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What About Vanity Presses

In my last blog, I reviewed Self Publishing. Which means you, the author, does all the work. But what if you don’t have time to do all the work or know what to do and where to find the professionals you’ll need? You may be tempted to turn to a Vanity Press. And that may not be a bad thing if you know how to navigate the waters.

Just like Self Publishing, with a Vanity Press you pay for everything. Many Vanity Presses offer levels of service, or packages of service. These services, such as editing, cover art, obtaining an ISBN, printing, and so forth are still paid for by the author. The likelihood is that you’ll pay more through a Vanity Press for the same services than if you Self Publish. That’s not unreasonable because the VP is the middle man and they need to get their share too. And with packages, you can choose the level of monetary investment you want to invest.

So why do some Vanity Presses have a bad rap? The devil is in the details. First, you may not have the creative control you’d like. You won’t have control over who the editors are or the cover artists or the level of detail you may want or need from them. The result could be errors in the editing or covers that just aren’t quite right. Second, some VPs require that they obtain the ISBN and you may have to sign a contract relinquishing your rights to your work. The Press could end up keeping the profits to your book instead of you. Third, any changes you opt to make during the process can result in up-charges, or change order costs. Forth, the quality of marketing services may not be worth their cost. Many VPs dont even offer marketing packages.

Your best bet if you choose to use a Vanity Press is to read the contract carefully. Know up front and clearly what your financial responsibilities are and where the hidden costs could be. Also be sure that you maintain creative control and ownership over your work. And after you read the contract, have an attorney read it just to be on the safe side.

Relationships and writing

It’s November 11.  On this day in 1918 an armistice was signed ending World War One.  In 1954 this holiday was renamed Veterans Day to honor the men and women who have served in our military.  In 1966 my brother was born, making him fifty years old today.  There will be lots of tributes to our military veterans, and deservedly so, but this may be the only tribute to my brother Roger, who also deserves one.  This ties in with my writing, and with writing in general, towards the end, but I have to build up to it.  As always, I hope using myself and my writing experiences in these posts will help inform yours in some way.

Not very long ago, last week in fact, Roger and I were talking about a man who has no relationship at all with his brother.  I found that sad, though far from being an isolated occurrence.  I can’t remember a time when my brother and I didn’t have some kind of relationship.  Even when we were fighting as kids, well that counts too.  That relationship has always been there, it’s something I can count on, something I can depend on, something that serves as an anchor in my life.

I’ll share one story that gives you a sense of Roger’s character and what he’s been to me over the years.  I was getting divorced from my high school sweetheart and preparing to move from Michigan to Florida to get a completely fresh start.  My brother showed up to help me not only make the drive down to Florida, but he ended up packing most of the truck while I was working one day.  Completely blew me away with how generous he was with his time and, well, he packed the truck while I was at work.  I mean, who packs up someone else’s stuff for moving without that person’s help?

So, when I need to write about someone who is solid, dependable, generous, and/or of high moral character, I need look no further than my brother – actually, my parents fall into these categories as well.  I’m surrounded by good, reliably faithful and dependable people.

All writing is about relationships, those interactions with the world around us that define who we are as a person.  Our characters are defined by those relationships as well, even if they interact only with an empty room, there is relationship there (or even the lack of one) that defines that character for your readers.

My writing is informed by the strong bonds I have with my own family, and how important those bonds have been during my somewhat rocky life.  While that gives me a good basis for writing about strong, vital relationships, it puts me at a disadvantage for writing about crappy ones.  Fortunately I managed to pick two wives who gave me lots of experience with crappy relationships, so I got myself covered on that score too (wife number three is a dream and much more in line with my family as being dependably great.)

I can do neither my brother nor writing about relationships justice in the five hundred or so words I allow myself for these posts.  But, besides thanking veterans for their service to our country, I wanted to take a moment and say Happy 50th Birthday to my brother, a good man and a good friend.

It’s November, and you know what that means

I have an acquaintance across the Atlantic who regularly sends me articles and book suggestions about the craft of writing.  I sometimes wonder how to take these suggestions as she’s also privy to my writings – is she telling me I suck and should spend more time learning the craft, or is she just excited to have found another resource and can’t wait to share it with her friends?  I choose to interpret it that she’s just excited to have found a new resource.

