An online community where writers can meet to talk about the art, joy and passion of mystery writing. Mystery Writers Unite will address issues that writers face to bring their "idea" to a novel; topics like: plot points, character building, editing, self-publishing, writer's block, basic writing tools and resources and author interviews. If you like mystery writing or just like to write, I hope you will visit often and share in our community.
E-book publishing? Making the work available and placing it where readers can buy it is easy. Selling it is not.
My experience with e-publishing -- that is, the process of creating electronic books that can be downloaded from the Internet and read on e-book readers, has been very positive. It’s easy to create a book-format. Creating the content is not easy, and then selling it to readers? Well, those stories are books in themselves.
I decided to self-publish my stories and novels, frankly, because I could not get a traditional commercial publisher to even look at the manuscript. I put a lot of work over several years into it, and others who have read parts of it praise the work. But publishers would not read even a sample of it, saying they just weren’t looking for new authors. There’s been a lot written and published about the challenges traditional publishers are facing now, so I won’t go into that.
If you are considering self-publishing as an option, here are three platforms available to help you in your quest:
To create the e-book version of my novel, I downloaded a shareware program called Calibre. The shareware if free, but if you like it, you should send the developer 10 bucks or so (whatever you think is fair).
Calibre works well at converting your files into the many different formats used in e-book readers. The software also organizes your e-book library and comes with a basic e-book reader application for your computer.
The downside, the interface is a little quirky and counter-intuitive, there is no manual, and the help files available through the Web are not very helpful.
That being said, once I figured out that you have to start with a PDF file and I followed the rules, Calibre worked nicely.
After making sure my character Sam, the Strawb Part,looked good, or at least readable, on an e-reader, the next step was to publish it.
I went to Smashwords, an e-publisher and e-bookstore that will publish your work in several formats, and sell them, too, for a 15% royalty, which is better than Amazon (30%) and far better than any traditional commercial publisher, who generally gives YOU only 5% of the selling price of YOUR book!
Smashwords uses a program they call the “meat grinder,” which transforms your text file, adds a JPEG as a cover and produces a book in EPUB format. They sell it through their own e-bookstore, and also through Apple’s iBookstore, Barnes & Noble’s e-bookstore in Nook format, Diesel, Sony, Kobo—just about every e-bookstore except the biggest, Amazon.
Smashwords demands that you follow some guidelines. If you want your book to get their “premium” service, which includes sending it to all those other sellers, you need to follow them. So first, download their free manual and READ IT COMPLETELY.
Smashwords demands that every book have ISBN. Smashwords will provide one for you (at a cost), but, as a Canadian citizen, I can self-publish and get ISBNs at no cost through Library and Archives Canada. Canadian readers, check that out.
Note: every different version of your book should have its own ISBN: the paper version, the version you publish through Smashwords and the one you publish through Amazon should all have their own numbers. If you revise the book later, even just change the cover, you should get another ISBN.
Be prepared to add some “front matter” and “back matter” to your book. “Front matter” includes the cover and title page, but also the publishing information, which includes information about the book, the name of the author and the publisher, copyright information and the ISBN number. Smashwords insists that the edition you send to them includes the phrase “Smashwords edition” in that copyright information somewhere, as well as “published by (your name or your publisher’s name) through Smashwords.” “Back matter” can include your picture and a brief bio, as in “About the author.”
Once you are ready, log into your Smashwords account and upload first the text as one text file, and then the cover image as a JPEG. Smashwords will respond to tell you how long it will take for the “grinder” to process your book. This will range from a few hours or longer depending on how many books are in the queue ahead of you but it is well worth the wait! I was thrilled when I looked at the Smashwords store and “Sam, the Strawb Part, by Scott Bury,” was available for purchase!!
Within a few weeks, (yes, weeks), I could see my story on Apple’s iBookstore and Barnes & Noble’s electronic bookstore, as well.
Next, I saved my document with a slightly different file, got a new ISBN and changed the copyright information and published through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing system.
The Mighty Amazon
Publishing with Amazon’s KDP system is even easier than publishing through Smashwords. Like Smashwords, KDP takes your text as a Word file, but KDP allows you to use HTML for more control over the format, if you’re familiar with it. Again, read the manual before converting or uploading.
