Self-Pub 101: E-book Pricing for Libraries

Dear Self-Published Authors, do yourself a favor. Stop charging libraries so much for your e-books.

Robin Bradford is someone I follow on Twitter, and she frequently Tweets her collection development work as a librarian in Washington state. Since I have Librarian IV certification in Indiana (I actually have 3/4 of a Masters of Library Science), I love seeing her commentary on books as she decides whether or not to buy them for her library. She’s always got great commentary on book covers, titles, etc.

Well, today, Robin Tweeted about e-book pricing for libraries, and it set off a great conversation on book pricing, particularly for self-published authors.

There are plenty of articles out there about the ideal price to consumers, but not a lot has been written on how to price books for libraries. Articles about how difficult it is for libraries to stock e-books, however, are pretty easy to find. There’s even a coalition of Canadian libraries fighting for fair e-book pricing.

Apparently a lot of self-pubbed authors have the notion that, since the library is going to loan the book to several different readers, the author should charge way more. But here’s the thing: If you’re not a big-name author, there are really good odds no one will ever check out your e-book.

Sure, there are exceptions. If you do a fantastic marketing job, or if you’re local, or if you do an event at that library. Or if you’re a whiz kid self-pubber like Andy Weir or Hugh Howey.

At this point, I’m going to share (with permission) some of Robin’s Tweets with you all.

Check out the library price on this book! Why would you charge $75 for a library? I mean, hey, I don’t know that author, and this isn’t necessarily to shame one particular author, but I don’t think that guy has ever been so broke he could only afford to read read if he used library books.

It’s ridiculous! I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, our biggest challenge as indie authors is discoverability. Why make it harder than it has to be?

I know it’s not just self-published authors. The Big Five-and-a-Half (Six? Four? Whatever.) haven’t figured out e-book pricing, either. They come at it from the angle that a print book only costs about $3 more to produce than an e-book (when you factor in editing, marketing, etc. costs). So they want to use the e-book price to recoup their expenditures.

But before you decide they have a good idea, check out this exchange:

Self-published authors need to be smart and think about all angles of the issue before setting e-book prices.

I have said before that every author, and especially every indie author, needs to have a librarian on their side.

Even better if you can get ALL the librarians on your side. A good way to start is to have your ebooks available cheaply to libraries, because their collection development budgets aren’t endless, and they’re going to spend most of it on books that they know people will want–the NYT Bestsellers, the non-fiction books on important topics, the big names in each genre. It’s only if they have some cash left over that they’ll be able to buy your book. Why not make it easy?

For that matter, make it free.

Why not? Smashwords has library-only pricing options. I set my library price for every title to free, and some library aggregators will honor that. Unfortunately OverDrive (which a LOT of libraries, including mine, use) requires a minimum price of $1.99, but that’s still better than $75 or even $9.99. You still make money, the library doesn’t get overcharged, and librarians with limited budgets are that much more likely to buy your book. Smashwords also distributes to libraries through Baker & Taylor’s Axis360 and plans to add other library aggregators.

There are other options out there. Indie superstar Joe Konrath has an e-book distribution platform (Ebooks Are Forever) for libraries. He writes about it here. But even his service prices e-books higher than I would choose to price them.

What do you think? If you’re an indie publisher, how do you price your books for libraries? If you’re a librarian, what are your preferences?

And by the way, if you’re not following Robin (@Tuphlos), you should be. :)

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Hope in Fantasy

I am of the fervent belief that speculative fiction is the literature of hope. Successful grimdark authors like G.R.R. Martin and Joe Abercrombie and popular dystopian sagas like The Hunger Games notwithstanding, I believe that the main function of speculative fiction is to imagine a better world that could exist, whether it be through magic or through science.

I read and write to escape the world I live in

There are plenty of reasons to read fiction, but my main reason for reading fiction (and for writing it, for that matter) is to escape myself. It isn’t that my life is such a terrible place to be, but who doesn’t want to get away from real life every once in a while? Everybody likes vacations, and to me, reading a really good novel, one that makes me skip meals and lose track of time and forget myself, is an inexpensive vacation.

If I’m stuck in a world where every character is deeply flawed, where there are “no gods and precious few heroes,” what kind of vacation destination is that? If I have to struggle to find a character I’m rooting for, or if every character I care about dies a horrible death (G.R.R.M, I’m looking at you), how is that relaxing or pleasant?

I’m not saying I need everything to be sunshine and daisies. I’m a sucker for doomed love, self-sacrifice, and character torture in general. I love a book that can make me cry, and I love even more a book that can make me flat-out sob. But at the end of that book, I want to wipe my eyes and know that the characters who made it through are going to be okay. Maybe they’ve been through hell. Maybe they’ve lost their best friends. Maybe they’ve seen up close and personal how terrible war is. But I want at least one of the characters I love to be standing tall and unbroken at the end of the book.

