Getting and Using Author Central

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Amazon.com is big. Reeeeaallly big—and they account for more than 60% of all other sales combined, for most Indie authors. That said, they want you to succeed (albeit, just so they can make a profit off of you, but that’s how business works.) Amazon wants you to do well (so long as they get their cut—which is why they have virtually zero interest in making your Createspace store a convenient place to shop for customers who will simply order via the regular Amazon system instead, but more on that in a different article.) Amazon has equipped authors with this nifty little tool called Author Central. You can log in or sign up for it here: http://www.authorcentral.com/

If you’ve read my Indie Roadmap, you will see that the list has a special entry for getting into Author Central. You can use this in lieu of a personal website, but it should probably have the same kind of content if you have both.

Author Central allows you to connect with readers because this profile will be crossloaded into all of your books’ sales pages. It’s a good place to put a succinct, strong bio, some catchy images, and even video. Perhaps one good feature that is often overlooked is the Events option where you can list upcoming appearances such as conventions, fairs, festivals, and signings. Another feature, if you have a regular blog, is something called RSS feeds. I specifically chose hosting with WordPress because of the RSS feature. I’m no tech guru, and you may need to turn over a few more stones to properly utilize this option, but it takes the content from my blog and reposts it on my Author Central profile so that it is automatically mirrored with new content every time I post (several times per week)… I do this for my Goodreads account as well. You can also link your social media accounts to your Author Central so make sure to do that—it is always a good idea to be connected to your readers—moreso now than ever before readers want more than a good story: they want relationships with good storytellers!

According to Amazon, getting an account is this easy:

  1. https://authorcentral.amazon.com/ and click Join Now.
  2. Enter your e-mail address and password and click Sign in using our secure server.
    • If you have an Amazon.com account, sign in with the e-mail address and password you use on that account.
    • If you do not have an existing Amazon.com account, select No, I am a new customer. You will be prompted to enter the necessary information.
  3. Read the Author Central’s Terms and Conditions, and then click Agree to accept them.
  4. Enter the name your books are written under. A list of possible book matches appears.
  5. Select any one of your books. If your book is not in the list, you can search for it by title or ISBN. The book you select must be available for purchase on the Amazon.com website…
  6. When you receive the confirmation e-mail we send, confirm your e-mail address and identity.

That really is about the gist of it. It’s streamlined and easy to use, and is a convenient way to put your greater work in front of shoppers who might want to learn more about an author or check out his or her backlist.

Once you are able to fill out the biography (after step 6) you should remember a few things: write in the third person; use your writing style to show readers your personality; use the bio to establish your credibility; keep it clean, appealing, and readable—you only have a couple paragraphs to “sell yourself,” so be neither boring, nor too short. Also of note is that you can’t use any html or even bold or italic fonts in this bio—words only… but you’re a writer, right? So write.

Something I recently learned was that authors should be sure to sign up for Author Central accounts in both the US market and the UK market. They don’t necessarily mirror each other, but a little copy and pasting can fix that. You can find the UK version at https://authorcentral.amazon.co.uk

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Review: Trust in Axion

I wasn’t sure what to find in between the covers of Trust in Axion, by Bruce Meyer. I desperately want to design a new cover for him because the subpar MS Paint cover does not match the tight and focused writing that leaps off the first page and I found the opening sentence to be a good hook.

The story is a mad dash to try and fix the initial science problem gone awry. The cast is interesting and personalities read as distinct and unique, each working his or her own angles.

I don’t know how much of the science is accurate, but much of it felt very high-tech and much of it was entirely else (scenery ranged somewhere in between Walter’s lab on fringe and starfleet’s Academy with vivid scenery.) It’s not an overly long read and so it’s a perfect read for an afternoon.

I picked up a copy for free. You can get yours on Amazon

State of Writing

I’m back in the swing of things this week for work. I kept on good pace with my edits as I wrote last week. The Indie Author’s Bible should be done with revisions at the end of the week and then onto final edits by reviewers in the coming future.

