Fireworks and “Flames of Prague”

Argh. The last several days have been very frustrating.

Kimball

Ah, the old Tennessee Alabama fireworks stand in my hometown, Kimball. It’s still there, but they got cheap and redid their sign sans neon. It’s just not the same.

I did have a pretty decent Fourth of July weekend, although it rained the entire time. We had to miss out on a cookout with friends and the fabled fireworks displays in Marion County, the fireworks capital of the United States. (No, seriously. There are no less than 6 permanent, year-round fireworks stores in the county. I went to elementary school next to a fireworks manufacturing facility. When we were safely ensconced inside the building, they closed off the street with gates and shot off experimental pieces in the road.)*

What has me really frustrated (and silent on my blog for the past week) is the proof copy of The Flames of Prague.

I uploaded my file and cover, but the file was rejected for having too many consecutive blank pages in it.

I thought that was bizarre, considering I didn’t put more than one blank page between sections. But, after dredging up year-old memories about this process, and looking at the actual .pdf file (as opposed to the Word file), I remembered that, for some bizarre reason, extra blank pages get inserted into the .pdf file when it gets converted from Word. I have yet to figure out why this happens—although I spent the better part of a day trying to figure it out last year. The easiest, fastest thing to do is to convert the file, open up the .pdf, and then manually delete the extra pages. It’s still a pain in the ass—because you have to do it every time you make a change to the text—but it works.

The only problem is that I no longer have access to a full version of Adobe. Where I used to work had a copy, so it was no trick to just delete the pages. But Adobe Reader and Foxit Reader neither one let you delete pages. A full version of Adobe Acrobat is $140; Foxit is $90. I hate to pay that for a program I need to use three or four times a year to do this one thing.

I downloaded a free trial 30-day version of Foxit yesterday, installed it, and fixed my file problem. Now I’m ready to try uploading my book again. (All this work and it’s just the proof copy. I still have to let my beta readers read it and do all my proofing.)

I did hit on a good idea yesterday, though. My former boss is trying to close up her law practice. I’m going to go work for her Sunday, and I’m going to ask her if I can buy her copy of Adobe Acrobat, since she doesn’t have a need for it anymore. (In fact, I’m going to make an offer on the office computer, since I know it’s newer than mine. Mine belonged to my husband before it was mine, and he bought his new computer back when times were still good—no less than 5 years ago. So my current computer is probably 7-9 years old.)

So, note to people who want to publish their books on CreateSpace: you need to get a full copy of either Adobe or Foxit Reader because you’re going to need the ability to edit a .pdf file. Start looking for an older, used copy now, before you actually need it. (Having to hunt for one has put me a week behind.)

The other thing I learned from this experience: make a CreateSpace to-do list (I wisely made one for Smashwords/Kindle, but not for the print portion of this enterprise). A lot of the problems I had with formatting and uploading both the text and the cover were problems I had last year when I did the same thing. In other words, I had to reinvent the wheel. You can be sure, though, that I wrote a checklist this time.

Non-Sequiter

An updated Gadsden flag for our times.

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I think “they” know I’m trying to post this picture. Suddenly I can’t connect to Google anymore. I had to use Bing. And we all know that’s the first step towards a Communist takeover.

*You may ask yourself: what happens if a fireworks store catches fire? Well, it gives the volunteer firefighters all the way into Alabama something to do, I can tell you that.

Someone drove through the front of one fireworks store in Jasper and caught it on fire. But, other than melting the siding and roof off one end of the Western Sizzlin’ next door, it didn’t do any serious damage to anything but itself; it was eventually rebuilt. One building of the fireworks factory blew up one night, but it didn’t do any major damage to any of the other buildings or the surrounding homes or school (it may have blown out some windows, but that was it). It, too, was eventually rebuilt. And I seem to recall that the Stateline fireworks store burned down when I was very little. I think it rocked the neighborhood, but nothing more.

All in all, it’s better to live near a fireworks store than a fertilizer plant.

Help Me Kickstart(er) My Book!

Sorry I took a bit of a hiatus from blogging. Friday was not a good day, as I got two blue-screens-of-death on my work computer and I spent most of the day backing it up in case it decided to die once and for all (on Monday I got two unexplained shut downs, and I had to do some malware scans). Over the weekend I read the entire Hunger Games trilogy (my thoughts on it at a later date), and helped my husband with some work, and poked around an old house which will show up in my Bloodsuckers series later (research, baby!)