Me?  I just write.  I’ve read a few things about writing, and in college I took a creative writing class or two, but I truly believe there is no greater teacher than reading as much as you can and writing as much as you can.  Perhaps I’d be better off if I studied the craft more – Kate, my friend in the UK, is a wonderful writer and she claims she just started in January 2016.  There must be something to these tutorials if they’ve gotten her up to speed this quickly.  I ponder this conundrum sometimes, but whenever I’m reading something about writing I get this overwhelming desire to go and write.  I always give in to it.

This is a good month to give in to the urge to write.  It’s already started, but November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  The goal is to write 50,000 words in the month of November.  That’s enough for a complete young adult novel, and a darn good start on any other genre.  To achieve this goal requires you to average 1667 words per day.  There’s a competition and the chance to network as well.

There’s also a Camp NaNoWriMo that meets in April and July.  I know next to nothing about it because none of my writing buddies have participated, but what I’ve learned from their website indicates that these events are good for any work length up to 999,999 words.  But to learn all about both events, head on over to their website to learn more (

I have to confess that I’ve never done NaNoWriMo.  I’m primarily a short story writer and dabble in a novel from time to time.  Perhaps I should do it, even at this late juncture.  Maybe it would be the kick in the pants I need to finish this novel off!

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year, good luck this week!  May you exceed your word counts and may they all be excellent words!

Ad Hoc Fiction site

I wanted to write a pithy and insightful piece about point of view today, but the reality is I want to work on my book more and my time is extremely limited, so I don’t have time to research an insightful piece.  Maybe next week.

I’ve found a new website that runs a weekly contest with a prompt.  Well, it’s new to me.  It’s called Ah Hoc Fiction (  The contest is to write a story in 150 words or fewer that has to use the prompt word.  Unlike the late and lamented outlet called Mash Stories, you can use variations on the theme word, for example “jarring” when the prompt is “jar.”  It’s a weekly contest in which you’re winning an entry into an end of the year drawing for 1000 pounds (about $1300).

As usual, it’s quite difficult to write a compelling and complete story in only 150 words, but it’s a great mind starter if you’re in need of some kind of inspiration to write.  Not too surprisingly, it’s also quite fun to sit down for an hour and read through the 80 or so stories that get put up every week.  Such imagination on display!  It never fails to awe me how many ways the same prompt can be used.

Life is short, read fast.

Decision Time!

Now that your synopsis is done it’s time to make a decision on how you want to publish your story. Backing up for just a moment let me suggest something to do with your synopsis after you’ve labored over it – send it out to your editor for a quick read to make sure it fits with his or her understanding of your story. Also, consider giving it to a random person to see if by reading the synopsis they are interested in reading your story.

Back to your decision on how to publish your story. Each way of publishing – self, indie, or traditional – has its own drawbacks. Each also has its advantages. The choice is yours.

For today let’s look at self-publishing.

Self-publishing is exactly that – you do the publishing. Every aspect of it:

  • Editing
  • Cover Art
  • Soliciting Book Reviews/Blurbs
  • Formatting for your medium – digital or print
  • ISBN
  • Sales and Marketing

You’ve already had your story edited so you are ahead of the game. Now to focus on cover art. There are a number of places you can find cover artists. What’s important is that you find an artist with whom you mesh. They need to be able to feel you and feel your story so that the image they create – which will be the first impression of your story to readers – is something you will be happy with. Have an image in your head as to what you think would make a good cover. Interview the artists. They should want to read your story and you should ask for a few, 2 or 3, options. Be sure that the artist is able to provide several files for you for full-sized art for printed materials and thumb nails for electronic uses.

Next,  you will want to have other authors, agents, publishers, persons-of-note to write a sentence that you can put on the back cover of your book. So, you will have to solicit people who will be willing to read your story and write a positive blurb. Your best bet would be to ask other self-published authors, or authors you know from writers’ groups. Extra bonus points if you can get one of the authors on a top seller’s list.

