Monday, April 30

Writing: The Starburst Method, Part 8: The Rough Draft & Narrative Drive

In the final installment of the Starburst Writing Method we're going to take the scenes we created in the last two installments and use them to write our rough draft. We want to be true to the characterization and plot we have so lovingly developed over the past few weeks, while being careful to maintain and develop narrative drive.

So, first things first. Let's discuss narrative drive.

Narrative Drive
What is narrative drive? Larry Beinhard in How To Write A Mystery says it best:
Narrative Drive is what sells books: To agents, publishers, readers. We all know near-illiterate, insultingly dumb books that (a) have made the bestseller list to our incredulous envy; and (b) have had us reading them even as we say to ourselves, "My God, why I am reading this brain-damaged idiocy?"

What is narrative drive? The best way to discover narrative drive is to read material that you can't put down, but you don't know why. It should not have literary merit (whatever that is) or have real and fascinating characters or be informative about subjects that interest you.
I think of narrative drive as that indefinable something that grabs you by the throat and pulls you -- at times kicking and screaming -- through a book. For me Stephen King's Misery is a prime example of this. Please don't misunderstand, I think King is a fabulous writer and Misery was probably one of his best works. It's just that I hate the particular kind of psychological terror he portrayed in the book and yet I couldn't stop reading. It was the last horror story I read for a good long while.

Now we know what Narrative Drive is, let's move on to the important bit: How do we infuse our stories with that quasi-magical quality that will keep good folks up far past their bed-times?

I don't think there's any recipe for imparting narrative drive to ones story, but one of my writing instructors had this to say:
Begin and end each scene with a question that the reader will be compelled to answer and they will be hard pressed to put your book down.
 An Example
Here's the opening sentence of J.K. Rowling's first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone:
Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.
For me that sentence raises the questions: Who is it that Mr and Mrs Dursley are comparing themselves to? Who is it that isn't normal and what is it about them that makes them this way?

Here's the last sentence of that same chapter:
He [Harry Potter] couldn't know that at this very moment, people meeting in secret all over the country were holding up their glasses and saying in hushed voices: 'To Harry Potter -- the boy who lived!' 
 I'm left wondering why people need to meet in secret, what happened to Harry Potter and why he is so important to so many people.

Not a bad way to start a book!

Wrapping Up
By now, if you've been following along, you should have a rough draft of a story and I find that's often the hardest part. The next hardest part is finishing the darn thing!

I think the real trick of being a professional writer is simply finishing what we start. We all feel at a certain point that what we're writing is complete drivel but the professional writer battles through the feeling, revises, rewrites and ends up with something they're proud of where the rest of us (and I'm too often in this camp!) become discouraged and  bury our effort in the bottom drawer of a desk drawer, or under our bed, where it will languish for the next few decades.

This series of articles on the Starburst Method has been a rough draft for a book I'm putting together. The book will include more material -- for instance, I'd like to have said something about pacing.

 The Starburst Method, Part 1: A one sentence summary
The Starburst Method, Part 2: Developing our one sentence summary
The Starburst Method, Part 3: Creating a five paragraph summary
The Starburst Method, Part 4: Developing characters
The Starburst Method, Part 5: Creating a five page summary
The Starburst Method, Part 6: Developing scenes
The Starburst Method, Part 7: The character grid
The Starburst Method, Part 8: The rough draft

Further Reading:
Writers Despair
Writers: Don't Despair

"Writing: The Starburst Method, Part 8: The Rough Draft & Narrative Drive" copyright© 2012 by Karen Woodward.

Sunday, April 29

6 Rules of Writing from John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck and his six rules of writing

I love reading the writing advice of great writers. I hardly ever follow it, but still ...

Here are John Steinbeck's six rules of writing:
1. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.

2. Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.

3. Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.
4. If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn’t belong there.

5. Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.

6. If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.
For myself, I am constitutionally unable to keep from revising as I go, but find it interesting, enlightening even, that nearly every professional writer, blogger, etc., I've ever read on this subject has expressed the sentiment in (3) -- write for one particular person. It can be an idealized person or it can be a real person, but write to someone.

Rule number six I am definitely going to try!

Cheers. Take care and thanks for reading. :-)

- The six rules I list are taken from Maria Popova's marvelous article, "Six Tips on Writing from John Steinbeck".
- I just came across this article: George Orwell's 5 Rules for Effective Writing.

"6 Rules of Writing from John Steinbeck" copyright© 2012 by Karen Woodward.

Friday, April 27

Self publishing on Smashwords


Of all the publishing platforms, Smashwords is my favorite.

I'm not saying you'll earn the most through it, the jury is still out on that one, though the race seems to be between Smashwords and Amazon.

One of the reasons I like Smashwords is because they give your ebook a great marketing boost by putting it on their front page. Granted, this lasts only for a minute or so, depending on the number of writers publishing their ebooks at the same time, but -- and this is coming from a gal addicted to Google Analytics -- that's enough to give your digital baby a nice introduction to the world. It's difficult to build a platform even if you're willing to spend a lot of money, and Smashwords is offering offers writers a helping hand, and for free.

But that's not the number one reason I like Smashwords, this is: they are, hands down, the best distributor of e-books in the world. They will distribute your intellectual property through literally dozens of channels.

