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Thursday, June 30, 2011

How I Learned to Love the Apocalypse

The End Times aren't as bad as you think. Stop by Candace's Book Blog and see my Top Ten Reasons to love the apocalypse. Leave a comment for a chance to win Apocalypse Rising.

Since we're heading into a holiday weekend in the US (and more importantly, Greg's birthday), I'll be taking a short hiatus so I can write all those juicy self-publishing posts I promised.

I'll be back Thursday, July 7. Meanwhile visit me over at Candace's blog or catch up on my older posts. We've been having some good discussions lately. I'll catch you all on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

This Storm Is Just Getting Started

I'm getting a little concerned over agents becoming publishers and now the latest, agents 'facilitating self-publishing' for some of their clients.

Why is this happening? Most likely because their normal stream of revenue is drying up.

I don't blame them. After all, everyone deserves to earn a living. What troubles me is the thin line between being an advocate for a client and a clearinghouse for hundreds to thousands of writers desperate to be published.

Agents used to vet and refuse a lot of the books that are now going directly to self-publishing. Instead of assessing potential and offering guidance, they're now enabling authors who may or may not be publishable.

As a side note, it is very hard to know when you're ready for publication. We all think we're Pulitzer material when we start out, but a few visits to the woodshed with a smart editor will smack away all those delusions of brilliance.

Another thing I've been hearing on the grapevine...authors with good books are being declined because agents feel they can't sell those books to the Big 6. This is only anecdotal evidence from conversations I've been having with authors at all levels of experience, but I've been hearing it so often it's beginning to form a pattern.

Publishers have narrowed their selections significantly along with their advances. Worse yet, the contracts from the major publishers are now including some very disturbing language on how long they will keep your work as well as what you can publish elsewhere. 

My guess is it will get much grittier before it levels out. My reasons for self-publishing wasn't an either/or situation. I'm doing this in tandem with my regular publishing efforts because traditional print and small press digital publishers still have better reach than most indies.

What has changed for me is the need for an agent. I haven't queried an agent in almost two years. In that time, I’ve been approached by two agents to discuss my future. Who knew all I had to do was stop writing queries?

In both cases, it never went further than “thank you, I’ll call you if I have a property available”.

Don't think for a minute I wasn't sweating bullets when I turned them down. But I just couldn't go through with it. The bottom line was I'd seen too many of my friends end up with a milquetoast deal or no deal at all when every major publisher had turned down their agents. 

Agents do important work, but with traditional publishing scrambling to regain some measure of its domain, it's a dog-eat-dog world out there. And everyone now has a canine in the fight.

As it stands, I'm not interested in giving my 15% for something I can do myself. I might not be the biggest brain in this jar of formaldehyde, but I'm not an idiot. There are enough resources out there that I can navigate through almost anything. Should it happen that I come up against a contract I can't vet alone, I can always hire an IP lawyer.

Part of me is sad that the industry has changed so quickly. It's unsettling on many levels. But a bigger part of me is glad even if the revolution has been heated and tumultuous. The new paradigm forces traditional publishing to pay attention to authors. Those of us who garner a following are no longer ignored. We have a voice and now the means to be heard.

Whether we have anything worth hearing is still up to the reader. In the end, that's the way it should be. Their recommendations are far more reliable than a publisher's. 

Note: For more info on the latest agent transformation and contract blitzes, you can read AC Crispin & Victoria Strauss or The Passive Guy.

Writers, how do you feel about this storm? What happens next?
Readers, has the rise of digital and self-publishing modified your buying habits?

Thursday! I'm a guest at Candace's Book Blog for more post-apocalypse goodness. Leave a comment there for a chance to win Apocalypse Rising.


Monday, June 27, 2011

Déjà vu

From now on, I might put a "Gone Fishing" sign out for the month of June. 

Last June, the engine to my truck blew up. Almost a year to the day, something else on my car died. I still don't know what happened, but I was lucky to find one thin sliver of dirt to get it out of traffic while I waited for the tow truck.