Amazon is also quicker about publishing your book onto its site than Smashwords is. However, since I used Amazon.com’s KDP site, Sam, the Strawb Part is not available on Amazon.ca. I will have to look into that.
All in all, the self-publishing process is not difficult at all. It isn’t even that time-consuming. What is time-consuming, and should be, is the creation of a book or story worth reading!
I hear that this is a "hot topic" these days as the publishing world is being turned on its ear by self-published authors that grew tired of waiting for the ultimate "yes" letter. I don't blame you and for those of you still waiting for your letter...STOP.
Self-publishing is easy and fairly inexpensive so why wait to get your work out to the masses? There may be a couple of reasons such as a) deciding on where you want to market your work b) deciding on the cover art and c) probably the most important decision you will need to make ---- what will you price your book at?
I know from speaking with a friend of mine, that is an author and has a book available on Amazon for $0.99, that there are definitely two ways of looking at book pricing. This author is in favor of the pricing whereas I'm somewhat opposed to it. So, I thought I would do an entry on this subject and see what the masses think :-)
IN FAVOR OF THE $0.99 BOOK PRICE:
Affordable -- less than a cup of coffee
It may make someone who doesn't know you or your writing more likely to give your book a chance
It may lead to mass sales due to lower price as opposed to fewer sales at a higher price
OPPOSED TO THE $0.99 BOOK PRICE:
May be viewed as "garbage reading" the kind of reading that you find in the bargain bin at the bookstore
You are branding yourself, as well as your work and you are a professional author -- when is the last time you seen a book by James Patterson for $0.99?
A slightly higher price will make up for the possibility that the masses won't buy if your book is priced above $0.99
I KNOW there are many more points of view on this subject (based on what I've been reading) both for and against this pricing model -- PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT and let me know why you are "for" or "against" and why :-)
Oh, and please, please don't think that I'm judging because I'm not. Just a hot topic that provides food for fodder.
Mystery Writers Unite is THRILLED to be supporting the work of John W. Mefford, author of the newly released novel COMMITTED; first book in The Michael Doyle Chronicles.
John is a veteran of the corporate wars, former journalist. Although he began wiring his debut novel when he entered the work force twenty-five years ago, he didn’t begin to put words on paper until late 2009.
When John isn’t writing, he chases his three kids around, slaves away in his yard, reads, plays as many sports as time will allow, watches all genre’s of movies, and continues to make mental notes of people and society.
John lives in Frisco, Texas with his beautiful wife, three adorable kids, and a feisty fat cat.
MWU: I know that your book has been brewing in your head for many years (we won’t repeat how many again…lol) but what made you decide to take those thoughts and put them to paper? Have you always been attracted to writing?
John W. Mefford: A couple of years ago I reached the peak of my tolerance level for certain aspects of the corporate world. I took a week off and just started writing, not really intending to create a story that might ultimately turn into a novel. A month later I realized I needed not just a break or a career adjustment, but a life change. After a great deal of soul-searching and discussion with my wife, I quit. Writing became my tool to help me re-establish my priorities. It opened my eyes to a completely different way of thinking, feeling, and expressing myself. I seized the opportunity and wrote the first draft of my debut novel, Committed!
My desire to write was sparked by two events: first, was my re-introduction to books as an adult, starting with reading The Firm by John Grisham when I was about 19. Second, the invention of the word processor changed the way I write and think. Before iEverything, social networking, the Steve Jobs – Bill Gates battle for supremacy and the Internet , most everyone wrote in long hand on paper. I found it unyielding. I couldn’t move things around or edit to my liking. Finally, when I sat down and wrote in WordPerfect for the first time, I could type my thoughts and hit the backspace key as often as I wanted. I could edit, delete, and move paragraphs. A whole new section of my brain was unsealed and my creative barometer shot way up. The rest is history.
MWU: What made you decide to self-publish your book? What did you / are you finding most challenging about self-publishing? What advice would you give to other authors who are considering the self-publishing route?