I read to be part of a great story

In my opinion, a great story is peopled with protagonists I can relate to, antagonists I can enjoy rooting against, and a world that captures my sense of wonder. I want there to be elements of exploration and discovery, love, even hate, striving towards something better, something more. I don’t want characters who are so alien to my existence that I can’t find something relatable in them.

A great story sweeps me along, makes me want to not stop reading to eat or sleep or do anything else. A great story wraps me up in it so tightly that when I finish it, I emerge, blinking, into the real world and feel like Rip Van Winkle. That’s the kind of story I want to read, and that’s the kind of story I want to write.

Magic isn’t dead (or dying)

One of my pet peeves with a lot of the classics of fantasy literature, from Lord of the Rings to the Chronicles of Prydain to the Dark is Rising, is this notion that magic is dying. The elves departing for Valinor, the Children of Don having to leave if there is anything of magic in them, one going alone from the Circle, those are my least favorite elements of the books I love most. This doesn’t stop those classics of fantasy from being among my favorites to read, but it does mean I spend a lot of time lingering in the main part of the books. I routinely reread the Lord of the Rings, but I don’t always read from The Scouring of the Shire on.

What I really love is the resurgence of magic. Give me The Blue Sword’s rumors of kelar turning out to be true over the dawning of the Age of Man any day.

I love urban fantasy in large part because of the notion that magic lives on even in our everyday modern world, that there could be faeries and monsters and magic in the streets of Indianapolis or Chicago just as easily as in the imaginary worlds of Middle Earth or Narnia.

I want to root whole-heartedly for the protagonist, even when she screws up

Characters have to feel realistic. I know almost every person (with the possible exclusion of Mother Theresa) is a mix of bad and good traits. I’m pretty honest and, driving habits aside, lawful good in my orientation, but I swear a lot and I’m kind of lazy and I’m horrible about making impulse purchases. For that matter, Frodo is a hobbit with the best of intentions, but he’s got a gentleman’s classist worldview and he’s terribly naive about his quest to get rid of the ring. It’s Samwise, his working-class gardener, who never had any illusions about what it would take to destroy the ring.Light and High Beauty quote from The Return of the King by J.R.R.Tolkien

To be honest, my favorite kind of character is, well, one usually played by Sean Bean. ;) Boromir, the proud warrior with honest intentions who succumbs to the temptation of the ring because it plays on his good intentions. Ned Stark, who believes that the law must be upheld, even if it costs him his life.

So I’m a fan of flawed characters. I just want them to be relatable. I can’t root for a main character who doesn’t care who he hurts as long as he gets paid. (If he thinks that’s the kind of guy he is, or if he starts out that way and changes, that’s fine! I mean, Han Solo? Mal Reynolds? But that’s another blog post.)

I want a main character whose motivation is something I can get behind. Even if her motivation changes during the story, I want to be able to make that transformation with her. I don’t want a guy who has spent half the novel trying to destroy the monarchy to suddenly decide he’s the king’s best friend. I don’t want a woman who was sexually assaulted in the last chapter to be suddenly interested in getting busy with the hero (and yes, I’ve read that book–written by a man, unsurprisingly).

Don’t get me wrong–I enjoy reading about characters who are different from me. But there has to be something I can latch on to that is familiar to me. One of the things I love most about the TV show The 100 is that they’re able to make me find things to appreciate in almost all of the characters. I can look at kids who have grown up on a space station and imagine myself in their shoes. I can watch a guy leading an isolated nation that’s doing truly terrible things and still understand why he’s doing it, and what it’s costing him. The history major in me also loves the “first contact” themes that draw from the colonization of North America by Europeans. (Seriously, if you’re not watching that show, you need to start.)

Realism doesn’t have to mean grimdark or gritty

Don’t mistake my desire for hope for a distaste for realism. I definitely like elements of realism in my fantasy. If you have your hero ride a horse at a gallop for thirty miles, I don’t want that horse to be spoiling for a race unless he’s Shadowfax or some other magical horse. I don’t want an army to go on the march without thinking about logistics or how they’re going to feed their soldiers (thank you, Elizabeth Moon, for dealing with this so adroitly in The Deed of Paksenarrion).

But just because something is realistic doesn’t rule out hope. Without hope, I don’t think any of us would bother to get up every morning and go on with life. And maybe the character’s hope isn’t even for survival. Maybe it’s just hope that she can make a difference in the world before she dies. She could be facing down the final battle, knowing she’s overmatched, but determined to go through with it because she can’t betray her beliefs. That’s a kind of hope in itself.

Hope can come at the end of all things

In my opinion, one of the most beautiful passages in all of fantasy literature occurs in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Return of the King, Book 6, Chapter 2, “The Land of the Shadow.” Samwise and Frodo are deep in enemy territory, hungry, thirsty, and exhausted, and Frodo is growing weaker under the burden of the ring. And yet…

Far above the Ephel Duath in the West the night-sky was still dim and pale. There, peeking among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.