The part that excites me most about it (besides the fact that I will get back into the revisions for the Kakos Realm 3 that have been on hold for two weeks) is that I have a few upcoming speaking engagements on the topic of writing. The first one is at a series of panels I’ll be talking at during LionCon. If you’re in the MN area, come out to the even in St. Cloud MN. It’s a relatively new comicon that could use your support and attendance!

Author Interview: J.M. Lee

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Me horsing around with Joey Lee at comic con.

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Random Friday, so I wanted to make sure I got to something fun this summer… and if you read my review of the first Dark Crystal prequel, Shadows of the Dark Crystal then you know the funny story of how I became acquainted with J.M. Lee. We both attended the #MNFanFest event last weekend and got a chance to catch up after his book signing hosted by The Source Comics (one of my fav gaming and comics stores in the metro area) where I was able to get an autographed copy of the newly released second book in the trilogy, Song of the Dark Crystal.

What drew you to the fantasy genre, and specifically to the Dark Crystal story?

I can’t specifically say what drew me to fantasy, since it’s been an attraction that started before I can really remember. I’ve been reading fantasy since I could read, though I suppose before that I was watching fantastical cartoons. I loved everything from the Land Before Time to Fantasia to the Addams Family. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, I also was a prime age to absorb all the classic fantasy films that came out around then — including The Dark Crystal. For me, The Dark Crystal was extra special because there were no human characters; something about the complete alienness of the world really drew me in.

Tell me a little about how you landed the Dark Crystal gig?

In 2013, the Jim Henson Company and Grosset & Dunlap launched the Author Quest, a contest to hire an author to write the official Dark Crystal prequel novel. The team worked so well and the Henson group seemed pleased with how the first novel went, so before the first was even approved, we were already making plans to make it into a series.

As an 80s child with a love of all that nostalgia I often visit sites devoted to certain shows (especially Masters of the Universe and Thundercats—both of which got a post-2000 cartoon remake) Where did you go to get source material for the worldbuilding you did in Shadows of the Dark Crystal? Did you get any special access to resources not made public?

When I was writing the first book, my primary source was darkcrystal.com – which had been prepared for Author Quest. I also read the extended universe publications, including Brian Froud’s World of the Dark Crystal and the Archaia graphic novels. Once I had signed on to complete the novel, I was also given access to some really cool archive stuff – Brian Froud sketches and concept artwork. Cheryl Henson also arranged for me and my wife to visit the Frouds in England in 2014, which was after the first novel came out. But it was still an unparalleled look into the landscape that inspired Thra and the world we see in the film. Even more than the geographical experience, having a chance to meet with and talk to Brian and Wendy was a childhood dream come true.

How important will the storyline of Shadows of the Dark Crystal and Song of the Dark Crystal be to the upcoming Netflix series and where do your stories fall in the timeline?

The books and Age of Resistance, as well as the rest of the extended universe publications, all exist in a fluid and well-developed timeline. Everyone from the Netflix show team to Archaia and at Penguin have been fully committed to keeping everything sensical. As for the actual timeline, both the books and the Netflix series take place in the years leading up to the film. More details about this will unfold!

I’m assuming that your hero, Naia from the Swamp of Sog, is drawn on a few life experiences—being a fellow Minnesotan, I’m going to also assume that Sog, the swamplands, are based on my hometown of Verndale Minnesota. You can’t really change my mind about that, but feel free to tell me about your characters and world… Is there anything else you’d like to say, especially to young writers?

Ha! Everyone from Sog is also obsessed with going out on the lake and up to the cabin, in case that part didn’t make it into the final draft…!