The following is from Smashwords Distribution Information Page.
Once your book is accepted into the Premium Catalog, we automatically distribute it to major online retailers such as Apple (distribution to iBookstores in 32 countries), Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, WH Smith in the UK and FNAC (both powered by Kobo), the Diesel eBook Store,  eBooks Eros (operated by Diesel), Baker & Taylor (Blio and the Axis360 library service), and other distribution outlets coming soon.
Atom/OPDS Catalog (Reaches Major Mobile App Platforms): This catalog contains all the books for sale at Sample distributors include Stanza on the iPhone and Aldiko on the Android mobile device platform. These two e-reading apps alone reach millions of readers combined. The catalog is also distributed to the Word-Player and FBReader apps, and to the Inkmesh ebook search engine.
Of course there are conditions. You have to get your book into the premium catalog at Smashwords, but that isn't hard to do. Just make sure it's formatted property, has a decent cover, and doesn't violate any of Amazon's content guidelines. I've published a few books through Smashwords under pen-names and haven't had any difficulty getting all of them into the Premium Catalog. If you'd like to read more about how to get your book into the Premium Catalog, I've put some links at the bottom of this article.

Amazon's KDP Select Program
One more thing. KDP Select is a program available to folks who have elected to publish through Amazon. It's the name for Kindle's lending library. In 2012 a fund of about six million dollars will be divided up between the authors of books that were lent out.

The advantages of KDP Select are clear: if one enrolls in KDP select one gets some money, one's book is still for sale in the Kindle store, and your books gets exposure through the lending program that it wouldn't have gotten otherwise.

Now, for me, the idea of having my book in the library, any library, sends me into fits of ecstasy. Okay, maybe that's an overstatement, but only slightly. Like many writers, when I was a kid my local library was my hang-out and the school library was my refuge. Knowing a new generation of readers was borrowing my book from a library would mean the world to me. AND I might get some money from it . What's not to like?

Here's the catch: If you enroll your book in KDP Select you must sell your book exclusively through Amazon. This is from the KDP Select website:
When you choose KDP Select for a book, you're committing to make the digital format of that book available exclusively through KDP. During the period of exclusivity, you cannot distribute your book digitally anywhere else, including on your website, blogs, etc. However, you can continue to distribute your book in physical format, or in any format other than digital.
In other words, you can't publish your books through Smashwords and, by so doing, take advantage of their mammoth book distribution system.

The 60,000 dollar question: How much more money would an author make by publishing their book with Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Amazon, Sony, and so on, than if they only published through Amazon?

I don't have any answers. I haven't been able to find statistics on this, but I am doubtful that the average author would earn enough through the lending library to justify signing the exclusivity clause with Amazon. That said, if anyone reading this has information to the contrary, please let me know. I'm willing and eager to be proven wrong.

Thanks for reading, your comments are always welcome.

Further Reading
How to Self-Publish an Ebook with Smashwords: 32 Authors Share Their Tips and Tricks
Publishing with Smashwords
Self Publishing on Amazon: Kindle Direct Publishing
How to self-publish on Barnes & Noble

Smashwords Premium Catalogue
Amazon KDP Select
Smart Self-Publishing: Becoming an Indie Author, by Zoe Winters

Photo credit:

"Self Publishing on Smashwords" copyright© 2012 by Karen Woodward 

Wednesday, April 25

Writers: Don't Despair

At nineteen they can card you in the bars and tell you to get the fuck out, put your sorry act (and even sorrier ass) back on the street, but they can’t card you when you sit down to paint a picture, write a poem, or tell a story, by God, and if you reading this happen to be very young, don’t let your elders and supposed betters tell you any different. Sure, you’ve never been to Paris. No, you never ran with the bulls at Pamplona. Yes, you’re a pissant who had no hair in your armpits until three years ago – but so what? If you don’t start out too big for your britches, how are you gonna fill ‘em when you grow up? Let it rip regardless of what anybody tells you, that’s my idea; sit down and smoke that baby.
- Stephen King, The Darktower 1: The Gunslinger, Revised Ed.

At the end of the 2010 Surrey International Writer's Conference Robert Dugoni gave a rousing speech entitled, "This Day We Write!" based on the one Aragorn gave at the Black Gate. Close to 1,000 writers were on our feet stamping, clapping, hooting and chanting. There were even some tears. But, mostly, there were face-splitting grins. We left that conference the most inspired we had been in our lives!

One of the things good writing can do, something that is often ignored, is this: It can inspire.

Today I was going to do a follow up on an article I wrote some months ago, Writers Despair, which was about how traditional publishing has changed over the years and how this change has effected writers, especially midlist writers.

But I'm not going to do that.

It's true that many writers despair, and with good reason. Their series have been dropped by publishers, their contracts haven't been renewed, their new work hasn't been accepted. It's not hard to find these stories and it's not hard to find credible predictions that the trend is not only going to continue, but accelerate.

But wait! There's good news. Actually, there's good news and there's great news.

The good news is that good writing will always have an audience. Heck, as Stephen King would stay of James Patterson, it doesn't even have to be all that good! (BTW, I've read a few of Patterson's books and enjoyed them. Personally, I'm rooting for the man, it's great to know a writer can make the kind of money even the CEO of a multinational corporation would be envious of.)

That was the good news, here's the great news: writers now have the ability to create our own audience, one that the vicissitudes of the publishing industry can't cut us off from. We do this by putting up our own websites, by blogging and by being open to the possibility that a self-published book or two could get us exposure and some money without making us a pariah in the industry.

