Publishing Timeline

Publishing Timeline

Following an exchange with @Mansplanation on Twitter, I thought I’d post the timeline I use for the launch of my books.This is in clunky table format because I’m not cool enough to know how to translate my calendar into WordPress.

  Manuscript Legal Marketing
T -6 Engage editor

Manuscript to editor

Buy ISBN Compile newsletter mailing list
T -5 Write back blurb

Write character interviews

Write blog posts

T -4 Edits from editor – rewrite and final line edits

Engage cover artist

Engage formatter

Set up pre-launch page

Assemble street team

 

T -3 Give final page count to cover artist

Finished MS and cover art to formatter

Finished MS to US copyright office Post sample chapter on blog

ARC copies to street team and book reviewers

T -2 Formatted versions back from formatter (book final)

 

Set up pre-orders on Amazon

Newsletter announcement

Swag (biz cards, bookmarks)

T -1 Upload book final to Amazon

Street team cover reveal

Twitter and FB pre-launch ads

Launch FB launch party

Street team blog tour

I hope the elements of the table are pretty self-explanatory, but a few words of explanation might be helpful:

  • This timeline is actually a month longer than the one I used for Neon Blue. I learned my lesson. I didn’t give my editor enough time and I got really crunched in months T-3 and T-2. In future, I will give myself six months and the editor at least a month, six weeks if possible.
  • Not every author uses a professional editor, cover artist or book formatter. I have no issue with folks who don’t, but I think it’s good to know your limitations. Writing novels does not make me an editor. Sketching occasionally (or playing around with Photoshop) does not make me a cover artist. Having a rudimentary knowledge of Calibre does not make me a book designer. Had I done those things myself, I would have saved some money, but my books would have been poorer for it.
  • I buy ISBNs. I know this is a divisive issue among self-published authors. You do not need to buy ISBNs in order to publish your ebook. If you do a paperback version through Amazon, Amazon will assign an ISBN to your book for free (although you’re only supposed to use it on Amazon for the paperback version). But, hey, I’m a lawyer and having an ISBN means my books are included in the market research cool people like Kris Rusch do on the ebook market. I also think, although I have no proof, that having an ISBN is why a couple of libraries have bought my books (or librarians love me, either way, still cool).
  • You do not have to send your book to the US copyright office in order to copyright it, but, again, lawyer.
  • Some authors have street teams; some don’t. I haven’t seen any stats on sales via street teams, but I’ll say that having a street team on Snowburn made my first publishing experience so much easier. There were several published authors on my street team who generously gave me the benefit of their experience. They also formed the core of the book’s early reviewers, which helped drive initial sales. (Critical for a first book.) I didn’t know what a street team was when I published Snowburn, mind, nor did I call the kind folks who supported me a “street team” but they were and I will always be very grateful to them.

This timeline doesn’t take into account anything other than the run-up to the launch of the book itself. It doesn’t address “building your author platform” or reviewing other people’s books or solving world hunger. All of those things are important, too, but too much for this timeline (or this blog post). I hope you find this helpful, @Mansplanation, and anyone else who reads this!

Dealing With Mid Story Writer’s Block With Cynthia Sax

I’m delighted to welcome the wonderful Cynthia Sax to my blog today!

***

I found EJ’s post on techniques she’s using to finish Throwing Fire so interesting. I thought I’d share my own tricks for defeating mid story writer’s block.

This is a common problem for ALL writers. If we’re fortunate to have long writing careers, we will all experience what I like to call word constipation. It’s always great to have a toolbox full of techniques to try when this affliction strikes. I usually keep trying techniques until there’s a break-through and the words flow once again.

The number one reason why words stop flowing for me is because I’ve made a wrong decision for a character somewhere in the story. I’ve forced a character to do something he or she wouldn’t do. When this happens, I move backwards in the story, reviewing every key decision from the point of blockage to, if I have to, the start of the story. Often changing one wrong (for the character) decision is the solution.

If the blockage isn’t a story issue but rather a “my brain is dead and I can’t revive it” issue, I’ll change things until my muse is kick-started. I might write long hand in a notebook for a few pages. If that doesn’t work, I’ll change the ink colors of my pens (colors stimulate different parts of the brain).

I might change the music I listen to (again, different types of music stimulate different parts of the brain) or not listen to music at all. I might change the physical location of where I’m writing. Sometimes my muse is waiting at a bus stop bench. (I think this has to do with my brain associating the bench with change, with travel, with leaving.)

Flash fiction also helps, especially with an issue like “Oh lord. I’m washed up as a writer. I’ll never finish a story again.” I will pick a photo at random and write a 100 word ‘story’ based on that prompt. This proves to my brain that I CAN finish stories. I have the ability.