Every time I read that passage, it smites my own heart. Isn’t it a beautiful image—the thought that, no matter how desperate the situation, no matter how powerful the enemy, no matter how discouraged the main character, there is “light and high beauty for ever?” I know that’s the sort of universe I want to spend time in.

What about you? Do you, like me, prefer the Fantasy of Hope? Or are you a Grimdark Forever kind of person? Rec me your favorite hopeful fantasy (or SciFi) novel!

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Books Read in 2015

Books Read in 2015

I read a total of 75 books last year. Here’s the full list! Please note, all links are Amazon affiliate links. :)

  1. The Thousand Names – Django Wexler
  2. River – Skyla Dawn Cameron
  3. Unstuck: Out of Your Cave Into Your Call – Mark Jobe – nonfiction
  4. Andersonville: The Last Depot – William Marvel – nonfiction
  5. Half-Resurrection Blues – Daniel Jose Older
  6. Rosemary & Rue – Seanan McGuire
  7. A Local Habitation – Seanan McGuire
  8. An Artificial Night – Seanan McGuire
  9. Late Eclipses – Seanan McGuire
  10. One Salt Sea – Seanan McGuire
  11. Ashes of Honor – Seanan McGuire
  12. Business for Authors: How to Be an Author Entrepreneur – Joanna Penn – nonfiction (Read my review here!)
  13. 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love – Rachel Aaron (reread) – nonfiction
  14. Geekomancy – Michael R. Underwood
  15. Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived – Rob Bell (reread) – nonfiction
  16. Self-Publishers Ultimate Resource Guide – Joel Friedlander & Betty Kelly Sargent – nonfiction (Read my review here!)
  17. Shadowborn – Moira Katson
  18. Shadowforged – Moira Katson
  19. Shadow’s End – Moira Katson
  20. Clutterfree – Leo Babauta & Courtney Carver
  21. Shades of Milk & Honey – Mary Robinette Kowal
  22. Glamour in Glass – Mary Robinette Kowal
  23. Dying for a Living – Kory M. Shrum
  24. The Apple Throne – Tessa Gratton
  25. Bittersweet – Susan Wittig Albert
  26. Without a Summer – Mary Robinette Kowal
  27. Called: My Journey to C.S. Lewis’ House and Back Again – Ryan Pemberton – nonfiction
  28. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering & Organizing – Marie Kondo – nonfiction
  29. Blood Rites – Jim Butcher
  30. Valour & Vanity – Mary Robinette Kowal
  31. Dead Beat – Jim Butcher
  32. Proven Guilty – Jim Butcher
  33. White Night – Jim Butcher
  34. Mystery on Nine-Mile Marsh – Mary C. Jane
  35. Small Favor – Jim Butcher
  36. City of Bones – Cassandra Clare
  37. City of Ashes – Cassandra Clare
  38. City of Glass – Cassandra Clare
  39. City of Fallen Angels – Cassandra Clare
  40. Of Noble Family – Mary Robinette Kowal
  41. Some Boys – Patty Blount
  42. City of Lost Souls – Cassandra Clare
  43. City of Heavenly Fire – Cassandra Clare
  44. Red Queen – Victoria Aveyard
  45. Seraphina – Rachel Hartman
  46. The Girl of Fire & Thorns – Rae Carson
  47. The Crown of Embers – Rae Carson
  48. The Bitter Kingdom – Rae Carson
  49. Unspoken – Sarah Rees Brennan
  50. Untold – Sarah Rees Brennan
  51. Unmade – Sarah Rees Brennan
  52. I Am Princess X – Cherie Priest
  53. The Clockwork Angel – Cassandra Clare
  54. The Clockwork Prince – Cassandra Clare
  55. The Clockwork Princess – Cassandra Clare
  56. The Last Dragonslayer – Jasper Fforde
  57. Shadow and Bone – Leigh Bardugo
  58. Sisterhood Everlasting – Ann Brashares
  59. Shadow Scale – Rachel Hartman
  60. These Are the Moments – Jenny Bravo
  61. A Lily Among Thorns – Rose Lerner
  62. The Final Reville – Amanda Flower
  63. The Devil in the White City – Eric Larson – nonfiction
  64. The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing – Mira Jacob
  65. Old Man’s War – John Scalzi
  66. Unquiet Grave: The FBI and the Struggle for the Soul of Indian Country – Steve Hendricks – nonfiction
  67. Ben-Hur – Lew Wallace
  68. Corvidae – Rhonda Parrish, ed. (Read my review here!)
  69. Scarecrow – Rhonda Parrish, ed. (Read my review here!)
  70. Earthrise – M.C.A. Hogarth
  71. Rose Point – M.C.A. Hogarth
  72. The Repose in Egypt – Susan E. Wallace – nonfiction
  73. Carry On – Rainbow Rowell
  74. Laisrathera – M.C.A. Hogarth
  75. The Slow Regard of Silent Things – Patrick Rothfuss
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2015 Year in Review

2015 Year in Review

Seems like everyone’s doing a year-in-review post. I meant to do one a couple of days ago, but I’m just now getting around to it. New Year’s Eve I was busy plotting instead of writing. Yesterday I spent much of the day doing a First Day Hike at Shades State Park. So today, you get a blog post!