And then I got involved in a project which I can now share:

I have a Kickstarter project!

I want/need to have a website up and running before I publish Acceptance on October 31, 2012. If you’ve been following me for a while, you may remember that I had all kinds of character and background information for my book here on my blog. I took it down when I revamped my blog with the intention of putting it on a website (it’s just less cluttered that way).

I thought I might use a free website host until I sold some books and could afford a year’s hosting, but I wasn’t happy with what was available. Then I said, “Dumbass, use Kickstarter.”

So here’s the deal:

  • If you donate $1-$4 I’ll send you an e-copy of “The Last Golden Dragon” (Retail price $1.99)
  • If you donate $5, I’ll send you an e-copy of my book 30 days before it’s published! (Retail price $4.99)
  • For $6 or more, you’ll get both “The Last Golden Dragon” and my e-book. (Total retail price $6.98)

Also, everyone who donates will get a thanks on my blog and website and I’ll share a link of your choice, so you can get a little link promotion for your own blog or website.

My website is all but complete, and I’ll be ready to launch it as soon as my Kickstarter project is funded 2 weeks from today.

Delivery dates: “The Last Golden Dragon” will be delivered via e-mail in two weeks, as soon as the project is funded and Kickstarter releases the contact info of my backers.Acceptancewill be delivered via e-mail on or before October 1, 2012. Both will be delivered in Kindle format, but if you want it in some other form, I will be happy to convert it to Nook or Sony E-Reader or .pdf format.

If you have any questions, leave a comment.

Thanks!

Ugh, Pictures

Okay, I’m going to have to do something I’ve been dreading since I wrote my biography: I’m going to have to have a professional picture made. I hate, hate, hate having pictures made. I am not photogenic at all. But pictures of me from my medieval wedding are just not going to cut it anymore. So, after we get back from vacation–and I scrape up some cash–I’m going to have to go have my picture made.

Speaking of pictures, I’m bumming because there’s no picture to go with my short story. Yeah, it’s just a short story, but I think it doesn’t look very interesting sitting there on Amazon without a picture. I’ve found one I like on Shutterstock (it’s $19, which means I’d have to sell 53 copies of my story to recoup the cost), and another on deviantART (I’ve got a message into the artist to see what it would cost to buy). It’s rather hard to find a picture of a dragon which is not evil-looking, much less gold.

A New Book in the Works

I finished my romance novel edits in December, as I wanted to do. Now I just have to format it and get a printed copy for my pre-readers (husband and a few friends) to check out and provide feedback. Then I’ll have another round of edits and I’ll be ready to query a publisher.

I have to get my query letter up to snuff between now and then. Given that I went through 4 versions of the first query letter I did, you’d think I’d be an old hand at making them, but the fact that Flames of Prague is set over a 20 year span and really has two separate plot lines in two sections (which tie together) really screws me up on the query letter. I have no idea how to approach it. Maybe I need to just write two separate query letters–one for each half of the book–then stick them together. That is how I wrote the book (although that makes it sound slapped together when it’s not; it’s about one family, only in two generations, so it flows together).

I began work on another historical romance yesterday. As my book on writing romance said, when you get done writing, write something else. Don’t sit around waiting to hear back from an agent or publisher. Always having something to work on is what keeps you going when the rejections come in.

I had a vague idea of a Hospitallar and a young woman having a brief romance, but didn’t know where to go with it from there. I also didn’t know where or when to set it. The era of the Crusader kingdoms is a bit earlier than I like, and while the Hospistallers were not limited to the Crusader period (they still exist under the name of the Knights of Malta), that was their heyday.

Bad make-believe costume!

Correct 13th century costume

This weekend my husband and I watched the movie Ironclad. It’s actually a very good depiction of medieval warfare and the men’s armor and clothing is accurate. Unfortunately they dressed the main woman up like a Renaissance Faire whore with some sort of off-the-shoulder metal-studded bodice.  Guess the costumer was tapping her inner Xena.

I hate when a movie is good right up to the point they turn all the women into strumpets. We will not speak of the maid servant running around with her hair constantly in disarray and a Frederick’s of Hollywood push-up bra popping her tatas up like only modern underwire and elastic can accomplish.

But, I digress. Said Xena-esque heroine really gets her strumpet on by seducing the resident Templar knight. Not that I blame her–I mean, he’s a man I’d like to seduce too–only I could have done a much better job because I’m a romance writer–unlike the person who wrote the terrible dialogue for the script.

