Timewalkerauthor’s Quick Start Guide to Publication

The other day, I was asked by a family member to help out an acquaintance.  It seems this gentleman is an aspiring author, and he was looking for advice on how to proceed toward publication.  Excellent question!  Although I haven’t made the leap to professional publishing myself as yet, I have worked through the process, and looked into it, and the basics are fairly simple.  I put together a sort of quick-start guide for him, and now I’m posting it here, in slightly modified form.

Two things:  First, this guide is by no means exhaustive or authoritative.  There are people out there who are far more qualified than me to make these recommendations, and you can find any number of blogs that specialize in this sort of advice, with varying degrees of depth.  This is simply a starting point.  Nothing will substitute for your own research, but I appreciate you coming here for a first look!  Second, when I prepared this post, I had very little information as to what the acquaintance for whom I prepared it was looking for, or what he was writing.  Therefore I’ve broadened the scope a bit; this post covers more than just traditional or paid publishing.  As a result, there should be something here for everyone.  Let’s get started!

pencil

Photo borrowed from blog.oxforddictionaries.com

 

 

What type of publishing are you interested in?

“Publishing” is an inclusive term, and doesn’t just mean traditional, print-book, royalty-earning publishing.  There are lots of types and levels to this.  Here are the broad options:

Blogging:  You’ll want a site you can regularly update with new posts as you see fit, which is just yours (not any other contributors unless you choose to have them).  Can be based around an interest, or be general purpose.    Some sites that offer blog hosting for free are:

  • Blogger.com (formerly BlogSpot)—this one is big and versatile and is owned by Google.
  • WordPress.com—I use this one, and you’re looking at it right now. Allows multiple blogs under one email address (most of these do that, but it’s worth noting). WordPress is the granddaddy of blogging sites; it’s big and well-established, (17% of all websites are WordPress sites!) doesn’t often have bugs, has a ton of themes available. Easy to use. WordPress.com is free, and if you ever reach the point where you are doing well and making money on it and want to host it yourself, WordPress.org is the paid service that does that. But really, .com is usually sufficient.
  • LiveJournal.com—getting a bit outdated, but still popular. Has a free and a paid version. One useful feature is it allows video uploading on the free version, which WordPress does not (unless you pay a premium fee).
  • Tumblr.com—Tends to be more visual than literary. Has a comment reply system similar to Reddit. I, for one, found that it isn’t very useful for posting stories and text as opposed to pictures, but you may disagree. Very popular, but a lot of people make fun of it.
  • Blog.com—considered to be a little more professional, but not too much. Tends to have a lot of features that cost premium fees, but otherwise not bad.
  • Weebly.com—comparable to WordPress as far as utility and features. I have a friend who uses it and really likes it. I don’t know much about it personally, though.
  • Penzu.com—I really don’t know anything about this one. Unlimited storage, though, which is very rare.
  • Squarespace.com—Very easy to use, allegedly (haven’t tried it myself). I hear good things, but I don’t know much about it.
  • Svbtle.com—No, that’s not a misspelling, or at least, it’s intentionally misspelled. I don’t know anything about it really, but I hear it’s kind of minimalist.

Blogs don’t generate much money unless you are really successful.  Most platforms have ad services that can monetize your site, but they’ll have rules about how it works.  Just something to look into.

 

Fanfiction or original fiction (without pay):  If you just want to get an audience for your fiction, and aren’t trying to make any money, this may be what you need.  Fanfiction.net is for fanfiction, with a huge variety of categories.  It’s been several years since I used it, but it doesn’t seem to have changed much, though they do have a fairly active administration team.  It’s very hands-off as far as moderation; they might remove something if it’s unrelated to the category it’s posted in, but it’s unlikely they’ll tamper with anything otherwise.  That also means they rarely remove nasty comments, though.  You sort of take what you get.  I’ve found the community to be mostly supportive, though.  When I last used it, their html markup was pretty primitive, but it seems to play well with text from most word processing programs.  If you are writing original fiction, there’s a sister site called fictionpress.com, which works identically to fanfiction.net.