So 2015. This was the second full year of publishing as an indie author. I published my first story in August 2013. I wrote a total of 235,788 words in 2015. About 140,000 of that was Stormseer, another 20,000 was The Midwinter Royal, just over 50,000 was my NaNoWriMo project, and the rest were in blog posts and various short stories.

What I published in 2015

What I did (professionally) in 2015

  • I went to Midwest Writers Workshop in Muncie, Indiana, for the first time. Had a great time, pitched to an agent and an editor, spoke with a tax consultant, met some amazing new writer friends, and learned a ton.
  • I was the hashtag leader for #SeptWritingChallenge on the Monthly Twitter Writing Challenge. It was great!
  • I went to author fairs at Tippecanoe County Public Library in the spring and Allen County Public Library in the fall.
  • I did a reading, Q & A session, and book signing at Main Street Books in Lafayette, Indiana.

What I plan for 2016

  • I hope to release the next two Amethir books, The Weather War and The Weather Price. Right now I am hoping for a May release date for War and a September release date for Price. We’ll see if that changes as the year goes on.
  • I also plan to publish the first of my modern fantasy novels, Maze of Moments hopefully in August. If all goes well, I want to release Come Ye Back, the sequel, in November.
  • I’ll be attending the Allen County Public Library Author Fair in November.
  • I will be organizing the Lew Wallace Author Fair for Small Business Saturday, in November, as part of a year-long “Lew Wallace Festival of Words” at my work.

I know that’s a lot for one year, but Maze of Moments has been basically publication-ready for some time. It’ll need one more pass of minor revision, copy edits, and cover art, in order to be ready. I’m releasing it later in the year mostly because I want to focus on the next in the Amethir series. A lot of people have been asking me what happens to Azmei and Vistaren and the others, and I want to address that before embarking on a new series!

Things I loved in 2015

  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens – I’ve seen it twice in the theater, and I’m hoping to get in one more time before it leaves the big screen.
  • The 100 – If you’re not watching The 100, you’re missing out on a show with some fearless writing and great characterization! I know its appearance on The CW makes it look like your typical teen melodrama with pretty people (not that those are inherently bad) but it’s not. Set 97 years after a nuclear war on Earth, it follows the fate of 100 teenage delinquents dropped from a space station to Earth to find out if the planet is livable yet. The first two seasons are on Netflix, and January 21 is marked in big red letters in my planner, because that’s when Season Three starts!
  • Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, The Girl of Fire and Thorns series by Rae Carson, the Lynburn Legacy books by Sarah Rees Brennan, and the Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare.

 

Best wishes to you and yours for a great 2016! What do you hope to accomplish and experience in the coming year?

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New Short Fiction: The Midwinter Royal

The Midwinter Royal: A Romance of Tamnen

I’m very excited to announce that I have a holiday surprise for all my readers!

No, it’s not The Weather War–that’s still having the plot smoothed out and such. But it is a new story set in the same world as the Storms in Amethir series! The Midwinter Royal skips back a generation in Tamnen. Readers will recognize the names of the two protagonists–Marsede and Izbel.

Fair warning: This is a romance novel, which isn’t my usual fare, but I wanted to write something seasonal, and it’s canon that Marsede and Izbel met at a Year’s Turning ball, which is the ball that kicks off a fortnight of celebrations for Longnight–which in our world happens tomorrow, on the Winter Solstice.

The Midwinter Royal is a novella of just under 20,000 words, so it’s longer than Stormsinger and shorter than Stormshadow. Scroll past the cover image for a little snippet of what will be available tomorrow!

The Midwinter Royal will debut at a price of just $0.99 for the holiday season, but after the first of the year, the price will go up to $1.99, so buy it soon! I’ll update this post with purchase links as soon as they are live.

Buy on AMAZON (.mobi) | Buy on SMASHWORDS (.epub)

The Midwinter Royal book cover by Stephanie A. Cain

 

Chapter One

Izbel gritted her teeth and breathed out slowly as her maid tightened her corset. She was going to become a true lady worthy of the title if it killed her. And she was beginning to think it just might. She had established an entirely new breed of horses from a fleet of foot foundation stud and a handful of strong, handsome mares, but that challenge was nothing compared to putting on a dress and prancing for the nobility.

“I’m sorry, my lady. One more should do it.” And with that warning, she tugged the laces so tight Izbel’s breath squeaked out of her.

“By the Seven, are you trying to kill me?” she hissed.

“My lady will be so beautiful,” Guira said. Izbel heard the whisper of silk and then she felt sheets of the soft fabric settled around her.

The dress was nothing like the rough wool gowns she wore at home, when gowns were absolutely necessary, yet Izbel couldn’t hold in a sigh as she smoothed her palm over the pale blue and white silk. She would look beautiful, she thought. It was just that she didn’t feel beautiful. She felt like a nag dressed up as a prize mare.

