New Flames Proof is Here!

I just got the proof copy of my book in the mail! (Ordered it on July 26, so 9 days to print and deliver.)

Initial impressions: CreateSpace warned me that part of my cover picture was less than 200 DPI and that can cause it to be a little blurry. I think it’s the painting part (the two figures). Not sure if it bothers me enough, though, to try and find a higher resolution image (if one even exists) and go through the background erasing part again.
Cover (New)
Secondly, I think I need a little more blank space around the edges of the back cover. (It looks like plenty in this image, but this image contains bleed. The cutting lines actually trim off about half the blank space around the back edges.)

Thirdly, I opted for cream-colored pages this time and I already like them much better! White is very stark–almost glaring. If you look at the vast majority of novels (and most other non-picture books), the pages are cream, not white. It’s definitely easier on the eyes and I recommend it.

One major problem I have right now is that I can’t get in contact with the guy who owns the rights to the pseudo-Hebrew script that I use on the cover and inside the book. I’ve contacted him via email twice and using a form on his website, but have gotten no response. I noticed that he hasn’t updated his website in a few years, so it’s likely that he’s given up his hobby making scripts. But I was still hoping I could buy a license from him for this one. If I don’t hear from him soon, I’ll have to switch to a different font. I’ve found a few options (although I don’t like any of them quite as well as I like the Sefer AH).

Jerusalem

 

This Jerusalem font and is probably the closest thing to the one I have. The drawback is that it’s only free for personal use, so I could run into the same problem of I can’t get in contact with the owner to buy a license.

sholom.regular

This is the next closest font. It’s blockier, though, and I think it looks more like a fun-novelty font. And this is a romance book where lots of people die in horrible ways. (What, you expected me to not kill off a bunch of people in one of my books?) I just fear this is a little too cutesy for the subject matter. But, on the plus side, it’s free for commercial use, so I don’t have to buy a license at all.

MyFonts Option

 

Then we have this one, Faux Hebrew. I think I like it better than the previous one. It’s $24.00 for a license, which makes it twice as expensive as the one I’ve been trying to buy.

kohelet.regular

 

 

Then there’s this one. It’s the least Hebrew-like font, but it has a certain flame-ness to it. It is also free for commercial use.

To Italicize or Not to Italicize

So, my book woes continue. Now CreateSpace has rejected my interior file because the pages aren’t numbered correctly (a problem I had while I was formatting it, but I thought I had fixed it).

I just want a bleeding proof copy for my beta readers to read. I’m not done with my editing, so the blank pages and page numbers, etc. are all going to have to be dealt with again. At this point, I don’t really care; I just want something they can read so they can give me feedback.

So, question for the writers and editor-types out there:

In English, it is standard to italicize foreign words unless they have entered common parlance. So, you might see déjà vu without italics (although you might see it with; depends on the writer/editor), but when your characters throw out foreign words, like “Oui,” they get italicized

When I was writing Acceptance, and Marie was driven to curse in French, that was easy: it was all italicized. I was more iffy on Micah calling his father “Abba,” since that’s Hebrew for “father.” He used it as a proper noun, and you could make the argument that it was used like a title (titles are not italicized), but he also referred to Isaac as “my father” in English, so there was a definite difference between him  using the English word and the Hebrew word. I ended up italicizing it.

The problem is magnified in The Flames of Prague. The book is set in 14th century Bohemia. While I’m writing in English, the understanding is that all of my characters are speaking Czech. Alzbeta calls her father “Tata,” which is Czech for “dad.” Should it be italicized or no? She calls her mother “Maman,” which is French, and so is foreign to both English and Czech, and therefore should be italicized, but I think it might look weird if I italicize that word, but not “Tata,” since it’s not English either.
What are your thoughts?

 

Pinterest for Writers

I have recently started to use Pinterest after reading a brief e-book about using it to help promote your business. It’s especially good if you make a product, but it can still be useful for others–including writers.

I started out by adding pictures of writers’ retreats, offices, and bookcases of awesomeness. I highlighted a few of my favorite pics in a post, but it’s easier to put all of them on Pinterest. Now I can keep all of them in one spot for inspiration, plus easily share them with others.

(BTW, if you find yourself sucked into using Pinterest (as I’ve been!), do a Google search for “Pinterest browser add ons.” I added one to Firefox and now I just right-click on a pic and send it to the board of my choice. Much faster and easier than going into Pinterest and copying and pasting the URL.)