Usually one of these techniques will work for me.

What techniques work for you?

***

Want to see Cynthia’s techniques in practice? Take a look at Releasing Rage!

Releasing Rage_Compressed

Half Man. Half Machine. All Hers.

 Rage, the Humanoid Alliance’s most primitive cyborg, has two goals–kill all of the humans on his battle station and escape to the Homeland. The warrior has seen the darkness in others and in himself. He believes that’s all he’s been programmed to experience.

 Until he meets Joan.

 Joan, the battle station’s first female engineer, has one goal–survive long enough to help the big sexy cyborg plotting to kill her. Rage might not trust her but he wants her. She sees the passion in his eyes, the caring in his battle-worn hands, the gruff emotion in his voice.

 When Joan survives the unthinkable, Rage’s priorities are tested. Is there enough room in this cyborg’s heart for both love and revenge?

Releasing Rage is available now!

On Amazon US

On Amazon UK

On ARe

On B&N

About Cynthia Sax
USA Today bestselling author Cynthia Sax writes contemporary, SciFi and paranormal erotic romances. Her stories have been featured in Star Magazine, Real Time With Bill Maher, and numerous best of erotic romance top ten lists.
Sign up for her dirty-joke-filled release day newsletter and visit her on the web at http://www.CynthiaSax.com.

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Superheroes, Small Cuts and The Pain Diary

I’ve written before about my adoration of C. J. Sansom’s writing and how I particularly appreciate the realism he injects into his medieval detective stories. Sansom’s narrator, Matthew Shardlake, is a middle-aged hunchback, and he battles fatigue and pain from his deformity as often as he battles the bad-guys. When the battles become external, Shardlake gets injured, and has to keep pushing on despite injury and loss. That makes Shardlake an extremely sympathetic character to me as a reader. I’m much more interested in reading about an everyman who rises to the heroic, despite adversity, than a superhero who just does what I expect him to do.

I’ve tried to carry the lessons I’ve learned from Sansom into my own writing. My characters get hurt, fatigued, and stressed. Their struggle to overcome adversity, internal and external, is what makes the story interesting to me to write.

I’ve thought a lot about this struggle, particularly in relation to injury, over the last week. I cut my hand a few days ago (while slicing avocados – never underestimate the perils of Mexican food). It was a pretty bad cut and the NHS solution of “gluing” it (and please don’t try to convince me that’s not superglue they’re using) didn’t take. I decided to let it heal on its own, and to keep a little diary for the next time I have to write about a character’s injury (which my husband dubbed “The Pain Diary”). This is unedited and a little graphic, so if you’re squeamish, stop reading now.

Day 1

Cut the fuck out of my left hand. Note to self: do not sharpen the good knife before de-stoning avocados. 2nd note to self: wounds are kind of interesting once they stop bleeding. Lots of “stuff” in there – pin-points of capillaries, pinky-white bubbles of fat, and a white stringy thing that might be a nerve. Cut flesh looks like underdone steak. Blood is redder than in movies. Antiseptic wipes sting worse than a hornet. Also, shock? Extremely light-headed and weak at the knees within a minute or two of cut. Child says my lips went white. Took about 20 minutes lying down on couch for feeling to pass. 3rd note to self: avoid the NHS. 45 minute wait so they could spray it with more antiseptic (OUCH) and pour superglue on it. I should have stayed home.

Day 2

Hand throbbed unmercifully all night, despite 1,000 mg of paracetamol before bed. When I finally fell asleep, banged my hand against the bed frame. Superglue split and cut started bleeding again. Took an hour of holding it elevated above my heart with firm pressure on it to stop. Felt feverish and light-headed while lying down. This morning, hand is swollen and sore. More paracetamol. Started bleeding again when I got hand wet in shower. Stopped after a few minutes with pressure. Getting dressed was a trial. No shoelaces in my immediate future. Typing is out today. Also, I’ve banged it on EVERY available surface. Surely I don’t bang my hand this often when it’s not injured?! Driving one-handed was interesting. Bunnies don’t like smell of blood/bandage and thumped at me when I tried to pet them. Fell asleep on couch before dinner. Got take-out for dinner – no way I’m cooking with one hand and I swear that knife is leering at me from the butcher block. Changed bandage before bed. Cut Day 2 much less interesting: dark red scab and pissed-off flesh. No sign of infection, so maybe the antiseptic wipes that stung so fucking much did their job.