In a nutshell, Shadows of the Dark Crystal tells the story of a self-sufficient girl from far away learning that she is part of something much bigger and that both she and the world are in the middle of a great change. The second book, Song of the Dark Crystal, expands on that sentiment — in particular, in finding a place when you’re not what someone might think of as a typical rough-and-tough hero. I mean, we’re looking at likely and unlikely heroes, but I would prefer to think of it as telling the story of people realizing that change is inevitable, but we have a choice in deciding who we change into and how that impacts the world around us.

Also, a fizzgig fart joke. So there’s that.

It’s been lots of fun and hopefully I’ll get to do some more stuff with J.M. Lee in the future! Here’s a little bit about him:

Born and raised in the great Minnesota north, Joe spent his formative years searching for talking animals and believing he could control the weather. After pursuing nerdy interests in comparative film studies, screenwriting, and Shakespeare, he graduated from the University of Minnesota with a much nerdier degree in linguistics with a focus in Japanese phonology.

In addition to writing novels, Joe is an English tutor and writing mentor for teens and young adults of all levels and abilities. He enjoys teaching his dog new vocabulary words and updating his snooty coffee blog. He lives with his wife in Minneapolis.

You can find him at his website, here!

How To Start Writing

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A lady stood at my convention table and said, “I’ve always wanted to write a book. Let me ask you, how do you even start?”

I confess, I didn’t know how to answer her right away. I probably said something nice to encourage her, but likely bumbled my way through it. Once something comes naturally to you, you tend to forget all of the little steps that brought you there. Can you remember what it was like before you knew how to read, or ride a bicycle, or transfer public transportation lines? It can be intimidating and scary the first few times and then you forget what even that was like.

Busses scare me. I see little kids in the city hop from bus to bus. It takes me twenty minutes of reading brochures to hesitantly hop onto my connecting stop—not because I am unable, but because I have no idea what I’m doing. I grew up in the country where everyone had a car—public transit wasn’t even a thought for us. I didn’t know where to begin. Writing is like that for some people, and everyone’s process is somewhat different. Some people are meticulous outliners, some people use notecards (yes, like in high school), and some people are “pantsers” (people who sit and right by the “seat of their pants.”)

Since there is no hard and fast rule, what I can tell you is how I used to write and how I write now.

I used to be a pantser. As I got better at writing—and thus more meticulous in my editing, I became an outliner. It happened organically. My old process was that I would write my thoughts, collecting each general chapter’s worth of thoughts in a page(s) in a notebook: what the major events of the plot were and things that needed to happen and then I’d jot subplot info in the margins. After the story was complete I would actually go back and write an outline off of that—mainly for editing purpose as I would sometimes check for continuity errors or just need to know where to go in order to make a change. Now, that’s how I write. I do the same thing, only digitally instead of on paper. I also keep pages and pages of other thoughts, character notes, etc. I usually consult it several times per edit and high light things that I’ve missed or need to pay attention to during the next draft.

Because I start with an outline (that I update as I write) editing has become easier for me. But that still doesn’t say how I start. I just do.

When I look at my outline, I don’t see tiny parts, I see the story as a whole—it’s good to mentally revisit what you want to accomplish with the story regularly. Then I zero in on what I want to write today. I look at that part on my outline and then I sit down to write it (it helps to have a regular space, make sure your calendar isn’t crammed with other stuff, turn off social media, have something to drink nearby, and allow yourself to engage in the story. Once you are in the swing of things, you may find you want to use all your scraps of free time to write, like me. I hate to put things down once I’ve begun on them and I began saving things in the cloud so I could take a story with to work on it in the five or ten minutes before a meeting. Even if I only write two sentences, it’s progress. Just be sure to set aside some of that time to dedicate to writing.

It may come slow at first. It might read like trash—that’s okay. Just get it on paper. Sometimes you just need to start in order to prime the pump and get something more inspired to flow. I would also recommend that you set goals and find a way to make yourself accountable to them—the quantity of your writing will increase and you’ll be happier for it!

