most writers, because, after all, we have our characters to keep us warm. But, the gritty art of writing does tend to be a very solitary occupation. What balances the hours and hours sitting solo in front of a computer screen? I believe some of that balance comes from reading reviews and comments written by fans. Readers’ opinions are highly valued by authors. Constructive criticism might lift a writer out of a writing rut, and praise certainly urges a writer onward.

The next time you finish a book that made you smile or brought you to tears, think about taking the opportunity to write a review or make a comment. It’s not easy out here in the onion patch! Your favorite authors will be thrilled to hear from you.

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Read On!