John W. Mefford: One particular night I couldn’t sleep, wrestling over what to do with my creative thing, this book I had written. Then, it hit me like a brick upside the head. Why don’t I self-publish? Before taking step one, given my careful nature, I knew I had to dive in and do the research. What was truly going on in the publishing industry? I needed examples and case studies to help me make the conclusive decision. Unless one is comfortable wading around in the bayou searching for a nearly-extinct type of fish, finding reliable information on the Internet can be painful. But I found the evidence I needed and then put together my plan.
Repositioning myself from the corporate world where huge systems and processes are in place to handle the insignificant tasks to the “self-everything” world was another mindset adjustment. And, I couldn’t call one my employees into my office to collaborate on a key issue for three or four hours. Given where I started, completing all the tasks in my plan in a professional manner has only increased my confidence and my desire to take it up another notch in the future.
Depending on your background, the transition into a self-everything way of thinking can be daunting or not very difficult. I really see the entire process as two big piles. In one pile is writing—that’s what most of us are drawn to. We live it, love it, breath it. But the other pile sitting right next to it is just as big. Understanding everything you need to get done in that second pile—and doing it with an attention to detail—is as important as your writing. So, don’t fool yourself. Be realistic, but at the same time, set yourself up for success. Make thoughtful decisions. If it’s your new life, don’t hold back, have no regrets, and enjoy the journey.
MWU: With three kids, a wife and feisty cat I have no doubt the life can be a little distracting at times. How do you make sure that you stay focused to get your writing done?
John W. Mefford: Organization and prioritization. One of the main benefits of me writing was to become our Chief Operating Officer of Home Operations. So, I juggle a lot, but I also have writing goals, and when appropriate (like when I’m releasing a book), marketing / PR goals for the month, week and day. There’s a great deal to fit in, but it’s a labor of love…for my family and my writing.
MWU: It is one thing to approach a first book and successfully complete it but it is another to make your debut novel book one of a series. What made you decide to do that?
John W. Mefford: I got hooked on old James Patterson books and, recently, Michael Connelly books. I also loved the Margaret Truman books based in D.C. The books and stories always came to a conclusion, but you could follow your favorite characters in an entire new novel with the next book in the series. For me, writing a mystery/suspense/thriller as part of a series is natural and logical. And it only motivates me to share a new story, learning more about the characters along the way. Eventually, The Michael Doyle Chronicles will end. But how? And when? Writers can’t give away all of their secrets.
MWU: I know the first book is about to be released on 11.1.11 (yes, I love the numbering!!) but knowing that it is a series I’m sure you must be asked when the next book will be released.
John w. Mefford: A high-level release target for Book Two in The Michael Doyle Chronicles is March / April, 2012. I’ve written a very early draft and have toyed with a few titles, but haven’t decided on one yet. But I’m very excited about the story, where the characters are taken, and even the locations.
MWU: This is a standard question I always ask - what books or authors have influenced your writing?
John W. Mefford:Many that I have mentioned already, Patterson—old Patterson—Grisham, Connelly, Truman. One of my guilty pleasures years ago was reading the Ayelet Waldman Mommy-Track Mysteries. Loved the sarcasm and way she weaved the mystery plot into a character who simply had no time for it. But it was Grisham’s The Firm that ignited the initial spark.
MWU: Another question I ask every author I interview. Do you ever experience writer’s block? If so, how do you cope with it?
John W. Mefford: As a novelist, I had days where the writing comes easy. The ideas flow like a well-choreographed musical. Other days, the thoughts are not as fluid. But I really don’t call anything in the novel world writer’s block. I take it all in and believe I can use every day of writing to enhance my story. Some days I’ll crank out 3,000 words. Other days, it’s only 500, but I might develop the idea for a cool scene. When you’re a self-publishing author, you have control of your own destiny and your own outlook.
MWU: Do you have a favorite character in your book, aside from the male lead? If so, which one and why?
John W. Mefford:I’m intrigued by two characters. The first is Michael’s boss, Paula. She’s small in stature, but strong and resolute, and shows remarkable restraint in the eye of the corporate coup d'etat. The second is Chuck, CEO of Omaha Gas. I’ve always been intrigued by the traits of people who finally receive the ultimate title in business, Chief Executive Officer. Chuck has his own unique method of operating, but at least he admits his character challenges to himself.