What could we publish? A professional writer usually has a backlist, and it's generally not the case that all those books/short stories/articles are in print. Too often it has been the case that fans have wanted a book but they can't get it. Also, every writer I've met has manuscripts wedged into shoe boxes languishing under beds. Granted, many of those works were first attempts and should stay in exile, but many times they have been rejected, not because they weren't good, but because the publisher couldn't figure out how to market them. Joe Konrath has made hundreds of thousands of dollars selling books his publisher rejected.

I'm not saying that if others can do it then so can you. I'm saying: If others can do it, then why not try? What's it going to cost you? A bit of time and money.

I want to make it clear that I'm not bashing publishers. I know being a traditional publisher is one of the highest risk endeavors on the planet. Restaurants are notoriously high-risk but when restaurant owners get depressed they say to themselves, "It could be worse. At least I'm not a publisher." Traditional publishers, especially small or medium sized publishers, are in business because they love books and are passionate about writing. A few years ago I took a publishing course taught by the owner of a small literary press, one of the most successful small presses in the country, and he approached his work with an evangelistic furor. These men and women are dedicated to their craft.

Unfortunately, though -- and small and medium sized traditional publishers would be the first to tell you this -- it is vanishingly unlikely that the overwhelming majority of writers who are published by them -- not those who submit their work, but who are accepted and published -- will be able to live on what they are paid.

But that doesn't mean you can't make a living as a writer. Times have changed and we must change with them.

This pep talk was as much for me as for anyone else. I think, really, it comes down to this:
Write what you are inspired to write, get what you've written out to people however you can, through any medium you can, and eventually success will follow.
I believe that.

Recommended Reading:
Stephen King: On Writing

Other blog posts of mine you might like:
Writers Despair
How To Publish On Amazon
The Starburst Method

Stephen King's Greatest Lesson For Writers
Surrey international Writers Conference
Robert Dugoni

Photo credit: Recruiterpoet's Blog

"Writers: Don't Despair!" copyright© 2012 by Karen Woodward

Monday, April 23

Writing: The Starburst Method, Part 7: The Character Grid

Welcome to part 7 of the Starburst Method! We're almost finished this series. I had planned to wrap things up this week, but when I sat down to write the last installment I realized we hadn't covered character grids.

Before we get started I should mention that this article is part of a series and, in case you'd like to look at the previous articles, I've put links to them at the bottom.

Diagramming Scenes
I love Kim Harrision's blog -- she writes urban fantasy (Dead Witch Walking was the first book in her Hollows Series) -- one day I noticed she had written a few blog posts about her writing process. I love learning how other authors write. I think I've learnt more that way than from all the conferences I've attended!

That was the first time I had seen anyone use a character grid. I think of a character grid as a visual representation of a plot. It was great! At a glance, I could see which characters were in which scenes and determine, among other things, whether one character was being over or under used. I don't know about you, but once I've written a few chapters it's easy to forget which characters were in each scene.

An Example
Rather than me rattle on about this, let me show you the character grid template I work from:
character grid for how to write series

If you compare my template with Kim Harrison's you'll find they are similar, but I like to put the archetype I think the character most exemplifies on the far right. Sometimes it's hard to get everything to fit and I have to use two pages, or go to legal size paper. Do whatever works for you, with the office supplies you have at hand.

In my character grid template character names occupy the far left column, a description of the scenes runs along the bottom and the place the scene takes place runs along the top. Instead of "day 1", "day 2", and so on, you'll put the dates your story takes place. I love Kim's practice of having each chapter take place on the same day. That way it's easy to remember when your scenes are taking place and if there's ever a question of the appropriateness of something -- like lilacs blooming in August! -- you can just glance at the date the scene takes place and look it up.

A good character grid can save you a lot of frustration. The only thing is: you need to keep it current, and that can be frustrating, but I think it's well worth the effort.

I hope something in here will be of use to you! Next week we will wrap up this series by talking about your rough draft. Till then, happy writing!

The Starburst Method, Part 1: A one sentence summary
The Starburst Method, Part 1: Creating a one sentence summary
The Starburst Method, Part 2: Developing our one sentence summary
The Starburst Method, Part 3: Creating a five paragraph summary
The Starburst Method, Part 4: Developing characters
The Starburst Method, Part 5: Creating a five page summary
The Starburst Method, Part 6: Developing scenes
The Starburst Method, Part 7: The character grid
The Starburst Method, Part 8: The rough draft and narrative drive

"The Starburst Method, Part 7: The Character Grid," copyright© 2012 by Karen Woodward.

Photo credit: Funny Pet Wallpapers

Kim Harrison's character grid
Kim Harrison's post about her character grid

Friday, April 20

Stephen King Reads An Excerpt From The Dark Tower

The wind through the keyhole, stephen king
I love it when authors read their own material, it often gives it a peculiar life no one else can. Stephen King has narrated the audiobook of the next release of his Dark Tower series and this snippet is a teaser for what we can expect.

By the way, it seems that King is a huge audiobook fan. I listened to a lot of audiobooks a year ago and then began to feel that listening to an audiobook ... well, that it just wasn't the same as reading. And, of course, it isn't! You're not reading it, you're listening to it, but I began to feel that it was somehow lesser. Well, after reading what King has to say about audiobooks, I think that's changed.

Here's an excerpt of an article, Hail to the Spoken Word, King wrote.
There are problems with audiobooks, sure. It's annoying to be on a long road trip when disc 12 of the latest Nelson DeMille has a nervous breakdown (this actually happened to me in North Carolina; somewhere between Nowhere and Nowhere in Particular, the reader, Scott Brick, developed the world's worst stutter). It's more annoying when a bad reader is paired up with a good book (a fate that has befallen every audio junkie at least once). Most annoying is when you have a certain book in mind and can't find it at a retail outlet, a thing that happens a lot. Once you get past the classics, the latest political bloviators, and Agatha Christie, audio pickings are apt to be mighty slim.


