My Path to Publication

This post first appeared on the site of horror writer Joseph A. Pinto.


 
As a creative exercise in second grade, Teacher had her pupils write a story. “Be as creative as you can be, children.” I penned—penciled, rather—my debut horror fiction on a ruled school tablet. Teacher, ostensibly pleased with her prodigy’s genius (more likely concerned with a tow-headed eight-year-old’s mental health), passed my work to the elementary school principal. (“Children, ‘principal’ ends with P-A-L—the principal is your PAL.” Keep reading, and then decide…)

Unknown to me, Principal Sprunger, also the president of the local Lions Club chapter in Berne, Indiana, read my story to the men of our little Swiss community and then in good humor fined my father a dime because the preacher’s son had written such an “awful tale full of skeletons, witches, and blood.”

That is the story of money first changing hands in relation to my fiction. (That dime never found its way into my pocket. If it had, I would have biked down to the White Cottage and bought myself a small soft serve cone, for sure.)

Two PathsI continued to write through elementary and high school. The Brookville, Pennsylvania, Jeffersonian Democrat newspaper printed our school newsletter, for which I’d written a grisly Halloween story. They decided to reprint my story in the town newspaper. This should have overjoyed me, but they printed it anonymously and didn’t pay me for it, either. Bastards.

I placed a short story and some poetry in Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s New Growth Arts Revue. I stopped writing for a few years, but started again when I envisioned a scene about a young man who had been shot in the stomach and stumbled into an alley to die. I developed this into my first suspense novel for the Christian market, WHEN THE MUSIC STOPS, long out of print.

After completing my master of arts in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, I entered the publishing arena and compiled a trade paperback anthology of shorts based on the Ten Commandments. THOU SHALT NOT came out in 2006. It’s a great collection of horror and dark crime. Check it out.

I’ve placed a few short stories for pay in the past decade, but after hundreds of rejections, two years ago I decided to take a different route.

One of the reasons I’ve had trouble in placing my work, especially novels, is because they don’t cleanly fit into a genre slot. Why is this important? Because brick-and-mortar bookstores need to know where to shelve a book. So part of the writing-for-print-publication process is writing for a shelf spot. (And length requirements in genre fiction in part are based on how many books will conveniently fit in a cardboard carton for shipping.) I think that’s just ridiculous.

I had been working on a novel proposal for Dorchester Publishing/Leisure Books. But after the debacle with their selling ebooks without remunerating authors, I stuffed that idea down the disposal.

In a nutshell, since second grade, I’ve learned that publishing by the traditional route is inorganically restricted and highly improbable. The royalties paid (if they pay)… well, suck.

So I recently published my second novel, THE SIXTH SEED for e-readers and trade paperback. It cost me nothing to post it, and I’ve been selling downloads at a 70% royalty. And I can add meta tags with no concern for a shelf spot or how I will otherwise categorize “a dark paranormal fantasy fraught with suburban Pittsburgh horror—family drama with aliens.”

I followed the same path for DEATH PERCEPTION, my latest supernatural thriller tinged with horror and peppered with dark humor:

DEATH PERCEPTION by Lee Allen HowardNineteen-year-old Kennet Singleton lives with his invalid mother in a personal care facility, but he wants out. He operates the crematory at the local funeral home, where he discovers he can discern the cause of death of those he cremates—by toasting marshmallows over their ashes.

He thinks his ability is no big deal since his customers are already dead. But when his perception differs from what’s on the death certificate, he finds himself in the midst of murderers. To save the residents and avenge the dead, he must bring the killers to justice.

DEATH PERCEPTION is available in trade paperback, Kindle (.mobi) and Nook (.epub) at https://leeallenhoward.com/death-perception/.


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Treat Your Digital Fiction Like Software

How You Can Constantly Improve Your Indie-Published Work

When traditional publishing ruled, once a book was printed, it was set in stone. That’s why they employed editors and copy editors to improve the story and ferret out all the mistakes: once the book was typeset and thousands of copies printed, it couldn’t be corrected. But we’re in the digital age now.

If you’re an indie author, you’re responsible for everything: the writing, the formatting, the editing, the publishing, and the marketing. It’s hard to guarantee perfection at every step. The good thing is, nothing’s set in stone. In today’s publishing world your books are tantamount to software. If you didn’t get it right the first time, there’s always version 2.0.

At one point I debated whether this was ethical. After my initial release of a book, should I change it? I was still recovering from the bircks-and-mortar bookstore/paper tome/traditional publishing paradigm. Now I think, If you know it needs to be corrected or can be improved, can you ethically not give your readers the best product you’re capable of providing?