MWU: I always ask a published author what advice he would give to those of us still working away at their first novel, first draft?
John W. Mefford: It depends on where you are in the creative process. If you’ve been plodding away on this book for what seems like (or is) years, I’d first determine the goals of the book.To create a certain emotion, to end it at a certain place, to have certain characters die off, move from victim to hero? I’d look at the overall story / plot and main characters. Then I would draw a high-level roadmap on how to reach that goal. Make it tangible, but give yourself some wiggle room if you veer off course a bit because of some creative thoughts that take you in a different direction. If so, re-work the roadmap so you know how to reach your goal. Mainly, write if it makes you feel good. The moment it becomes a chore, you might start regretting it. I said it earlier, set yourself up for success.
MWU: Did you learn anything from writing COMMITTED (e.g. writing process, writing style, what not to do, etc.)?
John W. Mefford: I think I could write a novel on what I learned from COMMITTED. At the top of the list is having an open mind to learning and growing. I had a “named” author tell me recently that she wants her next novel to be better than her last. I feel the same way. I think it’s inevitable. I build stairs out of my own self-criticism and feedback I receive from others. Not from everyone, mind you. Part of the creative process is determining what feedback is best to take in. Taking each step can only enhance your growth and confidence as a writer.
MWU: What was the hardest part about writing COMMITTED? How did you overcome it?
John W. Mefford: Early on, I had to learn how to shed my filtered frame of mind. The one that said and did the right thing, because that’s how you succeed in the corporate world. Once I got past that impediment, my mind raced with wild and passionate ideas. After I finished my first draft and my wife read it, she said, “Where did you come up with this s>>>?” I chuckled.
MWU: Where can your fans get a copy of COMMITTED? Is it available in paperback and eBook formats?
John W. Mefford: My eBook can be downloaded at the following sites:
We all have that inner voice, the one who knows all but refuses to let even our closest confidantes inside. The one we must calm when we’re most unsettled, and the one who seeks to understand our path, our destiny.
Michael Doyle lives in emotional anonymity, resistant to fully devote himself to anyone or any cause. Without warning, a technology firm acquires Michael’s company, and he quickly sees through the fog of political posturing: false hope, layoffs, and blatant dishonesty. Then, death reaches up and grabs him.
Shaken to the core, Michael leans on his live-in girlfriend, who has touched his heart like no one else. But her haunting past resurfaces, and she’s pulled into a seedy web by an outside force so cruel it destroys every soul in its path.
Can Michael rise above his greatest fear to uncover the truth about a murder and save the life of the person he loves most?
As the author of the Mystery Writers Unite blog, I have had the opportunity to meet authors and review books on their behalf. I’ve noticed that most (if not all) of them seem to have certain characteristics that have contributed to their success.
Let me start by saying that authors are hard working individuals! Many authors today don’t just write for a living nor are they all by themselves in some remote cabin writing their book. They have full time jobs, families and are giving back to their communities while continuing to write novels that move and entertain us.
So, what does it take to be a successful writer? I believe the following characteristics are critical:
LOVE OF WORDS: Successful authors utilize the English language to the greatest potential possible. They use rich words that don’t just tell a reader what is happening; they let the reader experience what is happening. This is an essential element to any story.
OBSERVANT: In order to be able to write about something, you first need to understand the nuances to any given situation. A writer will notice things that people say or do and they will store these tidbits and use them later as material in their story. This skill is practiced and perfected.
IMAGINATION: Obviously if you are going to write a fictional story, this particular quality is not an option. Many times when an author is writing a fictional story what they are writing about has never been experienced by them directly OR it has never been experienced by anyone ever. A writer’s ability to take a scene and make it “real” to the reader is critical.
HAVE SOMETHING TO SHARE: Most writers feel compelled to write – they have things in their mind that they are just itching to share with others. Sometimes the story idea that comes to them is so intense that they have no choice but to get it down on paper and share it with the world. I thank God every day for people like this because I love reading the finished books they write!
