Category Archives: Writers

TMI: Marketing Info Overload

Too Much InformationMy eyes are glazing and my brain hurts. It began with a BookBub Partners email directing me to a guest blog by author Nick Sullivan, his topic being one close to my heart: Launching Book 4 in a Series. Like Nick, I have a fourth book coming out in about six months. But unlike Nick, it would never occur to me to set up a pre-order for a book being released months from now. That’s yet another marketing wrinkle I must consider.

As is “calling KDP.” What? It’s possible to telephone Kindle Direct Publishing? Nick says he “Called KDP and added eight more categories to both the paperback and the Kindle editions. (When you set up your book in KDP, you provide two categories, but you can contact Amazon and get up to 10.)” Veddy interesting. I had no idea that speaking with an actual human would be possible. I must investigate.

Reading more of Nick’s advice, I came to the unfamiliar term AMS. Nick writes that AMS had been “getting away from him.” Well, by golly, it’s sure been getting away from me, since I had never heard the term before today. Googling clued me in: it stands for Amazon Marketing Services. Oh, okay: ads. Yep, Amazon ads have been on my to-do list.

So I let Google detour me from Nick’s Book 4 launch strategy into the YouTube weeds of “How to Do Amazon Book Ads.” The process seems similar to BookBub’s DIY ad platform. Except Amazon makes provision for “negative targeting keywords,” where you enter search terms that you don’t want your book to be associated with. For instance, if your book isn’t free, you can enter “free” and “free ebook” as negative keywords, to keep freebie shoppers from clicking on your title and then getting mad when they see that it costs a whopping $2.99.  Good to know.

But back to Nick’s advice. He names several non-BookBub promo sites: Robin Reads, Freebooksy, Book Adrenaline, BookDoggy, ENT, and eReaderIQ. I see more Googling in my future, as I have no clue what any of those are or what they do or how much they cost.

Nick’s post eventually led me to this related article: “Marketing a New Book Release that’s Part of a Long Series.” In that linked article, author Julianne MacLean offers succinct advice that seems a little easier to follow for someone (like me) who possesses only rudimentary marketing knowledge. Julianne breaks her promo plan into seven steps:

1. Pre-order
2. Cover reveal
3. Social media
4. Book trailer
5. Discounting
6. Advertising
7. Blog tour

I’ve got Waterspell Book 4’s new cover in hand, I’ve made some book trailers, I’m as active as time allows on social media, and my testing-the-waters ads via BookBub have yielded promising results, especially for rebels like me who prefer Barnes & Noble and Nook. When Waterspell Books 1 and 2 were newly released, I did blog tours, and it seems that such tours are still “a thing,” though blogging itself isn’t the hottest communications medium out there.

Which leaves pre-orders and discounting for me to investigate.

My to-do list grows ever longer. It’s encouraging, though, that other writers have worked out doable marketing plans that I can hope to emulate. But not right now. At this hour of the day, I (like Fernando Pessoa) need truth and aspirin.

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Character Development: Showing Emotions

Once again, and gratefully, I’m sharing excellent writing advice from author Connie J. Jasperson. It’s very timely. I’m about to settle down, first, as a beta reader for a writer-friend’s work-in-progress, and then to make final (I hope) edits to my own WIP, Waterspell Book 4. Connie’s advice on how to show characters’ emotional states will be fresh in my mind as I undertake to help both my friend and myself Do Our Jobs Better.


 

Most authors who have been in writing groups for any length of time become adept at writing emotions on a surface level. We bandage our wounded egos and work at showing our characters’ inner demons. We spend hours writing and rewriting, forcing words into facial expressions. Happiness, anger, spite – all the emotions get a […]

Character Development: Showing Emotions — Life in the Realm of Fantasy

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Character Development: Motivation drives the story

Here’s excellent writing advice from author Connie J. Jasperson. I’m pleased to reblog her post, as follows, and I invite you to follow Connie at conniejjasperson.com.