Day 3

Slept much better but Hub rolled over on hand in middle of night. Pain so sharp I actually screamed. Agreed to swap sides of bed tonight. Feverish again in night – pillow and sheet damp. Ears ringing this morning – probably OD-ing on painkillers. Needed help getting dressed again. Deodorant proved a challenge. Hub had to tie shoelaces. Right hand, arm and shoulder aching. Overcompensating? Took a long walk in the afternoon. Hand swelled and began throbbing. Came home and elevated it until throbbing stopped. Whoever said that big pains prevent you from feeling small pains is a liar. Cut hurts, but I feel the aches on the right side just fine. Hub still feeding rabbits but Boy Bunny let me pet him today. Changed bandage before bed. Cut still oozing blood and clear fluid (lymph?). Crusty. Skin around cut looks bruised – too much pressure? Some of bandage has gotten stuck in scab. Ick. Cut around stuck bit and put fresh bandage over it. No sign of infection.

Day 4

Slept better but woke several times feeling out of place (wrong side of bed). Going back to own side of bed tonight. Pillow and sheet dry. Pain today much duller – only noticeable when I flex fingers or bang it against something (am I really this clumsy?!). Going to try to go without painkillers today. Dressed myself and tried shoelaces, but gave up after first knot. Able to type a little today. Also faced down evil knife. Noticed several people staring at bandage while doing grocery shopping – have they never seen a bandage before? Took shower before bed and let bandage get thoroughly soaked before changing. No sign of bleeding/oozing but it could have been washed away in shower. Most of bandage came out of scab once wet. No sign of infection.

Day 5

Slept through. Feel awake and fresh for first time since cut. Smaller bandage put on last night is letting me flex fingers. Still no shoelaces but dressed myself without trouble. Typing and driving without pain. Thinking about avocados for dinner. No sign of bleeding/oozing when changed bandage. Bruise fading to yellow-green. No painkillers today.

Day 6

Slept through. Cut feels like it’s really healing. Using hand normally. Went for short run and cut throbbed a little, but stopped as soon as I cooled down. Managed own shoelaces (ta-da!).

So, six days before I felt the cut was really healing and I had normal use of my hand again. This was, let me say, not a serious wound as wounds go. It was a long, deep cut, across the side of my hand, over the knuckle and up my index finger, but the NHS didn’t even feel it warranted stitches (do they do stitches anymore or do they just throw superglue at everything?). It was in a place that I use a lot so it probably bothered me more than a similar wound on a less mobile part of my body. I was surprised at how much it hampered my every day activities, and how much the pain disrupted my sleep.

While I wouldn’t advocate injury as a writing tool, cutting myself like this has been really instructive. In creating everyman characters who are thrust into situations where they get hurt, fatigued and stressed, I need to think through every way those factors would effect their lives. It’s not enough to describe the pain – I have to follow the ripples. What does the injury prevent them from doing? What do they need help with and who provides that help? What impact does the injury have on their sleeping and eating patterns? How do other characters react to the injury? The answers to these questions provide richness and realism to my fiction which, following the example of the mighty Sansom, is what I aspire to.

Local Inspiration

This is going to be a picture-heavy post, for which I apologize in advance.

This place I call home, the Moors of North-West England, is an amazing place. I forget that – too often – in the midst of my daily grind. It’s easy to overlook the natural beauty that surrounds me while I’m rushing along the M60, late to a meeting, or plodding through traffic into town on a Sunday, dreading the weekly grocery shop. My mantra has always been carpe diem, but it’s easy to lose my focus on living in the moment when I’m thinking about the things I need to do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.

Yesterday I took the day to just breathe, and walk, in the natural beauty of the Moors. This is what I saw.

Looking back at Anglezarke Reservoir.
Looking back at Anglezarke Reservoir.

It was a misty day, or as my British husband calls it, “gloaming.”

Twisted trees on Rivington Pike disappearing into the gloaming.
Twisted trees on Rivington Pike disappearing into the gloaming.

The low mist made the burnt umber colors of the heather and grass glow.

The tor at the top of Rivington Pike.
The tor at the top of Rivington Pike.

From the top of Rivington Pike we walked down, down, down into the ruined Terraced Gardens.

Late season blackberries, Rivington Pike's Terraced Gardens.
Late season blackberries, Rivington Pike’s Terraced Gardens.

Returning home, we found the mist hadn’t lifted, but autumn beauty could still be found, even on the neighbor’s garage.

Crimson kudzu.
Crimson kudzu.

It was a lovely day, full of beauty to soothe my eyes and fill my soul. I hope I’ll remember it for a long time.