Research

Joel Comm points out that it’s also a great way to organize research. What did I do with that map of Prague? I  have no idea. Did I save a link somewhere? No idea. Now, no more of that: pin that bad boy to a board just for my Flames of Prague novel. Much easier than copying and pasting pictures into a Word document (which is what I was doing for some of my stuff!).

Inspiration

I was just looking at old book covers from the 40’s and 50’s and getting inspired to write a story to fit such a cover. I can pin those pictures to a board to serve as a starting point for that idea.

Have trouble coming up with character descriptions? Whenever you run across a picture of a real person that interests you, pin it. It’s a lot easier to describe someone while you’re looking at them rather than making them up in your head. Likewise with buildings and landscapes.

Ideas and Creative Collaboration

When it comes to creating a book cover, I compile a number of pictures before I decide which one I want. Again, Pinterest becomes the place where I can do that because it’s accessible from everywhere. (I can also take comments from my readers on which picture(s) they like better). And I can pin book covers by other authors that I might want to emulate (i.e. Photoshop inspiration).

Fan Fun

If I was anything like an artist (alas, drawing is not my forte… as you might have guessed by my stick-figure drawings), I could put up drawings of all of my characters from Acceptance. But, barring that, I can pin up fan art (um… when I have some).

I can also pin pictures which might be of interest to my fans, such as pictures from the cities where my characters travel, real-life buildings that served as the inspiration for the fictional buildings, area maps, etc. For my historical novels, I can also share tidbits of history that relate to the time and place where the book is set.

Interview with A. J. Jacobs

I am on a roll with author interviews this week!

I first encountered A. J. Jacobs on Amazon. I was buying a lot of books on Judaism, and Amazon’s magical algorithm said, “We heard you like the Bible and Jews. Here’s a book on the Bible by a Jew.” The Year of Living Biblically had something about it that appealed to me. Despite the fact that I’m religious, I’m also irreverent. I mean, I am the daughter of a professional comedian; nothing is ever so sacred that humor can’t be found in it.

So, being poor, I put the book on my wishlist, and my mother-in-law bought it for me for my birthday. It was indeed right up my alley–humorous in a self-depreciating, but not laughing at other people behind their backs, sort of way.

A month or so ago I picked up My Life as an Experiment and enjoyed it almost as much (it is hard to top the Biblical beard, after all).

Then, a few days ago, I got a wild hair, looked A. J. up on his website, and asked if he would be willing to do an interview for my blog. To my complete surprise, he e-mailed me back the next day and said he’d be happy to. He even volunteered to answer the questions himself, rather than outsource them to his Indian assistant (although I said that would be okay with me).

So, without further ado, the interview:

1. At what point in your life did you say, “I want to be a writer?” At what point did you actually feel like you *were* a writer?

I graduated college with no marketable skills. I was a philosophy major, and there were very few Fortune 500 companies hiring in-house philosophers. So I ended up trying freelance writing. And I liked it enough that I decided I would try to stick with it.

This makes me feel better about being a history major. See, liberal arts majors can find food!

2. You wrote articles for magazines before you published your first book. Were you terribly excited when you inked your first book deal, or did it just seem like the natural and logical next-step in your career? Was your first book experience everything you expected it to be?

My first book was, indeed, terribly exciting. And it wasn’t even a real book. It was a novelty book, one of those things they sell by the cash register at bookstores. It was called The Two Kings and it was a total of 800 words. It was about the eerie similarities between Jesus and Elvis.

3. You have a theme to your books: human guinea pig. Where did that idea come from? And do you have plans to write something different? A novel, perhaps?

I started doing it as a journalist. When I worked at Entertainment Weekly, I looked exactly like a B-list actor named Noah Taylor. So my editors sent me to the Oscars to see what it’s like to be a movie star. (Answer: It’s awesome). After that, I just kept going.

There’s a complete account of the Noah Taylor incident in the book My Life as an Experiment.

4. For you, what’s the hardest part of the writing and/or publishing process?

That would be the writing part. I love the research part and even the marketing part. But sitting in front of a computer alone and cranking out the words? That I find painful. A writer friend of mine once compared writing to having the stomach flu. You feel terrible and queasy until you vomit it all up, then you feel better. I relate to that.

5. In your opinion, at what point can you legitimately make a Wikipedia entry for yourself and/or your books? Or should you wait for someone to start one for you, then go in and edit it?

Great question. I have a wikipedia entry that some strangers made for me. It’s full of errors, but I’ve been told it’s a no-no to edit your own page, so I don’t know how to fix it.