Had my vehicle lasted another minute, I would've been sixty feet up in the air on an overpass. Have I ever mentioned my phobia of tall bridges? I cannot tell you how happy I was I trusted my hunches and pulled over before the truck died completely.

But because someone dropped the ball at AAA, it left me stranded on the side of the road for five hours. (Don't think for a minute they're not going to hear about it either.)

At least the truck is at the dealer. I'm anxious to hear their diagnosis.

All I know is that I was driving home from a baby shower (2 hours away) when the air conditioning died. A few miles later, so did the rest of the car. It could've been the alternator, the water pump or even a blown hose. Greg (thank God!) was still in town. He managed to drive out and meet me so I didn't have to wait for the tow truck in the dark all by myself.

I meant to spend the evening relaxing and visiting everyone's blogs. Instead I was on the side of the road in Dallas in a not-so-good part of town, watching the sky go dark. It was almost midnight by the time we got home.

Today will be nothing but errands and shopping to make up for the lost weekend. Greg has to leave, but he wants to talk to the service department first to see how long I'll be car-less.

Needless to say, it was a stressful weekend, and it's not over yet.

Have you ever been stranded? How long did you have to wait before help arrived?

Friday, June 24, 2011

QueenTutt Is Giving Away My Books and Other Stops

Half the world is going to be at Nationals next week. Lucky bums. The rest of us will have to suffice with each other's company. At least we won't have to endure airport pat-downs and lost luggage. :nyuk-nyuk-nyuk:

Indie Roadshow: I think I contacted almost everyone who had invited me to their blogs. I had run out of topics long before I ran out of hosts. I gave first dibs to those who already had long-standing requests with me, then with those who gave me a specific topic they wanted me to discuss. This is going to be fun!

The Indie Roadshow will begin the second week of July and will run for several weeks.  

A character named in your honor contest: The quirky contest I mentioned the other day for the person who tweets, blogs or puts The Devil To Pay on their FB page the most has turned up some interesting entries. One bright soul is retweeting my cryptic tweets. I only tweet The Devil To Pay once a day and she's catches my tweets and sends them to her followers. Very clever and easy.

Mike Keyton surprised the heck out of me when he posted an argument between Socrates and Polus and somehow wrangled The Devil To Pay into the conversation. Mike used to be a teacher. I can honestly say, I've never had a teacher like him. I might've enjoyed Socrates more if I had.  Thanks, Mike.

An Interview with Moi: Book blogger, Ronda Tutt invited me to her blog (QueenTutt's World of Escapism) for an interview. Just when you thought you knew everything there was to know about me, I prove you wrong. Stop by and visit. I am giving away a copy of Apocalypse Rising. You know, that other book I wrote.

UPDATE: Hold the phone! Ronda is giving away a two-book package of the Elementals series. That's Touch Of Fire AND Apocalypse Rising. Is that cool or what? Go. Follow Ronda. And leave a comment on her blog for a chance to win.

Thank you, Queentutt!

New!
This just in. Look to the right on the sidebar. Blogger just added a new gadget so people can get your blog posts emailed to them. Many thanks to ParaJunkee for bringing it to everyone's attention.

So if you don't have me on Reader or just want my posts delivered directly into your email box, sign up and that little doohicky is supposed to send it. Please let me know if it doesn't work so I can yell at the appropriate people.

Mini Update: I thought the feedburner wasn't working. But it is. The lag time is just awful though. I'll keep checking on it.

Back to you. Who's going to Nationals, vacation, holiday, or running away to the circus next week?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

You've Got Five Minutes

What would you take with you if you only had five minutes to escape your home with your life?

I've been feeling skittish for days. It's been so hot that we'd been put under the highest alert for fire danger.

We live in a fairly secluded area, and our volunteer fire department is about three miles away. For weeks, I've been hearing their sirens at all hours of the day and night. 

Even a tiny fire is dangerous. The winds are gusting up to 50 miles an hour. A fire can get away from you in an instant. And we're surrounded by trees.

I've decided to keep my truck filled up in case I have to leave quickly. People seem to be doing a good job of stopping any fire before it gets out of hand, but at least two towns south of us had a few houses and cars burn from a runaway fire. 