Continue reading

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Book Rec: SCARECROW edited by Rhonda Parrish

Scarecrow is Rhonda Parrish’s third Magical Menagerie anthology, released as a sort of partner and complement to Corvidae. The works are largely unrelated to those of Corvidae (reviewed here), but they carry similar themes, since crows and scarecrows go together like peanut butter and jelly. Or maybe I should say chocolate and bourbon. Because this anthology definitely starts out sweet but takes a bitter twist and ends with a smoky finish.

“Scarecrow Hangs” by Jane Yolen is a poem with an old-world feel to it, harkening back to the pagan roots of scarecrows, but throwing in a dreamy pop-culture reference as well.

“Kakashi & Crow” by Megan Fennell throws us right into an urban fantasy with old roots. Johnny Crow, a prophesying wiseacre, is called upon by his nemesis Kakashi, the scarecrow of judgment, to join forces against a common enemy. We’re given a lovely blending of Native American and Japanese mythology, all in a setting that will delight fans of C.E. Murphy’s Urban Shaman series.

Cover of Scarecrow anthology edited by Rhonda Parrish“The Roofnight” by Amanda C. Davis begins as an adventurous beaurocrat’s attempt to uncover a smuggling ring, but ends as something both more prosaic and more magical. We have scarecrows, but they aren’t performing their traditional roles in this story.

In “Skin Map” Kim Goldberg delivers a story rife with symbolism. In a world dominated by electronics that burn the mind and the skin, the main character makes a decision motivated by kindness, but with a gruesome ending.

“A Fist Full of Straw” by Kristina Wojtaszek is a bittersweet tale of a scarecrow in love with a human. Told from alternating points of view, it’s a brief and magical glimpse at two lives as they cross. I confess that I didn’t enjoy it as well as I might have, because of the human’s married status–infidelity is a turn-off for me–but the writing is lyrical and evocative.

“Judge & Jury” by Laura VanArendonk Baugh can be read as a stand-alone, but is actually a continuation of the melancholy ghost story she provided for Corvidae. Junsuke Hirata lost his life in a horrific crime, and now he’s hoping for justice. But justice appears to be for the birds. And sometimes, that’s the best justice of all…

“Waking from His Master’s Dream” by Katherin Marzinsky is set in a fascinating world where authors can bring their favorite characters to life. Antonio’s ficcion is a straw man named Strel, someone who is like a brother to him. But tell that to his real life sister, who finds him in the hospital and tries to take care of him. What’s real and what’s fiction? It’s hard to tell in this story.

In “The Straw Samurai” by Andrew Bud Adams we’re immersed in Japanese mythology as we meet a girl who has never had any friend but a bamboo stick. Driven from village to village, but never losing her good-natured humor, Okamiko nevertheless longs to belong somehwere. When she finally discovers the true nature of her stick, she has to chose between friendship or being true to herself.

“Black Birds” by Laura Blackwood has a different, darker take on corvids. As Lisa goes about her daily life, a crow, a magpie, a jay, and a raven appear as embodiments of her depression, anxiety, self-doubt, and other negative emotions. If anyone was ever in need of a scarecrow, it’s definitely Lisa…

“Edith and I” by Virginia Carraway Stark is narrated by a scarecrow. It takes the form of a pastoral account of a growing season, presided over by the scarecrow and planted by Edith. In this story, too, we have echoes of the old, pagan past, rituals long since forgotten by most. As it drew to a close, I was left with a shiver.

“Scarecrow Progressions (Rubber Duck Remix)” by Sara Puls is the bizarre, haunting tale of a strange love affair (sort of) at a carnival somewhere in Texas. The narrator is fascinated with a girl who is convinced she is turning into a scarecrow. The carnival setting, the quiet fatalism of the story, leaves the reader with a lingering unease.

I had to read “Truth About Crows” by Craig Pay twice, and I’m still not sure I understand it. It takes place on a hard-baked planet lightyears away from Earth, where solar farming is a way of life for the main character, Laykah, and her father. There’s a mystery surrounding Laykah’s mother’s death, and how the crows–AIs created to scare off moles–are involved, and the implications are unpleasant. But the story sticks with me as I try to puzzle it out.

“Two Steps Forward” by Holly Schofield is a fun trip in time back to the 1920s, when all the hep cats are jiving and the narrator shows up at a farmhouse in Western Canada, looking for the person who invented an automated scarecrow. Full of the slang of the period and strong characterization, it’s a good story.

In “Only the Land Remembers” Amanda Block gives us a haunting account of a girl who agrees to go beyond the borders of her town as a sacrifice to chase away the untamed spirits–to scare the crows away. She prepares herself according to her strong faith and her town’s traditions. But when the night comes to scare the crows, will she be able to face the truth?

