Piracy and the Value of Art

The day after my latest novel published, I awoke to two emails that put me in a bad mood for a while. They weren’t negative reviews, but rather readers asking me to either give them my book for free or at an internationally adjusted price that would have caused me to lose money. One of them was even asking for my trilogy compendium for free – so three books for nothing. While this may have been done out of ignorance, it is still not right.

When did expecting something for nothing become permissible? I wanted to write back and ask if they would walk into a museum, take a painting off the wall, and walk out with it. Because that is exactly what they are asking to do with my book. The book that took me over two years of hard work to write, or in the case of the trilogy, 19 years. Apparently my time, blood, sweat and tears are not valuable – at least to them.

And this doesn’t even take into consideration pirate websites. Every day I see my books show up on new sites that I didn’t authorize. There are tools like Blasty that can help – and I have tried it – but even it is of limited use, especially if you don’t want to pay for the premium version (which is yet another cost for an author shoulder) and/or don’t have the time to monitor/blast the sites. Perhaps if I wrote full-time or had an assistant it would be a reasonable way to fight piracy. But for now, all I can do is ignore it. I’m trying to take the Neil Gaiman approach and think of it as free advertising because people looking for a free book wouldn’t have paid for it even if these sites weren’t there. I don’t really have another choice.

I’m an indie author. Most months that I don’t have a new release or do any marketing (which costs money), I’m lucky to make three figures. Even on my best months, I’ve never made more than mid-three figures. Overall, what I make from my writing is about 5% of my annual income. (Thank God for my day job, as much as I complain about it and wish I didn’t need it.) I can’t afford to give my art away for free.

There are times that I do giveaways, but I don’t do them out of the goodness of my heart. They are strategic. I give free copies to my Street Team to help get reviews, which drive sales. (Which I may stop doing depending on how that strategy pans out, even if it is considered a best practice in the industry.) Occasionally, I do contests to bring in readers or increase my mailing list. Sometimes I put the books on sale for $0.99, but that is done to help entice people to read them.

If I am to continue writing, I can’t afford to give away my book for free just because people don’t want to pay for it. It costs me hundreds of dollars to produce a book, sometimes over a thousand, depending on the marketing I do, or several thousand if an audio book is involved. Because I don’t have a traditional house marketing me, it is hard to find an audience. As a result, I have never turned a profit on any of my books.

Mind you, I’m not complaining. I knew what I signed up for when I became an indie author. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be paid fairly for my work. You wouldn’t go into a clothing shop and walk out with an item without paying or go to dinner at a restaurant and leave without paying the check. (Okay, maybe some people would, but they are another story.) Why? Because there are prices attached, just like there are on books. That is because there are people (designers, tailors, chefs, wait staff, etc.) behind the products you buy or food that you consume who need to be paid for the work they put into what you purchase or eat.

The same thing goes for books. They don’t appear by magic. There is an author who writes them, and a team of editors, proofreaders, cover designers, layout people, etc. who help make it ready for production. As an indie author, I not only foot the production costs, but I pay for their services. I don’t have a publisher to do that for me. I have to make that money back before I can even think about making money on a book. And given how cheap we have to sell them in order to compete nowadays, that is not easy.

I am not by far the first person to have this happen or even to speak about it. But we have to do something about it. I wish I knew what. How do you teach people the value of art when corporations (including Amazon and the publishing industry) are constantly devaluing it by either pricing books ridiculously low or paying the author a pittance – and last? Add to that how much (at least in the US) things like sports are valued over arts and the constant government cuts to arts funding, and I wonder if we have a prayer.

All I’m saying is please, at least try to see our books for what they are – art, not a mass-produced product to be devalued. I know money can be tight, but please don’t ask for our work for free or download it from a piracy site. If you can’t afford to buy a book, borrow it from a friend or from the library. If they don’t have it, ask them to purchase it – most are pretty open to reader’s suggestions. Author’s don’t care how you come to our books, as long as the means is legal.

Oh, and if you want to help an author, the other thing you can do is leave reviews – especially on Amazon (even if you didn’t purchase the book there – and Goodreads. Even short reviews are more precious than gold these days.

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Reflections on 19 Years and a Wild Dream Achieved

(Warning: I’m going to talk about myself in this post. A lot.)