You have probably heard of the literary rule known as Chekhov’s Gun, which says nothing should appear in the scene that has no use. If a rifle is important enough to be shown hanging on the wall, someone had better fire it, or it should be removed from the setting. Firing Chekhov’s gun brings us […]

Character Development: Motivation drives the story #amwriting — Life in the Realm of Fantasy

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Time to Work Out the Plan

Waterspell tagline on sunsetFor a year, I’ve been laying the groundwork:

• New covers, first for the ebooks and now for the paperbacks
• Ongoing work on the audiobooks
• New book trailers, created via Biteable
• Reformatted Facebook author page
• Updated Amazon author page
• Updated Goodreads profile
• Lots of social media graphics newly made at Canva.com

My next steps include looking into the usefulness of these things:

• BookBub
• The Fussy Librarian
• Blog tours
• Goodreads Giveaways
• Amazon advertising
• Written Word Media
• Instagram

I know who I’ll ask for new reviews to augment the glowing reviews that Waterspell received upon the books’ initial publication. The circle I move in, these days, is much changed from the social circle that I knew before my husband’s death in 2012. Now, I number among my friends many anti-fascist activists, folks I got to know after November 2016. Most of them didn’t even know I was a many-times published author; it wasn’t what drew us together. Now, gradually, I’m revealing my past life and enlisting the support of those who are willing to help me recover something of it.

Waterspell Book 1 detail

Am I dreaming, thinking I can relaunch a 10-year-old fantasy series? Possibly. But I’m making final edits to Waterspell Book 4, preparing for a 2022 release. And the audiobooks are slowly coming together, after my wonderfully talented narrator endured a major upheaval in his own world. It took him away from the work for six months—disruptive, yes, but not as damaging to a career as was my own dark, nine-year period of grief and neglect. If nothing else goes too badly wrong, the audiobooks should be released in 2022, along with Book 4.

I’m thinking those two events could be and should be enough to spark new interest in the original trilogy. If I will get out there and promote, dammit. It’s no secret that promotion takes money, and I’m prepared to pay, within reason, for advertising. Here’s what I plan for my first sponsored Facebook post:

waterspell-fb“Perfect for fans of Kristin Cashore and Charlotte Brontë.” From award-winning author Deborah J. Lightfoot, an unforgettable epic fantasy that readers call “extraordinary, enthralling, completely unpredictable.” Think “Jane Eyre meets a sorcerer.” Coming in 2022, Book 4 of Waterspell will complete the series. Print & ebooks available. Audiobooks in progress. http://www.waterspell.net

Amazon advertising and BookBub being completely new to me, I’ll need to discover how they may or may not fit into the budget. But at least I’ve got a little ready cash to spend on a new promotional push. The 2020 Pandemic Year not only gave me time and opportunity to pursue audiobooks and to write Book 4, it saved me money. I went nowhere and cooked meals at home. Everything I didn’t spend on travel and restaurants is now earmarked for book promotion.

I hope to Drisha this plan of mine will get these four books in front of the readers who will most enjoy them. At this point, it’s readership I want—not fortune so much, just a tiny bit of fame to validate the years I’ve spent obsessing over this story of mine.

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Filed under Audiobooks, Books and Readers, Cover Design, Discoverability, On Writing, Waterspell fantasy trilogy, Writers

Impossible to Beat Goodreads Into Submission?

GoodreadsFor good or ill, I mostly ignore Goodreads. The interface is maddeningly clunky. It resists all efforts to correct or update book details. The simple act of uploading a new cover creates multitudes of “new editions” which are no such thing. Edits are not saved immediately, making the person behind the editing wonder whether they stuck at all.

I write this while waiting the minimum 15 minutes to see whether the new Waterspell paperback covers got uploaded correctly (inevitably showing as “new editions,” creating a vastness of editions at Goodreads when there are, in fact, only the three editions in the real world: Paperback, Kindle, and other ebook).

