This past Friday, I went on a field trip with my students to Shenandoah Caverns. I'd been here before and to other caverns so I wasn't expecting to see anything new, although there's always one or two interesting tidbits I pick up on that I missed earlier. What I encountered, however, left me profoundly moved.
We were in the furthest depths of the caverns. A small tunnel looped behind a giant wall of rock to a reflecting pool. The ceiling of the tunnel was so low, it required even my students to duck. I decided to stay behind, knowing they would return within a minute or two. As the kids disappeared behind tons of solid rock, their chattering voices became fainter and fainter until they had vanished completely. In that moment I experienced complete and utter silence.
As a fifth grade teacher and father of four, noise is a constant companion. Groups of children gathered together in a confining space are not prone to extended periods of self-reflection and focused concentration on independent tasks. And when released into the open air, their volume only increases as if in effort to fill whatever space they occupy. I relish my forty minute commute to and from school as it is often the only time during the day I have to myself.
But I am no stranger to quiet either. I've spent numerous hours hunting in the woods, though not very many the last several years. I have no problem sitting somewhere without speaking for long periods of time. I used to drive between Virginia and Chicago, a twelve hour trip, all alone, radio off, with nothing but my thoughts for entertainment.
Yet here, at this moment in this cave, I realized I knew nothing about true silence. Even in the quietest hours of the night, when the rest of the world slumbers, there are still the chirps and calls of animal life. Even in the solitude of the forest on a brisk autumn day, far from civilization, you can still hear the distant whoosh of a jet passing overhead, the rustling of leaves from a passing breeze. Even in the hush of a gray winter day, when the world is blanketed with snow and cloud, the soft susurrus of falling flakes and scraping snow plow serves as a reminder that quiet is a relative thing.
But here, I found the total absence of all sound. No vibration stirred the air, the thick stone a perfect insulation between me and the chatter of children. To some it might have seemed oppressive, pressing in on all sides. To me it was exactly the opposite. A sudden weight was lifted, as if all the pressures and stresses of the world had vanished.
As the students rounded the corner and returned, so too did the sounds of life. For a moment I was vexed, wishing I could remain in that silence because it had been so brief. I thought about returning on my own later to let it hold me in its ghostly embrace. I knew it would still be there. Of course it would be, I realized. This place held a deep and constant silence only broken by visitors from the surface.
As we continued our trek through the caverns, my thoughts lingered on what it would be like to go utterly without sound for a day, a week, a month. That's when I realized why I enjoy quiet so much. Not for the sake of quiet itself, but so that I can better appreciate noise in the world of the living. For where there is life, there is noise.
Too much of anything desensitizes a person. We are constantly bombarded by the noise of life and I would hate to lose sight of just how precious it truly is. My son's laugh, my daughter saying "I love you Daddy", the applause of a satisfied audience, the hoot of an owl, a dog baying in the distance, rain on a tin roof. I am glad to have had this experience to remind me of what I would miss.
So, it's been a while since I've done much serious writing. I took a break to do some reading: The first two Mistborn books by Brandon Sanderson and Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. All of which were great reads.
I attended Dayton Days this past weekend and sold seven copies of Missing. I was shocked. I really only expected to sell one or two. Four of them were to complete strangers. So yay for that.
I'm back at it, however, but a new project has come into my head that I am putting some time into. I haven't given up on Stolen, but progress is slow. I don't have a title for the new story yet, but it is a more traditional fantasy. I may post some excerpts from it soon, so stay tuned.
I am a fifth grade teacher. With the arrival of August, my thoughts turned back to the classroom and ideas for how best to engage my students started swirling through my awakening brain. One of my most challenging subjects to teach is Writing. Surprising, given my love of the craft, but often the things that we enjoy doing are difficult to teach. I needed something different, a new approach to show my students the authenticity of the writing process and practical application of the skills and techniques I teach them.
With the recent publication of Missing, and the realization of how easy the process is, I decided to write a book especially for my students with a goal of having a finished product in their hands by the end of the school year. This way, we could actively discuss techniques like snapshots and exploded moments in a manner that was (hopefully) meaningful to them. Making it meaningful and relevant, was another challenge. What would I write about? Should I shoot for Newberry material? Or something more mundane?