This Saturday is a momentous day for me. Not only does it mark the publication of my sixth book, Mistress of Legend (Guinevere’s Tale Book 3), and a single-volume compendium of The Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy, it is also the end of an era.

You see, 19 years ago Saturday is when I first heard Guinevere speak in my head. (Yeah, I’m one of those authors – wouldn’t have it any other way.) I tell the whole story in the Author’s Notes to Daughter of Destiny, the first book in the series, but for now suffice it to say she told me she wanted me to tell her story and that it would be unlike any written to date. I’ve always loved Arthurian legend, and Guinevere in particular, so I thought, “why not?”

That afternoon when I got home from school (I was a sophomore in college at the time), I sat down at the computer in my dad’s bedroom and began to type the words Guinevere was saying in my head: 

I am Guinevere.

I was once a queen, a lover, a wife, a mother, a priestess, and a friend. But all those roles are lost to me now; to history, I am simply a seductress, a misbegotten woman set astray by the evils of lust.

This is the image painted of me by subsequent generations, a story retold thousands of times. Yet, not one of those stories is correct. They were not there; they did not see through my eyes or feel my pain. My laughter was lost to them in the pages of history….

It goes on for a bit longer, but you get the idea. That prologue is mostly intact in the published version of Daughter of Destiny (though it was shortened a bit). I can’t tell you how many times I rewrote the first few chapters of the book (it was in the double digits for sure) as I learned to find my own voice as an author and developed a plot and style that was doing more than simply aping The Mists of Avalon (which was the book that inspired it). But somehow, Guinevere’s words remained.

(Some of you know this story, so feel free to skip down if you have heard it before.)

I never thought I would become a published author. For the next 10 years I played around with the book when I had free time from college, then grad school and my first two grownup jobs. But it was just a hobby.

Then in 2008 I started taking my writing seriously. The catalyst? Twilight. (Shut up.) By that time I was about halfway through what would become Daughter of Destiny and realized I had something worth reading on my hands. At this point, I still thought the book would be one doorstop of a volume (which is why I’m publishing the compendium). Upon researching the publishing industry, I realized it would have to be trilogy.

Fast forward another 10 years – past an agent, countless rejections (okay, I counted, it was like 40), three damn-near book deals with Big 5 publishers, self-publishing and three Book of the Year awards – and here we are, on the precipice of the final book being published. And I have to say I am very, very proud. It may have taken me two years to finish this book (much longer than I know my readers wanted to wait), but I think it was worth it.

I set out to give Guinevere back her voice and give her the fair shake I never thought she had from other authors (at least the ones I had read). In my mind, she was a full-fledged woman with hopes, dreams and desires, not the one-dimensional adulteress we usually see. In order to show that I set out to tell her whole life story, not just the part that involves Arthur. That meant dreaming up a youth for her in Daughter and imagining her heading into old age in Mistress of Legend. I feel like I’ve told the best possible story I could and did as much as possible to redeem her from the stain of sin past literature has laid upon her. 

Apparently others think so as well. I sent an ARC of Mistress to my friend and fellow author Tyler Tichelaar so he could review it on his website. He liked it so much, I ended up using the opening of the review as a blurb on the cover. But the part that brought tears to my eyes was this line: “She has given back to Guinevere, an often overlooked and derided figure, her dignity and endowed her with a true personality.” Mission accomplished.

Completing a trilogy is no small feat. There were years upon years where I wondered if I could do it and feared I could not. I remember burning with jealousy the day one of my friends completed her first series. But now all I feel is tremendous accomplishment and pride. I want to jump up and down and yell “I did it!  I did it! I did it! I did it!” 

More than that, I feel like each book on the series got better as I grew as a writer. One of my biggest fears was that my story would end up like so many other trilogies and peter out or go totally off track in the last book. (Breaking Dawn, anyone?) In fact, I feel like this is the strongest book in the series, and early reviews are indicating the same.

Now I face for the first time in nearly two decades a future without Guinevere. (Well, not totally. She’ll be one of the point of view characters in Isolde’s story whenever I get around to writing that.) I will  be forever grateful for all she as done for me. She was meant to get me started in my career, and I know she will gracefully cede the stage to the characters who come next. I just hope this trilogy is repayment enough.

PS – If you want to catch up, Daughter of Destiny and Camelot’s Queen are only $0.99 for a limited time…

PPS – For those who know of my obsession with the band Kill Hannah, the reference in the title of this blog to “a wild dream achieved” comes from their song “Believer.” 