Yesterday, we finally had rain. I never thought I'd be so grateful. We're not out of the woods though. We're still in triple digits and within hours all that rain sucked into the earth. It's dry as a bone again.

If a fire does hit us, I made myself an escape plan. If it came down to evacuating, I'd let the chickens loose, gather the dogs, my computer tower, and photo albums, and go upwind of any fire danger.

My house is mostly brick and glass, but the roof is still vulnerable. I take the danger seriously. We lost two of our dogs in a fire once. I've sworn a solemn oath that that would never happen again as long as I drew breath.

Have you ever thought about what you would grab if you only had five minutes to escape?


***
Indie Road Tour update: I had way more invitations than I had topics on indie publishing. I'd be glad to visit, but you'll have to help me come up with a topic that's not already on my list. Email me if you still want me and I'll send you the topics I'm already covering.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Indie Road Show & A Quirky Little Contest

Like most new things that require computer savvy, someone had to drag me kicking and screaming into the world of self-publishing. I had to try it, if only to make an informed decision about the process and the results.

Lest you think this whole thing came out on a whim, I want to set the record straight. It took my accomplice friend MONTHS to convince me this was worth the effort. It was pure luck that I happened to have a story looking for a home.

Originally, I'd written The Devil To Pay for a small press who was putting together an anthology of angel and demon stories. Only they had a very strict word limit (20k), and mine was way past that. I let the deadline pass and realized Kismet was giving me an opportunity to walk on the 'wild side'.

I had kept mum about it, not because I was trying to keep it a secret, but because I had no idea how long everything would take to accomplish. I'd look like a schmoe if I promised a story and then didn’t deliver on time. (I don’t need any help in the schmoe department.)

I studied successful indie authors, read books, asked a thousand questions about format (which was the part that scared me the most) and started the tedious process of gathering potential artwork.

If I was going to do this, I was going to do it just like the big boys. That meant multiple editors, my own ISBN, professional art, and a promo budget. Granted, it had to be on a much smaller scale, but I refused to skimp on quality. I contacted the best people I knew for advice and their expertise.

By the time I started designing the cover layout, I realized it was time to put my money where my mouth was.

Would I be successful?

There was only one way to find out. I had to go to the deep end of the pool and jump in. And me without a life-vest!

So now The Devil To Pay is out in the cold, cruel world hoping someone will notice it.

In the past, my publisher was the one who put out ads, tweeted about my book, or talked about me on Facebook. Now it's all up to me.

Yeah. It's as scary as it sounds. Big Scary.

That's why I need your help.

Starting in July, I want to do a special blog tour where I’ll talk specifically about what I’ve learned about the indie process. I'm calling it the Indie Road Show. If you think your readers would be interested in reading about one author's experience on the indie superhighway, I’d be pleased and proud to write a guest post for you. Email me.

I’ve already come up with several topics, but I’d love to hear what you personally are curious to find out. What do you want to know? Tell me in the comments and I’ll put it on my list.

Even if you don't host me, would you mention the book to your Twitter, FB or blog followers? I'm serious. Almost no one knows me! It's embarrassing. 

***
But wait, there's more!

I put a Google Alert on the title "The Devil To Pay". If you post the most links and mentions through the end of August, I will write in a character with your name into the next novella. And of course, you'll also win a copy of the book.

I promise I won't write you in as a bad guy...unless you insist. :grin:

There's so much I want to tell you about all the things that happened behind the scenes, but this will do for now. It was an exciting, nerve-wracking, nail-biting and exhausting experience. But I'm glad I did it.



Friday, June 17, 2011

Iko, the Hero

I will put up with coyotes, feral pigs, raccoons, scorpions, snakes, spiders, and weeds so thorny one swipe draws blood, but NOT in my home. 

You can imagine my consternation when I found this.

Down here, we call it a chicken snake, though many people call them rat snakes. 

The biggest one I ever found was over six feet long and hiding in my chicken coop (many years ago). 

This one was only two feet long and slithering into my bedroom.