The multiplied editions don’t annoy me nearly as much, however, as Goodreads’ insistence on changing the books’ titles. They are properly titled Waterspell Book 1: The Warlock, Waterspell Book 2: The Wysard, and Waterspell Book 3: The Wisewoman. In Goodreads’ infinite wisdom, however, the books are shown with their subtitles first, and the actual title—Waterspell—in parentheses. I frown at them taking such liberties with my books, but there doesn’t seem to be much I can do about it.

My antipathy toward the Goodreads interface keeps me from participating widely on that platform, which undoubtedly redounds to my disadvantage. I know it’s popular with avid readers, and I should reach out to connect with fantasy fans who spend time there. But egads, Goodreads! Why in this age of technological marvels does your interface feel 20 years old? Has it grown too huge and bloated to revamp? Are we stuck forever with this wallowing mess of a website?

I think it’s been 15 minutes. Now I shall log in again and see if any of my edits stuck, or if I must try, try, try again. <sigh>

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“Literary Fantasy” Defined

Book 1 The WarlockThis is the best definition of “literary fantasy” I’ve come across. The definer, Emily Temple, also lists and briefly describes recommended books in the genre. Of course, I must add the Waterspell series to the list, as it closely fits her definition:

“For the purposes of this list, I am using it [the term ‘literary fantasy’] to mean works of fantasy that prioritize sentence-level craft and/or complex thematic structures, and/or that play with expectations and fantasy tropes, and/or that focus on characters and interiority as primary goals of the work. I don’t just mean ‘well-written fantasy’ or ‘literary novels that have magic in them,’ though both kinds of books can be found here. What I mean is books that relate to and pull from the conventions of both genres: fantasy and literary fiction. This means there might be dragons, and there might be a hero’s journey, and there might be some lyrical descriptions, and there might be some family conflict. There is also some crossover with SF and literary SF, of course.”
—Emily Temple

Find Temple’s list on Literary Hub at “10 Works of Literary Fantasy You Should Read.”

 

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Notes from a ConQuesT 52 Foodie

close up photo of sliced bread on oval wooden plate

Photo by Marta Dzedyshko on Pexels.com

I spent much of the 2021 Memorial Day weekend attending (virtually) ConQuesT 52, the annual SF and fantasy convention presented by the Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society. The many interesting panel discussions included Neurodiversity in Star Trek; Trials and Tribulations of Running an Interstellar Space Station; Being Creative in 2020: Building Community, Visibility, and Audience in a Virtual World; and my personal favorite, “Food in Fantasy.”

That one got me thinking about the many ways in which food comes to the fore in Waterspell, starting with Carin’s near-starvation on her long journey as she’s forced to beg or steal what food she can, but survives mostly on the rabbits she kills and the roots and berries she forages. Then the housekeeper Myra enters Carin’s life, feeding her better than she’s eaten in years. In Myra’s kitchen, around the trestle table, we learn much about the resident warlock and his small household.

Finding, cooking, and eating food provide endless opportunities for character development and story progression. Seeing the warlock throw down a glass of something alcoholic during tense moments, or when he needs time to think, gives us a glimpse of the inner man. Watching the characters gather for a meal, listening to their dinner-table talk, we catch the nuances in their phrasing and read meaning in their pauses. I’m hard-pressed to imagine how the story could have developed without meal breaks providing opportunities for the characters to reveal their hidden sides and crack open one other’s emotional shells from time to time.

Foods and beverages also lend themselves to writing that touches all the senses. Not only “How does it taste?” (tart, sweet, salty, bitter … ) or “How does it smell?” (spicy, burnt, savory, fruity, gamy … ) but “How does it feel in the mouth?” Is it crunchy or creamy, chewy or tender, slimy, sparkling, wet, dry, or maybe still moving? What does it sound like as it cooks over an open fire? Is the pot bubbling, the meat sizzling? What does it look like? Colorful fruits and vegetables, pastries, breads and sauces? Brown gravies and browner meats? Or does the food look as gray as a dungeon’s walls, or as green as a cup of poison? When writing about food, a writer can pull out all the descriptive stops, for it’s a sure bet that food has significance for every reader.