Now it’s time to format your book. You have to decide how you want to publish your book – print, digital, both. Formats for print are different than formats for digital. Amazon’s Create Space is an easy and excellent way to publish print material. They will step you through it so it’s not too traumatic. Also, Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) will help you through formatting for digital media. Smashword also has a tutorial on formatting for digital media. Things to understand:

  • Print books have page numbers.
  • Digital books do not have page numbers they have markers.
  • Print books can have a special layout or design.
  • Digital books cannot because they have to be flexible for all the different ereaders.
  • Print books can have several spaces between lines.
  • Digital books are limited to the number of carriage returns (is that still a thing?) in a row or it could result in blank “pages” on the ereader.

Be sure to follow the instructions for both methods. Check the proof carefully before okaying the final product. How does the art look? How do the fonts look? Are the chapter pages in the table of contents correct in the text? Do the markers link you to the correct spot in the digital form? Does the cover look good? Is the cover formatted to work in your particular medium?

Formatting is not easy and it will make your head hurt. If you cannot get it right, by all means hire it out.

Before you upload your manuscript to be published you will need an ISBN. Create Space offers you a free ISBN. Be aware that the Create Space ISBN is only a valid ISBN on Amazon. You can order all the books you want to sell and that’s fantastic but you will not be able to sell the books in bookstores. That may, or may not, bother you. You CAN purchase an ISBN from Bowkers. They aren’t cheap, but their cost is not unattainable. And you can buy them in blocks of 10 and get massive discounts.

One of the benefits of purchasing your own ISBN is that you register as a publisher (you’ll need a publisher-like name) and there you have it, you’ve created your own imprint (sort of). Anyway, with a publisher “name” and registered ISBN you will be able to purchase books to send to book fulfillment services from where traditional bookstores such as Books-A-Million and Barnes & Nobel get their books for their shelves. You will also be able to register your book with the Library of Congress and put your book into public libraries. Oh, by the way, registering your book with the Library of Congress is free.

Once you have your ISBN and registered it with the Library of Congress, if that’s the route you’ve chosen to go, then you are ready to click the upload button and get your formatted manuscript going.

Finally, you can start the hard work of sales and marketing. First, you should gift to your beta readers and anyone who assisted you with research a copy of your book (signed is best). Also, your editor and cover artist and formatter (if you used one) should get a copy for their portfolios. And, those authors who did you a solid and wrote blurbs deserve a copy too.  You’ll want one and your parents will too.

NOW you will need to do the sales and marketing. This is by far the most time and money consuming part of self-publishing. You will need to have set up social media accounts and have developed a platform. You will need a website from which your readers can purchase your books, read your biography, possibly a blog and/or newsletter. You will need to create a press kit or media kit to send out to various retailers – local bookstores, BIG bookstores headquarters, your local public library, etc. as well as to your local newspapers. So what’s in a press or media kit? This:

  • Your pitch letter, or letter of introduction.
  • Your biography.
  • A professional head shot.
  • Reviews of your story by beta readers,  the authors who wrote reviews for your book, etc.
  • Your synopsis.
  • The first chapter of you story including cover art.
  • Your social media addresses.
  • Your contact information.

Keep a press kit in hard copy for mailing and electronically for emailing. You will spend a LOT of time researching to whom to send your press kit and how they want it sent. You will need to keep hard copies with you to TAKE everywhere.

Good ideas to consider – check into your local (within 200 miles) book festivals, author events at your local libraries, organize your own book signings and give-aways.

If you haven’t noticed, self-publishing is not easy and it costs a lot of money. A LOT OF MONEY. You pay for everything and every step of the process. Be prepared and be forewarned. Is it worth it? It depends on how long, if ever, you recoup your investment. Or, perhaps your return is the satisfaction of having done it in the first place.

Anyway, Pilcrow & Dagger has closed the November/December issue submissions BUT we have opened the January 2017 submissions. Our theme for January is “Do-Over.” If you could do one thing over again, or go back and change one thing, what would it be? Even better, how would things be different if something did or didn’t happen? Your writer, you figure it out.

What Do You Do Now? Synopsis!

At some point you will “finish” your manuscript. Finish as in the first, rough draft has been written and over time it has been edited and edited and revised. And now it’s “finished.” It’s the best that it can be. And you are now faced with four choices:

  1. Put it away in the closet and when you pass away your grandchildren will find it, read it, and enjoy it.
  2. Self publish.
  3. Get an agent, or not, and solicit independent presses.
  4. Get an agent and have them solicit traditional presses.