The answer: ask them what they want to read about. I had a captive audience; they were more than willing to brainstorm ideas for stories that interested them.
So I did. Last week, I did a lesson on story elements: what to include in a narrative. We discussed characters, setting, problems and solutions. Then I had them brainstorm a list of characters and problems that character might have. What resulted was an eclectic list of ideas that would never have occurred to me on my own.
Since then, I have selected several of the ideas and begun hashing out a plot. I won't give away much at this point, but let's say that bacon will play a prominent role.
Today you can. If you want. If you've read MISSING, odds are pretty good that you have some unanswered questions. Most of the people I've talked to have told me as much. Some of them will just wait until the next book comes out and find out whatever I tell them. But you don't have to!
As I hammer out the first draft of STOLEN, I'd really like to know what questions you want answered. Yes, I already have an outline, but I can always flesh things out. Leave a comment here with a question. If it's something that I already plan to answer, I'll let you know. If it's not, then you've given me food for thought. Who knows, I might just tell you the answer right away!
Also, make sure to leave your email address before you go. This way you won't miss out on anything.
I just broke 10K words on STOLEN. My goal is 60K, but I get the feeling it will be longer. MISSING was only 52K and I didn't have any subplots to work in. This one has one substantial subplot and Gray will be exploring the realm of the supernatural in a bit more depth. I hope it doesn't run more than 70K though, because that would require some heavy editing. Time wise, I'm not sure how long it will take. If I can dedicate at least one night a week (which I haven't been able to do this summer), maybe I'll have it finished by the end of the school year. I'll keep you posted.
Hopefully you loved Missing. If you haven't read it yet, what are you waiting for? Hop to it.
If you loved it and can't wait for more, head over to the Get in Touch page and leave your email address. In return, I'll send you Chapter 1 of Stolen, the next book. The book isn't finished yet, but the first chapter is pretty solid. Hope you enjoy.
Over the last month, I've done two Goodreads Giveaways. I read on another blog that it was best to run them for short periods of time, because you get the most entries (and therefore adds) right at the beginning and right at the end. So the first one I made available to all of the US and the second I made available to other English speaking countries. In all, I had 1,165 adds. That isn't a lot in the grand scheme of things, but it's way more than I had before.
So what? That and three bucks will buy you a coffee at Starbucks, right? Right. What we all want to know is if Goodreads adds translate into sales? To figure out the answer to this question, we could look at pure data. In my case, the answer would be no. But I think time is a variable in the equation that hasn't been accounted for yet.
Before reaching a conclusion, let's analyze the behavior of Goodreads users, particularly those who enter giveaways. Many of the people who entered my giveaway have hundreds or thousands of books on their To-Read shelf. That's a lot. Way more than they will realistically read in the next few months or even a year, so it's unlikely that these will ever translate into sales. What I was looking for were people who are more like me, with between 20 and 100 books on their To-Read shelf. I tend to use Goodreads recommendations to figure out what I will read next, and have purchased perhaps half of the books I've added. I figure these people may buy the book at some point in the future. If so, awesome. To break even on giving away two books, I need to sell 6 books. That seems a reasonable expectation.
The other thing to consider is reviews. Ultimately, the algorithms that recommend books to users are based on reviews. So, the more reviews, the better. I included a handwritten note to both winners asking that they at least rate the book. The first has already done so. I just sent the second today, so we'll see.
The expense of a Goodreads Giveaway is minimal. While I haven't seen much of anything in the way of sales from it yet, I know I have reached at least a thousand people who expressed some interest. I may do another one in the near future to celebrate the new cover. I will be very interested to see the interest that generates in comparison.
Hi folks, I wanted to let you all know that I'm working on the second installment of the Mason Gray series. It will be titled STOLEN.
An ancient artifact has disappeared from the Field Museum and the authorities are stumped and Gray is called in to investigate. At first it appears to be a dead-end, but Gray makes a discovery that everyone else missed and embarks on a hunt for an elusive thief with fantastic abilities.