And then, as I was trying to go to sleep that night, the idea for my new book came to me. Not a Hospitaller, but a Templar, and not the Crusades but the fall of the Order around 1308. And not in the Holy Land but in England. I started doing a little research on the Templars in England and I think I have a setting for my new knight.

Fleeing the arrests of the Templars, Sir Guy is going to go north, to the border country, where his foster brother has a residence. He gets there, only to find his foster brother is dead. The brother’s widow, however, gives Sir Guy shelter, disguising him as her new household priest. Some time passes, they become friends, and then, one night, the manor is raided by Scots (this is the period when Scotland was fighting for her freedom from England, so cross-border raids were a frequent part of life for people on both sides of the line). Brother Guy and the lady are taken… but not for long. He starts fighting bare-handed, then she pulls out her husband’s sword and tosses it to him, and shit gets really serious. They sneak out of the house and ride through the freezing night to the nearest lord with a proper garrison to raise the hue and cry. Did I mention, because they got raided at night, they’re in nothing but their underclothes for this long, cold journey on horseback? Yeah, that’ll be where things become romantic.

I’m not sure where things go after that–although I’m thinking an illegitimate child–but, then, I never know how a book is going to end when I start it. It just happens. I’m a big believer in characters–and even plot–developing naturally, as opposed to outlining everything in advance. However, there are many writers who are in favor of the later school of thought and wouldn’t be able to go anywhere with their stories if they didn’t have it planned in advance.

And you better believe all descriptions of clothes and armor in my books will be historically accurate!

Book Two, Soon in Proof

You may have noticed that my blog has grown rather quiet over the past two weeks. That’s because I’ve been engaged in the final edits of the first draft of my second book. This morning I ordered my first proof.

Why am I going forward with my second book when I don’t even have an agent for my first one? For one, I am a big believer in writing when I have an idea; if I wait, I lose the idea. If I waited however many years until my first book gets published, I might forget everything I had ever planned to do with my second and third. But, primarily, it’s easier to write than to agent-shop. My book does not reject me. In fact, I get a high over finishing it, and then I get more highs as friends and family members read it and give me feedback. Sending out queries is a very depressing activity, and there’s only so much rejection you can take before you have to stop and do something else for a while. So, while I’m waiting to get un-bummed, I might as well write books two and three.

Stats and Formatting

How many of us have heard something along the lines of “you have as much chance becoming a professional [insert sport here] player as you have of winning the lottery” ? Some of us may have even had parents or teachers crush that dream when we were still young enough to believe that is possible.

I am coming to the conclusion, though, that getting published is the same way. I have now seen two agencies say they take 1% or less of all people who query them. One agent said she gets 1,200 queries a month, ten months a year. That’s 12,000 query letters a year, but 120 or less will be selected for representation. Yes, you must have a good book and a good query, but there’s also an element of luck in there–meeting the right agent at the right time in the right market.

Here are some formatting rules that I have seen for submitting requested materials to an agent or publisher:

  • 8.5 x 11 page
  • Double-space
  • Left-justified (not full align, as it would be in a published book)
  • Put your name, page number and book title on the bottom of every page (use footer)

Most agents want the sample / synopsis (if they want it at all) pasted into the body of an e-mail. I have seen one agent ask for this to be double-spaced, left-justified, so if you have full formatting capabilities on your e-mail, do it. (I don’t think you need to double-space your query letter or bio, but yes on the synopsis and writing sample.)

I use CreateSpace.com to make proof copies of my books so I can let friends and family read them and, also, it makes proofing easier (for some reason it’s easier to catch typos in print than on a computer screen). If you want to format your Word document for print, here are the settings:

Print margin size:
Top: 0.6
Bottom: 0.6
Inside: 0.5
Outside: .75 

Mirror margins
Page size: 5.13 x 8

*Note – My old version of Word is on crack, and it confuses the inside margin and the outside margin. What you are really doing is setting the inside margin to be wider than the outside margin, in order to allow room for binding. If your word processor is not on crack, you will want to reverse those numbers.

Score!

I have been sending out queries again (total count so far is 41) and this morning someone asked for my synopsis and 50 pages!

Speaking of which, I joined AgentQuery Connect yesterday (it’s a free forum for writers) and read that a general rule of thumb is that your query letter should generate a 10-20% positive response. In other words, of all the agents you query, 10-20% of them should ask for more material. If you’re not getting that (and I wasn’t getting anywhere close to that before), your query letter is probably the problem.