Friday, October 31, 2014

Weekly Update: Halloween 2014

Happy Halloween!

If I were a more fun and interesting person, I suppose I'd dress up and do something.  At least buy a pumpkin and carve a jack-o'-lantern. But Halloween has never been my holiday. My favorite part has always been turning off the lights, hiding from the trick-or-treaters, and eating the leftover candy for myself!

Yesterday, as I drove home from the library where I volulnteer, the glow of the sunset was the color of a fresh pumpkin with a splash of cranberry juice. It harkens to the coming of November. Substitute jobs are rather seasonal. In October they were falling in my lap like ripe apples, but in November, I have a feeling I'm going to have to fight for them. I ended up getting one job on Monday, and that was about it for the week. 

But November also brings National Novel Writing Month, so whether or not I get jobs, I'll be keeping busy. I very rarely rarely finish a novel for Nanowrimo; for me, the 50,000+ words barely covers a fourth of my novel. Also finishing up my last edits for The Changelings and getting it formatted--I hope. 

My Pubslush Campaign was successful, and I made $575 through donations, $531 after fees. I'm really excited. Thank you to all my supporters for their generosity and kindness. You're all awesome!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Two Maps and a Banner

Once Upon a Time, my sister got married. One of her friends from school, Michael Boyd, attended the wedding and, as per my custom, I talked his ear off about my work in progress and showed him some badly drawn maps I'd sketched. Michael took these rough sketches and turned them into a beautiful map, just for fun. I was astonished.
Fast-forward a couple of years, and I still remembered the map. I contacted him and asked to draw not one, but two maps for my world. He did these in less than a month and threw in an absolutely adorable Gryphon banner just for fun.
I'm so using this on the spine of my books!
I want to show you his maps, but first I want to give you an idea of what he had to work with.  I handed him my hand-drawn (because I can't use photoshop) scanned maps with about ten pages of notes attached. He turned them into works of art.
My Terrible Version of the Map of the North
Michael's Excellent Version of the Map of the North
My Terrible Version of the Map of the South
Michael's Excellent Version of the Map of the South

One of the things I really appreciate is the intricacy of details. I described some of my key cities to him and he actually took the time to put it on the map. If you squint at Brenton, for example, you can see a tiny church in the north, just like in my story.
Great work Michael!

Author Photos

A couple of weeks ago, on a warm Sunday in October, I took a stroll in the park to get my picture taken. Although not strictly necessary, it's nice for a writer to have a professional photo for her "About the Author" page. Besides, it was fun.

My photographer was Michele Powers of Power Shots Photography, a local and a friend of my aunts. networking netted me a bit of a discount. All 12 photographs can be viewed on my Facebook album, but here are some of my favorites.

#1: Sitting in a Tree

Because, old as a I am, I still love to climb trees, and I think there's something very organic about a fantasy writer sitting in nature.

#2: The Professional

This headshot looks professional and flattering. It even captures a bit of my signature braid.

#3: Sitting on a Bench

Well, I think this is cute. I think my smile and expression turned out best in this shot.

Any favorites? Which on do you like best?

The Epic Saga of the Bookmark

Who knew bookmarks would be so much work?
I wanted to make cute little bookmarks as prizes for my Pubslush campaign and as a general marketing tool. I'd seen a billion commercials for printing business cards and thought it would be just a matter of signing into one of their websites, picking a format, and uploading some pictures.
No, and no.
The only bookmarks I could find were generic, non-personalized one that cost about $5 each. Fortunately, my aunt told me that she'd just gotten some business cards printed from Ed Wait of HiFi Ink on Etsy. She thought he could print them and he could. $57 for 250 one-sided bookmarks.
One problem. He couldn't design them, just print them.
At this point, I was already dealing with formatting, editing, and running said Pubslush campaign, so Aunt LJ graciously took charge of the bookmarks. I told her what I wanted and she photoshopped about four different versions. She also coordinated with Ed about printing issues, like having a 1/8 inch bleed around the bookmark, making sure the fonts were outlined, and other things I couldn't begin to fathom. 
The bookmarks also came out with a long green strip on one end. I wanted them on the smaller side, but that would have cost twice as much. So my aunt ordered them long, and when they came, she whipped out her paper cutter and hand chopped all 250 of them.

