Book Reviews and Writing Tips

Book Reviews and Writing Tips

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Is Self-publishing For You?

I asked myself that very question in 2008 when I published my first book. I had sent out query letters to publishing houses, etc. for about two years and it was all very disappointing, so I started to look into the world of self-publishing.

At my age I wasn’t going to wait around to see if and when a regular publishing house would pick up my manuscript. I wanted it to happen in my lifetime and that looked pretty unlikely as the big guys are very reluctant to take on a new, unknown author. At this point, I decided I had enough rejection letters and I started to research all the self-publishing companies that were springing up. The more I read, the more I was convinced that this is the way of the future and it would also give me more control over my work.

With self-publishing, you set the price for your book, but it should be in range with other books of the same genre and length. On royalties, the company should pay you on a fixed-cost basis. When you sign up with them you should know what this is upfront, usually according to the page count of your book, plus a small percentage to the publisher. The difference between that and the price you have set for your book is your profit. Bear in mind that if any bookstores buy your book, it will have to be sold to those places at a trade discount, so your profit will be less.

Royalty payments may be paid monthly, or quarterly, and sometimes go by royalty amount accumulated, so check that information with each publisher you may be considering.

Some of these publishers also have a book cover service, so you don’t necessarily have to know or have access to Photoshop or a friend who can do your book cover for you. Some of the publishers can charge a considerable amount for the book cover design service and with some it is just a matter of doing it yourself with templates and photos provided. In this latter case, you can also use your own photos and change color schemes to give your book a professional and unique look. Remember, book covers are the first thing a reader will see so it is important to have a good cover.

I decided to go this route after looking at all the pros and cons of the POD’s (print-on-demand) publishers that were available at the time. I decided on Createspace and have been happy with my decision, having published three novels with them so far. The work is quality and they have reasonable prices. I always retained the rights to your book and was only required to purchase the proof copy of my book and nothing else ever, if I didn’t want to, unless I make changes to my original copy and resubmit a new upgraded edition of the book. In this case, the purchase of a proof copy would again be required. This proof copy is for you to look over and give your okay. Until you do so, nothing will go live and your book will remain in limbo.

Createspace also will put your book on Amazon in the US and several other countries, but it is up to you to put it on Barnes and Nobel and other bookseller sites. Of course the self-publishing market is always changing so this may change in the future.

Once your book is up on Amazon, you can also use their kindle creator and covert your book to kindle ereader format. This is quick and easy. To make it available for other ereaders, you’d have research this and do each one separately. I have heard good and bad things about Smashwords, who will convert your book to various ebook formats, so you could check them out also and use your own judgement. Here is that link:

Instead of making this post any longer and giving a brief overview of the companies that are out there for self-publishing your work, I will give links to these places so, if you choose, you can check out more of the details.

Not all self-publishing companies are alike. They all differ in how their services work and are priced. There are also different publishing packages you can choose from with each, so if you go this way, it pays to do your homework first. Once you get to this stage, it could cost you as little as a few dollars for your proof copy to as much as a few thousand if you want everything done for you (cover, formatting, proofing and editing, etc).

Self-publishing companies in the US:

Author House -
Lulu -
Infinity -
iUniverse -
Outskirts Press -
Publish America -
Tate Publishing -
Trafford Publishing -
Wheatmark Book Publishers -
Xlibris -
Xulon Press -
Dog Ear -
Lightning Source -

Here are some companies in the UK:

Authors Online -
Writers World -
YPS Publishing -
Author House -
Xlibris -

Self-publishing companies in Australia:

Australian Self-publishing Group -
Love of Books -
BookPal -
Xlibris -
Publish Me -

Of course I’m sure I missed some of them because there are many to choose from now, but this is enough to get you started.

A word of caution about avoiding scams before you learn the ropes of self-publishing.

Rule # 1 Always upload your own PDF files. You may use any of the sources listed above as your publisher and they may be doing some of the work for you, like formatting and editing your files, but ALWAYS upload the finished files to YOUR account. The publisher you choose should provide you with your account and dashboard where all this will take place.