The ConQuesT panelists discussed the close ties between food and culture: how rice may call to mind one cultural tradition, for instance, while potatoes evoke another, and haggis another. The work of Brian Hayden was mentioned, particularly his book The Power of Feasts, which explores the practice of feasting from prehistoric to modern times, revealing patterns and links to other aspects of culture such as food, personal identity, power, and politics.

Speaking of personal identity, the panelists commented on the ways in which foods and beverages can become character hooks: Star Trek’s Captain Picard likes “Tea. Earl Gray. Hot.” Counselor Deanna Troi craves chocolate. My own Waterspell warlock drinks dhera, occasionally to excess.

I enjoyed this year’s virtual ConQuesT and appreciated the chance to attend the panel discussions without needing to travel to KC. To learn more about ConQuesT—Kansas City’s original Science Fiction Convention held annually on Memorial Day Weekend—and the convention’s sponsor, Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society, please visit their website. Scroll to the bottom of the page to sign up for their email list. I signed up and look forward to getting more involved. Maybe next year, I’ll be in KC on Memorial Day.

 

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Favorite Quotes #1

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”—Martin Buber

“Mistakes are the usual bridge between inexperience and wisdom.” —Phyllis Theroux


“Take the course opposite to custom and you will almost always do well.” —Jean-Jacques Rousseau


“Drift beautifully on the surface and you will die unbeautifully in the depths.” —Richard Ellmann


“The respect of those you respect is worth more than the applause of the multitude.” —Arnold Glasow


“Patience is a minor form of despair disguised as a virtue.” —Ambrose Bierce


“The soul that has no fixed goal loses itself; for as they say, to be everywhere is to be nowhere.” —Michel de Montaigne


“Anything you’re good at contributes to happiness.” —Bertrand Russell


“Shun idleness. It is a rust that attaches itself to the most brilliant metals.” —Voltaire


“The best way to be boring is to leave nothing out.” —Voltaire


“Stupidity lies in wanting to draw conclusions.” —Gustave Flaubert

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Women in the King Arthur Legends

Queen Guinevere’s Maying. John Collier (1850–1934)

Recently I listened to the audiobook (all 51 hours) of The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, beautifully narrated by Davina Porter. Of course I’d read the series years ago when it was a New York Times bestseller, but listening to the audiobook version was even better for getting totally caught up in the story.

With great interest, then, I paid my $10 for this Profs and Pints Online program: “The Women of King Arthur Legends,” presented by Sara Cleto and Brittany Warman, former instructors at The Ohio State University and co-founders of the Carterhaugh School of Folklore and the Fantastic.

Their talk is well worth $10. I highly recommend it. I had fun comparing and contrasting the women of Bradley’s historical fantasy with the women of Cleto and Warman’s folkloric interpretations. Their overview of the traditions and legends surrounding the women deepened my appreciation for what Bradley accomplished in her wonderful retelling.

Here’s the program summary from the online link:

“Morgan Le Fay, Queen Guinevere, The Lady of the Lake, Elaine. Each of these women play crucial roles in the rise and fall of King Arthur, Britain’s greatest legendary hero. But they’re almost always presented as enigmatic, ambiguous forces in the story.

“Is Morgan Le Fay the evil sorceress who plots Arthur’s demise, or is she the good fairy who takes the dying Arthur to the magical isle of Avalon for rest and healing? Is Guinevere an adulterous schemer, or a woman trapped by politics and the limited possibilities for women of her time? The numerous gaps in the traditional materials of these legends allow many different interpretations, some positive or nuanced, and some that hint at more than a little of the misogyny, fear, and contempt women have faced throughout the ages.

“In this talk, Sara Cleto and Brittany Warman will guide you through the complex world of Arthuriana and discuss how these women and their stories have been understood (and misunderstood) from ancient times to modern retellings. Join us for an enchanted night of swords and sorcery, as we explore what these strange and powerful women offer today’s world.”