That Creeping, Skin-Crawling Sensation

That Creeping, Skin-Crawling Sensation

I’m probably the last person on the Internet to have seen the creepy short film “Lights Out.”  It made my skin crawl, and had me jumping at every creaking floorboard.

It also reminded me of my favorite demon.

I haven’t been writing much in Neon Blue’s sequel(s) of late. Tsara and her demon are seasonal characters for me. I don’t tend to write them in the lighter months. Summer is for scifi and the sun-blasted world of Hale and Kez. It’s when the days get shorter and I begin seeing werewolves, ghost dogs and demons in the shadows that I feel the urge to write about them again.

It was dark before 7 p.m. last night, and I spent the evening writing nightmares.

So here’s an excerpt from Blood Yellow, the next book in the Neon Blue series. I can’t hope to match the sheer creepiness of “Lights Out,” but I hope I’ll give my readers a little of that skin-crawling sensation.

Harvard Square is crowded. In addition to the weekend shoppers and tourists, there are clots of students wearing worn hoodies and baggy shorts – which it’s not quite warm enough for – on every street corner. Before we reach the madness of the Cambridge Street intersection, Shirri directs us into the commons. We wind our way across the green – which is already quite green, even though there might be three more months of winter ahead – around students lounging in the grass and a shirts verses skins game of Frisbee that I have to literally drag Mel away from. At the Garden Street end of the commons, Shirri spots Will. We join him in watching a couple who are playing ball with a slender silver shadow of a dog.

Shirri unlinks from Mel and tucks herself under Will’s arm. He gives her a tender kiss that carries the promise of heat, and I feel my cheeks warm, remembering the demon’s kisses.

Mel leans into me. “Gimme a smooch, I’m all jealous.”

“Get real.”

After Shirri comes up for air, she looks around and points at the couple playing with the dog. “That’s my brother Tomas and his girlfriend, Holle.”

I could have guessed who Tomas was without Shirri telling me. He looks very like his twin – taller, his dark curls cropped to the back of his neck, but recognizably related. His girlfriend looks like a model. She’s an inch or two taller than Tomas, even in her canvas flats, close to six feet. As whipcord-slender as the dog she’s playing with. Her hair’s pulled back into a long, chestnut-brown braid, which glitters in the sunlight like it’s dusted with gold.

As she twists to throw the ball the dog’s brought her, the air around her shimmers. A furnace blast of heat, like August sun on asphalt. Her body shreds away and I see the bones beneath, blackened like they’ve been burned. Her skull grins at me, the fanged jaw unhinging. A torrent of dark wings spills out, darkening the sky. They break over me in a wave of nightmares.

“Hey, you okay?” Mel shakes my arm.

I blink. The wings are gone. I’ve turned away from our small group and thrown my arm over my head. I’m shaking all over and my brunch is an inch away from making a dramatic reappearance. I lower my arm and take several deep breaths. Push my sunglasses back up on my nose and hope that everyone’s too blinded by the bright day to see the sparks jumping from my fingertips.

“Tsara, are you okay?” Mel’s peering at me a little too closely, and there’s something in her blue eyes that I don’t like at all. Other than her relationship with Click, Mel is totally normal as far as I know and I’ve loved having a ‘straight’ friend who doesn’t treat me like a freak.

“Too much sunshine,” I say.

Mel wraps her arm around my shoulders. “Makes me sneeze. C’mon, let’s get that coffee.”

Hope you enjoyed, or at least got a little shiver!

(Image courtesy of Unsplash. Used under License.)

The Spirit of Armchair Exploration

For my end-of-summer, jeez-I-need-a-break vacation, I took the family to Lincoln. We’ve been planning to visit Lincoln for a while – it’s one of the few major cathedral cities I haven’t seen (I have a thing for cathedrals – they humble and inspire me for reasons I’ve talked about here). While Googling things to do in Lincoln, I came across notices for the Asylum Steampunk Festival, which was being held in the city over the long weekend. I thought it would be good for a giggle while we saw the rest of the city.

It turned out to be the highlight of my summer.

First, there were the costumes, which were fabulous. I’ve posted them on Twitter and Facebook, but here’s the pair I liked the best.

Blue Dress Steampunkers

(Image (c) E.J. Frost 2015.)

I just could not get over how much work had gone into these costumes. I saw this couple again on the second day of the festival and they had different costumes on. The design was similar, but the fabrics, feathers, accessories, were all different. I was floored. I didn’t see them on the third day, so I don’t know if they had THREE of these magnificent get-ups, but I was so impressed that they had more than one. This is clearly a big thing for these folks (who came from all over – I met steampunkers from as far away as Australia), and that level of dedication alone really impressed me. It also made me feel much better about the effort and time I put into my writing, which sometimes feels like a Sisyphean task.