It was so much work for both LJ and Ed, and I'm so grateful for their patience and time. I think the bookmarks are beautiful, and that's what matters. But secretly, I'm glad I didn't have to do all the work myself. Yay for delegating. :)

Last Week's Update: 10-28-14

I got a little sick last week.

A sinus headache collided with stress sickness, resulting in a cloud of mucus in my brain, completely cutting off my ability to focus. Naturally, this came in the middle of 4 scheduled subbing jobs, and by Thursday I felt like a zombie. I took Friday off and crashed.

Crashed like a computer giving the blue screen of death. 

I try to present an organized, discipline face, but underneath it, I am a lazy, mad-scramble mess. This October I'd been doing a fairly good job at balancing subbing jobs, brainstorming, editing, business reseach, chores, and even a little socializing. Such balance was doomed. All it took was one little wobble. Sickness led to getting behind. Getting behind led to feeling overwhelmed. Feeling overwhelmed led to procrastination. And once I stared into that abyss, there was no going back.

Fortunately, I'm back now, healthy and refreshed and trying to pile together the scattered leaves of my life.

* * *

This week, I've received author's photos, my final map, and my bookmarks. I'll be posting all these very soon. I'm so incredibly grateful for these talented people who  have lent me their skills in order to help make my dream a reality. I'm going into my final 3 days of my Pubslush Campaign. So far, I've raised $575. I'm feel humbled that people would chose to give up their money to help me create my first book.

In other news, I've decided that on January 2nd, 2014 I will release the Kindle version of The Changelings, exclusively on Kindle. By summer the next year, I will have a printed physical copy of my book available for sale.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Short Story Review: Superhero in Disguise

Title: Superhero in Disguise
Author: Kitty Bucholtz
Genre: Romance, Fantasy


"Finally, a place where I can be myself. No more hiding."

For Tori Lewis a new apartment means having the freedom to live without disguising herself. But when, on Halloween night, a Zorro-costumed stranger rescues her from a purse-snatcher, Tori finds herself falling for him. Love means hiding who she is all over again. Or could this be the start of something more?

"Superhero in Disguise" is primarily a romance with a little superhero stuff tossed in. Now I'm not a huge romance reader, but I do like them every now and then, and this was fun. I started reading and couldn't put it down.

Maybe because it was originally meant as the opening chapters of her novel, but "Unexpected Superhero" seemed a lot more developed than a typical short story. There are hints of Tori's dark past, hints of a world where superheroes are rumored, hints of our masked man's secret fears. None of these play much bearing in the romance, but they did tantalyze me and leave me wanting more.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Weekly Update: 10-17-14

In a surprising twist, gray fog has been spied in the morning.  Between this and the mildly cool weather, it actually feels like autumn. Suddenly all the pumpkin-themed snacks at Trader Joe's seem inornantely appealing. Visions of Thanksgiving pies and Christmas cookies dance through my head. I can't wait to pull out the old cookbooks and  root through for some fresh new finds.

The beginning of the week started off with a couple subbing jobs that required very little work on my part. On Tuesday, I read all of Neal Shusterman's The Dark Side of Nowhere and still had time to scan a couple writing articles. (By the way, I've enjoyed everything Neal Shusterman wrote.) I thought I had everything under control until Thursday, when my ancient ipad decided to delete all my documents. Fortunately, I had backups on the cloud. Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out how to access them. So I fell behind.

My Pubslush account is now at $550. I came into the crowdfunding expecting nothing, and I feel incredibly grateful for the support. :) I've kept to a strict regiment of brainstorming for Nanowrimo and reading The Changelings to my aunt to check for final mistakes. I worked 3 days this week and I messed around with formatting. So I got some stuff done.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Short Story Review: The Lost Eyes

Title: The Lost Eyes: A Prequel to Forecast 
Author: Elise Stephens
Genre: Fantasy, Short Story

They were called Los Ojos--the eyes--men and women granted long life and mystical abilities. When
a couple of clay-diggers discover their lost doorway, will their power be reclaimed or lost forever?