 

Self-publishing:  If you have original fiction (NOT fanfiction) that you want to self-publish, far and away the easiest way to do it is through Amazon.  They have multiple programs for it.  You can publish print books through their createspace.com service (usually these books are print-on-demand, where they are only printed and shipped when someone orders a copy).  Ebooks are through Kindle Direct Publishing at kdp.amazon.com, and are only on the Kindle format; there are plenty of options to check out.  Audiobooks are through their acx.com service.  Truth be told, it’s hard to earn a lot of money through Amazon publishing, at least on Kindle, but it’s a foot in the door, and if it sells well it can also be useful for making the jump to traditional publishing if you choose to.  Other companies that do self-publishing are out there, like xlibris.com and bookbaby.com, but they usually require some cost up front—they’re legitimate enough, but not free.  Bookbaby is especially interesting, in that you can also get single copies for your own library for a fee.  However, with any of these services, I should warn you that one major cost that is probably unavoidable is the fee for an ISBN number.  This is necessary for print publishing if you want to make money, and it runs upwards of $100 for a book.  Most traditional publishers incorporate the cost of the number into their fees, which come out of book sales, so you don’t pay up front; but self-publishing isn’t like that. Your self-publishing company may have a feature for handling the purchase of the number, but you will still be paying the fee.  If you must purchase it separately, without the assistance of a publishing company, you can do so at isbn.org, the website of administering organization Bowker, the only authorized source of ISBNs.  (I have heard that other agencies will sell numbers as well, but it’s a scam, selling invalid numbers.  I have not encountered this personally, however.)

 

Traditional Publishing:  The old-fashioned and time-honored way, in which you publish through a publishing house.  There is way more than I can say here about this, because it’s a deep and well-argued subject; but, here are a few basics.  It’s generally better to start by getting an agent rather than approaching publishers yourself.  First, make your manuscript as good as you think it can be; there are tons of online resources for this (I recommend Brandon Sanderson’s Writing Excuses podcast, which is available for free at the linked website, or for free on iTunes).  Then, get yourself an up-to-date copy of Writer’s Market.  They have a  website (which is where that link will take you), but I’ve found it’s not nearly as easy-to-use or informative as the print book, which comes out every year (and can be ordered from the same site, as well as from various retailers).  It is filled with current listings for agents, publishers, magazines, journals, etc.  Pick out agents that you think may be promising, and then check that agency’s website.  ALWAYS MAKE AN EFFORT TO MEET THE REQUIREMENTS FOR SUBMISSIONS THAT THEY LIST ON THEIR SITES, and ALWAYS TRY TO CHOOSE AGENTS THAT SELECT THE TYPE OF MATERIAL YOU WRITE.  Agents have a lot of control over what they accept.  Look up some resources on how to write query letters and plot summaries, and send some out (but make sure you do it the way each agent wants it—they’re each a little different).  Proceed from there based on what you hear back.  Don’t get discouraged!  Finding an agent is usually the hardest and lengthiest part of the project—it’s a hurdle I haven’t overcome yet myself.  Once you have one, they will assist you with getting the book revised and edited, and sold to a publisher.

 

Miscellaneous:  In between all these levels of publishing, you’ll find any number of specialty sites, like Wattpad.com for example.  It’s really a matter of what you want.  Also, if you are publishing SHORT fiction, there are many options that are not available to novels.  You can submit unsolicited short stories to many magazines—just google “Magazines that publish [whatever genre, i.e. science fiction, horror, romance, etc.]” and see what comes up, or check the magazine section of Writer’s Market.  Make sure you read the submission guidelines.  You can also submit short work to contests—Writer’s Digest, a companion publication/website to Writer’s Market, keeps a list of these every year, including a few of their own.  Most contests pay a little, some pay a lot, and nearly all of them including some sort of publishing of your story as a part of their prize packages.  Even if contests don’t pay much, contest winners look good on résumés.

 

One last thing to think about:  What software are you using to do your writing?  That’s assuming you’re not writing longhand or on a typewriter.  Those forms of writing are perfectly respectable—I was writing longhand long before I owned a computer—but they’re very difficult to submit for publishing nowadays.  There are a lot of choices for word processing, and they are not all created equal.  Some are better for writers, though most are at least okay.

  • Microsoft Word/Microsoft Office. The current standard for word processing. Word comes as part of Microsoft Office, which can be bought outright for a significant cost (over $100, varies based on which package you want) or can be “rented” via the online Office 365 version, starting at $69.99 a year. I love Word, and prefer it, but expensive is expensive.
  • Apache OpenOffice—free, available online. Very similar to Microsoft Office, and produces documents that are mostly compatible with Office. More streamlined than Office in some ways.
  • LibreOffice—I don’t know a lot about this one, but I hear it’s good, and comparable to OpenOffice or Microsoft Office. Also free and available online.
  • Google Docs—Google is really a package deal these days. Getting a Gmail address gives you all their services for free. Docs is the word processor, and it’s decent, intuitive, and autosaves frequently. Drive is the storage system, a cloud-based free storage. There are also other apps which are comparable to Office’s other features. The only downside is that the Drive storage space is shared by everything, so if you save every email you ever got, you’re going to eat it up quickly.
  • Scrivener—this software was created especially for writers. It costs, and it is definitely NOT intuitive—there’s a learning curve. But it cannot be beat for usefulness. It sorts your outlines, support materials, research, parts of your documents, etc., and has tools to edit, assemble, and export your completed documents. It has so many features, I can’t begin to describe them, and its exported documents are compatible with several other programs. It’s about $50 usually, but frequently goes on sale as low as 50% or 75% off. I really recommend it, but I admit that I haven’t used it a lot yet myself—I haven’t had it long enough to do a lot yet.
  • One more thing: If you have trouble plotting a story, check out storylinecreator.com. Storyline Creator is exactly what it says—a program for creating and plotting the storyline of your material. Based on what you put in, it shows you the progression of every character through the story and how they interact with each other. There are subscription options as low as about three dollars a month, but to just buy the offline version outright is about $22.00 right now.