“If I Only Had an Autogenic Cognitive Decision Matrix” by Scott Burtness deliberately plays with The Wizard of Oz, using characters as mission designations during an off-world mining expedition. Advanced AI Scarecrow is intended to interact with indigenous life forms and keep them from interfereing with the mining. But Tin Man has been experimenting, and those involve a lot of trial and error…

All in all, Scarecrow has a darker tone than Corvidae. At the same time, there are lovely interspersions of light and whimsy. There’s joy and love and sorrow and rage, struggles for survival and struggles for remembrance, all blended perfectly by Parrish’s deft editorial hand. This is a strong third entry to Rhonda Parrish’s Magical Menagerie series.

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NaNoWriMo 2015 Winner

I did it! I won NaNoWriMo 2015!

NaNoWriMo 2015 winner's badgeWhew. It was a hard-fought struggle sometimes. At one point I accidentally deleted a scene that I’d planned to delete after November, but had already written. Those were 1500 or so words I had to replace with 1500 better words.

But I battled through the 35k NaNoWriMo Despair, and I fought the temptation to fire up Skyrim and forget about this stupid novel. I rewarded myself with chocolate and enhanced my writing with bourbon and generally made myself miserable while writing this novel.

Honestly, sometimes I forget why I decided to be a writer. Novels are hard and painful and a depressing slog of work.

But then I come across some little piece of brilliance in a manuscript and think, “Wow, did I write that? That’s good!” Or I think of another great way to torture my main character, and get to make those stereotypical villain “Mwahaha!” laughter noises while I type away at the scene that is ruining his life. Or I hit 42,000 and think, “Now what?” and my subconscious replies, “Massacre someone’s family!” and I ride all the way to 47,000 on the wave of that massacre.

In case you ever wondered, yes, writers are evil. :D

A few things were different this year, compared to past NaNoWriMo years. This year I was using Scrivener, and actually using it, not just piddling around with a few scenes in it and thinking, “Ugh, I don’t get it!” and switching back to Word.

I’m not saying I’ll be writing every single novel in Scrivener now, but at least I get it now, for the most part. :)

One other thing that’s been different, and I think it’s at least partly a result of using Scrivener–I’ve written this novel out of order. I’ll skip ahead and write a few scenes, and then go back to write the scenes I skipped. I think another reason I wrote out of order this time was that I didn’t plot this novel as tightly as I have plotted previous novels.

Not that I always have to have every little scene in a list, with all the motivations and dialogue bits and everything. But I am an index-card-carrying, spreadsheet-making novel plotter, ever since my first NaNo in 2003. This year, I was pantsing it more than I usually do, and that was weird. To be honest, I think that’s at least partly why I had such a hard time.

But the end result is this: I have 50,461 words that I didn’t have at the beginning of November. I have the structure of the first act of a very long YA epic fantasy serial.

And now I’m allowed to play Skyrim again.

NaNo 2015 chart

So what am I doing in December? I’m plotting the rest of The Weather War! On or before January 1 I’ll begin revising the parts of the novel I have already written, and I hope to have my second draft of The Weather War finished by the end of March 2016.

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Honorary Bookseller on Small Business Saturday

I’m going to be at Main Street Books in Lafayette this coming Saturday. It’s Small Business Saturday, and you know what that means–support your local indie bookstore! Main Street Books is planning poetry readings, special deals, and door prizes, which pretty much guarantees a good time!

I’m going to be acting as an honorary bookseller from 2-4 p.m. I’ll have my books there, but I’ll also be there recommending other books I’ve loved, and helping people find exactly the right book.

Actually, I’ll probably also be shopping. I haven’t bought Carry On by Rainbow Rowell yet, and I’ve got Christmas gifts to buy.

Anyway, I hope that if you’re in West Central Indiana on Saturday, you’ll stop in and say hi. Main Street Books is a great bookstore, and I’m certain that Small Business Saturday will be a lot of fun. I had a great time last year at Robots and Rogues, with lots of people coming through over the course of the day, and I’m sure this year will be even better!

2015 Small Business Saturday - the Saturday after Thanksgiving

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That 35k NaNoWriMo Despair

I’m at that point again.

The point where I hate my current novel-in-progress. The point where I think almost all of my characters are vapid and the love story won’t sell itself and the plot is pointless and the world-building is too thin. The point where I think, Oh, lord, I have to write another 100,000 words of this stupid, pointless novel?

Yep. It’s the dreaded 35k Despair.

Neil Gaiman wrote a great NaNoWriMo Pep Talk several years ago about the middle-of-the-novel despair. I’ve discovered that for me, it happens somewhere between 30,000 – 35,000 words.