Iko, my HERO, spotted him right away and alerted me at once. When Tank saw what the problem was he tried to pull in front of me, I guess to protect me, but I pushed them both out and closed the door. At the time, I wasn't sure what kind of snake it was or if it was poisonous, and I didn't want the dogs to get hurt.

Our guess is he probably came in when we had the chicks out in the garage. I was doing quite a bit of running around between house and garage and left the doors open often.

The chicks had since been relocated. But snakey here didn't get the memo. For scaring me out of ten years, he doomed himself to death. 

I know. I shouldn't have killed him. But then he shouldn't have scared the dickens out of me.

He was extremely ill-tempered, lunging at me and shaking his tail. I was not amused.

Iko and Tank got numerous hugs and cookies. Good boys.

Side Note: Iko has since been forgiven for his many crimes against innocent furniture and rugs while he was a puppy. For saving me last night, he's earned Special Dispensation.

***

Important Note: When I was updating my Links page, I accidentally deleted everyone past the S's. If we traded links and yours is missing, let me know and I'll replace it. If you'd like to trade links with me and you're currently not on my page, email me and we'll trade.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Devil To Pay

Umm…I have a new book out.

I slaved over the cover.
I agonized over every edit.
And I read the manuscript so often I can recite it in my sleep.

But I love this story. And I hope you do too.

You’ll never look at Heaven and Hell in the same light again.


May I introduce, THE DEVIL TO PAY.

It's the first novella in a series called Second Chances, where I crack the preternatural world wide open and show you a realm you've not seen before.

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions and bad tequila. Shannon McKee finds herself at the end of her rope, and she offers her soul to whoever can save her first.

Unfortunately, she sends that request to both agencies. Shannon’s plea is answered immediately by two men who couldn’t be more different from one another. Yet they share a bond and an affection for the stubborn Miss McKee that even they don’t understand.

When Heaven and Hell demand their payment, Shannon has no choice but to submit. No matter who gets her soul, she’s not getting out of this alive.

It’s on Smashwords and Kindle. Coming soon to other shops.

Next week, I’ll talk about why I went indie and what I learned along the way.

If you read the book, will you leave a review somewhere in the usual places? I'd love you forever. Thanks!

Warning: It's a bit on the sexy side.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Shh...Don't Wake Her

I wasn't planning on this, but I need to take a couple of days to recuperate from the weekend. I'll be back Wednesday.

After a weekend of burning brush, weeding, canning and scorpion hunting, I'm bushed.

If something cool happened in your life over the weekend (unlike moi), feel free to comment. In the meantime, I'll go visit your blogs.

Friday, June 10, 2011

What was she smoking?

I don't smoke pot, but sometimes I wonder if my alter ego does. I've always had the most enigmatic dreams, aka, weird dreams.

I've had them all my life so I never think them odd until I repeat them to someone else. Most of the time they appear like a series of commercials, playing so quickly, I scarcely remember them. And then there are the recurring dreams.

Dream #1: I'm in a large, older home. Although it's unfamiliar to me, I know it belongs to me. I'm wandering from room to room and discover a closed door that leads into a huge shed with shelves from floor to ceiling. The shelves are stocked neatly with all manner of things; toys, tools, books, and contraptions I can't identify.

Because I have this strange ability to take on the point of of view of every character and thing in a dream, I know each item has been waiting patiently for me to arrive so they can tell me their stories. I can almost hear them.

I'm anxious to start exploring when someone outside calls me. I walk out to see who it is but when I turn back, the door to the shed is locked--or worse, ceases to exist. I wake up frustrated.

Dream #2: I'm in the Olympics! Stranger still, I'm on the swim team. (In real life, I swim like a rock.) Here I am with all these Olympic class swimmers and the starting bell goes off. We kick off, but instead of swimming I reach the other end of the pool from one tremendous kick alone. I hardly ever win the meet, but I'm always among the top three.

For some reason the judges don't seem to care that I'm not swimming, as long as I reach the marks. The other thing that's strange is that I keep telling everyone I can't swim, but no one believes me. They pat me on the back and tell me to give it all I've got. (It makes me laugh that I've never drowned.)