Hopefully, you won’t opt for number one. You’ve worked too long and too hard for your manuscript to just sit on a shelf. So, you have a real decision to make and each option carries a long list of Pros and Cons. And each option will require more research on your part. So, a full year after you started researching and planning your novel you are right back at the beginning doing more research on things you never heard of before.

The first step in all of this is to write your synopsis. You will need this to solicit agents and publishers, for marketing, and possibly the book blurb. Writing a synopsis is hard. About as hard as writing your first draft.

But what’s in a synopsis? A synopsis tells your story from beginning to end, hitting the highlights and character arcs. You must include the ending. Returning to your outline, story blocks, chapter notes, character arcs, etc. is a good place to start. Reread your finished novel and make notes. There are several Must Haves in a synopsis. These are:

  1.  The initiating action – what is the start of your story; the premise.
  2. The conflict – what is the plot and your characters’ struggle.
  3. What is the turning point of the plot; the make-it-or-break-it point; the climax.
  4. How the characters’ change and grow.
  5. The resolution.

And there are a couple of other things to consider:

  1. Be sure to use active voice.
  2. Write clearly and concisely; don’t include too many characters or too many plot points.
  3. Tell – don’t show.
  4. Don’t get literary – it doesn’t matter about symbolism or metaphor or what the reader will gain from the story.
  5. Try to highlight the parts of your story that are unique and will set your story apart from others.
  6. Write in your voice. Don’t get cute and write in a character’s voice.

Length is something to consider too. How you are using your synopsis and who will be reading it will determine the length. Write two – a short one and a long one. A short synopsis is 300-500 words, single spaced, and will take up a single page. A long synopsis is 3-5 pages long.

There are any number of blogs and articles online that will offer assistance and there are books out there too. The above list is a compilation of the information I have researched. Get writing again and good luck. The synopsis is hard and it will take several attempts to get it right.

Back up your work

It’s 10 pm Thursday October 6 as I write this.  The rains from Matthew have been falling for about three hours now.  Much of Florida is under some kind of weather advisory from this storm.  I’m fortunate to live in an area southwest of Orlando, so the brunt of the storm will likely pass well north and east of where I sit.  Others sit right in the path of this very powerful and dangerous storm.  And it’s not just Florida that’s going to get hit with this storm.  Parts of Georgia and South Carolina are in the path as well.

Which brings me to today’s topic – backing up your work.  It’s so important to back up your documents and financial data.  There is no excuse not to back up your work.  The possibilities aren’t endless, but there are many. The two I use are cloud storage and the venerable USB flash drive.

I’m a recent convert to cloud storage, having finally seen the value of storing my data off site.  I know about three cloud storage options, though I’m sure there are more.

Microsoft – As far as I know Microsoft’s cloud storage comes with Microsoft Office, at least mine did, and at no extra cost (considering what I paid for the software I would hope not).  I don’t know how it works if you have Office 365 – it might be different.  It’s easy to access from Word in my experience and required little set up to access.  It shows up as an option when I press “save” and works as seamlessly as saving to my hard drive and flash drive.

The Zon (Amazon) offers cloud storage as well.  If you’re a Prime member, you get 5GB of storage for no additional cost.  There is also an unlimited option for $59.99.  It requires the download of an application, which was simple and fast, and the upload of all 1400 my “paper” documents took about four minutes.  And saving a single file is no more difficult than saving it on your hard drive.  However, you need to remember to save it both places, otherwise you’ll have your backup and main documents at different stages of completeness, with the backup possibly farther along than the main.  Guess who did that.

I’ve never used Dropbox.  It costs about $9 a month, but you get a full terabyte of storage space.  That’s a lot of storage.  My brother has a ton of pictures and uses it for his storage needs.  I’ve got a couple of hundred megabytes of documents, so I don’t feel the need to pay for Dropbox at this time.  If you’re going to upload photos and videos, though, it’s probably a good option.