We’ve Got Every Book Universe You’re Looking For

Every once in a while you gotta toot your own horn, create a little, well-deserved fanfare, even if it feels little self-serving.

I’m really proud of the writers at this blog, we’re a pretty damn talented group! And I think we deserve a little spotlight time. So if you’ve been looking for something to read, or are like me and enjoy having an ever-growing, teetering TBR pile, check out some of our awesome works:

First up, Liv Rancourt. Liv is an immensely talented writer who doesn’t focus on angst in her romance writing, so if you need a good pick-me-up, you need to check her out. Most recently Liv has placed her book, Aqua Follies, into Kindle Unlimited–so if you’re a KU user, now is a great chance to give her writing a taste if you haven’t yet!  And if you’re looking for a great #Pride read, this might be just what you’re looking for!

AquaFollies_Digital_WebThe 1950s. Postwar exuberance. Conformity. Rock and roll. 

Homophobia.

Russell tells himself he’ll marry Susie because it’s the right thing to do. His summer job coaching her water ballet team will give him plenty of opportunity to give her a ring. But on the team’s trip to the annual Aqua Follies, the joyful glide of a trumpet player’s solo hits Russell like a torpedo, blowing apart his carefully constructed plans.

From the orchestra pit, Skip watches Poseidon’s younger brother stalk along the pool deck. It never hurts to smile at a man, because good things might happen. Once the last note has been played, Skip gives it a shot. 

The tenuous connection forged by a simple smile leads to events that dismantle both their lives. Has the damage been done, or can they pick up the pieces together?

You can find all of Liv’s awesome books at her Amazon Author page!

Next up is Lyra Selene! Lyra has a way with world building that makes me so envious I can’t even explain. We’re very excited for Lyra’s first publication later this year, with her debut novel, Amber & Dusk! It is already available for pre-order and I have mine, so you should too! If a beautiful epic YA fantasy is more your speed, you won’t want to miss this one:

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Sylvie has always known she deserves more. Out in the permanent twilight of the Dusklands, her guardians called her power to create illusions a curse. But Sylvie knows it merits her a place in Coeur d’Or, the palais of the Amber Empress and her highborn legacies. 

So Sylvie sets off toward the Amber City, a glittering jewel under a sun that never sets, to take what is hers.

But her hope for a better life is quickly dimmed. The empress invites her in only as part of a wicked wager among her powerful courtiers. Sylvie must assume a new name, Mirage, and begin to navigate secretive social circles and deadly games of intrigue in order to claim her spot. Soon it becomes apparent that nothing is as it appears and no one, including her cruel yet captivating sponsor, Sunder, will answer her questions. As Mirage strives to seize what should be her rightful place, she’ll have to consider whether it is worth the price she must pay.

You can pre-order your copy on Amazon and Barnes & Noble now!

Next we have our in-house scholar, Nicole Evelina! I was a pretty studious person in school and I pride myself on the research I do for books now, but let me tell you, I cannot hold a candle to Nicole. When you get one of her books, know that hundreds (thousands?) of hours of research went into them. I honestly don’t know how she does it! But you can see for yourself in her amazing Guinevere’s Tales series–the first two books are available now with the third set for publication later this year!

Nicole's booksBefore queenship and Camelot, Guinevere was a priestess of Avalon. She loved another before Arthur, a warrior who would one day betray her.

In the war-torn world of late fifth century Britain, young Guinevere faces a choice: stay with her family to defend her home at Northgallis from the Irish, or go to Avalon to seek help for the horrific visions that haunt her. The Sight calls her to Avalon, where she meets Morgan, a woman of questionable parentage who is destined to become her rival. As Guinevere matures to womanhood, she gains the powers of a priestess, and falls in love with a man who will be both her deepest love and her greatest mistake.

Just when Guinevere is able to envision a future in Avalon, tragedy forces her back home, into a world she barely recognizes, one in which her pagan faith, outspokenness, and proficiency in the magical and military arts are liabilities. When a chance reunion with her lover leads to disaster, she is cast out of Northgallis and into an uncertain future. As a new High King comes to power, Guinevere must navigate a world of political intrigue where unmarried women are valuable commodities and seemingly innocent actions can have life-altering consequences.

You may think you know the story of Guinevere, but you’ve never heard it like this: in her own words. Listen and you will hear the true story of Camelot and its queen.