Rule # 2 Pay attention to how much a copy of your book is costing you. It should be so much a page (usually a cent or two) plus the royalty fee the publisher wants per book, which is clearly stated on the page before you sign up. If you are getting charged more than that for author copies, QUESTION it. That should not happen with a legitimate company.

Rule # 3 The publishing company you have chosen should do all the work for you concerning shipping your book and fulfilling orders and also posting to Amazon, or in their catalog or website. Createspace and Lightning Source both do this. If you have to do any of this, BEWARE.

Rule # 4 If you hire the publisher to do the cover, formatting for book printing, and/or conversion to ebook format, there should be a ONE TIME fee for this work. When your book is complete you should receive all the files, so that you can upload all the finished files yourself. Usually this requires you to upload separate PDF files for the cover and the interior of your book. As mentioned earlier, you will already have an account set up where you can do this for the print version of your books. This also means you will have to set up accounts for yourself for Kindle, Pubit, Smashwords, Apple, etc for uploading your own files for ebooks once the conversions are ready. (KDP is for kindle ebooks – Apple is for mobi ebooks – Pubit is for the nook ebooks, epub is for about everyone else’s files.

The thing to always remember is that if anyone is taking your money for any work on your book, whether it be the cover, interior design, ebook conversion or any other publishing service, they should NEVER load the finished files into THEIR account. If you use anyone like that, it has SCAM written all over it.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Book Review - Dove Season

A son, Jimmy, returns home to Holtville, near the Mexican border, to help his ailing father who is dying from cancer. Big Jack has kept his illness to himself until he knew time was growing short, so he called his son because he had a last request. Jimmy feels the need to do the right thing and return home to see how he can help his father. He also wants to set things right between the two of them while there is still time.

Now Jimmy is the kind of character that doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere he goes. Perhaps he doesn’t want to face adulthood because he doesn’t really have a life going on in his new home and he can’t really get it together in Holtville either, which is just a small dusty, desert town with no hope of any type of advancement in life.

Shortly after Jimmy arrives, he finds out his father’s last wish is to find the prostitute Yolanda, who may be somewhere in Mexico. He wants to spend some time with her before he dies. Jimmy reunites with his old best friend, Bobby, who assists him in fulfilling his dad’s last wish. This entails a trip into Mexico where they run into all sorts of trouble, such as fist fights, getting drunk and dealing with some dark and dangerous characters. Bobby does his best to keep Jimmy out of trouble even though Jimmy pretty much left his friends and everything behind when he left twelve years earlier.

Eventually, Jimmy falls in with his old girlfriend and there is some question as to whether he will make the decision to stay in Holtville or not.

I was hooked on this gripping read from the first page, but it does contain a lot of violence and action packed scenes as well as a bit of humor, which softens this story of what it’s actually like to live on the California/Mexico border today and to deal with losing people you love. There are many troubles and at times Jimmy finds himself in the middle of things.

The characters of Jimmy, his father Big Jack, his best friend Bobby, and the prostitute Yolanda are well done as are the relationships between these characters. They seem real and believable.

The desert descriptions in this story are also very well done and place you right there. I used to live in southern California and have been in the desert there and I live in the desert now, although in a different state. I could easily relate to all the dusty, desolate conditions and the jack rabbits, etc.

I enjoyed this book a lot even though the last part of it wasn’t as good as the first three quarters of the book and could easily have been a different story. The tone was totally different and not what I expected, but I can see how the author wanted to tie in all the trouble south of the border.

I would definitely read something else by this talented author.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Summer Solstice

Ah, that time again when the longest day of the year is here. I wish it could stay around longer because I love the long days so much and I know it’s all downhill from here, even though it will be a gradual change. I’m also a sun and summer nut because I much prefer the warmth to the cold dreariness of winter. But unfortunately we all have to deal with winter, like it or not. The plants do need a time to rest up for the lovely show they put on for us in the spring and summer and even fall months of the year.

Of course there are many customs and legends associated with the solstice, just like there are for the other seasons, but I won’t bore all of you with that info except to say that the Summer Solstice is basically associated with celebrating the sun.

