Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Literary Contest Update

Copyright © 2011, Steven E. Houchin. All rights reserved.

I've just updated my author website with the latest fiction contests I have researched for the rest of May 2011 and into June and July.  Check back often to see any additions.

Book Review: Monkeewrench

Copyright © 2011, Steven E. Houchin. All rights reserved.

Monkeewrench is a Minneapolis software company developing a macabre game: Serial Killer Detective. When real life corpses begin to appear exactly as depicted in the game's gruesome scenarios, Detective Leo Magozzi suspects one of Monkeewrench's five employees, who all carry guns and a puzzling past: they don't seem to have one.

At the same time, over in Kingsford County, Wisconsin, Sheriff Michael Halloran struggles to solve the murder of a couple whose bodies are found in the pews of the local Catholic Church. When he and a deputy go to search their house, a rigged shotgun on the back door kills the deputy. The dead couple aren't who they seem, either.

Author P. J. Tracy (i.e. mother and daughter writing duo Patricia and Traci Lambrecht), swap back and forth between these two unconnected murder storylines until they cleverly come together when Magozzi and Halloran both follow the clues to a Catholic School in New York. The Mother Superior there casually comments to Halloran's deputy that "in all the years she's been at the school they have never once gotten a call from a law enforcement agency before, and wasn't it peculiar that this morning she had two." The two cases spiral together after that.

The novel's characters display distinct attributes and attitudes. The detectives are suitably jaded, and the Monkeewrench people are dubious of anything the police might do. The author keeps you guessing as to the culprit, leading you down multiple paths of suspicion, creeping inexorably to the big climax. Along the way, the ride-along with Magozzi and Halloran is enjoyable.

Unfortunately, the ending breaks a cardinal rule (in my opinion) of a whodunit mystery: the murderer is a minor character who is hardly seen onstage throughout the novel. Thus, the ending feels too contrived, like a Perry Mason episode where the little-seen gardener suddenly confesses on the witness stand, having some heretofore-unknown motive. Regardless, Monkeewrench is well written; a great read and worth the time you spend with it.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Self-Publishing Workshop Post Mortem

Copyright © 2011, Steven E. Houchin. All rights reserved.

Recently, I attended a self-publishing workshop at a local bookstore. The presenters were Bob Lanphear, a book designer, and Lorrie Harrison, an editing and publishing consultant.

Editing Process

Lorrie began by discussing the editing process your book should go through before self-publishing. 1) Self-proofreading to create a clean manuscript, 2) Peer review (critique) to make sure the story is viable, 3) Professional line editing.

She stressed that writers need to belong to a “tribe” of other writers and supporters, rather than write in isolation. One online proofreading tool that was mentioned is ErrNET, which is purported to take as input your PDF-format manuscript and will spit out errors it finds.

Layout and Graphic Design

Bob discussed the options for self-publishing. You can use Internet print-on-demand (POD) options, such as Amazon’s Create Space or Lulu. You can try do-it-yourself layout and design with software such as Adobe Illustrator, Microsoft Publisher, or GIMP. There are self-publishing companies that print as many copies as you want to pay for with little editorial input. Or, you can partner with a local creative team (which is what Bob and Lorrie are).

A number of time-consuming steps are taken during the self-publishing timeline: assembling graphic input, cover design, interior page design, page layout, proofing and prep for printing, actual print production, development of an eBook, and book promotion.

A book cover isn’t about what the author likes, but what will attract the audience. He often has to challenge the author’s preconceptions about design and recommends he/she browse the bookstores to see the designs of similar works. People do judge by the cover. And, depending on the type of book, the page design can influence the reader’s experience and appeal to emotions. Good cover art can carry over to other promotional materials, such as the book’s web site, posters, blurbs, bookmarks, audio CD.

He listed a number of reasons why a book can fail:
  1. The book is unnecessary, already been done.
  2. Bad cover design.
  3. A lame title.
  4. No professional editing/proofreading.
  5. Thinking too small—not trying for large sales, give away too few review copies.
  6. Old fashioned promotion.
  7. Trying to do it all yourself rather than hire interns or professionals.

Lorrie talked about marketing your book. Ninety percent of a book’s success is author promotion. Two key things you must know before selling your book: 1) Why am I writing this book? 2) Who is my audience?

If you plan to use self-publishing to snag a traditional publisher, they will evaluate your book’s velocity—how many copies sold in 2 or 3 months. So, be prepared to create demand as soon as your book is published.

If your dream is to have your book on the shelf in Barnes and Noble or Borders, you will be working through a distributor. You will get paid when the distributor sells copies of your book to the retailer. But, any unsold copies can be returned after 12 months, and you have to return any money received for them.

Lorrie shared ideas for better ways to market the book:
  • Your website should allow purchases. This way, you keep 100% of the profit. Make sure to buy the Internet domain name for your book’s title. A web site also establishes your brand as an author.
  • Look at traditional, non-book retail catalogs who might be willing to carry your book (such as clothing retailers for a book about fashion). Knowing your audience helps identify these retailers.
  • Contact independent bookstore managers to arrange readings, signings and to provide promotional materials like flyers.
  • Give away lots of free copies, such as leaving in waiting rooms (doctor, dentist), or where people congregate. Same for promotional items like customized bookmarks.
  • Make sure your marketing plan is organized in advance, before the book hits the streets.
Some books about marketing and promotion Lorrie recommends:
  • “Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual: How to Write, Print and Sell Your Own Book” - Poynter.
  • “1001 Ways to Market Your Books” - Kremer.
  • “Jump Start Your Book Sales: A Money-Making Guide for Authors, Independent Publishers and Small Presses” - Ross.
  • “Guerrilla Marketing for Writers : 100 Weapons to Help You Sell Your Work” - Levinson, Frishman, Larsen.