I’m not getting paid to advocate any of these options, or even asked to do it.  They’re all things I’ve tried on my own, and in the case of Office, Scrivener, and Storyline Creator, I bought them myself, and found them to be useful.  But there are plenty of free options, as I mentioned, and more out there than even I know of, and they work just fine.

 

I hope this is helpful.  Writing is such a satisfying thing when it works out, and getting published—even if it’s for free—is awesome.  Happy writing!

Winter Stories

As I write these words, I’m sitting in Starbucks (because not only do I use clichés, I sometimes am a cliché), watching the snow fall outside.  It’s a good night for it…I love the sight of the snow drifting down through the light of the streetlamps and the neon of the restaurants and the movie theater that surround this little plaza.  Snow comes early here, and a blanket of cold and white is not unusual at Thanksgiving.  It’s magical, at least until the roads turn to ice and the drifts pile up.

I’ve always loved winter as an idea.  As I get older, I find that I’m not so fond of it when it’s up close and personal; but I still love the concept.  There’s something mysterious about it, something that changes the mindset, that carries us to a different world.  The location may be the same, but the place…ah, now the place is worlds apart.  It’s a hushed, quiet, determined world.  We become different people there, as well—huddled close, more aware of ourselves and each other, more thoughtful.  Winter isn’t just a season, it’s an experience, and it changes us.

I believe that’s why I’ve always been drawn to winter fiction.  It resonates with me, maybe because I grew up in the mountains, where winter is very much alive.  Stories set in the winter seem to be few and far between.  I think that’s because, unlike other seasons, the winter is a force to be dealt with.  It changes your story as much as any character, so much so that it can even become a character.  Yet, for me, those stories, rare though they are, have always made an impression.

I remember, at about the age of ten, reading for the first time Susan Cooper’s book, The Dark Is Rising.  To this day, I consider it one of my favorite books, despite being written for children.  It has other literary merits—it’s a complex story, with good and evil characters who are both defined in their roles and morally ambiguous, a feat which many adult novels can’t accomplish.  It stuck with me for many reasons, but not least was the setting, in the English winter.  I will never forget Will Stanton’s journey from Midwinter Day through the twelve days of Christmas, collecting the Six Signs of the Light, and doing battle with the Black Rider and the forces of the Dark.

The coldest season grew as I grew, passing through other works.  Better known for its film adaptation, Stephen King’s famous horror novel, The Shining, scared me nearly to death as a teenager.  It showed the dark side of winter, and what the cold and the silence and the isolation can do—with a little supernatural help, of course—to the human mind.  Then there is Cormac McCarthy’s bleak and controversial The Road; although its winter was artificial, created by nuclear fallout, it stands as one of the starkest and most wrenching views of the cold that I have ever encountered.  (And of course there’s that scene with the baby—if you’ve read it, you know the one, and if you haven’t, prepare to be scarred.)

I set my own first novel, The Last Shot, in the winter.  I had some personal reasons for doing so; the story draws heavily on some of my own experiences, and some of those can only be placed in the winter.  But that wasn’t my only motivation.  I wanted to put my characters in a grim and desperate situation; and to add some emphasis to that point, I used the weather.  When the story begins, in mid-December, the main character and his family are blissfully unaware of the trouble ahead; and the weather is chilly, but clear.  As the story progresses, and the situation gets worse, the weather also gets colder, and the snow falls. It’s subtle—you wouldn’t notice the connection without pointing it out—but it adds weight to the increasingly tense and dangerous situation of the protagonists.

Or maybe I just like the cold.  Who knows?

Either way, I wanted this novel set in winter.  I think it works for this story.  And I hope that, one day, it will resonate with others as those novels of the past resonated with me.  That’s my goal, and the aim toward which I’m working.  Perhaps it will even resonate with you, reader.

So, what do you think?  Do you like the cold?  Does your heart beat a little quicker when you see snowflakes falling?  And if so, what books and stories—even movies—come to mind when you think of winter?