But man, when these things are good, they are really good. A Charles Dickens novel read by the late David Case is something you can almost bathe in. A suspense novel is more suspenseful — especially in the hands of a good reader — because your eye can't jump ahead and see what happens next. When I heard Kathy Bates reading The Silence of the Lambs (an abridgment, alas), I was driving at night and had to shut off the CD player, even though I knew how the story went. It was her voice, so low and intimate and somehow knowing. It was flat creeping me out.
If you haven't read King's article in its entirety, I'd encourage you to regardless of how you feel about audiobooks. He's one of my favorite authors because of the things he can do with words. An awkward way of putting it, perhaps, but I'm not Stephen King!

I'd like to thank Mary Burkey for her excellent article, Stephen King Narrates The Wind Through The Keyhole, and for the link to King's 2007 article, Hail to the Spoken Word.

"Stephen King reads an excerpt from The Dark Tower," copyright © 2012 Karen Woodward.

Thursday, April 19

Self Publishing on Amazon: Kindle Direct Publishing

Kindle Direct Publishing

Would you like to be an author? Writing a book is hard but getting it published doesn't have to be, not with the opportunities that now exist for self-publishing. Last week I wrote about how to publish your book through Barnes & Noble, this week I'll be discussing how to self-publish on through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).

When I published my book, Until Death, I was nervous. What if I did something wrong? In that sense, it was one of the most daunting things I've done, but it turned out to be easy! So, if you're like me and you are letting your fear prevent you from publishing on Amazon, don't! Although the process can require a great deal of patience (for example, getting the formatting just right), publishing a book through KDP takes little time.

Let's step through the process together.

First, take out an account at Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). Unlike Barnes and Noble, you don't need to be a publisher to sign up with KDP. Just enter your name -- or, if you are a publisher, your company's name -- your geographic information, and so on. Another difference between Amazon and Barnes and Noble is that to publish through Amazon you do not need a US address, credit card or bank account.

Section One: Your Book

I'll admit, I felt daunted when I first saw the form you have to fill out to publish a book with Amazon! But I needn't have been. Amazon gives top notch help all the way through, including "what's this?" links. If, at any point, you don't understand what information Amazon wants from you, just click one of these links and all will be explained in great and glorious detail.

Let's go through this step by step.

1. Book Details

a. Book Name
Amazon Kindle DirectThis one's easy! Just give the title itself, nothing else. Some folks like to pad the book title with keywords or extra information about the book, tell readers it's part two of a series, etc., but Amazon would much rather you just gave the title.

For instance, if your book, Death's Door, is part two of your Jaws of Death series they don't want you to write: Death's Door (Part 2 of Jaws of Death)

They want: Death's Door

Besides, in another box just below, you have the opportunity to indicate that your book is part two of a series and to even give the series title and volume number.

b. Book Description
If you've sent off a query letter for your book then you've already crafted a description (just keep in mind it can't be over 5000 characters)! If you haven't crafted a description of your book then I'd suggest taking a look at some of Nathan Bransford's posts on the subject. Here's a link to my post: How to write a query letter. At the bottom I've included links to a few of Mr. Bransford's posts, the ones that I found most helpful in this respect.

In Query Letter Mad Lib, Bransford gives the following formula:
[protagonist name] is a [description of protagonist] living in [setting]. But when [complicating incident], [protagonist name] must [protagonist's quest] and [verb] [villain] in order to [protagonist's goal].
I've found that template be an excellent point to start from when writing a description of a story.

c. Book contributors
This is pretty much what it sounds like. If you wrote the book by yourself and no one illustrated the book, and so on, then just put your name down. If someone helped you with the illustrations, or if there was more than one author, then list those people. Next!

d. Language
That's self-explanitory. Just tell Amazon what language you used when you wrote your book.

e. Publication date
I published my book through Smashwords a day or two before I published it on Amazon so I used the Smashwords publication date here. However, if this is the first time you've published your book, then use the current date.

f. Publisher You don't have to be a publisher to publish your book on Amazon, but if you are a publisher then you can put your company name here.

g. ISBN number
Your book doesn't have to have an ISBN number for Amazon to publish it. If you do want your book to have an ISBN number then note that only publishers can purchase ISBN numbers. Also, if you have published this same title in a print edition you can't re-use that ISBN, you need to use another one.

2. Verify your publishing rights
This can sound daunting but it's really very simple. Do you have the right to publish the book? If you wrote it then of course you do!
Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing

3. Target your book to customers
This part is very important. You are allowed to choose up to two categories for your book, so list two categories. The more categories your book is listed under the better the chance someone is going to find your book when they do a search.

You are also allowed to give up to 7 keywords for your book. You don't have to, but you can. Again, the more keywords you list, the better your chances are that your book will come up when someone is doing a search. If you can't think of 7 keywords, think harder! You've written a whole book, this is the easy part!

4. Upload your book cover
Amazon says that this part is optional, but if you want to sell your book – and of course you do! – you have to have a cover. It doesn't have to be fancy, in fact I think that some of the best covers I've seen have been relatively simple.