"The Lost Eyes" serves as a prequel to Forecast and introduces hero Tobias Randolph. I never read Forecast, but I didn't have any trouble with it. The short but helpful introduction goes a long way in explaining who the main character is.
The story has a nice Indiana Jones feel to it. Mysterious artifacts, mystical powers, and a love interest entangle in the story. The story is set in Cuzco, Peru in 1889 and Elise Stephens makes good use of its lush setting. Spices in the market, colorful skirts and parrots, and ceviche create captivating images for all the senses.

I was slightly confused in the opening chapter. Two peripheral characters are introduced, and I had trouble distinguishing which one was the point of view character. But once Tobias entered, he anchored the story with his strong perspective. There was a lot of good stuff crammed into this little package. A fun read on the whole.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Book Review: Perfect Ruin

Title: Perfect Ruin
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Science Fiction


Protected by a forcefield of winds, Internment floats in the sky like a perfect bubble: innocent, sheltered, and safe. Who would ever want to leave?

Even so, thoughts of the ground fascinate Morgan Stockhour. She dreams of peering over the edge but knows that if she gets too close she'll be tempted to jump. That's what happened to her older brother, Lex. He lost his eyesight in a jump and has since grown cynical to the world.

Still, Internment is enough for Morgan, who has her best friend Pen and her betrothed Basil to keep her company. But when a girl her age named Daphne Leander is found brutally murdered on the train tracks, a series of troubling events cause Morgan's beautiful world to crack and shatter. There's no place to hide and no escaping this small enclosed community--or is there?


On the one hand, Perfect Ruin reads like a work of Dystopian fiction, with the seemingly perfect society hiding dark secrets that the heroine must either fight against or run from.  But if this is a Dystopia, it's the gentlest one I've ever read. The horror of a Dystopia is that an all-powerful regime crushes the individual's spirit and severs natural human relationships. I didn't get that here. Was Internment perfect? No. But it wasn't ruin, either.

To be honest, I kind of wanted to live there. The society was a comforting combination of old-fashioned ideals and modern conveniences. The worst aspects of it--like a controlled birthrate and mandatory fianc├ęs--could be explained by the limited land and resources. Even the "evil leaders" turned out to be surprisingly human.

I found myself liking the characters a lot. I enjoyed Morgan's whimsical thoughts, and I felt her strong bond with her family and friends. No one was perfect; the characters had weaknesses and the families had secret shames. But they genuinely cared for each other and I found them relatable and appealing.

It was good I liked the characters, because the book, while not slow, wasn't fast-paced either and did sometimes lack tension and suspense. For the longest time, the most interesting events seemed far-removed from Morgan, who was too small and insignificant to play much of a role in them. It wasn't until over halfway through the book, at what I call the honey incident, that bad things crashed into her: hard, fast, and personal. After that, I couldn't put the book down.

Hones, I thought this book a nice cup of tea and scones. Warm, cozy, sweet. But it was just adventurous enough to keep me entertained. I want to read more.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Weekly Update 10-10-14

I hate reading my own work out loud.

It's like holding a magnifying glass to my prose. I question every sentence, every punctuation mark. In this case, that's kind of the point. I've been reading The Changelings out loud to my aunt in order to do one final edit before I start to format. My aunt's a poet, so she's helpful at catching awkward phrasing and suggesting alternatives. Once we get into the chapter, it's kind of nice, because I can just ask directly whether or not something works instead of having to always guess.

But getting started always kills me. So I have my little ritual. My aunt sits on her favorite massage chair and I lay on the floor (which I find comfortable) and I hold onto my aunt's old stuffed Eeyore for moral support. Because I don't care how old you are, it's always nice to have something to squeeze when you're anxious and afraid.

Reading The Changelings out loud is one of the new things I've added to my schedule. Last week, I set up my End of Year Goals and, as the weather cools, I'm trying to get things done in a burst of fresh speed. I'm brainstorming for my upcoming Nanowrimo, finishing up Three Floating Coffins, and attempting to research formatting. I've also set up a bank account for my publishing company and  I'm trying to get an author's photo taken on Sunday. Plus three subbing jobs this week at Brea Olinda High.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Knit Hats for Pubslush

There's a new prize in my Pubslush Campaign!