Other than that here is a bit if trivia for you writers: Shakespeare dramatized the summer Solstice in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Here is a quote from him:

“...Whatever is dreamed on this night, will come to pass.”

___William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Of course this really makes me wonder about the dream I had last night that I couldn’t make any sense of and finally had to just get up way early today. I’m thinking it may have something to do with my sister telling me her granddaughter had been robbed at gunpoint on Monday night. That was really on my mind, but that is for another post, maybe. But enough about that since the Summer Solstice has come and gone until next year.

Something I did want to share was that one of my sisters and I have a birthday tradition that dates back to 1973. The reason I mention this is because the Summer Solstice always falls on one of our birthdays, usually hers.

We have lived in different time zones since 1973 so we can call each other when it is midnight at her place and it will be both of our birthdays at the same time. Amazingly enough we are still doing this every year.

In fact she was my last call last night after being on the phone with family and friends all day. My cell went dead so we didn’t talk long. At the end of all that, I felt a bit like Meg Ryan in the movie “Hanging Up” because I was exhausted from being on the phone all day, which is a rarity for me.

But a birthday tradition remains unbroken.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Getting started on that Writing Project and Keeping it going

Sometimes I think this is the hardest thing for me. One must put all the distractions aside and this isn’t very easy. I have to look past my dusty house and the rugs that need vacuuming (remember I live in the desert). Of course I know it gets dusty everywhere, but we have dust and wind storms here and the whole back yard is the desert.

Thankfully, I only have a husband and cats to worry about, but believe me I couldn’t handle anymore than that and I commend you writers who have kids to manage as well and supportive families that allow you to take the time it takes to stay in your quiet place uninterrupted.

It seems, as a woman, there are always chores to attend to and, yes, this is the case even with no kids in the house. When your husband is retired and has nothing to occupy his time, it definitely cuts into your “free” time. This doesn’t even take into consideration meals, dishes to be washed, laundry to do, grocery shopping, etc.

I know a gal who has three young children and she is allowed to write from 8 pm until 2 am. (Oh my, did I say that? She is allowed - that does sound archaic doesn’t it?) I do have a certain amount of envy for her situation and would like to do the very same and sometimes I do take the liberty because the wee hours are the most productive for me. However, usually this gets me in trouble because I’m not “normal.”

That leads me to the question of just what is “normal?” I suppose everyone’s interpretation is different. To my husband it is sitting in front of the TV while he changes channels and tries to find something we both will watch in the evenings. All the while I’m thinking about the story going around in my head and taking mental notes to jot down later.

Anyway, back to writing since I seem to be off track again. After a usually restless night, I’m out of bed early (to my disgust because I’m not a morning person) and come upstairs to my office and refuge to have my coffee and start the day by doing my email while I wake up. There is no use in writing at that hour. That is unless I’m in the middle of a novel and then I can’t shut myself up.

I love those times when I have creativity leaking out of my pores, but I spend many sleepless nights jotting down notes in a notebook to type the next day. I was sleep deprived for four solid years when I wrote my first novel.

However, usually this is not the case and I’m constantly interrupted in the middle of my thoughts because I’ve “disappeared” upstairs for hours in the middle of the day, or my cats decide to pay a visit and lay across my keyboard while I’m trying to type as fast as I’m thinking.

Now my husband is a wonderful man, but he doesn’t understand having a creative soul in his midst. He had a rigid upbringing, much more so than I did and he thinks reading, writing or any artistic endeavor is a waste of time. I guess the only reading he did as a child was for school because he had to. I’ve never known him to read one book in the 37 years I’ve known him. He says “books are too long,” so he’ll thumb through magazines when the notion strikes.

You can see why it’s hard to get focused on a project and stay on it. I have amazed myself that I’ve gotten three novels finished and published, especially when I have to keep a “normal” schedule and head to bed no later than 11 pm. Of course he’s always in bed much earlier than that.

I’ve come to the conclusion that you have to seize any moment you have. Since my time seems to be in short supply, I have to open a blank page in Word as soon as I’m awake enough to think and just start in free writing. You can always throw this away if it’s that bad, but, hey, sometimes things fall into place and if you tell yourself that you have to write at least 4 pages a day, it will become easier as the story takes shape. And remember, that’s about 1000 words a day, so in no time you’ll have some sort of novel to at least start with when it comes to polishing, rewriting, editing, removing, etc.