When I was doing my cover someone gave me this tip: Look at the bestselling books that are the most similar to yours. Look at their covers and get ideas. You don't want yours to look exactly like any other book, but if, for example, you've written a romance book, there's a certain look most of those covers have and it would be nice if yours did too.

If you don't have any image editing software on your computer, Adobe Photoshop is wonderful, although both the learning curve and the price can be a bit steep – although Photoshop Elements costs less and has most of the functionality you'll ever need. Another great image manipulation program is Gimp (GNU Image Manipulation Program), and it has the advantage of being free! That said, the learning curve for Gimp can be a bit steep. To help you research this area, here's a review PCWorld did on Gimp. Also, here's an article from that compares photo editing software programs.

5. Upload your book file
There's a lot packed in here, so let's take it one point at a time.
Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing

a. Digital Rights Management (DRM)
One of the things that caused me the most agony when I first looked at this form was whether I should enable DRM for Until Death. I decided not to. If I had enabled it then, for example, if you'd bought the book in kindle format you couldn't have converted it to another format.

For instance, although you bought and downloaded the book file from Amazon you might want to make a copy of it, convert it to the epub format, and read it on your Nook reader. Personally, I feel that if someone buys my book then I would be happy for them to make as many copies as they want for their own use. But that's me. Other people feel that DRM helps prevent folks from illegally distributing books. Personally, I doubt that DRM reduces piracy, but this is an issue on which good, intelligent, people can differ wildly in their opinions. To sum up: Do whatever feels right to you.

b. Upload the digital file of your book
This is it! This is where you transfer your book, your baby, up to Amazon's servers and put it out there for the world to see. Amazon recommends that your file be either a doc (.doc) or .prc (prc) file but – as of this writing -- it will accept epub (.epub), txt (.txt), mobipocket (.mobi or .prc), html (.zip, .htm, or .html), adobe pdf (.pdf) or rich text format (.rtf).

An entire book could be written on just this topic, and I'd like to recommend Zoe Winter's excellent book on the subject entitled Smart Self-Pubilshing: Becoming an Indie Author. Also, Mark Coker's style guide, Smashwords Style Guide, is a must read. Even though Coker's guide is written with Smashwords in mind – Mark Coker is, after all, the founder of Smashwords! – he gives excellent suggestions for how to format your Microsoft Word document that are just as applicable for Amazon.

Basically, if you are using Microsoft Word then don't use tabs, use paragraph styles instead, and keep any special formatting to a minimum.

Again, I highly recommend Coker and Winter's books, they were a great help to me when I did this and they saved me a lot of time and frustration.

6. Preview your book
At this point your book has been uploaded and the conversion was successful. Now it's time to preview it and make sure everything is in the right place. Often artifacts found in a document file can cause unexpected effects in the converted file. If this happens to you – it did to me – try not to get frustrated. Remember, there is no limit to the number of times you can do this conversion, just go back to your original file, fix what needs to be fixed, and upload it again.

Okay! We've done section one. Treat yourself, the hard part is over.

Section Two: Rights & Pricing
7. Verify your publishing territories

The choice here is between "worldwide rights" and "individual territories". For me this was easy. I hold the worldwide rights for Until Death so that's what I put. I don't imagine that the average author often sells just the rights for one or two territories, but I'm sure it comes up, otherwise Amazon wouldn't have given us this choice.

8. Choose your royalty
This is a topic that deserves its own bookshelf! Here is my condensed version: if you want a 70% royalty on the sale of your book then you have to price it between $2.99 and $9.99. Other conditions apply as well, but that's the big one. If, on the other hand, you want to sell your book for either under $2.99 – for instance, some people want to sell their book for 99 cents – or for over $9.99 then Amazon will only pay you a 35% royalty.

Your choice.

I opted to sell Until Death for 99 cents. I didn't want to discourage folks from trying out a new author and I thought it would be nice to make a little bit of money from the sale. So far I've been happy with the result, although I sometimes wonder if there is very much difference between the amount of sales made at the 99 cents price point and the $2.99 price point. But that's a topic for another post.

9. Kindle book lending
Here you must indicate whether you will allow your book to be lent out. If you check this box then a person can lend out your book to someone else for a period of 14 days. The buyer is only allowed to loan the book out once.

I allowed book lending. I have borrowed many of my friends books, and they've borrowed mine. It is one of the ways I was introduced to wonderful new authors and I wanted to continue that tradition. Actually, I wish Amazon would make it so I could decide how many times my book could be lent out.

That's it! All you have to do now is check everything over one more time and press the brilliant orange "Save and Publish" button. No worries, though, if you're not quite ready. There is also a white "Save for later" button.

I found the experience of publishing with Kindle Direct Publishing rewarding and hope you will too.

Good luck!

Related Articles:
How to self-publish on Barnes and Noble
How to write a query letter

Photo credit: Amazopia

Monday, April 16

Writing: The Starburst Method, Part 6: Developing Scenes

Welcome to Part 6 of the Starburst Method! It's hard to believe we're at Part 6 already. Today we're going to be developing scenes. This part of the Starburst Method builds on work done in the first 5 sections, so I've included links to those at the bottom of this article.

Okay, let's do this!

Working from the five page synopsis you developed last week determine what scenes you need in your story. I posted the first page of my five page summary last week so this week I'll use that as an example of what I'm talking about.

Story vs Plot
Before we start creating our scenes, though, let's say a word about the difference between story and plot. I know the distinction between the two is second nature for many of you, but sometimes people think about these things differently, so let's roll up our sleeves and talk terms.