You can see all of Nicole’s books on her Amazon Author page and if you “follow” her there, you’ll find out when the third book, Mistress of Legend, is available for pre-order, releasing September 15th! 

And, finally, your’s truly! So I’m what you might call, your resident witchy-writer as witches and magic are my happy place, but my most recent work isn’t about witches or potions or magic, but rather about monsters and hope and survival. In 2015 I finished my post-apocalyptic trilogy, The Ash & Ruin Trilogy. But I had people asking, what happened before this? So I started writing spin-offs, first Dandelions, now Blackbird, which was just released!

Blackbird

What if YouTube warned of the end of the world? Would we even take it seriously? Or just assume it was some lame, internet hoax?

Maggie has her first college finals to prepare for; she doesn’t have time for pranks and conspiracy theories. But a super flu has broken out on campus and her dorm mate keeps coughing, threatening to get her sick before she can get through the tests and get home for Christmas.

More and more people are coming down with the super flu and the vaccines aren’t working for everyone and when one of her professors is dragged out of the classroom by cops and doctors, Maggie realizes she’s waited too long to leave campus.
Finals are the last thing she should be worrying about—she needs to get home, but can she make it in time?

You can find all of my books on my Amazon Author page (though all books are available on all online retailers) and you can follow me there so you never miss out on a new release!

Hopefully there’s something here that has piqued your interest! We’ve got something for everyone, that’s for sure! Happy reading!

Research for Writers

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One of the first things on my to-do list today – well, after opening up WordPress so I could start this post – was to check my account on the Seattle Public Library website. A couple weeks ago I checked out a stack of ponderously thick books that have to do with the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War.

New project, y’all!

Actually, I described this project – Havanain last month’s Spellbound Scribes post so you may already know a little bit about it. I’m finally ready to dig in, and since I’m all about the research, I figured today would be a good opportunity to revisit another post I wrote about a year ago. (Check out Pen to Pen: Liv Rancourt on researching historical romances if you’re curious.)

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My twitter pitch for Havana…

In the Pen to Pen post, I outlined a template for my research process. Here’s the Cliff Notes version:

Step one: Locate the story on the calendar. Pick specific dates, and then study up to get a feel for what was happening at that time.  The key to this is specificity. Whether your story is set in 1955 or 1455, there was more to life than the events on the page. Use what’s already there to add depth.

Step two: In broad strokes, find out what life was like during the time period. This is the bulk of the work, tbh. I look at fashion and attitudes and food and technology and population statistics and whatever I can find to ground the story in reality.

(For some excellent ideas about how to do that, check out my friend Jules Dixon’s post over on the Rainbow Romance Writers blog.)

Step three: Fill in the fine details with first-person accounts. This one gets trickier, the further back in time you go, especially if you’re writing about marginalized groups – like women, or queer people, or pretty much anyone who’s not a white male.  Finding first-person accounts is hard, but not impossible, and absolutely essential to bring your story to life.

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Go HERE to read about M. de St. George. Go HERE to  become a Patreon supporter of the MedievalPOC org, a group that focuses on POC in art history.

 

Since I wrote Aqua Follies (1950s m/m rom), I’ve come across a couple more resources for first-person accounts of LGBT experience in the 20th Century. The University of Washington had a collection of oral histories, biographies and video excerpts from interviews with members of Seattle’s LGBT community – HERE – that I’m really excited to dig into.

I’ve also started reading Between the Acts: Lives of Homosexual Men 1885 – 1967. This is an important book for me, because I don’t want to sugar-coat anyone’s experience, nor do I want to overlook the ways ordinary men and women found to cope with lifestyles that fell outside the majority.

So…yeah. If you need me, I’ll be holed up somewhere with a book in my hands. I just sent L’Ami Mysterieux off to beta readers (m/m rom set in 1920 Paris) and have about a month to do research for Havana.

Color me excited!!

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I made myself a faux-cover for inspiration!

 

 

Behind the Scenes of Self Publishing–Paperback Edition

As you know, if you’ve been following along with my posts, I have a new release coming out on June 1st–less than a month away, EEEEEP!

Being self-published that means a few different things than it does for a traditionally published writer–including being able to try out a Friday release instead of the traditional Tuesday. And, as we’re all writers here, offering insight into the whole writing process, I thought I’d share a little bit of that with you guys.