LIFE EXPERIENCE: All authors, whether they are writing fiction or non-fiction, draw on their own life experiences when they write their book. Sometimes this is a very conscious and intentional while other times they do it without even being aware of it. It is our life experiences that shape who we are, how we think and how we react so there will always be a piece of “us” in our work.
SELF-CONFIDENCE: Anyone that has released a novel knows how hard it is to let go of your work. Will people like it? Will they buy it? Will someone be able to relate to the story? It takes a lot of self-confidence to release a novel and share it with the world.
STAMINA: Think about it – most authors today don’t write full time in a cabin in the remote part of where they live. They have full time jobs; they have families; they have other things to require their time and attention. So how long does it take to write a book? Based on a 60,000 word book, if you write 250 words per day, 5 days per week it will take about 48 weeks to complete a first draft. Then you need to revise, edit, publish and promote your work.
DISCIPLINED: I’m sure all of you reading this have had days where you had something to do and you “just didn’t feel like it’. An author can’t wait to feel like writing or they will never get the story written. Successful writers usually flex their writing muscle as much as possible and will schedule time to write into their busy lifestyle.
PROFESSIONAL ATTITUDE: Have you heard the phrase “fake it until you make it”? Successful writers don’t act like amateurs – they tell themselves “I am a professional writer” and then they behave like one. They approach their work seriously, they work hard to perfect their story, their image, and their brand.
KNOW THE MARKET: Successful authors don’t only write for themselves, they write for their market. They research and understand what their particular market niche thrives.
What other characteristics do you think successful authors have?
Here is a question for you: What are most books centered around or written about?
That is why it is imperative that you create characters that are believable and “real” for your reader. Characters are the backbone of fiction and without them there would be nothing to drive the narrative along.
Bring your characters to life by getting to know them as well as you know yourself. What are they like? How would they react in a given set of circumstances? How old are they? Are they married? Do they have siblings? Do they still have the love and support of parents? What do they do for a living? What kinds of things do they like / dislike? How were they raised? How do they react in a stressful situation? What color hair/skin do they have? Do they have any scars? The list could go on and on and on!
Once you know your character, as well as you know yourself, avoid describing them all at once to your readers. Instead, offer your reader some details here and there and allow the reader to get to know the character over a period of time. Also, avoid “telling” the reader about your character. The best way to make a character memorable is to “show” your reader who they are by what they do or how they react (e.g. if your character is someone that pinches every penny then portray them in a scene where they do just that).
When developing your character they will be more believable if they are not perfect because people are not perfect. A useful flaw to give your hero or heroin may be that they are not afraid to tell the occasional white lie. In contrast, a useful character flaw to give a villain is they are able to love something…someone.
Lastly, if you give your characters names which are distinctive, the reader is then less likely to confuse them. Using names with different initial letters is a help.
Two great resources for character development are: 45 Master Characters, which was reviewed on Mystery Writers Unite in a previous post entitled "Product Review 45 Master Characters" and The Writer's Digest Character Naming Sourcebook, which I also reviewed in a previous blog post entitled "Choosing Character Names". Both of these wonderful tools can be found by either clicking the previous links, by visiting my MUST HAVE Writing Tools For Authors page or you can order them from the picture links below:
This was so much fun last time around that I think I want to make it a regular thing here on Mystery Writers Unite! It is the challenge of seeing how much you can include in one paragraph using only 6 sentences. What can you convey? What can you make the reader feel? Take the challenge and see how other writers compare to you...
Once again to start us off, here are my 6 sentences from the novel I'm still working to try and complete:
If the truth be told, in her opinion Brock is a pathetic waste of skin and she wonders what she ever saw in him in the first place. How on earth could she have thought it was a good idea to procreate with him? How is she going to get rid of him? Cindy was so wrapped up in her thoughts that she hadn't heard Even enter the room and ask her something. He is standing in front of her with his lanky bone structure, a bit too tall for his age, with the same dark features of his father. Sometimes when she looks into his eyes could swear Jesse is looking back at her through him; during these moments she is both pleased with this subtle memory and at other times she is fearful of her own reaction to him.