The recording of their talk, available online, includes recommended readings, both scholarly and popular. Below is a screenshot of part of their list. I was surprised that The Mists of Avalon did not make the Creative side of the list—it’s certainly creative. But perhaps the omission is due to the books being so well known, they need no introduction. In any case, I’ve added several of Cleto and Warman’s recommendations to my personal reading list.

(Presented by Sara Cleto and Brittany Warman)

Treat yourself doubly, to this online presentation from Profs & Pints and also to the fabulous audiobook version of Mists. Together they’re an investment of more than 52 hours, but it’s time wonderfully well spent.

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Eye Surgery Terror and Trauma

For lovers of the written word, good reading vision is a pearl without price. Losing our ability to read, even temporarily, is traumatic for people who Read All The Time. We awake in the morning and read our social media and the news. We sit down to work at our desks and computers, reading and writing on screens or notepads all day. In the evenings we may be back on social media or catching up on email. At bedtime, we have our noses in books, carried away by the power of the written word.

For People of the Book—or for anyone, I suppose, but with particular intensity for People Who Read—eye surgery is terrifying. What if it goes wrong? What if I’m blinded? In allowing a stranger to cut my eyes, have I made the worst mistake of my life?

I recently endured eye surgery, and it has brought me what I dreaded only slightly less than total blindness: I have lost my once-excellent close vision. I had postponed cataract surgery for as long as I possibly could, and when the time came that I must undergo it, the results threw me into a near-panic:

I could no longer see to read.

The surgery took from me my close reading vision and gave me sort-of good distance vision in its stead. Not a fair or advantageous trade, in my world.

Today, I’m in the difficult in-between phase: The surgery is behind me. Thank Godde. My eyes, however, have not yet healed enough that I can go to my optometrist and get the new, post-surgery glasses that will—I hope and trust!—fully restore my reading and computer vision (and correct the astigmatism that blurs my vision at all distances).

Tips for Coping

In hopes of reducing the trauma for other profoundly nearsighted People Who Read, I’ll share what I’ve learned during this ordeal.

1. First and foremost, find a surgeon with good communication skills. My cataract surgeon has a reputation for excellence—both my optometrist and a retina specialist who cleared me for the surgery sang his praises. I, however, cannot recommend him because his communication skills are abysmal. He volunteered no information; he told me nothing of what I could expect before, during, or after the surgery. He did not even tell me what kind of intraocular lens he intended to implant in my eyes. When I asked, he bristled at the question and snappishly said that I was a candidate for only the most basic type, those being fixed monofocal lenses matched to distance vision. From my own research, that is what I had expected to get, but I was taken aback that the surgeon resisted explaining or even discussing my options, or why I had no options.

My first bit of advice to you, therefore, is to find a surgeon who will talk to you.

2. Prepare as well as you can for the extreme imbalance and mental as well as physical strain you will experience after one of your eyes is “corrected” to inflexible, relentless farsightedness, while your “uncorrected” eye remains profoundly nearsighted. During the seven days that elapsed between surgeries on my two eyes, the imbalance kept me in a state bordering on vertigo. I felt queasy and tended to list to port, then to starboard, while walking. I had trouble getting up and down the stairs in my home. I possessed no depth perception and couldn’t tell where I was in space, or where anything else lay. I’d reach for an object and miss it. For seven days I did a lot of napping, because seeing the world through two vastly mismatched eyes made me feel sick.

Astonishingly, at the post-surgery follow-up the day after operating on my left eye, the surgeon said I was OK to drive. Preposterous! And highly irresponsible of him. With the astigmatism in my left eye making everything blurry, the uncorrected 20/400 vision in my right eye making me functionally blind on that side as it overlaid its blurriness on my left side, and with my perpetual vertigo from the imbalance between the two eyes, I was most certainly not OK to drive.