Ernest Hemingway said “Write drunk, edit sober.” I’m telling you to get hammered, but what he’s saying is that the first draft can be a mess. Everything works out in the editing… in fact, editing isn’t complete until it’s polished. Another piece of advice I’ve often heard said is to “write for you—edit for your reader.” Find what works for you—find your inspiration and method because at the end of the day, you are writing for you.

Review: Wisconsin Vamp

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Wisconsin Vamp by Scott Burtness is downright funny—even moreso if you’ve lived any amount of time in the old cheese state or in her sister states. I did a little over a nickel in the state after college (not in prison…I just find the terminology appropriate,) and the language and euphemisms kept cracking me up. The book is funny—not an overt comedy, but that subtle, deeply mirthful kind of humor that interlaces great films like Evil Dead or Lethal Weapon—it’s foundational to the story and the becomes the outlook of the reader. So seamlessly changing the perspective lens of the reader is a mark of truly great writing.

Not only is the form and function of the writing great in a technical sense, so is the language. I marked page three where I found a brilliant nugget that summed up the Packer state. “Trappersville was as different from New Orleans as day-old cheese curds from fresh jambalaya… the tiny town was a tick-infested, cheese-infused, flannel-clad waiting room for the last train to boredom.” Reading that gave me the first smirk of many. I think I’ve visited that town, or one like it, and can tell you the whole place feels authentic… and hilarious… kind of like if Twin Peaks had a slightly normal day.

I received a limited edition copy from the author at an event in exchange for an honest review. If you’d be thrilled to read a grown-up version of Monster Squad, I’d recommend you check this book out. You can get a copy here!

State of Writing

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My last week went off the rails. I spent the better half of it putting out fires. My biggest fundraiser of the year (I work for a nonprofit) was set in lemming mode and kept trying to self-destruct. Keeping up with the chaos was difficult since my cellphone was destroyed by gokarts on the friday prior. Five days and half an ulcer later I wrapped up and went into my weekend at the MN Fanfest comicon which was pretty fun, but sales were pretty low and attendance was somewhat starved due to the Renfest and MN State fair also opening the same time. Still, got to hang with lots of cool people and hit my sales marks, so all went well.

That said… I didn’t do much for writing except finish up some of the more difficult article edits in the Indie Author’s Bible. I’d like to have it polished up and ready for editing in two weeks (I’ll have to forego working on fiction, so I’ll need to come back to TKR3’s revisions with a lot of gusto).

Also, somewhere in the mix I’ve got a new book coming out: John in the John should be released within a month!

Size Matters

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You are a writer. You put words on paper to satisfy that inexorable need burning within your soul. Guess what: nobody cares.

I know, that sounds crass and even rude—but there are some hard truths to the publishing industry. Mostly gone are the days of high-falutin literary fiction novels meant to examine the human condition in painfully drawn-out purple prose. I have mixed feelings about that, but one thing is true: this is a business and businesses are concerned with what they can make a profit off of. You might have the best novel ever written with words that pierce the heart and sunder the soul. If it won’t sell, there’s no point and you may have been better off becoming a preacher than a writer.

Because of the nature of business wanting to maximize its profits, you might have a book that sells reasonably well, but it still gets no respect from the shelves of bookstores, or even from publishers and agents. It is more economical for publishers, book buyers/distributers, and bookstores to produce, assemble, and store for resale shorter books rather than longer ones. Think about it: it costs more to pay for editors for a 400 page book instead of a 200 page one—the same goes for ink and paper used to create the paperback.

Business economics rules the bookstore. If you have a 6×9 $19.99 600 page book for sale and it sits on a sales shelf two deep and sell both copies in a day, that’s $40. If that same title is competing for an equally popular 6×9 $12.99 200 page book, that shelf space can now gross $78 and not require constant restocking. These are the little details that writers don’t usually think about and often fail to understand. Bookstores don’t care if your writing is superior or if you’re the next big thing: what matters most is the price per square inch your titles can make them at the end of the fiscal quarter. It’s callous and cruel—but there is very little room for art in business… but if you know this sort of fact going into your formatting and book-writing, you can mitigate the potential fall-out from this sort of issue.