I have a spreadsheet where I keep my word count progress for all of the thirteen years I’ve done NaNoWriMo.My NaNoWriMo Word Counts By Year

  • In 2004 I stalled at 33,000 words, then got past that and powered from 33,900 to 40,000 in one day. I hit 50k on November 20 and kept going until I finished the novel at 76,208 on November 29.
  • In 2009 I actually stalled a bit early, at 27,378 words; after nine days stuck there, I realized I was in research hell, and on November 27 I officially decided to quit writing at 36,000 words.
  • In 2010 I stalled at 31,964, then in four days I went from 31,964 to winning at 51,130.
  • In 2011 I stalled at 30,183, and only a desperate surge in Week Four got me past 50k.
  • In 2013 I stalled twice: once at 26,010 and once at 30,067. After that second stall, I managed to make steady progress to winning.
  • This year I stalled at 32,393 and then made it to 34,497 and stalled again.

I don’t stall every year, though.

  • The first year I did NaNo was 2003, and I had never plotted before, nor had I ever written urban fantasy before. I was trying two completely new things that year, and I made steady progress despite working over 40 hours a week. I validated at 54k on November 28.
  • In 2005 I wrote a third novel in that same urban fantasy series, and again I hit 50,000 on November 20. I finished the novel at 79,058 on November 30.
  • Last year I was lucky enough to be on a week-long writer’s retreat in Texas, and I won NaNo in 20 days.

I’m not sure what I’m supposed to take from this, except that, while my writing has matured a lot over the past twelve years, my writing process might not have done the same. Stalling doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to hate the novel when I finish it. It doesn’t even necessarily mean I’m going to crawl the rest of the way through the first draft. It just means I’m in that middle-of-the-novel despair.

Here’s my favorite bit from Neil’s Pep Talk:

…when I got three-quarters of the way through I called my agent. I told her how stupid I felt writing something no-one would ever want to read, how thin the characters were, how pointless the plot. I strongly suggested that I was ready to abandon this book and write something else instead, or perhaps I could abandon the book and take up a new life as a landscape gardener, bank-robber, short-order cook or marine biologist. And instead of sympathising or agreeing with me, or blasting me forward with a wave of enthusiasm—or even arguing with me—she simply said, suspiciously cheerfully, “Oh, you’re at that part of the book, are you?”

Isn’t that awesome? Even amazing novelists like Neil Gaiman feel this way. (Read the rest here.) Now, in general, I believe it’s best not to judge our success by comparing ourselves to other writers. But in this case, it’s good to know that a pro, an award-winning, best-selling, awesome-story-telling pro, is having the same emotions and problems that I have.

So how do we deal with the 35k Despair?

Here’s what I’m doing this year.

1. I’m revisiting my plot alongside a beat sheet.

Jami Gold provides several excellent beat sheet Excel templates, and she even has some Scrivener templates that go along with them. I’m not an expert at beat sheets, but fortunately she has some great explanations at her website, too. The main thing is, these are good tools for me to explore where I am and see how far I’ve come. Today I realized that I’m just about ready for an event that forces my characters to make a choice. That means I get to plot something fun and write it today!

2. I’m giving myself permission to slow down.

So I’m not making my 1,667-words-a-day quota. First of all, I was ahead of par until yesterday, so I haven’t lost much ground. But even if I had lost a lot of ground, I know I still have nine days including today. I can come back from this. I only have 15,503 words left to win, which works out to 1,722 words per day until then. Totally doable.

3. I’m surrounding myself with encouragers.

In my case, that means I’m haunting the #NovWritingChallenge hashtag on Twitter, where all my Monthly Twitter Writing Challenge buddies hang out. There’s so much positivity there, it’s impossible not to be encouraged. I’m also reporting my word count to fellow NaNoers, who are giving me all kinds of encouragement.

4. I’m rewarding myself for hitting little goals.

I’ve written before about my positive reinforcement (R+) methods. For every 250 words I write, I get a Hershey Kiss. Since 9 Kisses equal a serving, I have to write 2,250 words if I want my daily dose of chocolate. Maybe I can’t write that many. But if I can at least write 1,000 words, I still get 4 Kisses.

5. I’m using a timer to do short word sprints.

As soon as I finish this blog post, I’m going to turn off all distractions and turn on the timer on my phone. I’ll set it for 15 minutes and see how many words I can crank out in that time. Then I’ll get up, grab more caffeine, and start the timer at another 15 minutes. Usually by the time I’ve done a couple of 15-minute warmup sprints, I’m ready to set the timer for half an hour or even an hour and keep writing.

So those are a few of my methods. What about you? Do you feel the 35k Despair? If so, what do you do to cope?

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BOOK REC: Corvidae, edited by Rhonda Parrish

You might remember how much I enjoyed Rhonda Parrish’s first anthology Fae (reviewed here), and earlier this year I was fortunate enough to score an e-ARC of her second Magical Menagerie anthology, Corvidae. I’ve finally (finally!) gotten around to writing up and posting my review, and I want to share it here as well.

Corvidae is another masterful and magical anthology from Rhonda Parrish. “A Murder of Crows” by Jane Yolen is a fun poem to open the anthology. Anything that begins by telling us to “Cry havoc” is promising a good time–and this anthology definitely delivers!