My standby option, and one I use regularly, is the flash drive.  I’ve got all my documents on one.  Old fashioned, yes, but reliable and portable.  And, if I lose my Internet connection, or am traveling and can’t get to the Net, I can still back up my work.  It’s simple, fast, and secure.  It also allows me to organize my files by type – each flash drive contains one type of data.  There’s one for my writing, one for financial, one for my editing business, and so on.

So, you spent the time building the document, shaping it, editing it, perfecting it.  Don’t let an event like a nice hurricane or tornado blow your work away.  Don’t let computer crashes or viruses destroy your hard work.  Get it backed up and keep it backed up.  If you’re disciplined about nothing else, be disciplined about this.

Today I tried to open my financial software and discovered that the file was corrupted.  Eeeek!  Four years of financial data was missing.  By design, I had two backups available to restore the file.  Ahhh!  The cause of the corruption?  No idea; the computer is fine, everything else seems to be working, and McAfee says I have no malware.  Just some random disruption of the flow of the zeroes and ones that make up cyberspace, I guess.  Which makes my point about backing up even more clearly than I ever could with theory.


Deadlines approach.  October 15 is the deadline for two contests I wish to enter.  That’s just over two weeks away.  Both stories are complete and in the critiquing stage now.  In fact, I have three stories up on Scribophile for critique right now.  It’s been a very creative time for me these past few weeks.

Contests spark that creativity.  When I get asked where I get my ideas, I have to pause and say I don’t know.  I used to have an idea box where I stashed little slips of paper with scribbled ideas for stories.  But that’s been empty for a while.  I use the contest prompts to get my creative juices flowing now, as well as themed magazines like Pilcrow and Dagger.  As a matter of fact, their theme for November/December (mystery and crime stories) has gotten me writing my first mystery story in years.

That’s significant, because about the only thing on my so-called bucket list is to be published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.  I’ve read this publication since I was a teenager (that’s over 35 years) and have aspired to be published in it almost since the beginning.  I have won their monthly Mysterious Photograph contest five times, but, as great as that is, it’s not the same thing, in my mind, as placing a full length story in those hallowed pages.

But mysteries are difficult to write, at least for me.  I’m not an organized writer and I’m not adept at plotting out my short stories.  I mostly “pants” them – start writing and see where it goes.  Mysteries require you to be organized, with certain plot points along the way that are virtually non-negotiable.  You must have an action done to someone (say a murder), a reason for that action (e.g., inheritance), and clues along the way that lead to the perpetrator of the crime.

The action must follow a certain pattern, too.  I think of it like the three poles of a circus tent.  There must be rising action in which the hero is but a pawn in the action, trying to figure out what’s important and discard what isn’t.  Something bad happens to the hero along the way (pole number one).  At the midpoint the hero needs to be much clearer about the direction he’s taking to solve this crime (pole number two), and then the final act of hindrance against the hero (pole number three) before the climax and denouement.  Along the way are the clues.

I don’t know that I’m going to make the October 10 deadline for the Pilcrow and Dagger issue, but I’m pleased to see the progress I’ve made as a writer while working on it.  I’ve planned it out enough and am about halfway through it.  I won’t have time for my beloved Scribophile critiques, though.  I may have to fly solo on this one.

Again, the deadline for getting your work in for the November/December issue of Pilcrow and Dagger is October 10.  If you have something that doesn’t fit the theme, send it in anyway.  Good writing is good writing!

Life is short, read fast.

Now What?

The past couple of days I’ve been saying “Now what?” a lot. It seems our site went down and stayed down. It’s not uncommon for it to hiccough and go off and come back on within an hour and usually in the weeeeee hours of the morning when no one is awake anyway. When I say ‘uncommon’ I mean once a week. Then it became twice a week. Then just about every day. But like I said, for usually less than an hour and not during traffic times. I don’t know, I figure this is just the hosting company refreshing their systems, or our WordPress site refreshing its system. I know I have to turn my cell phone off every few days to refresh it soo… same thing, right? Anyway, A. Marie is the guru of all thing technological so she usually handled any major issues. She’s younger than me and therefore is more adept at it anyway.