Happy reading!

Short Story: Responsibility

I seem to be having a tough time coming up with my usual posts at the moment, most likely because it’s the middle of summer, and the kids are out of school, and time to sit and think is at a premium right now.  Fortunately, there seems to be no shortage of fiction waiting to be written!  In the middle of a longer project that I and my fellow contributor Cyndera have in the works right now, I’m also working on my short story series, which can be found here.

This story, like the previous entry, is the result of a writing prompt, which says “A murderer kills his victim, but what happens next makes him regret it…”  It’s my shortest piece yet, with the exception of some of the Ridgeline Drive entries, at only 879 words.  I hope you’ll enjoy it.

All stories posted in this capacity may also be found under the “Stories” heading in the menu. Thanks for reading!

 

I planned the crime for weeks.  You’ve seen those crime shows on TV…man, I always just laugh at those things.  They make it look like just anybody can get away with this stuff!  That’s ridiculous.  What I do isn’t chaos, it’s an art, and like all good art, it takes skill and preparation.

So I stalked the guy.  I made sure that I knew his routines, and I made sure I knew darn well that there was no traceable connection between myself and him.  I’m thorough, you know.  On further reflection, that’s probably where the trouble started…maybe I’m TOO thorough.  But I’m getting ahead of myself, now.

What?  Oh, don’t give me that psychopath crock.  I’m not a psychopath, I just like what I do.  Everybody needs a hobby.

I made the hit late at night on a Friday.  Maybe I was showing off a little, not that anyone really would know it was me.  I followed him into that club, and sat through three hours of bad music, good liquor (but not too much—drinking on the job is like bad karma), and truly pitiful dancing.  Finally he left, and I followed him to his car, with considerably less weaving than he was displaying.  I caught up to him, and spun him around, and put my gun to his chest, and pulled the trigger.  Easy.  One shot, and it was done.  The strip was so loud anyway, no one heard the shot, and his chest took the muzzle flash.  I rifled his pockets for his cash—didn’t need it, it just gives the cops something to think about—and walked away, whistling a tune.

“Hey!”  I stopped.  Wasn’t that…nah.  I started to walk again.  “HEY!  Are you just gonna LEAVE me here like this?”

Slowly I turned around.  The guy stood there, one hand on the car door, blood running down his popped-collar shirt from the truly epic chest wound he was wearing.  “Heh,” I murmured, “Alright, heck of a trick.  Who’s doing this?” I called, before I caught myself and realized I didn’t want to be heard here.  My mind was reaching around for an explanation, though, even if I hadn’t realized it yet.  Little stars peppered the edges of my vision, but I kept a smile on.

“You can’t leave me here,” the guy repeated.  “I’m SUPPOSED to be dead.”

“You…I, ah…what?” I stammered.  I didn’t stammer!  Get a grip, I told myself.

He sighed, blood burbling in his chest as he did.  “Look, man, I can tell you don’t get it.  It’s like this.”  He cleared his throat, a bizarre sound under the circumstances.  “You know how they say, if you save a man’s life, you become responsible for him?”

“Yeah, I got that,” I said, completely disregarding the fact that I was having a conversation with a corpse, that I had just killed.  “Some kind of star wars wookiee life-debt thing.”

He made an impatient face, like a teacher explaining to a stubborn kid.  “Well, there you go,” he said.

“There I go where?” I said.  “Last I checked, I didn’t save your life, I took it.”  Top THAT logic!

“Exactly!” he said triumphantly.

“You’re not making sense,” I said, and couldn’t help thinking that neither was I.

“Urgh,” he said.  “Look, if you save a man’s life, you become responsible for it.  That means you’re responsible for keeping him alive from then on.  With me so far?”  I nodded.  “This is the same.  If you take a man’s life, it’s your responsibility to keep him dead from then on.”

“Oh,” I said, “well, why didn’t you say so?”  I raised the gun and emptied it into his chest.

He jerked under the gunfire—really, if I walked away now without any attention, it would be a miracle—and fell to the ground, slumped against the car.  I gave him a glance, and then smirked, and threw the gun at him with one gloved hand; it made a satisfying thock as it bounced off his head.  “That’s for being all metaphysical,” I said, and turned to go.

I got in my own car, and let out a sigh, not relief so much as tension leaving me.  I put the key in, and I even managed to keep facing forward when the passenger door opened and closed.  “Hey, I never said this would be easy,” the guy said.  “Nice car, by the way.  I’ll try not to get any blood on the seats, but I gotta tell you, you made that a little tough.  So, you wanna try this again?  I know a good bridge you could push me off.  Hey, fire this thing up—I don’t have all night!  What are we waiting for?”