I have a secret…friend

CA co authoredLong, long ago, a dear friend of mine dared me to write a book about all the things we both love: hot geeks, horses, and video games.  I accepted the challenge, and thus, Challenge Accepted was born.

Now, here’s the secret part.  I didn’t write it alone.  I had a whole lot of help from an aspiring author.  She was convinced that her writing wasn’t ready, that she couldn’t do it on her own, and all of those things most new authors fear.  When it came time to hit publish, she was adamant that she DID NOT WANT CREDIT for any of it.

And then the addiction hit.  Writing is a lot of fun, it’s wonderful and relaxing.  It also has a way of convincing the author to do another story, another novel, or another series.  This is what happened to Kitty Cox.  (Before you ask, Kitty is her real NICK name)

So, throughout the Eternal Combat series, Kitty has been right there, helping me with the horsey stuff and making sure the geeky parts weren’t over the top.  She added in tone and depth to a few characters (including the one named for her, who was intended to be a thank you for all of her help, Kitty Rodriguez).  None of this series could have been possible without her.

When – about a week ago – she told me that she’s neck deep into a book on hacktivist romance, I mentioned that we should probably give her a little credit for Challenge Accepted.  Naturally, she’s like, “Nah, you’ve already published it.  It’d be weird to go back NOW and add me as a co-author.  I don’t want to put you out.”  But, thanks to the miracle of Amazon, I can actually do this pretty easy.  I just want to make sure all of my friends and fans understand what happened.

The truth is that a wonderful author helped me write this book but was too humble to put her name on it.  She said she didn’t have her platform ready.  She said she wasn’t good enough.  She had every excuse, but that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t get the credit for an amazing story with some serious action and lots of technical know how.  Kitty is good at what she does.  She’s going to be producing some heart-pounding romances… trust me, I’ve read a few!

And now, she’ll be getting the credit she deserves for the Eternal Combat series as well.  I’ll leave it up to her to talk about the books and her place in them.  If you’d like to know more about her, follow her on twitter @KittyCoxAuthor or check her out on Facebook.

And get ready for the prequel to Challenge Accepted: Flawed

Destiny Pierce was the perfect girl, the kind of kid every parent dreams of, but she dared to fall in love with games instead of boys.  In an instant, her life changed.  Kidnapped, abused, and tortured, the bright future was gone, leaving little more than a husk.  The drugs were all that let her make it through another day.  If she was high enough, then life seemed a bit less bad.

All Chance Hunter knew was that he needed someone to fix his network, who would work for next to nothing.  The crazy girl in the hardware store was the last person he’d consider – until he heard her name.  Destiny Pierce, the most influential private gamer of the decade had fallen off the radar three years before.  She was an icon to the industry, but this wreck couldn’t be her… could it?  But he needed help, and she was willing to work for a place to crash and didn’t want anyone to know she was involved.  Well, that meant he didn’t need to admit he’d just hired an addict.  Without her help, Deviant Games would crash and burn.

 

 

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Let’s talk about making cheap covers!

1 One More DayMost indie authors are working on a budget.  Usually a very tight one.  We still want a cover that’s good enough to make sales.  I’m going to show you how to do it on the VERY cheap.

My first book, One More Day, was an experiment.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to this whole indie author thing.  I certainly didn’t want to spend a few thousand on an attempt that might go bad.  I also happen to have a whole lot of experience in marketing and advertising design.  In other words, I was pretty sure I could make a cover that would do the job.  The final version is doing well on Amazon, and One More Day is currently my best selling book.

In other words, the cover is working.

But let me tell you how it started.  THAT was not my first cover.  With a love story that is about a girl with cancer, I didn’t want a cover that would come across as sensual.  I felt that would give the reader the wrong impression.  It’s a story about hope and friendship, not jumping in the sack with a hot guy.  Hell, the main character has CERVICAL cancer.  (To quote a character in the story, “I know where the cervix is, man”) So sex was off the table from the start of the book.  Instead, I needed to push the emotions.

I started with something easy.  My first cover was decent but not great.  It had the right idea, but did little to make potential readers feel a connection.

One More DayI took a lovely stock image of a hand-drawn heart and some art supplies.  In the story, the main characters are a tattoo artist and a girl who went to college to paint, but had to drop out due to real life.  Her drawings are what brought them together, and art has a major place in this book.

Sadly, that’s not what the potential reader will KNOW when shopping.  They aren’t looking for someone drawing hearts with oil pastels.  They are looking for a story about people.  This is a romance novel afterall.