Dream #3: This one is my only nightmare, and the only one whose meaning I understand. I dream that I'm out checking my animals, but realize to my horror that I have another set of animals in pens farther back that I have not checked in days! I'm frantic as I race back to check on them. Some are dead, others dying of thirst or lack of food. I always wake up with my heart pounding.

What this means: Someone in my menagerie is either sick or about to get sick. This dream has NEVER failed to warn me of impending problems. I check everyone thoroughly--including Greg.

Around here the animals always get fed first. Then Greg. Then me. So the dream isn't so much telling me I've ignored my animals, but that something is amiss.

As I get older, I remember my dreams less and less, but these particular dreams have stayed with me for decades.

Please don't make me feel like a wacko. What weird dream have you had lately? Do you think dreams have meaning?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Carina Press Anniversary Winner

Thanks to everyone who popped in to visit Melissa Johnson and for all the good wishes. When Carina Press celebrates, we go all the way!

Every name was run through Random.org and the winner is: 


Congrats booklover0226! I've already sent your name to Carina Press and someone will be contacting you soon.

I was thrilled to meet so many new faces. Thank you for supporting Carina Press. We love you guys!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Par-Tay! Carina Press 1-Year Anniversary with Melissa Johnson

Welcome to the Carina Press Anniversary Party! I'm thrilled that I was asked to host and I hope you'll give a warm welcome to Melissa Johnson.

Leave a comment and you'll be in the running for a free download of a Carina Press book. The winner will be announced Wednesday, June 8.

Take it away, Angela and Melissa!


***

In celebration of our one year anniversary, I asked as many of our Harlequin team members and Carina Press freelance editors as possible to write a short blog post, talking about what the past year or so has been like for them, working on Carina Press. I deliberately didn't provide any direction other than that, because I wanted to see what people came up with, in the spirit of Carina's 1st anniversary. I was so pleased when I saw what they'd all come up with, and had to say (and some of these posts made me just a little teary)! I hope you enjoy the post, and look for your opportunity to win a Carina Press book at the bottom of this post. ~Angela James

Melissa Johnson is a freelance editor for Carina Press. 
You can follow her on Twitter.

Editing as Social Work

During my time as a freelance editor with Carina Press, a surprising idea has crept into my mind—that as an editor in this genre, my tasks and struggles are not so far from a totally different field I also considered working in.

When Angela hired me as one of the freelance editors for her new venture, Carina Press, I was in the midst of testing another career field: social work.  I was taking my first class toward a master’s degree, with a plan to be a medical and disabilities counselor.  I put social work on indefinite hold because I was so eager to work for Carina Press.  (Had I been a superwoman, perhaps I could’ve been an active freelancer, stayed home with three kids and gone to grad school, but alas I am not.)

So, how have I been using the concepts I was studying in psychology and sociology?  Authors, you can let out the breath you might be holding.  I’m not referring to dealing with you.  You’re perfectly healthy, rational and balanced individuals…just like me.  ;-)

I am talking about your heroes and heroines, and their relationships.  In romance, readers have high expectations for heroes and heroines, and readers’ buying power gives a thumbs up or down to the personalities, behaviors and relationships writers create.  Meanwhile, as part of the feedback loop, writers are pushing into the world their new or modified ideals about individuals and relationships.  (A quick look at romance novels from ten, twenty or thirty years ago shows us how much ideals have changed.)

And editors?  What role do we play in this interpretation of healthy psychological growth and coupling?   We make judgments and ask for changes to show the hero and heroine are in love for the right reasons, that they’ve developed themselves apart from each other, or their parents or their mentors and heroes, and that they have a balance between self- and other-focus.  

We do a lot of tweaking of characters along the lines of:  

• Does this anger/sadness/frustration make sense and how will he/she resolve it?
• Does she/he seem too callous (or coddling)?
• Will she/he lose the readers’ sympathy by doing this? 

We also try to make sure the relationship between the characters is “balanced.”  