If you discover you need to make corrections to a work already published, you can do so and simply upload a new version to your favorite sales portal. Along with the power of having your own digital Gutenberg comes great responsibility.
Digital book 2.0
As a technical writer 25+ years in the software industry, I adhered to this principle in the millions of pages of documentation I wrote and published: If it needs fixed, whatever the reason, fix it and republish ASAP.

Going the extra mile is in your favor. If you get a less than spectacular review and the reader complains about something you can change, do so as quickly as possible to prevent others from jumping on the bandwagon. For instance, if a number of reviewers (precious few nowadays) bitch about how much they hated the ending, REWRITE IT.

Like the in-house Quality Assurance department, your beta readers don’t always catch everything before you publish. Once your work is in the hands of the public, you become Helpdesk and Support Services, fielding complaints and logging issues for product improvement. Your product.

I’m not advocating changing your fiction at the whims of your readership. If you made a decision that you know is right for your story, stick with it. Yet if it concerns some other issue you can rectify, do so. Reminder: it pays to take your time and ensure you’re putting your best out there the first time.

Sure, some readers will always own 1.0. These are the breaks. But some of your readers getting an improved pub is better than all of them getting version 1.0 with all its bugs. It’s just not necessary with digital texts.

Amazon lets you notify readers that a new version is available. I did this once for a classic I had republished because an OCR scanning error turned into a factual error that I didn’t catch. I don’t recommend you do this unless absolutely necessary. Especially with fiction, once it’s read, it’s read.

But if you get a chance to improve your published work—whether it’s to correct typos, smooth out a scene, fill in a plot hole, or post a new cover—by all means, do it. Constant improvement is the professional stepstool to greater sales.

If you haven’t done so yet, please subscribe for more writing news.


Getting Your Readers to Click “Buy Now”

Don’t let a humdrum book description keep readers from clicking Buy Now. Here’s how to make your book sales copy work for you.

You work hard to write a good story, make an eye-catching cover, and format your material professionally. Then you upload it to your favorite sales portal, creating a page where potential readers can find it and, hopefully, buy it. But then there’s that empty field staring your in the face: Book Description.

Just rattle off a few general lines and click Save, right?

Not if you want readers to buy your work.

Why Your Book Description is Important

It’s easy for readers to click a link to find your book online. But there’s a process they go through to decide whether they’ll buy it.

First, they look at the cover and the title in search results. If these intrigue them, they’ll open your book page.

If the price is right, they’ll keep reading.

How many people like the book? More than a few thumbs up. Cool.

Are there any reviews? If not, that means either the book has been posted recently or—gasp!—it’s no good. (We’ll cover the importance of customer reviews at a later date.)

Let’s read the book description… Here’s a significant gate potential buyers pass through en route to a buy.

One or two paragraphs of sales copy determine whether the reader continues the evaluation process or moves on to some other writer’s book. If you’re an indie author, this is the first sample of writing that potential buyers see. If it’s not up to par, they won’t even read a sample of the work.

Unless it’s your mom clicking Buy Now, what you put in that book description is crucial to sales success.

How to Write Good Book Sales Copy

Here’s the formula I use to write my book descriptions. I learned it from Debra Dixon’s excellent GMC: Goal, Motivation, Conflict.

A CHARACTER wants a GOAL because he is MOTIVATED, but faces CONFLICT.

A good book description includes these elements:

  • CHARACTER = Who
  • GOAL = What
  • MOTIVATION = Why
  • CONFLICT = Why not

Here’s how I used this template in my description for MAMA SAID:

On his thirteenth birthday, Buddy gets shipped up north by his religious mother, who can’t cope with his sister’s teenage pregnancy. Just as he resigns himself to spending the entire summer at Gram’s farm caring for kittens and cows, his bitter sister Brinda arrives, ending his peace and solitude. When her boyfriend Jackie shows up and turns his attentions to Buddy from his bride-to-be, Buddy must do what Mama said–or take matters into his own hands. Download the short story “Mama Said” now for the chilling conclusion.

  • CHARACTER = Buddy
  • GOAL = Experience peace and solitude
  • MOTIVATION = Escape from a stressful home and family situation
  • CONFLICT = Jackie shows up to torment him

And I hint at the crisis: Buddy must choose to do what his dysfunctional religious mother says, or take matters into his own hands.

The final line prompts the reader to take action: buy now.

You can play with these elements, mix the order. But you need them all for an effective synopsis of your work. Intrigue readers with the promise of some valuable entertainment in store for them, and they’ll be more likely to click Buy Now.

Let me know if you’d like an evaluation. Until then, prosperous clicks to you!