6. Insert professional plug for your new book here. (Show us how it’s done.)

My latest book is called DROP DEAD HEALTHY, about my two-year quest to become as healthy as humanly possible. I revamped my diet, exercise, stress level, sex life, you name. If you don’t buy it, you will probably die!

Now, lest anyone think that Mr. Jacobs is egotistical (he’s been accused of that before) for throwing all those links into this interview, let me just say, I put all of those links in there. Part of it is a nod to my days of being a history major and having to footnote everything. The other part is rather self-serving: Google’s search algorithm likes links. Oh, and you should buy some of his books; they’re good.

Actually, I think the best advice he can give writers is this:

…As a writer, I have to accept the lack of control. Publishing a book is like having a child. You can do everything right — feed him, clothe him, show him Baby Kierkegaard videos — but a bully at kindergarten can still make him eat clumps of dirt. You have to come to terms with that. And you have to appreciate that your child is able to run around the playground at all, and is even having fun on the jungle gym when not being pummeled.

The Future of Authors

Jon Carroll at the San Francisco Chronicle writes:

Apparently writers are now having to work twice as hard to stay in the same place. The New York Times reported last weekend that best-selling genre authors are now expected to produce two full-length books a year, rather than the traditional one.

When people want an author, they really want that author. They are unwilling to wait 11 months or whatever it would be for the next installment. Fans of whomever apparently gobble up whoever’s backlist immediately – and cheaply too; old books are so satisfyingly inexpensive.

It is also considered useful if the author produces an additional 40,000-word novella for e-book publication. This will presumably fill the void between the two books a year. All that popularity is very nice, of course, and lots of writers would love to be cursed by it, but jeez. About 140,000 to 200,000 words per year? Plus a plot? That’ll be interesting.

It used to be a commonplace that a writer who wrote too fast would create an error-filled, cliche-jammed manuscript. That still may be true, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Writers are now commodities, like corn or pig bellies. They’re measured in bulk. The more words Lee Child writes, the better he is.

Writers also need to commodify themselves on Facebook and Twitter. They need to drop mordant observations into the data stream, gathering followers and fans so they can announce the pub date of their next novel, “Honor the Blood” or “Chain Saw” or whatever it happens to be, in with their lively descriptions of their fascinating lives and thoughts.

Honestly, I could write at that pace if writing was my full-time job. But with the amount of time I spend on revisions right now, plus needing to format and design my books and cover, blog, and market everything, I’d end up pulling down more than 40 hours a week. The hope is, however, that as I grew more of a following, I could market and blog a bit less. Also, with some cash, I could hire people to do my covers and formatting for me. The goal would be to shrink my work week to 35-40 hours a week… unless I felt the overwhelming desire to write more.

Two other points to make about this article. One, it’s confirming what I’ve already said: authors need to sell themselves as much as their work. Authors need to become celebrities because, as books go digital, pirating will ensue. Unlike the recoding and movie industries, I don’t think digital is a bad thing (and I don’t lock my books up with DRM), but I accept the fact that pirating will happen. That’s where your celebrity comes in. Just as bookstores sell a lot of things other than books, so too will authors have to sell a lot of things which aren’t books (just wait; I’m already working on my CafePress products, to be released along with my first book). That’s just where things are heading for all artists.

The other striking point about the article is what’s between the lines. The link to this article was originally posted in the Amazon authors’ forums (a place where independent authors gather). People there pointed out that traditional publishers are apparently pushing social media marketing (which is, lets face it, the bulk of today’s marketing) onto their authors.

For e-books over $2.99, Amazon gives writers 70% royalty. The industry standard is no where near that amount. According to Fiction Factor, the average royalties on paperbacks is 7.5% and hardbacks is 15%. They don’t mention e-books, but I believe that authors are only making about 8%-10% on their e-books when a publisher has control of it.

70% versus 8% is a big difference.

If I understand print-on-demand books correctly, I will get to name my price above and beyond the publishing cost; I assume Amazon then takes a percentage of that. But it looks like I could make $1.00 or more per book–which is the same or more than if I went through a publisher.

As the indie authors on Amazon asked, if you have to do your own marketing anyways, why would you choose to make less money with a traditional publisher?

Even if you pay money for a book designer and an editor up front and out of your own pocket, you still stand to make more money doing it yourself because you only pay for those services once. When you contract your book with a major publisher, you will share your profits forever for the benefit of having them design your cover and do the edits.

Food for thought.