My good friend Michelle Knowlden, who writes cozy mysteries and knits cozy hats, has graciously agreed to donate fifteen of her unique creations to my campaign.

These fedora-style, roll-brimmed caps were actually inspired by the cover art for The Changelings. They come in forest green, soft beige, and earthy brown. The subtle weave of greens and browns in the band mimics my main character's hazel eyes. It's one of my favorite parts.

For $15 you can get one of these beautiful hats and a bookmark, just in time for Christmas. All money I receive will help me pay for producing my first novel for publication.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Platform and Marketing

“You must learn to market without marketing. No one wants to hear, ‘Buy my book.’ Everyone wants to hear, ‘How are you today?’ ” –Gayle Carline from her lecture “Self-Publishing Savvy”

Whether or not you publish traditionally, more and more the burden of marketing is falling on the writer. It’s important to build an audience and communicate with them, in a way that feels genuine, not gimmicky.

As soon as you decide you want a career in writing, you should start working on your platform. If you (like me) you got a late start, begin work ASAP. You don't have to tackle everything at once. Just do what you can and do it with all your heart.

What is a Platform--From an Expert

A platform is one of those things authors and agents like to throw around. Since I'm not exactly sure of what it is, I'll let author Kimberley Grabas define it.

“ ‘Platform’ is used to describe the variety of ways that you use to connect to—and engage with—the ideal readership that is most receptive to your work. It’s also the amount of influence you wield, the level of visibility and authority you have gained, and the deepness of your connection with your readers.”

I like to think of it your platform as a super high tech diving board that launches your little book in the vast pool of readership. If you're lucky it lands with a splash among the perfect audience. If your launching device doesn't work properly, your book falls flat on the concrete. Lucky for you, your book isn't a person, so you can try again. Tinker with your platform until it's just right! 

That's all well and good for a general definition, but what does it look like concretely and how on earth do you attempt to build one. Kimberley Grabas breaks it down into five basic steps.

5 Steps to Building a Platform 

  1. Define and Build Your Author Brand (This is your promise to your readers of what they can expect from you.)
  2. Identify Your Target Audience (Who is most likely to buy your book?)
  3. Set up Your Author Website/ Blog (This will be your home base from which you can launch your campaign)
  4. Start Building Your Email List (Your lines of communication with your target audience)
  5. Establish a Presence on Social Media (Emphasis on social; they want to know about you, not get bombarded with ads for your novel)
She elaborates on these steps in her ebook, The Quick Guide to Building Your Writer Platform, which you can download for free by subscribing to newsletter. It costs you nothing. If, for any reason, you are uncomfortable with this, her website provides the same basic information.

Other Marketing Ideas

Build the Best Product Possible

This means taking the time to write and re-write, over and over again; paying for professional editing; commissioning a simple, elegant cover that attracts readers' attention and fits with your brand; and formatting it correctly so that the interior is easy to read.

Connect with Other Writers and Groups

Joining writer's groups or finding groups devoted to your genre is a great way to meet people who will be interested in your writing and supportive of you. You can lean on older, more experienced writers for wisdom and advice; learn about new trends in the field; network for free-to-cheap editing and critiquing; and generally benefit in many different way.

Use Metadata

Metadata refers to the tags and keywords that an audience interested in your book can use to find you. If used correctly, your audience will come to you.

Get Reviews

Positive reviews are really important to attracting new readers. 

If you want a nice blurb, you can ask an author in your genre that you know (see Writers and Groups) to write one for you, although it's common courtesy to give them a free copy of your book, six months to read it, and a warm thank you. If you're bold enough, you can build up a relationship with an author you admire and ask them to recommend your book.

At the grassroots level, you can ask your fans for reviews. You can write a review of your author friend's book in hope they review you back. (Author Sonia Marsh said she did a video review and posted it on You Tube to make herself stand out.) 

Just remember to be ethical about it.

Free Giveaways

The point of giveaways is to, hopefully, have more people read your books, review your books, and spread positive word of mouth. 

Amazon has deals where people can download free books and Goodreads have giveaways. You can also host your own contests or raffles, although you might think about including something beside your book. Maybe a small gift card. Or, if you have a crafting hobby, something you made.