The Golden Rule of Indie Publishing

Kitteh Will Scratch Your BackWhen you’re a self-published writer, if you want your book promoted, it’s up to you. The same as it was for the writing, the revision, the editing, formatting, and publication. All yours. Every bit of it. But when it comes to reviews, you can’t go it alone.

Although I’ve read a lot of books in my life, I’ve reviewed very few. This is changing. Why? Because now as a self-published author, I need reviews. And I believe in the Golden Rule of Indie Publishing: Scratch the Backs of Others as You Would Like Yours to Be Scratched.

In the world of e-pubbing, I can’t count on the publishing house’s marketing department to push my book. (Not that it would anyway, had I gone the traditional route.) Nor can I depend on my personal fame to attract strangers to praise me. (I traipsed around in a platinum wig and meat suit like a monster, and all I did was draw flies.) I need the handful of people in my literary circle to pull for me, reading and posting reviews wherever my work appears.

According to the Golden Rule of Indie Publishing, if I want my stuff reviewed, I need to write reviews for others—at least for those who write in the genres I read most. I must comment on their Facebook posts, like their author pages, recommend them to others, visit their blogs, RT their Tweets.

Those who just jumped on the bandwagon should realize that indie publishing is a collaborative effort based on personal relationships and mutual favors. We are the literary Amish, raising each other’s barns.

Even if you don’t yet have a well-established blog or writer’s website, a Twitter account, or a Facebook fan page, one thing you can do is to start building goodwill for yourself among your writing peers. Someday when you get all of the pieces of the business figured out—or enough of them to put your work out there for public consumption—you’re going to need reviews.

You’ll find your hours must be divided between putting stuff out and requesting help from others. When it comes time for reviews and promotion by others, you’ll want to have a full account to draw from. Your back will one day need a good scratching. The best scratchers are those whose backs you’ve already scratched.Backscratcher

Begin now to put people in your debt for those favors you’ll need tomorrow. Instead of your launch stalling, you may find it will take off and soar.

“Don’t look out only for your own interests,
but take an interest in others, too.”
–Php. 2:4 NLT

My pubs, THE SIXTH SEED, STRAY, and SEVERED RELATIONS, are available for review. If you like horror and paranormal fiction, hit me up on my Contact page to request a free coupon of whatever you’re willing to write a review for.

And if you enjoyed this post, please click Like, promote it among your peers, subscribe to my blog—scratch my back. Thanks, karma buddies!


E-pubber Advice: Review on Your E-reader

When you’re an independent author or self-publisher, you get to wear all the hats and do all the work, so any advantage is a plus. Here’s a terrific tip to help polish your work for e-readers.

You’re in Charge

I’m a big believer in self-editing. Even if you submit your work to a traditional publisher, you can’t count on a quality in-house edit. So it’s up to you.

Reformat for a Fresh Perspective

I write my manuscripts using Microsoft Word with a template I’ve devised especially for fiction, but I do most of my editing on paper. When I get to the point where I’m ready to publish my work (or submit it to an editor), I import my manuscript to Adobe FrameMaker to format it like an actual book. Then I print it again and do another edit.

It’s amazing how changing the format will help you spot improvements to make that you didn’t catch previously.

You don’t need to import your work to another program to take advantage of this trick. Simply make a copy of your manuscript file and either attach another template with different formats, or select all the text and change the font.

E-format for a Fresher Perspective

Now that I’m publishing for e-readers, in addition to reformatting my printouts for editing, I now send my final manuscripts to my Kindle for a last edit. I urge you to do this if you want to give your work the ultimate spit-polish.
Kindle E-reader

You can send a Word file to your Kindle email account, but the file converted and sent to your device may still look like a manuscript, and you don’t want that. I recommend converting your manuscript to a MOBI file (or EPUB for Nook) using a conversion program such as Calibre.

I save my Word manuscript as Filtered HTML, drop the HTML file into Calibre, and then convert it to MOBI. I send the MOBI file to my Kindle email address and then sync my device to download it.

E-dit on Your Device

On my Kindle, I review the manuscript one final time. I’m always surprised at what I find. Things I’ve read a dozen times on paper suddenly stick out like a sore prehensile digit. The need for shorter paragraphs becomes evident.

I use the notes feature to make comments and corrections. When I’m finished, I copy the MyClippings.txt file from my device to my PC and then consult the entries there to search my Word manuscript file, where I make the final corrections.

As I said previously, I urge you to try this out and see what a difference it makes in your published e-books. It’s a step you won’t regret.

If you found this article helpful, please share it with others. And if you have any questions or tips of your own along this line, please leave a comment. Happy e-diting!