To get myself through that miserable seven days between surgeries, besides sleeping a lot I modified two pairs of my old glasses. On one pair, I taped over the left lens to block out my “corrected” eye so I could see to read with my right eye through my familiar no-line progressive eyeglasses. I modified another pair of old eyeglasses by removing the left lens entirely and taping over the right lens. This helped block out the 20/400 vision of my native right eye so that my brain could focus on seeing with my surgically “corrected” left eye. My right eye is strongly dominant, and during the seven days between surgeries my brain strove mightily to rely primarily on my right eye, as it always has. Only by blocking off that eye could I force my brain to shift its focus to my now-farsighted left eye.

Old eyewear modified for post-surgery needs

3. Besides modifying old eyeglasses to help you cope between surgeries, I also recommend that you ask your surgeon about operating on your dominant eye first. I believe a great deal of my disorientation, discomfort, and incapacity between surgeries could have been alleviated if my dominant eye had been the first to go under the knife. In hindsight, I wonder why determining my dominant eye wasn’t a basic part of the pre-op examination. It seems logical that a surgeon should want to work with a patient’s natural abilities, rather than go against them.

4. Buy reading glasses and have them on hand before your surgery! Being a lifelong wearer (since second grade, anyway) of prescription eyewear, I had never owned a pair of over-the-counter reading glasses. I knew nothing about them. I had no idea what power of reading glasses I needed, but guessed at 3.0 based on this chart at Readers.com.

The second surgery, performed on my right eye exactly one week after my left eye, utterly stripped me of my reading vision. I had been forced to trade my excellent close vision for good-enough distance vision. Now, with both eyes “done” (or done for), I could drive without glasses, but I shall never again be able to read without them. The sacrifice of my close vision saddens me. It seems a big price to pay, for someone who Reads All The Time and who is writing a new novel when she isn’t reading.

Only my cheap mail-order reading glasses kept me from roundly cursing the name of the surgeon who said I had no options and then left me unable to focus on the Written Word. The reading glasses are getting me by, just barely, until I can go to my optometrist for the real thing.

Computer glasses rubber-banded
to empty eyeglass frames

4. Buy computer glasses or multifocal reading glasses. As luck (or my eyes) would have it, I did already own computer glasses that are made to slip over one’s regular eyewear, to sharpen one’s view of a monitor. To use them post-surgery, I removed both lenses from an old pair of my eyeglasses and, with rubber bands, affixed the plastic computer glasses to the empty metal frames. They are enabling me to work at my desktop computer, after a fashion. I’m writing this while peering through them at my monitor. Constantly switching back and forth, however, between computer glasses (to see what’s on my screen) and reading glasses (to see my phone and everything else that’s on my office desk) is driving me to mutter curses at the surgeon once more.

In hopes of finding a more workable solution that will tide me over until I can get proper prescription eyewear, I returned to Readers.com and discovered Foster Grants that claim to combine reading vision, computer vision, and “interacting” vision, all in one. The glasses are on order and due to arrive in less than a week. I will return here and report my opinion of what purports to be a kind of over-the-counter no-line progressive lens.

Seek Empathy

Going back to recommendation No. 1, above, about finding an eye surgeon you can talk to: Patients lucky enough to have a surgeon who understands People of the Book, People Who Read All the Time, may escape many of the terrors and traumas that I have endured. With an understanding surgeon who will seek to maintain your ability to read throughout the process, you may find the surgery—and its aftermath—to be far less stressful than I have. My surgeon simply didn’t care. He brushed aside my concerns and showed no interest whatsoever in my needs and priorities. When I expressed to him my distress over not being able to read post-surgery, he shrugged it off as a trivial thing, not as a loss that strikes at the core of who I am.

For a lover of the written word, an inability to read and write—even a temporary incapacity—is a situation that will induce near-panic. I share my experiences in hopes of helping others to prepare yourselves, as far as possible, for the sacrifices that accompany eye surgery.

I hope you have booklover friends who will understand your cries of anguish when you cannot read and your surgeon doesn’t care. Let me end by quoting a friend who reacted to my pain and frustration as all true People Who Read would react:

“He needs a different profession. For an eye surgeon not to respect his patient’s need to be able to read should be criminal.” Amen.

 

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