Rather than have me ramble on about this, here's what other writers have to say. In Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, Janet Burroway writes:
A story is a series of events recorded in their chronological order.
A plot is a series of events deliberately arranged so as to reveal their dramatic, thematic, and emotional significance.
Jack Hodgins, in A Passion for Narrative, writes:
We can ... think of the traditional plot as a series of causally related events, involving some sort of conflict (or tension), leading (probably) to a climax and (possibly) to a resolution.
For instance, often a novel will open with a scene that occurs in the future, perhaps just before the finale of the book when the hero or heroine is in her darkest hour and all seems lost. This is an element of plot. If, on the other hand, I were telling the story, I would start at the beginning and continue till I reached the end, relating the events of the story as they occurred in time.

I find that one of the hardest things about writing a story is breaking it into scenes and overlaying it with the structure of plot. In fact, one of the reasons I developed the Starburst Method was to help me do this!

Scenes are the building blocks of plot. In every scene there should be a goal and something preventing the protagonist attaining the goal. Usually, also, there's a twist and the protagonist will neither completely succeed or fail to attain her goal but will come a bit closer -- or perhaps fall father away. Usually only in the Dark Night of the Soul, just before the Finale, does the goal appear completely unattainable.

I think of scenes as the atoms of plot. That is, they are the smallest parts/chunks that a plot can be broken into a still make sense. Please keep in mind, though, that this is NOT coming from a screenwriter. I think that screenwriters may think of scenes a bit differently. If you're interested in screenwriting, or in how screenwriters think of scenes, I recommend getting a good book on screenwriting such as Save The Cat! by Blake Snyder.

Okay, so, we've touched on the difference between story and plot and talked a bit about what scenes are. Why did we do this? Here's why: The summary I completed in Part 5 was a summary of my story, not my plot. Although I've made sure to end each section with a cliff-hanger, I haven't completely plotted out the story. That's what we're going to do right after we break everything up into scenes.

Breaking our story up into scenes
I don't know about you, but this is one of the more difficult things for me. It's at this point I often become discouraged and want to chuck the whole thing. But we're not going to do that! We're in this together.

The elements of a scene:
- Date/time of year
- Setting: inside or outside & time of day
- Which characters are in the scene

Clear as mud? Keep in mind this is my first draft of the Starburst Method, so if anyone would like something explained at greater depth, leave a comment or write to me (go to the contact tab at the top right of this page).

Here's my first scene:

Date: I don't know the exact date yet, but I think my story will happen sometime in June. I want the weather to be hot but not stifling.

Time of day: High noon. This is going to be a showdown of sorts. Mr. Henry Winthrop, skeptic, against the beliefs of the townspeople about a death curse. Or perhaps it's Winthrop versus the curse.

Setting: The action begins outside and then moves inside the Mohan Mansion. The town is somewhere in the state of New York.

Characters: Mr. Henry Winthrop, his friend and producer of the TV series, his daughter, the local herbalist/crackpot, the architectural historian and miscellaneous members of the crew. The best friend of the recently deceased owner of the house and her niece. A reporter from the town's only newspaper.

Scene Summary:
Mr. Winthrop and crew are outside the Mohan Mansion. There is a buzz of excitement in the air. Most of the town has come out to see the filming but is being kept at a distance by the crew. Winthrop's face is flushed with excitement, the man is no doubt having the time of his life. He learnt about the Mohan Mansion when he was a boy and ever since has wanted to explore its mysteries. Now, finally, his dream is becoming a reality.

Filming begins. Winthrop talks to the camera and slowly walks up the steps toward the house when a shout rings out, "No!". It is the last owner's best friend -- she is elderly and is accompanied by her niece. The niece looks mortified. The elderly woman warns Winthrop that he must not enter the house because as soon as he sets foot inside the curse will be triggered. If he doesn't care about his life, he should think of those the other people he is putting at risk.

Winthrop finds it impossible to take her seriously but is every inch the gentlemen and instructs members of the crew to help take her home but the elderly woman fixes him with a withering glare, turns her back on them all, and slowly shuffles away, followed by her red cheeked and profusely apologizing niece.

The cameras haven't stopped rolling and Winthrop turns around and heads up the steps followed closely by the financier, the financier's niece, the historian from the metropolitan museum of history and the local historian/herbalist.

The front door has been cleared of lumber but hasn't been opened. Winthrop pauses in front of it as though suddenly unsure but then reaches out and wrenches the huge oaken door open. It creaks, wails really, giving Mr. Winthrop the shivers, despite his strict disbelief in anything beyond the material world. He quickly shakes off whatever presentiments of doom he may have felt and enters the dusty cool of the lobby. Moments later he gasps and falls to the ground, clutching his chest.

Chaos reigns. Paramedics rush toward him and an ambulance is called but it is too late. Mr. Henry Winthrop is dead.

That was a rather long summary! I have a feeling that I'll be breaking that scene up into smaller scenes. For instance, the exchange between Winthrop and the elderly woman/spinster will probably be a scene all its own.

Good luck on breaking your story up into scenes! Next week we'll be writing our rough draft.