But I still had a cover that sold a few copies.  The font was free from 1001 Free Fonts.  The effects are little more than a couple of button clicks in Paint Shop Pro (like Photoshop but a lot cheaper and with less toys).  Total cost of this cover?  $80 bucks for the software – which I can use over and over to make many more covers, teasers, and such.

But, I realized that it’s not about crayons.  This story is about a girl struggling to make it one more day, then one more after that.  In other words, I needed a better cover.  So I found myself a half decent free stock image:

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Ha!  This one had the cup of coffee that keeps cropping up in the story.  The look on her face is perfect!  Like she’s lost in her own thoughts and nothing else matters.  The lighting draws the eye to her face, but it’s too dark.

So, let’s crop this up a bit.ASJL0UIGOR

Then color the whole thing in cervical cancer purple.

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Make it a bit bright and adjust the contrast around.

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And now we’re looking at her face.  Increase the vibrancy of the color, add in the title, layer on the author’s name (ahem, mine) and…….

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Eventually, I got something that made the reader want to know more.  It’s not the best cover in the world.  It’s probably going to be replaced one day, when I can figure out how to do it better, but it is a massive improvement on the stock image that I started with, and took a few hours.  It was within my budget.

I’m not trying to say that I’m the best cover designer out there, but after seeing so many crappy books being hawked on Twitter the other day, I think that showing how “easy” it can be might help.  I’m hoping that some author out there is willing to put in a little more effort, and see that it does have a huge impact.

This book, with this cover, is my best seller.  It’s in the top 1% of all books on kindle, and even seven months after release, it’s selling very nicely.  Total investment: $80 bucks for the software.  I made that, and more, in the first month.  Plus, that investment allowed me to create:

Now I have some options when talking about my book on social media.

As a Reader…

surreal_fantasy_art_boats_maps_digital_art_photo_manipulation_Wallpaper HD_2560x1440_www.paperhi.comI love books.  I always have.  Even now that I’m writing them, I still love to read books by others.  Like, a lot!  This means that most Saturday mornings I shop my Twitter feed to see what other indie authors are offering.

Today, I wanted to bang my head against a wall.  This is HORRIBLE people.

Grabbing the first free stock photo you see that’s close enough, cropping it to the right shape, and slapping some Arial 48pt font across it with standard leading is NOT how to make a good cover.  If it takes you less time to design the cover than write the blurb, you’re either a professional designer – or doing it wrong.  Probably the later.

Typography is the art of choosing the right font, setting it together in such a way as to appeal to the eye, and adding those pretty little flares.  Knowing your font families, how many of them you can use at a time (and I mean ALL text on a cover) and how to draw the eye to the important and appealing events on your cover?  Yeah, that’s what will sell your book.

Covers demand more than a basic stock image.  Try some filters.  A little photoshop maybe? Enhance the saturation, contrast, and maybe soften something up.  Take that stock image and make it YOURS.

But I swear, most authors forget what it’s like to shop for a book as a reader.  They spend all their time writing, and none of it making their art into something appealing to the masses.  They want to do it cheap (because that’s the path to riches?  I dunno.) and think that spending money on something like a cover or a PR company is just “too expensive”.  THEN they wonder why no one buys their most brilliantly written masterpiece.  Well, I’ll make this easy:

If you don’t believe in your book enough to spend money on it, then why should I?

That’s really all there is to it.  When I look at the cover and blurb for your book, if I get the feeling that you rushed through it, then I’m going to assume that you put as little effort into your manuscript.  You probably didn’t spend money on an editor.  You very likely didn’t listen to any advice you were given (because this stuff is everywhere on the internet) and you are lazy/cheap.  Probably both.

And no matter how many times you spam your Twitter feed, throw it up on facebook, pin it on Pinterest, or whatever else you do, that won’t make me suddenly have a desire to actually SPEND MONEY on something you’re too cheap to pay for.  You, the person who created it.  You should be its biggest fan.

Instead, it’s likely to convince me that you’re a hack who sucks at this – and that’s before I ever read a word.

Having a bad cover that tried is different.  Putting effort into something is usually obvious.  Now, maybe your cover sucks, but I can see you tried.  Well, I might make it all the way to the blurb – where your WRITING has a chance to impress me.  I might not.  I also won’t think less of you for changing your cover because it sucks.  Rather the opposite, in fact.

We all know this independent author thing takes a little learning to get right.  There will be trial and error.  What we as readers unconsciously avoid like the plague are the authors who come across like they are out to scam us.  Writing is not a get rich quick scheme.  It never will be.  It’s art, and you should treat your ENTIRE book like a masterpiece so that I’ll think it’s worth as much as a cup of coffee.