I made the mistake of writing a 200,000 word epic out of the gates. It’s a real rookie mistake and one common to people who write because they have stories burning within them and more gumption to write what they know rather than do the initial research and look at market norms and understand the publishing world. It shows a level of professionalism when writers know and understand the generally recognized market guidelines.

Because consumers have generally accepted market norms based on different genres, the type of book you write will dictate the acceptable word length. Nobody wants a 40,000 word fantasy epic. That doesn’t work, but it’s perfect for a corset-ripping romance or a YA book.

Typically, the maximum word count of ANY book caps out at 150,000. Rules can be broken (especially if your name is King, Martin, Rowling, etc. and you have a proven track record of topping the bestsellers chart. My advice is to be the rule, rather than the exception. Play by the rules—it will save you much frustration in the long run). Following is a list of a generally acceptable minimum/maximum word count to use as a guide (plus or minus 5,000-10,000 words is generally acceptable.)

 

Literary, Commercial, Women’s fiction: 80,000 to 110,000 – larger is typically better.

Crime Fiction: 90,000 to 100,000

Mysteries, Thrillers, Suspense: 70,000 to 90,000 – Cozy Mysteries are on the shorter end of the spectrum, more serious ones should steer towards the deeper end.

Romance: 40,000 to 100,000 – The sweet spot is in the middle… also the title I will use if I ever decide to write a bodice-ripping romance story.

Fantasy: 90,000 to 140,000 – about 100,000 is a good place to start. Readers expect a thick read and anything less than 90,000 might not get a second look.

Paranormal: 75,000 to 95,000

Horror: 80,000 to 100,000

Science-Fiction: 90,000 to 125,000

Historical: 100,000 to 120,000

Young Adult Fiction (YA): 50,000 to 80,000

New Adult Fiction: 60,000 to 85,000

Middle Grade: 25,000 to 40,000

Picture Books: 500 to 700

Because of the fact that this is a business, I would be careful to balance my formatting against whitespace and the layout/line spacing of the printed book. If you can shrink the spacing down without causing eyestrain for a reader or without running sentences right up to the edge of the paper, it’s worth looking into. From a purely economical perspective, shrinking line spacing from 1.5 to 1.15 can prevent waste and still produce an impressive book.

 

Review: Humanity’s Hope

61xgk4YJOsLI enjoy zombies in games and in movies, but very seldom in books. Far too many people fail to understand what makes a good zombie story—good zombie stories are about humanity… people. A lot of writers either rip off Walking Dead, making a superb story just a cheap copy, or they write about zombies, making a story just as lifeless and soulless as the subject matter. Humanity’s Hope, by Pembroke Sinclair  suffered neither of those trappings.

Not only did the protagonist, a 17 year old boy named Caleb, have heart and character, but he was thoroughly human. The story telling was tight with great editing and dialogue. As young Caleb tries to navigate a world rebuilding following the zombie crisis (a difficult order even in our current, nonzombified world,) it gets even harrier as certain mysteries unfold at Zomtech—both about the world and about himself.

If you like Warm Bodies (which I thought was superb) then this is the sort of book for you. It has heat and soul… and braaaaaiiiinnss… Go check it out by clicking here.

State of Writing

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Of course I’d have to go ahead and write another book this year! That’s the big project announcement that I’ve been waiting to make. I have so many people asking me questions about the form and process of writing (and I’ve even booked to speak about this on a few occasions) and so I decided to start compiling many of the things that I’ve learned into a nonfiction book–it’s something like 90 articles long and will be titled The Indie Author’s Bible. On a sidenote, I have my writing advice column now written and scheduled for every wednesday through the rest of the year.

Back to fiction, I got my chapter edited and also got my comic book done! Wolves of the Tesseract: Taking of the Prime should be available soon!