Second, there was the whole vibe of steampunk, which for me is the spirit of armchair exploration. The Victorians loved exploring exotic locations, but they wanted to do it comfortably. One of cosplayers I saw summed it up for me perfectly: her gown was patterned with maps, she was carrying a butterfly net, and she had a copper teapot strapped to her back (I’m so sorry I didn’t get a picture of her outfit – it was really perfect). That’s the essence of armchair exploration – a longing for places unknown, explored at low risk, looking for fresh wonders, with a cup of tea at hand.

Although I don’t write steampunk (and read very little of it, although I enjoyed Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series and my buddy Ian Tregillis has just started a new series with The Mechanical), I felt really connected to the steampunkers. I think it was because the spirit of armchair exploration calls to me. It’s what I do in my own writing, even though I write about the future rather than an alternative past. I also think that spirit is behind the explosion of “fantastic” literature in the last 50 years. We’ve mapped the heart of Africa. We’ve traveled up the Amazon. We’ve conquered Everest so many times that it’s become a “tourist” mountain. There are few places left on Earth to explore. But there’s something about the human spirit that still longs for discovery, so we’ve turned inward, to our imaginations.

I’m sympathetic to the argument that literature is exhausted. I got my English degree in the Ivory Towers of the 1990s and my courses were dominated by deconstruction – the death of the author, the loss of a common language for literary expression, the dissolution of post-modern ideas into non-verbal expression. Gore Vidal’s quote: “we shall go on for quite a long time talking of books and writing books, pretending all the while not to notice that the church is empty and the parishioners have gone elsewhere to attend other gods” was the touchstone for several of my professors. And I suffered from that existential malaise for a while myself after graduating.

Then I started writing again.

I have a fundamental longing to explore places fantastic, even if they only exist in my mind. I also have a need to share what I find with others. I know from my book sales that I’m not alone in that longing, but to SEE it, strolling the streets of Lincoln, decked with cogs, gears, feathers and copper teapots, was a rare blessing.

I’ll definitely go back to Lincoln next year for the 2016 festival. Long live the spirit of armchair exploration!

Writing Yourself Off the Cliff

cliffhanger-sylvester-stallone-opening-scene

This post isn’t, thankfully, about that movie.

I picked up a novel in the airport last week. I’m not going to name that novel because I’m going to tank on it, and because I suspect that the author was coerced into the stylistic egregiousness I’m going to tank on him for, but it’s an eco-thriller of the type I usually enjoy.

What I didn’t enjoy were the cliffhangers. The author would stick the characters in a position of unresolved peril and then say:

Someone had to find the solution, and they had to find it fast.

They weren’t at the end of every chapter, but they were tossed in often enough (and in almost the exact same phrasing by at least two different characters) that by a hundred and fifty pages in, I’d counted half-a-dozen and they bothered me enough to put down the book.

Probably not what the author intended.

Why use cliffhangers? They build suspense and tension. They’re used in serials to get the audience to read or watch the next installment. Fair enough, if you’re putting out an eight episode TV series like True Detective. But using them over and over in a 500+ page novel is a red flag. If the story isn’t pulling the reader along into the next chapter, then there is a problem with plot and pacing. A cliffhanger is not going to salvage those shortcomings. Rework the plot and pacing. Let the story speak for itself.

Sadly, that novel did. The cliffhangers were unnecessary. I was engaged by two of the point-of-view characters and concerned enough about their peril that I would have read the whole novel to find out what happened to them. I didn’t need the author to put up a neon sign at the end of every other chapter that said “Characters in Danger! Can they be Saved? Read on to See What Happens.”

Having read other novels by this author, which did not contain this stylistic sleight-of-hand, but were shorter, I have to wonder if the author was coerced into throwing the cliffhangers in there due to editorial concerns about the novel’s length. They were glaring. They’re a departure from the author’s normal style. And they felt tacked on. They also frequently occurred at the end of chapters written from the two female character points-of-view. Without going into a feminist rant, I found myself wondering if either the author or the editor perceived those perspectives as weak? Undermining your own point-of-view characters is never a good idea.

So as a learning point for me, in the long uphill climb that is figuring out the craft of novel-writing, this novel was instructive. Use cliffhangers sparingly. Avoid repetitive cliffhangers – they quickly catch the reader’s eye (not in a good way). Particularly avoid associating cliffhangers with chapters or characters that feel weak – rework the plot or pacing instead.

And, above all, avoid any cliffhanger that involves Sylvester Stallone.

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