The Starburst Method, Part 1: Creating a one sentence summary
The Starburst Method, Part 2: Developing our one sentence summary
The Starburst Method, Part 3: Creating a five paragraph summary
The Starburst Method, Part 4: Developing characters
The Starburst Method, Part 5: Creating a five page summary
The Starburst Method, Part 6: Developing scenes
The Starburst Method, Part 7: The character grid
The Starburst Method, Part 8: The rough draft and narrative drive

Related articles:
Character Archetypes

Photo Credit: SoundProof

Friday, April 13

How to self-publish on Barnes & Noble

I want to write an ebook on how to self-publish and thought I'd motivate myself by writing one section a week and posting it here. I intended to post this article Thursday, so it's a day late, but I'm a big fan of the sentiment: "Better late than never!" :-)

Eventually, I'll write articles on how to self-publish on each major platform -- Smashwords,, Apple, Sony, and so on -- but I thought I would begin with Barnes & Noble. So, here we go. As always, your feedback is appreciated!

Publishing On Barnes & Noble

What is required
Only publishers can get books into Barnes & Noble's Nook Store, so you'll need a business license. In the United States information on starting up a business can be found at BusinessUSA ( The website is chalk full of useful information and it's easy to navigate. In Canada, you'll need to go to your city or municipality's website.

Okay, so, you've got a business license and you want to publish your ebook with Barnes & Noble. What now?

First, head off to PubIt! ( and take out a free account but be warned. In order to complete registration you'll need a U.S. bank account, a U.S. credit card and a U.S. tax id number. Also, your bank account, credit card and tax id number must be tied to a U.S. address. This would seem to indicate that only US residents can get their ebooks into the Nook Store. Not so!

Getting your books into the Nook Store though Smashwords
If you can't take out an account at PubIt!, but you want to get your ebooks into the Nook Store, you can do this through Smashwords. (Thinking about it now, I should probably have written about Smashwords before Barnes & Noble! Ah well.)

Unlike at Barnes and Noble, you do not have to be a publisher to publish through Smashwords. That said, if you want to get your book into the Apple Store or the Sony Store, your book will need to have an ISBN number, and in order to buy your own ISBN number you do need to be a publisher. If that doesn't appeal to you, don't despair! Smashwords will provide you with a free ISBN if you don't want to buy your own (see below for details).

Using Smashwords to Distribute Your Ebook
If your ebook makes it into Smashwords Premium Catalog it will be sold in the following online bookstores:

Apple -- it has iBookstores in 32 countries
Barnes & Noble
WH Smith in the UK
The Diesel eBook Store
eBook Eros (operated by Diesel)
Baker & Tayler (Blio and the Axis 360 library service)

As you can see, one of the premium distribution chanells is Barnes & Noble, so by getting your ebook accepted into the premium catalog at Smashwords you will, eventually, be able to get your ebook into Barnes & Noble's Nook Store.

That's about all there is to say about that except to explain Smashwords' policy on ISBN numbers. However, rather than restate Smashwords policy, I'm just going to post an except from it.

Smashwords Distribution Information Page: How Smashwords Distributes Ebooks
Will Smashwords assign me an ISBN number?
Starting March 2010, Smashwords added support for ISBN-13 numbers with our new ISBN Manager feature. We offer three ISBN options: 1. You can attach your own ISBN number to your book; 2. You can obtain a free ISBN from Smashwords that registers Smashwords as your publisher (your book must be accepted into the Premium Catalog to be eligible to receive the free ISBN), or; 3. You can select the premium ISBN from Smashwords. The Premium ISBN service,  which registers you, the author or publisher, as the publisher in the ISBN record and lists Smashwords as the distributor, is $9.95 and is available only to residents of the United States and U.S. territories, and your book must be accepted into the Premium Catalog.  For publishers outside the United States, click here for list of international ISBN agencies.

What's the difference between the Premium ISBN and the Free ISBN?  Which is better?
We recommend the FREE ISBN because it's free.  We pay for the ISBN so you don't have to.  The Premium ISBN offers no advantage over the free ISBN.  Unless you're a publisher of multiple authors, the Premium ISBN is essentially a vanity ISBN for those who feel it's important to be listed as the "publisher" in the Bowker Books in Print Database, a database few readers will ever view (most readers search for books via title and author name searches at Google and online bookstores).  Of all the Smashwords retailers, only Sony polls Bowker for data in the ISBN record.  The FREE ISBN is available to any Smashwords author, anywhere in the world.  Although it registers Smashwords as the "publisher" in the Bowker record, we are not your publisher.  This designation is due only to the legacy limitations of Bowker's categorization options for ISBNs.  If Smashwords is listed as your publisher in the ISBN record, it in no way limits your ownership of your book, and in no way makes us your publisher.  

Can I use a Smashwords ISBN elsewhere?
We do not recommend this.  Smashwords ISBNs are provided as an exclusive service benefit for authors and publishers who utilize Smashwords' distribution services.  To use a Smashwords ISBN elsewhere, or to utilize Smashwords as a free vending machine for ISBNs, goes against the spirit of why we make this benefit available to our authors and clients.  To do so would also potentially create situations where your book is listed incorrectly.  If you plan to utilize an ISBN outside of Smashwords distribution, it's best to go to ISBN registrar and obtain your own.

Do I need an ISBN to publish on Smashwords?
No, you don't need an ISBN, though your book will be more successful if you have one because you'll enjoy broader distribution.  Why? Sony and Apple require ISBNs.
Clear as mud? Let me try to summarize.

A) If you ARE a publisher and live in the US:
- Head over to Barnes & Noble's PubIt! page and take out an account, then follow their simple and easy instructions and publish your ebook. (We'll talk about formatting your ebook for publication with PubIt@ later in this series.)

B) If you ARE a publisher but don't live in the US:
- Head over to Smashwords and publish your book through them, being careful to indicate that you want Barnes & Noble as one of your distribution channels. Eventually -- in a few weeks -- your book will show up on the Nook Store shelves.