Once you have a few pages down you can usually run with it and will surprise yourself to find you have written more than four pages in a couple of hours. Of course there will be moments you are blocked too, so re-reading a few pages will help to get you going again.

Usually once I make it to the first edit stage, I find that I’m actually adding more detail into the story and making it better as I go.

The important thing is not what you write, but that you do make the time to write something. You must be committed to writing a novel. Don’t ever skip a day because if you do it’s like undertaking to exercise and deciding its okay to skip a day. Once you skip one day, it’s easier to skip the next day and so on and pretty soon you’re out of the habit of writing altogether.

Think of writing as a new habit and make it a way of life. It won’t be long and you’ll look forward to your writing time, even if it’s just a blog post and not adding to your novel.

Once writing becomes a habit, you’ll view the world and your surroundings in a different way. Your eye will be drawn to the creative side of things and you’ll notice little details that you didn’t before. A writer should always see details because this comes in handy when describing scenes and characters in your stories.

I like to pay attention to the way people interact with each other and the way they converse. Talk to people in the check out line at the grocery since you have to be there anyway, note mannerisms which could be helpful to use for characters later on. Even reading articles in the newspaper or on the internet may spur ideas or questions you can use in stories. And we all have childhood memories to draw from as well different people we’ve met over the years in the various places we’ve lived. The material is really endless. If need be, keep a journal of ideas and thoughts.

The main thing is to stay focused, write every day and don’t let life get in the way too often. Does anyone have anything to add that can help us all?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Protecting Yourself From Cyber Threats

I hadn’t intended to be off-topic again, but the recent hacking of Linked In got me to thinking about this.

The internet is here to stay and it is marvelous technology that I couldn’t imagine doing without, but that being said, you need to protect yourself from the people who haven’t anything better to do than cause you misery by hacking into websites.

It’s a shame that some of our society is like this, but I guess there will always be people of this caliber lurking about.

We need to take special care with what we can do to protect ourselves and one thing is selecting a secure password or passwords, as the case may be.

I don’t know if all of you have heard of Kim Komando, but I suspect a great many of you have. She has a radio show on every Sat and has a great website that includes all kinds of useful tips, tricks, and freebies in all areas of technology. She has tried all these sites out so knows they are malware and virus free. Therefore, you can feel pretty secure downloading anything she recommends.

I urge you to check out her site here:

And this is the link for how to decide on a secure password:

I know many of you have already changed your passwords at Linked In, but if you haven’t please check this out. Remember it is best to memorize your passwords and have a different one for every site you frequent, so if one is hacked they aren’t all compromised.

Of course you may ask yourself, who can memorize 10 or more passwords? It is not safe to store them online in some program in case the net goes down, so the only solution is to memorize them, or keep a “cheat sheet” in some unknown location, .like I do. I would never be able to memorize passwords to that many locations. Keeping a “cheat sheet” probably isn’t the perfect answer either, but at least I have excess to them if there is some failure in the system.

Anyway, the main point is to select a secure password that is hard to detect by hackers – one including numbers, letters, and special characters and at least eight characters long, the longer the better.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Remembering Ray Bradbury

Photo From Wikipedia

August 22, 1920 – June 5, 2012

Today, I think is an appropriate post as we pay homage to a fellow writer and brilliant man – Ray Bradbury, science fiction and fantasy author.

Ray Bradbury was born in Illinois to a Swedish immigrant mother; his father was a power and telephone lineman. He was a descendant of a convicted Salem, Massachusetts witch who was convicted to hang in 1692.

He spent much of his youth in the library reading and writing and was particularly fond of Edgar Allan Poe, H.G. Wells, Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs, even writing his own sequel, to Burroughs’ book The Warlord of Mars, at age twelve.

Bradbury made it a lifelong habit to write everyday and was especially taken with the path of becoming an author after he saw a carnival show at age twelve in which the magician touched him on the nose with a magic sword and told him to “live forever.” At this age he started to perform magic tricks, which was his second love.