Because I promise you, dear author, that you do not deserve my money.  You have to earn it.

It’s not a yacht.

2016-05-11Being an author means we get cool things, right?  All too often, I see people talk about making enough from their book sales to buy a yacht.  I don’t want one.  Instead, I got a house.

Ok, so I already owned it, and it’s certainly not a mansion.  Our little dream home is a one bedroom cottage in a lovely, quiet town.  It’s also a wreck, but my husband I see the potential for lovely evenings on the porch with our laptops, enjoying crazy storms and mosquitos while the puppies play at our feet.  To do that, we need to do a little work, first.

Yes, that’s me in the bottom of that picture.  I was sitting on a “cooch-choo-choo” (aka floor roller), drinking a bit (hence the fancy name for the floor roller) and papering my floor.  Once that is done, we’ll start putting the finishing touches on the walls.  I’m thrilled because hopefully I’ll get to move into my lovely little cottage in another month… give or take.

The downside is that this is a LOT of work.  The husband and I always dreamed of building our own place.  Sure, what we’re doing doesn’t exactly count, but it does satisfy that urge to live in a home that we made together.  The hundred-year-old house is perfect for us and a complete dream come true.  It’s also the reason I’ve been pushing out my backlist so fast.  The extra income from book sales has all gone into either making more books or those “tiny” things a home needs, like a new roof, walls, floor, appliances….

Well, and that amazing lipstick red hair.

But, this is what I bought with the “big” money I made as an author.  Renovations are ahead of schedule.  Things we weren’t sure we could afford are actually happening.  My little author’s retreat is becoming a reality!

Now, while I won’t be taking time off to tour the world on my yacht (which seems rather miserable to my stay-at-home minded self), my releases may slow down just a bit.  That means 6 weeks before y’all get the next book instead of just 4.  I mean, you might have to wait as long as two whole months before the next release.  (I doubt it, I like releasing books too much).

And when I get the chance to finally move into my dream home?  Yeah, there’s an office dedicated to writing.  My husband jokes that he’s going to build a box around me, with a warning light for when he shouldn’t interrupt.  I figure the frantic slapping of keys will be enough of a sign to warn him off.  Either way, I anticipate my writing to get back into full swing – and then some!

So, if you wonder why I’m behind on my reading, reviewing, and social media commenting… now you know.

A secret about being an author

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I write books.  I have these ideas in my head and the roll around until they spill out my fingers and onto the page.  The craziest thing is that some people actually like them.  Because the stories I write are all made up, that makes me an author.

But, no matter how many times I do this, no matter how many people love or hate my books, I always get nervous about it.  Releasing a book into the wide blue yonder of the world is one of the most terrifying experiences ever.  I can never tell if the public (i.e. readers) will love or hate the strange, twisted little thoughts inside my head.  I can’t guess if they will approve of my vision of strong women or hate them.  I have no idea of what I find “sexy” in a man will sway them or revolt them.  I can’t even fathom if a plot twist is truly engaging or yet another tired trope.

Until I read the reviews.

So, here I am, a few tequilas in, and hoping that somewhere out there are people who enjoy my book.  I see the sales.  I read the people who love and hate the book (because the extremes are typically most likely to review it) but I rarely know what people wish to see in their next book.  I can’t guess what it is that they like in a novel.

All I know is what I like.  I’m so tired of books that spill everything out in a few chapters.  I’m sick and tired of stories that are only a single layer deep.  I can’t take anymore books that are little more than an author’s self aggrandizing wish fulfillment put to paper (or whatever).  I think that stories are a journey that is meant to be enjoyed.

All too often I read people saying they want more world building.  Usually followed by someone claiming that the story is too slow and focused on the details rather than the plot.  No one can decide, it seems.  So, I have come to a decision.

Keep in mind, I’m celebrating yet another wonderful release with my amazing fans and a new potential career built on imagination and hard work.  I’m thrilled with my books.  I’m stunned with the potential for success as an indie author.  I’ve also had just enough drinks and hours chatting with the people who make me feel confident about myself to have made a decision.

I write books for me.  I am an author.  I can never guess what others will like.  I only know the kind of stories that move ME, and make me want to spend months dwelling inside those worlds.  I am the one that has to put my name to the cover.  I am the one that will read them over and over and over and over again until I am so sick of the characters that I’m ready to move on.  I am the person who holds this whole thing up, and so I must write books that **I** like.  I can’t guess what will make others happy, and I shouldn’t try.

And still….

I can’t stop checking the reviews of my books.  I can’t stop hoping that the readers like what I have spent so many hours making.  I can’t stop wishing that I’m a good enough author to make them happy, or that I can learn the magic to become one.