The beginning is exactly the same. We all start with a spark of inspiration, then develop that into a story, then kill ourselves over the next 4 to 156 weeks trying to write the damn thing.

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Then we put the book away (or at least, we should). For me, I’ll set a book aside for between 1 to 6 weeks depending on how difficult the book was to write. Then I print it out and go over it for revisions/edits/plot holes/etc. Then I put those changes into the computer. It’s at this point I awkwardly ask betas/critique partners to read it for me.

And then you wait.

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Once I get it back from them I compare notes. Then it’s revision time again.

Then, on to the editor!

Some self-published writers will try to avoid this step because it is the most expensive step, but there’s a reason for that: editing is the most important thing you can do after you’ve written the book. You need an editor to rip that thing apart and fix it. I don’t care how awesome you are. I have a New York Times best selling author I used to love, but I could tell when she finally made it to the point where she could include a no-edit clause in her contracts. I don’t read her books anymore.

At this point, when the book is with my editor, I’ll start on the cover. Now, depending on the book, either I will do it myself, or I’ll hire a digital artist. I cannot stress this enough, if you are not savvy with digital art, don’t do this yourself. I will only do simple covers. If my cover is for something more magical or detailed, I hire someone experienced. And when I do it myself, I don’t just pick a stock photo and stick my title on it in a white bar in simple font. I edit and digitally paint/alter the photo to fit the mood of the book.

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An example of something I feel comfortable enough doing myself.
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And something I would have commissioned because holy crap, how do you even?

I pour over my title in fonts until I find the right one–just picking out the fonts can take me a few days–even if I’m having the cover commissioned, I like to pick out the fonts unless my artist has a better one in mind, which she often does. I go through photo sites for the cover for days until I find the one(s). I spend at least a week in my art program putting the cover together, usually mocking up three to choose from before I’m sure I’ve made something that fits the book and sells it. This takes a lot of time even without all the tricks my preferred cover artist does. Your cover is important. Even if you’re not going to do hard or paperbacks, the cover is still important. When someone is scrolling through the Zon or B&N or Kobo or wherever, the cover might make them stop and look at your book.

(If you’re on a tight budget, the two things I would recommend you spend your money on are an editor and a cover artist. And if you’d like to use mine, you can find my editor here and my cover artist here.)

Usually this is when I’ll set up pre-orders. Now that all the online retailers have finally allowed Self-Pubbers to set up pre-orders, we can finally get in on that action. Once I have the cover ready, I’ll write my book blurb and set it up the pre-order pages with temporary files for the manuscript (once you have the final draft, you come back and upload the final file before the publication date).

Now, once the book is edited and the ebooks are all taken care of, I’ll start on the paperback.

No, self-published writers don’t sell nearly as many physical books as traditionally published authors do. But I like to have the option. I just do paperback, mostly because I have so many titles, setting them up with hardback would be cost prohibitive for me. With Createspace I can get my paperback onto all the online retailers including libraries and BookBub.

And they have a guided, step-by-step process to help you get your book ready for publication.

You pick your book trim size and they give you a Word template to format the interior of your book. At this point, you want to make sure your line spacing, font size, page numbers, and chapter headings look good. Don’t forget your title page, your copyright page, your table of contents, dedication if you want, all before the first chapter page.

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Then, once you have that sorted, you can tell the site your dimensions (book size, paper color, page length) to get a cover template. This is the file you would send to your cover artist to ask them to expand your cover to a paperback cover. Or you use it yourself to make yours.

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Then, once CS approves it (or emails you and tells you you screwed up, fix it please and you do it all over again and again until you get it right), this is what it looks like.

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Another cover I did myself — I even took the photo on the back cover!

And you can see what the inside looks like too!

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You can either approve the digital proof or, and I highly recommend this, you order a proof copy to be printed and mailed to you so you can see if the printing is perfect or screwed up.

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See how the spine wrapped around to the front cover on the top one, but not on the bottom one.

But, once it’s all done, and all perfect, then you can step back and admire your beautiful books on a bookshelf.

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This isn’t for the impatient. I promise you. Yes, there are people who you can pay to go through all of this for you. You tell them what you want your book to look like and they’ll do all the formatting for you and just email you the files you need to upload to CS and be done with it. And if you have the budget for it, go for it. But if you don’t, with a little patience and practice, you can do this yourself, I promise.