As his father pursued employment, the family moved west to Tucson and eventually settled in Los Angeles where Ray graduated from Los Angeles high School. He never went to college but sold newspapers on the corner of Olympic Boulevard and South Norton Avenue. He had this to say about his education:

“Libraries raised me. I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”

Bradbury wrote his most famous book Fahrenheit 451, on a rented typewriter, in the UCLA Powell Library.

He was rejected from military service due to his poor eyesight and so he started his writing career, inspired by Buck Rodgers and Flash Gordon. He attended a meeting of the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society in a downtown coffee shop and met such writers as Robert Heinlein, Fredric Brown, Leigh Brackett, among others. Later, by chance, he met Christopher Isherwood, a British expatriate writer, in a bookstore and saw the opportunity to hand him a copy of The Martian Chronicles for his review.

Bradbury was generally labelled as a science fiction writer, but he rejected that and said:

“First of all, I don't write science fiction. I've only done one science fiction book and that's Fahrenheit 451, based on reality. It was named so to represent the temperature at which paper ignites. Science fiction is a depiction of the real. Fantasy is a depiction of the unreal. So Martian Chronicles is not science fiction, its fantasy. It couldn't happen, you see? That's the reason it's going to be around a long time — because it's a Greek myth, and myths have staying power.”

He was a believer that people were too taken up with technology and didn’t do enough reading. He was skeptical of the internet, believing it limited people’s ability to communicate with each other. He believed we had too many cell phones and machines, even though his novels predicted such things.

Besides his fiction, he also wrote essays on arts and culture and hosted “The Ray Bradbury Theatre” based on his short stories. In the 1980’s, he concentrated on detective fiction.

He was married from 1947 to 2003 when his wife died. He leaves behind four daughters and grandchildren.

The author wanted to be buried at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery with a tombstone that reads: Author of Fahrenheit 451.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Ray Bradbury:

"If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories - science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world." -- Ray Bradbury

Read more of his story here:

Monday, June 4, 2012

Could YOU Live With NO Power?

Picture from Neal McLain – Utility Pole Google search page

This is a bit off topic, but I had to ponder this issue today and wondered how you would deal with it.

The reason I contemplated this today was because our power was out for most of the day. That is not a comfortable thing to experience in the summertime when you live in the desert, but as a woman there is always plenty that needs to be done at any given time so I found something to occupy myself until the power was restored.

My husband, on the other hand, had a hard time dealing with this as he is constantly on the internet or watching TV. Since he’s retired that is the daily life he’s chosen. Because of this, not thirty minutes had gone by and, he was pacing the floor. He finally went to visit a friend. There has to be constant noise in his life – 24/7, so as a result we have something blaring away around here all the time, be it internet videos, TV, or the radio, or a combination of these. I’m driven crazy by this, but I try to tune it out to the best of my ability and escape to the peace and quiet of upstairs whenever I can.

Anyway, this power outage got me to thinking just how much we depend on electricity these days. Frankly, I don’t know how we would live without the internet and it’s how I do my freelance work everyday. I use Word to write my books and stories, if I’m not on the internet, so a computer would be hard to live without. What a marvelous piece of technology it is.

I don’t watch that much TV, but now and then I try to relax and watch a good mystery or some senseless sitcom you don’t have to think about. Usually I’m reading a book, or writing, or attempting to catch up on email.

When you have the hot summers we have here in the desert, I wonder how I could survive without A/C too. The fans don’t even work when the power is out. Of course we never had A/C when I was a kid growing up in south Texas. I often wonder how we even survived when I look back at those times now. We had the old “box fan” and that went non-stop during the summer. For those of you who do not know, it is very humid in Texas. Many days it would reach near 100 and the humidity would be 98%. We always had sweat running down our back and beading up on our face. Maybe someday I’ll write more about those times.

We have all become so spoiled to modern conveniences. I definitely appreciate them, but, if it came down to it, I’m sure if I had to I could manage without because, after all, what did our ancestors do? The internet would be hard to give up though.

I welcome your thoughts on this.