That's all I'm going to reveal at the moment, but you can expect to meet new characters and more will be revealed about the nature of Gray's own mysterious powers.
I'd love to hear your theories and speculations, so feel free to comment here.
Sign up for my newsletter between now and July 1 and be entered to win a free epub or .mobi file of Missing. I'll give away 10 copies to randomly selected entrants. Don't wait, sign up now!
Click here to sign up.
At long last, you've finally finished writing that novel. Good for you. Here's a cookie. So what do you do now?
You have three choices: you can do nothing, go the traditional publishing route, or self-publish. If you're like me, doing nothing isn't really an option. You wrote your book for people to read, and if it isn't out there, what was the point.
I'm not going to discuss the process of traditional publishing here because I don't have any experience with it... yet. Maybe some day. There are certainly pros and cons to finding a traditional publisher and if that's what you want to do, go for it. I wish you the best of luck. Now scram. Go read about finding an agent and how to write a query letter.
If, however, you decide to self-publish because you're impatient or you've decided to stick it the man, or whatever, then keep reading.
There are many avenues to self-publish. Today, I'm going to focus on Kindle Direct, or KDP for short. I chose this because it's what I use to purchase and read ebooks. KDP makes the process of publishing an ebook super easy. All you have to do is create an account, upload your content, pick a price, and BAM, you're published! Okay, it's not quite that simple. I've been playing around with it for a few weeks and I want to let you know about some issues I've encountered and hopefully make the process easier for you.
Uploading Your Content.
Uploading your manuscript is really easy. Just choose the correct file and push the button. However, formatting your manuscript is where the work happens. I've tried uploading both a Word document and an epub file. Both seem to work fine if formatted correctly.
The issue I've been having is getting a special font I've used for the title page to display correctly. Even though I've embedded the font and it displays correctly in the epub file on my computer, it doesn't seem to translate to the Amazon format. And I can't figure out why. That said, I finally decided not to worry about it. The font they substituted works, even it doesn't capture the mood I was going for.
You can pay for a third party to format your content for you, but I say don't bother. DIY. You'll learn something new.
Upload a Cover
Aside from having great content, this is the most important part of your book. It's the first thing a potential reader sees that will draw them into reading the description. I created my own using GIMP (a free image manipulation software) and I really like it, but I've been doing graphic design for other stuff for a while, so I'm comfortable with it. If you decide to create your own, you can find free images at Pixabay.
If you aren't comfortable designing your own cover, don't. Pay someone else to do it.
The rest of the process is pretty self-explanatory. DON'T get an ISBN through KDP. You don't need one for an ebook. More on this later. Keywords are important, but you can change those whenever. Find what works best for you. Write a killer description. After the cover, this is what people will read. If it intrigues them, they'll read a sample. If they like that, they'll buy your book--if it isn't too expensive. Set your price. Go for the 70% royalty plan and keep it under $2.99 is my suggestion. And you should listen to me because I already have five pre-orders.
Okay, that wasn't everything else. Sue me. There's one other thing you should consider carefully. To enroll in KDP Select or not to enroll. If you choose this option, you are basically signing an exclusive deal with Amazon for 90 days. That means you can't sell your ebook on any other platform like Smashwords or NOOK. In return, Select members can read your book for free and you get a cut of the membership fees based on how many pages of your book are read. Many authors like this option because it is a way to offer your book for free and still make some money... hopefully. I'm going to give it a go (you can always un-enroll your book later). I'll let you know if I like it.
Right, there were actually two more things. Kindle is offering a print version of your book (it's currently in Beta) I don't know why you would do this at this point. I'm using Create Space. It has more tools available and you can reach more markets. If you want a free ISBN, this is where you'd get it. It comes with a caveat, of course. If you choose a free ISBN, you can't change it and you're committed to publishing only through Amazon. If you don't like that option, you can purchase an ISBN for like $99.
Okay, yep, that's it. No more things to discuss. Hope this helps. Now go write something worth reading.