• Is he taking too much care of her or vice versa?
• Why are they attracted to each other?  What do they admire in each other and why?
• Do they see the flaws or rough spots in each other and accept those too?” 

I think it is a mistake when outsiders to the genre claim the heroes and heroines are all the same.  Sure, the spitfire and the Alpha are fairly common, but main characters can be shy and bold, anxious and calm, grumpy and chipper, wounded and wounding. 
 
Heroes and heroines don’t have to start out perfect, and the story shouldn’t even end with them perfect, but they have to show a trajectory of growth and their efforts have to be admirable. 
 
I suspect this is what a therapist hopes for in his or her dealings with clients.

The best part of working with Carina Press has been collaborating with my colleagues on some of these questions.  When I doubt my judgment or simply want more input, I present the “case,” anonymously, to my colleagues.  I love hearing what the other editors at Carina Press think of character growth and admirability.  And I love their ideas on how to keep the dramatic tension high—characters’ problems big and realistic—within these constraints.  After I digest their perspectives, I offer my authors what I hope is comprehensive, expert advice.  

Of course, this is only one aspect of what an editor does, and a therapist has an entirely different world of real clients rather than characters.  Nonetheless, I’m pleased that editing for Carina Press involves this normative and collaborative social work, and I’m thrilled that I chose this editing path. 

To celebrate Carina's one year anniversary of publishing books, we're giving away some prizes. Today, on each of the nineteen blogs our team members are featured on, we're giving away a download of a Carina Press book to one random winner (that's nineteen total winners!) All you need to do to be entered to win is comment on this post. You can enter to win on all nineteen posts. In addition, on the Carina Press blog, we're giving away a grand prize of a Kobo ereader and 12 Carina Press books of the winner's choice. Visit the Carina Press blog to enter to win, and to see links to all 19 of today's blog posts.
                                               
And a sincere thank you from all of us, to our readers and authors, for making Carina Press's first year a success!

Monday, June 6, 2011

This 'n That Update

My two week vacation went by fast! Family occupied most of my time, so I foresee another (shorter) mini-vacation around the Fourth of July.

Homestead Update: The garden is doing well, even with our triple digits. But it looks like I lost my two cherry trees. I talked to the nursery-woman and she said they probably went into shock. I've been trying to resuscitate them but I think they're goners. At least they're guaranteed, so I'll get my money back. She told me cherry trees are notorious for going shocky. Next year, I'll water them with root stimulator.

I've been taking a little canning workshop the last couple of weekends, and I've learned so much! But I wish I lived near someone who liked to can. I have no one to share the experience with me.

Weird Moment: Over the weekend I stopped by the feed store to pick up feed for the chicks. This other couple was there asking chicken questions and the lady behind the counter didn't have any answers, so I chipped in what I knew. One thing led to another and I invited them back to my place to see our set-up.

While they were there, we started talking about their home and I remarked that it sounded just like the house we almost bought. The more we talked, the more we realized it was the house we almost bought. When the sellers didn't accept our counter offer, we walked. 

The house stayed on the market for several more months, and this couple ended up buying it for 20k less than what we offered. I imagine those sellers were kicking themselves for turning us down.

But it all worked out in the end. As gorgeous as that first house was, I like the one we ended up with better. It's more secluded. 

Is that not bizarre? What are the chances of meeting the people who bought the house we walked away from? And they live 20 miles away!

Writing update: Didn't get a lot of new writing done, but I did finish all my edits for my current project. I hope to announce some good news on that one soon.

Apocalypse Rising news: I had a surprise a few days ago when Embrace The Shadows put Apocalypse Rising in a cover contest. Not sure how long the contest will run, but if you like the cover, cast your vote here

***
So that was my two weeks while I was gone. Tomorrow, I am hosting a special guest from the Carina Press staff to celebrate their one year anniversary. Be sure to stop by and visit with us.

***
I think we're going to the movies this week. Greg wants to see Thor, and I'd like to see Priest. I'm not a big vampire fan, but I'll watch anything with Paul Bettany. Are there any movies you recommend?