And this, my friends, is the secret.  All of us, regardless of what type of art we make, secretly hope that somewhere out there is another person who kinda likes it.  I’m not any different.portrait-1097920.jpg

The world of the Iliri

Salryc's SearchEvery so often, an author stumbles into a world that is so real in their minds that they can almost smell the dust on the breeze.  For me, that is Ogun, the planet where the iliri reside.  Yes, in my head it has a name.  No, I don’t use that name in the books for a very long time because it’s not important to the stories.

Now, if you do a small amount of searching (which I’ll spare you) then you’ll see that Ogun is an African deity of war and iron.  On a world where metal is hard to come by and rarely is found in ore form, I thought it was apropos.  And many of my careful readers will notice that most humans are described in shades that are typically dark… I dunno, think there might be a link?

I’ve always seen the landscape as being rolling with extreme outcroppings of mountains.  The climate should be temperate (think Northern USA/England) due to the size of the continent.  The two moons in the sky that orbit in tandem would make ocean travel nearly impossible.  Just imagine the severity of the tides!  In my mind, the sky is so blue that it’s blinding.  The planet is simply gorgeous, filled with flowers, vibrant trees, and all of the beauty of a spring countryside.  It’s the type of place that fairies should play and myths should live.

fantasy-landscape-scenery-4Yet, there’s war.  It seems when humanity is involved and resources are scarce, there’s always war.  The stronger tend to take what they need from those weaker than them.  It’s a part of humanity’s animalistic instincts that we can’t seem to leave behind.  Isn’t it ironic then, that the iliri are the ones called animals?  They growl.  They bite.  They live in packs, yet their civilization hunts rather than makes war.

Then there are the towns.  Without metal, so many things are impossible.  Electricity, as an example.  How do you transport it without a conductive wire?  What about pumping water?  That requires either gravity or electricity to move in any kind of decent amount (or a lot of mechanical power).  Cisterns on roofs?  But wait!  Without metals, building a structure capable of handling that much water would be cumbersome and clunky.  It would encourage the population to embrace massive structures for the strength to have their luxuries.  Over thousands of years, wouldn’t a world like this revert to outdated traditions that seem nearly medieval to us?  And yet the technology wouldn’t necessarily be lost.

I find that dichotomy of civilization to be fascinating.  I can spend hours thinking about how a street should be built.  Debating the cultural changes due to differences in governmental types is one of my favorite past times.  I mean, would living in a judiciary have a more passive population than those in a true democracy?  What about a parliamentary republic?

I’m six, nearly seven books into this series, and I feel as if I could call this world home.  I’m in love with it.  I hope my readers can see the wonders buried in the mundane workings of the cities and countries that the Black Blades travel through.  I also can’t wait to reveal many of the other secrets lurking beneath the surface.  History does have a way of being discovered, and I think a far flung world would be no different.

 

 

 

The mindset to write (and when not to)

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There are times that an author shouldn’t write.  Well, not on their story, at any rate.  Today is one of those days for me.  You see, I have a cold.  I took something to make it all better.  My head is swimming, my reason has flown the coop and I’m basically stupid.

Anything I put down today would be a waste of time.  It would likely pull my plot(s) off track, alter character perceptions, and just derail everything.  Being sick kinda sucks, but it made me realize something.

I didn’t get where I am by putting off writing.  I made it a priority in my life, pushing other things out of the way to make room.  I can’t remember the last time I watched TV.  I’m certainly not current on the news.  I have a brain filled with strange trivia information – like the average bleed-out times for most major arteries, or what colors birds can see in – because I had to research that for a book.

Everything I do revolves around my writing.  My husband knows this.  Thankfully, he encourages me.  He’ll lock himself away playing video games, make dinner and bring it to my desk, or any number of things to keep me “in the zone” and pumping out the next book.  My day job has hours that are convenient to write around.  My hobbies are planned around my next release.  My world revolves around my books because I am an author.

That means, for me, it’s easier to find the right mindset to write.  I don’t get interrupted anymore.  I don’t have people think that I can answer a million questions while planning a complex plot.  I no longer need to explain that distracting me from the words on the screen means that I have to backtrack and start all over.  (A few brilliant tantrums fixed that very nicely, thank you very much.)

And now, this.  Stupid medication making me silly.  I have time to write.  I have the urge to write.  I’m not gonna do it because………Oh, isn’t that shiny?  I’m sorry, was I saying something?

You get the idea: me dumb on drugs.

So, hopefully, someone is out there writing the next masterpiece.  I’m gonna go crawl back into bed and pretend to be a slug.