Corvidae edited by Rhonda Parrish“Whistles and Trills” by Kat Otis provides an amazing alternate history version of World War II. I want to go read Otis’ version of the entire war. I want to explore the Frost Chieftaincies and find out how the Axis Powers developed in this world. Granted, I was a history major, so I get nerdy about alternate histories, but this version is beautifully drawn by Kat Otis, and Morgaine is a great character to pull us into this world. Parrish picked the perfect story to open her anthology.

She follows it up with the amazing and macabre “The Valravn” by Megan Fennell. Opening in a manner that suggests a fairy tale, the story quickly shows that it’s a Grimm-type tale, not a Disneyfied one. I love how the gruesome way Valravns acquire power and knowledge combined with the loving warmth of family.

“A Mischief of Seven” by Leslie Van Zwol begins with Pike, a hard-bitten detective, being called to a murder scene, where he visits with a ghost. What begins as a noir-mystery quickly evolves into a gritty urban fantasy that fans of Harry Dresden will enjoy. I don’t recall seeing the name of the city, but I can easily imagine this being Indianapolis or St. Louis, a heartland city with Old World immigrants and mythology that is still alive and well.

“Visiting hours” by Michael S. Pack brings us to the bedside of a very sick little boy whose mother is struggling to accept his illness. Here we’re introduced to the idea of ravens as psychopomps, eaters of the dead, yes, but also conveyers of the soul to the next life.

I confess, I found myself a little confused at the beginning of “The Rookery of Sainte-Mere-Eglise” by Tim Deal. The title made me expect a World War II story, since that village was the target of the air landings on D-Day, but that’s…not quite what I got. Or is it?

And when we got to “The Cruelest Team Will Win” by Mike Allen, the first line almost lost me–I’m terrified of spiders, so when the narrator eats a huge, scary spider, I shuddered. But I stuck with it, and got a glimpse of a book that reminded me of early Charles de Lint, with people who have spirit forms battling their way through life in modern-day America. I loved the “vapid as a Kardashian” comparison.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not big into poetry. I took a semester of poetry-writing in college and I’m not sure I ever really got it. But the poetry Parrish chose for this anthology is lovely. C.S.E. Cooney’s “What Is Owed” is a resonant, evocative magpie poem that just begs to be read aloud.

In “Raven No More” by Adria Laycraft, we’re given an inside look at a woman breaking out of an abusive relationship and going into hiding. When her ex threatens those she loves, though, she has to find her strength in cunning and trickery, inspired by Raven, the first Trickster.

I found “The Tell-Tale Heart of Existence” to be a very clever re-imagining of Poe’s tale. Michael M. Rader makes the narrator a slighted doctoral student who is driven mad by the belief his professor is suppressing his genius. It’s been a few years since I read Poe’s version, but this felt very much like he had written it.

I was fortunate enough to be able to critique “Sanctuary” by Laura VanArendonk Baugh before she submitted it to this collection, so it’s possible I’m biased, but I love the mix of behavioral science, neuroscience, and mythology that we get in this story. Set at a wildlife rescue, this story gives us a close-up look at how scarily intelligent crows actually are.

“Knife Collection, Blood Museum, Birds (Scarecrow Remix)” is a suffocating story, which seems like a mean thing to say, except I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what Sara Puls was going for. We follow Renee as her relationship and home life deteriorate because of her cutting. I love the character of Knife Woman, aka Ori, who is strong enough to reach out when Renee needs it.

“Flying the Coop” by M.L.D. Curelas is another story that takes us into a world I want to see more of. There are little shades of the old movie “LadyHawke” in this, but think steampunk instead of medieval. Hanna is a smuggler hired to get a stolen magpie out of a city run by a very dangerous man. But Hanna takes a page out of the corvid she’s smuggling and uses trickery to her advantage.

“Postcards from the Abyss” by Jane Yolen is a poem of dread and despair. It made me feel uncomfortable, and honestly I paged past after a quick reading. But again, poetry isn’t always my thing. As it turns out, it was a fitting segue to the bizarre folk-tale feeling of “Bazyli Conjures a Blackbird” by Mark Rapacz. We’re rapt with the apparently young Kuba as the storyteller tells us about a terrible war and the magical entertainment the soldiers are given. And, like Kuba, we are left to wonder what really is the most terrible part of war.

“Seven for a Secret” by Megan Engelhardt is a delightful and horrible story. Delightful because the whimsical voice conjures images of Watson and Holmes (or Vesper Holly and Uncle Brinton, for Lloyd Alexander fans) except in this case we have Miss Harris and Lady Zinnia Carmichael, cryptozoologists who are summoned to the southern continent to investigate rumors of a bird-man. Horrible because humans are often ill-equipped to deal with the fantastical, as readers of the story will learn. I would desperately like to read more of Harris and Zinnia’s adventures.

In “Flight,” the final story in the anthology, Angela Slatter introduces us to Emer, a princess who has sprouted feathers. Caught in a hero tale of her parents’ making, Emer must rise to the challenge and figure out how to save herself.

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