The other day our site went down. And stayed down. There seemed to be some discrepancy as to why. It turned out the hosting company’s server went down. Yay! Not my fault! I didn’t click on something I shouldn’t have. BUT, when they got their server back up, did our site come up? No. Now what? After several minutes of online chatting in techno-speak with a wonderful tech person who semi-translated what they said into English it was determined that our site didn’t have a designated php. When I asked what that was and how do I designate one and which one I should designate – they did it for me. They also gave me an address that will diagnose our site’s issues so we can correct them. I didn’t understand the words on the site so I emailed it to A. Marie. They also gave me a link to check which WordPress themes are compatible with our host as that could also be the problem. Like, it was compatible but now it’s not so much any more because I guess they just grew apart. Or no longer have the same php goals. Who knows.

So, knowing I wanted to blog – not really about all this – I tried to log in to our site and do administrative stuff like post a blog. I received instead a very angry 504 message saying my front end website didn’t match the back end website. I don’t know what all that means except when I Googled it I was told to clear my cache. And when I Googled ‘clear my cache’ I was given instructions on how to do that. So, after Googling things like ‘where is my settings button’ and ‘what is a cache’ I successfully erased all of my quick-click sites and most fun of all, the saved passwords. Sigh. If anyone has hacked any of my sites, I promise I won’t be mad if you can just email me my passwords. You know the address. I did manage to log in to do this blog, in case you were wondering.

Now what? Fingers crossed that our site is up and stays up. Next week I will resume where we left off in the narrative of writing your novel. I do have a direction and a purpose.

In the meantime, I hope you used our down-time to pen a little something for our November/December issue. We are accepting submissions you know. Our theme is Murder and Crime Mystery stories.

Small presses

Some sad news came my way this week.

I wrote not that long ago about a contest I liked to enter called Mash Stories.  It’s a quarterly contest in which three random words are provided and the writer has 500 words to craft a complete and compelling story using all three of them.  It’s a remarkably challenging proposition, especially when you have three words like this quarter’s – potato, chicken, bathrobe.  But this isn’t the sad part.

I received the weekly newsletter today telling me they’re closing their doors.  I was crushed.  This is one of those contests that I’ve never even placed in and it was my goal to at least get short-listed in the next year.  Now that goal has been snatched away from me.  It’s a small goal, and a small loss, at least personally.  But the bigger loss is the loss of another writing outlet.

Small presses like Mash Stories and our beloved Pilcrow and Dagger and dozens, maybe hundreds, of others need support.  They need money to survive.  They need subscribers and supporters and donations and people to buy their stuff.  The loss of even one literary outlet is a shame.  So if you enjoy literature and the short story form, and you can afford to, you should really consider helping out your favorite small press magazine or ezine.  Buy gift subscriptions for people or your local library.  Or simply find out how you can donate to the cause.  Some magazines even have a Donate button on their website, or you can email them and ask how to go about supporting their magazine.  I try not to get up on soapboxes very often anymore, but this cause is near and dear to my heart as a writer and reader of the short story form.

On a happier note, I finally figured out how to use the Compile feature on Scrivener.  As you may recall this is a word processing tool that is specifically geared toward writers, especially writers of the long form work, like novels.  As a predominately short story writer I probably don’t need it, but I do have a novel in progress and it’s been helpful keeping the pieces of it straight.

The Compile feature is supposed to take your work and, well, compile it into its final form.  You can transform it into various formats like Word, RTF, PDF, and several others.  I looked at it when I first bought the product but never took it seriously.  This week I got serious about Compile, though, and messed with it until I figured it out, at least for the short form piece I was working on.  I still need to work it out for the long form piece.  But baby steps, right?  Anyway, the point here is that the more I use Scrivener the more I like it and find it incredibly useful as a writer.  Word is fine, in fact I was quite happy with Word until I got Scrivener.

The other thing that Scrivener may allow me to do is finally buy that Macbook I’ve got my eye on.  Until now I always needed Microsoft Office for Mac loaded on, and that’s another large whack of money laid out for a computer so I’ve always just bought another PC.  With Scrivener as my word processor I won’t need Word anymore.  Hmmm.  This laptop IS two years old now.  Another couple of years tops and it’s time for a new one.  Might I go back to Mac?

Have a good week and remember:

Life is short.  Read fast.