Amazon also has something called the Kindle lending library, wherein readers can read for free, but you still get royalties.

Create an Event

You can host a contest, create a book launching party, or give a lecture. Nowadays, it's usually not enough to sit around and sign books. You need to create value.

Good hospitality is key to the event, so remember to bring food and drinks. Sonia Marsh told a story (which I recounted in my blog) of how she got to local businesses to donate food and prizes. If you can network your way into free stuff, go for it. Also, make sure you bring business cards, bookmarks, fliers or some other physical thing an audience can take home, in case they want to look you up later.

Videos and Podcasts

This can include everything from book trailers, to reading chapters of your book out loud, to showing off a skill you have. Heck, it might not even have to do with your book. Just give them a chance to see you.

Build up a Body of Work

It's usually not enough to write one book and stop. You usually need to build up a body of work. At Barnes and Nobles, I noticed prolific authors took up so much room on the shelf, it was impossible not to see them. It's still the same in the digital world. The more you produce, the more your name pops up.

In this way, writing series can be helpful. You can also build up a body of work by writing short stories. Short stories have a secondary bonus, in that you can write one connected to your novel, give it away for free or cheap, and hopefully intrigue readers into investing in the larger world.

Be Generous and Grateful

What goes around, comes around. If people help you, always remember to thank them and pay it forward.

Free Resources on the Web

Your Writer Platform ( Even if you don’t subscribe, this website offers lots of articles for building your platform

“9Ways to Promote Your Writing Without Being a Jerk” by Brian Hutchinson ( Easy to read article for beginners

"7 Tips for Metadata Magic for Self-Publishers” by Betty Kelly Sargent ( Thoroughly explains what metadata is

“5 Ways to Build a Powerful Email List” by Jeff Goins ( Intermediate advice, not intimidating

“MarketingYourself: Social Media Marketing and Creating an Online Presence” by Scott James ( Specific advice for serious authors

“FreebieStrategies for Indie Authors” by Sabrina Ricci ( Chock full of links, references, and personal experience

Friday, October 3, 2014

Weekly Update: 10-3-14

I got my first subbing job at Placentia-Yorba Linda School District today, at Valadez Middle School. Some students were noisy and I had to shush them and my voice became rough from reading about George Washington all day long and my sinuses drained into my throat and I had to stand for 15 minutes at the bus stop in the shadeless 100 degree sunshine, and the whole time I stood there, I just felt... really, profoundly grateful.

Because I was there for one day and by the end of it, students were saying hi to me like they'd known me all their life. Because I was able to put my whole heart into teaching, and I saw the students respond. Because I felt like, in some small way, I made the world a better place.

Yeah, I know that sounds corny and cliche, but it's true. Me trying really hard to help the students understand the Continental Congress isn't going to cure Ebola or anything. But it's not about that. It's not about building cathedrals, it's about putting a vase of flowers on the window sill. It will die and be forgotten, but in the one precious moment of now, the world is a little bit brighter.

* * *

My cell phone broke around Tuesday, but fortunately, it was under warrenty, and I got a replacement. I had my first two subbing jobs of the year, one in Valadez as I mentioned, and the other in Brea High, where I wholeheartedly tried to get the DVD player to work. I finished another chapter in my Coffin novel, started writing up my end of the year writing/ business schedule, and did some research on marketing for my writer's club. I also colored in 2 pretty fairies, 4 silly dragons, and a basket of gingerbread men. It's been a long week, but a good one.

it was hot and my allegies made my throat dry and I had to walk in the blazing heat t

me and the wole time I felt... really, profoundly grateful. It wa weird because I was there for like a day and by the end of it, students were saying hi
like I was their new friend. 

 and I taught som Japanese, and reviewed American history, and felt like, for a brief moment, I made a difference in their lives. I think, weirdly enough, one of the things I love about being a substitute is this idea that I can just shake it off, for this one day, I can do things whole-heartedly. It's a hard thing to think of.

Well, going to a new school, tackling something new is always kind of fun and sort of revitalizing, because it's a chance to make a new impression all over again. I love to teach, but

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Pubslush Campaign Starts Today...

...And so begins my foray into the world of sales.

Wish me luck!