If you are NOT a publisher:
- Same as for (B), above. If you want an ISBN number for your book, Smashwords will assign one to your book for you free of charge (see above for the details).

I hope that made some sense, there is SO much to cover in this area! Eventually I'll get through it.

Thanks for reading!

Photo Credit: techshout

Related Articles:
Publishing With Smashwords: What can Smashwords do for me as a writer?

Tuesday, April 10

Artist Lori Nix, Small Worlds

I stumbled upon this picture yesterday and it took my breath away, so I wanted to share it. Follow one of the links, above, to see more of Lori Nix's amazing work.

Monday, April 9

Writing: The Starburst Method, Part 5: The Expanded Synopsis


In part five of my Starburst Series we are going to expand our synopsis. Now that you know your characters better, go back to the 5 paragraph plot synopsis you created in Step 3 and expand each point into a page.

This part of the Starburst Method builds on the other parts of the series, which can be found here:

The Starburst Method, Part 1: Creating a one sentence summary
The Starburst Method, Part 2: Developing our one sentence summary
The Starburst Method, Part 3: Creating a five paragraph summary
The Starburst Method, Part 4: Developing characters
The Starburst Method, Part 5: Creating a five page summary
The Starburst Method, Part 6: Developing scenes
The Starburst Method, Part 7: The character grid
The Starburst Method, Part 8: The rough draft and narrative drive

The first thing I noticed as I started to develop my characters last week was that they had changed, sometimes drastically. Granted, I didn't have a very clear idea of who many of them were when in Part 1 -- my killer especially -- but even the foggy ideas I did have, in many cases, turned out to be drastically different from what I ended up with.

But that's good! Change, honing your ideas, that's all part of building a first draft.

I like it when writers provide examples, so I'll expand the first part of the five part expanded summary I completed in Part 3.
Mr. Henry Winthrop, passionate architectural historian and the creator of a new TV series, American Stories: The mansions of the 1800, dies of a heart attack after entering The Mohan Mansion. The Mohan Mansion, in addition to being the best preserved mansion of its considerable age, also has a rich and colorful history. The townsfolk swear it is cursed: They believe anyone foolish enough to step inside will die an untimely death. Mr. Winthrop dismisses the stories of a curse and steps boldly across the threshold. Moments later he clutches his chest and falls to the floor, dead.

While Mr. Winthrop's untimely demise causes quite a stir amongst the townsfolk, no one involved with the TV show seems to take talk of a curse seriously. Mr. Winthrop was elderly and, despite repeated claims he didn't believe in curses, he had been in a state of high excitement before he entered the mansion. Not the best thing for a man with a bad heart.

After a day or two life in town begins to return to normal and the producers of American Stories decide to resume filming. The next day Mr. Kevin Reid, one of the men who accompanied Mr. Winthrop into the mansion, as well as the money behind the project, takes ill and dies. Once again, the cause of death is, apparently, natural – a bad case of food poisoning complicated by an allergy to protein. Despite this, many of the townspeople believe the curse is ultimately responsible for the deaths. Mr. Winthrop's widow, on the other hand, is a skeptic. She believes that the cause of the two deaths is all too natural.

But why would anyone have wanted to kill Mr. Winthrop? He was universally liked and his TV series was bringing desperately needed revenue into the town, not to mention setting it up as a future tourist destination. The financier, Mr. Kevin Reid, was less well known, but he didn't seem to have any enemies. Who, after all, would want to sabotage the TV series?

Who indeed. In the next section these questions, and more, will be asked of our supremely intelligent, resourceful and prodigiously immodest detective: Mr. Damien Lane.
Okay, that was about 360 words and since there's around 250 to a double-spaced, single-sided page, we've met and exceeded our word count. Yea!

Now I have to finish expanding the other four parts of my summary, making sure that each part ends in a bit of a cliffhanger, something to raise the tension-level in the story until, at the end, the villain is unmasked. Ah ha!

Well, good luck to all of you who are following me through this series--not that you'll need it! I'll see you in a week for Part Six of the Starburst Method when we go through our expanded summary and begin to develop our scenes.

See you then!

"Karen Woodward: The Starburst Method, Part 5" copyright© 2012 by Karen Woodward.

Thursday, April 5

How to purchase ISBN numbers in the USA

In an earlier article, I wrote about how to get a free Canadian ISBN Number, now I'd like to discuss how to purchase an ISBN number in the United States.

In the United States, all ISBN numbers are issued by Bowker. Here is a link that will take you to their website: Buy an ISBN number.

It is worth mentioning that only publishers can purchase ISBN numbers. If you'd like information on how to go about getting a US business license, here is the link for you: BusinessUSA.

At the current time, here is how much ISBN numbers cost in the US:

- A single ISBN: $125
- 10 ISBNs: $250
- 100 ISBNs: $575
- 1000 ISBNs: $1,000

Here is a link to the list of ISBN prices.
Good luck!

Pottermore sells over 1.5 million worth of ebooks in 3 days

From paidContent:
... Pottermore sold over £1 million worth of e-books, about $1.59 million at £0.63 pounds to the dollar. The Harry Potter e-books are priced at $7.99 each (for the first three) or $9.99 each (for the final four books in the series). Assuming an average price of $9.13, that means around 164,000 copies were sold in the first three days.
Read the rest here: Pottermore sold over $1.5m worth of Harry Potter e-books in 3 days