Sunday, April 20, 2014

Why Self-Publish?

Why Self-Publish? It’s a question that I asked myself a couple of months ago and surprisingly, I came up with a few very good reasons to self-publish my newest book. I’ll admit, it’s kind of difficult to tell my story, but my wish is that by sharing my own experience with other authors, I might be able to give some hope to anyone else who finds themselves in a similar predicament.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m the author of the popular YA Temptation series. It’s a three book series dealing with a forbidden romance between an Amish boy and a non-Amish (or English) girl and the ongoing struggles they endure as they attempt to be together. I was inspired to write the story of the star crossed lovers after moving into the middle of an Amish community in northern Kentucky about six years ago. Because of my personal experiential knowledge, observations, interactions, and discussions with the both the teenagers and adults in my neighborhood, I was able to infuse into the books an extremely realistic feeling. I spent about two years gathering information before I even tackled writing the story.

Temptation, the first book in the series, was released in June of 2012. It was followed by Belonging in April, 2013. Forever, the third and final book of the series came out on January 28th of this year. Within days of Forever’s release, I was bombarded by fans begging me for more Amish books. They of course were hoping for a fourth book in the Temptation series, but they also encouraged me to write other stories about the Amish lifestyle, especially about my personal passion, the lives of Amish teenagers. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any good news to share with them about future books. Even though the Temptation books had received glowing praise, and had a growing fan base, the series as a whole had not performed monetarily at the level that a large publishing house, like Harlequin, wanted. Until the books reached a higher profit margin, I was out of luck. And so were all the fans of my unique Amish teen stories.

I’m not a very patient person, but since Forever had only been on the bookshelves for a few weeks, I was willing to wait and see what happened with the series and put a fourth book about the much loved Meadowview characters out of my mind for the time being. But I did have another finished product that I was itching to bring to my fans. Lamb to the Slaughter is an Amish murder mystery that I began writing over a year ago after my agent asked me if I could create such a thing on demand. I became intrigued with the idea, especially since I had personally witnessed some strange and almost creepy goings-on in the Amish community where I lived. I really wanted to delve deeper into the darker side of being Amish and some of the harsh realities that the young people were faced with.

The story took on a life of its own and turned out better than I’d ever hoped for. Thoughts of self-publishing began pestering me when I realized that it might be the only way that I’d be able to bring Lamb to my established fans in the foreseeable future. But I was still extremely worried about the idea. What if by doing it myself, I’d somehow tarnish my image with Harlequin or even other publishing houses? There is such a negative stigma associated with self-publishing and I knew that it could very well be a death sentence for my writing career. But my optimistic nature pushed away the dark, worried thoughts and I began wondering if maybe it was just the thing I needed to keep my career afloat. Ultimately, being the survivor of domestic abuse and a single mother of five children with a farm full of horses and other animals to care for is what decided it for me. I didn’t have the luxury to wait around for a miracle. I had a great product and a lot of momentum from the release of Forever to work with. I was still scared out of my mind, but once I decided to do it, I committed myself one hundred percent.

The first thing I did was share Lamb with a handful of trusted, opinionated and critical thinking friends for test reads. I was thrilled when everyone came back in love with the story. It was also a very necessary part of building my own confidence about self-publishing the book. The next hurdle was creating a cover for Lamb. I hired Jenny Zemanek of Seedlings Design Studio to work with me in putting together a great look for the book. I wanted a vibrant cover that was simplistic, yet a bit eerie. And it had to tie in somehow to the Amish theme without being over-the-top. Luckily, I picked the right person. Together, Jenny and I got the cover just the way I wanted. This was one of the best parts about self-publishing. I had complete creative control over my work, something that I certainly didn’t have with the Temptation series. In the end, I got a beautiful cover for my Amish mystery for a much more reasonable price than I’d ever expected.

The other expense I incurred doing it on my own was to hire an editor to help me polish the book. I chose another friend who had literary and editing experience to do the job. Once again, by working with a fledgling entrepreneur, the fees were lower and the enthusiasm was higher. When the cover and book were completely ready, I picked a release date and began promoting the book on Facebook and Goodreads. I also enlisted Kismet Blog Tours to put together a slew of reviewers to be part of a tour. By the way, Lamb’s blog tour starts tomorrow and runs from April 21st until May 30th if you want to check it out yourself. The giveaway that I’m hosting in conjunction with the tour includes a hundred dollar Amazon gift card, an autographed three book Temptation set and an authentic hand sewn Amish country lap quilt!

The first really neat thing I discovered about self-publishing is that as an author, you do all the same type of advertising and incur the same kind of expense that you would if your book was traditionally published. In today’s market, much of the promotion of our books falls directly into our own laps anyway. I didn’t find this part to be a bigger deal than what I’d already done for Temptation, Belonging and Forever. I chose to sell only electronically after studying the digital and printed sales of the Temptation series. EBooks made up a large percentage of my previous sales and I figured that it was probably the best way for me to enter the world of self-publishing. The upload process to Amazon Kindle and Nook Press was extremely easy, although, Nook took almost a week longer to finalize than Kindle. I did have an issue with the release date too, which was my own fault. I had picked an official release day of Tuesday, March 18th and advertised that Lamb would be available then, but actually uploaded it to Kindle and Nook several days early just in case of any glitches. To my amazement, a well-known book blogger from Australia somehow found out that it was already up on Amazon, even though I had told no one except close family, and posted it on their FB page. I wasn’t upset, but I was forced to make an announcement a day early that the book was indeed available.

It’s been less than a month since Lamb to the Slaughter’s electronic release and I’m thrilled with the excellent reviews that it has received and its sales thus far. It has exceeded my expectations greatly and I love the convenience of being able to log into both Kindle Direct and Nook Press at any time to see my exact sales and royalties. Overall, I’m delighted with the experience of self-publishing and will definitely consider doing it again in the future. Of course if a publishing house were to come along and show interest in Lamb, I’d be even happier, but only time will tell if that happens. For now I’m content with the fact that I was able to bring my fans another Amish story that they love and that they’re once again begging me for another.

Thanks for stopping by today! If anyone out there has any self-publishing stories of their own to share, I’d love to hear them. And I hope you’ll check out Lamb to the Slaughter, along with my brand new website at: http://www.karenannhopkins.com/

Karen Ann Hopkins



Sunday, April 13, 2014

Everything I Know about Dialogue I Learned in Drama School


Well, not everything. I learned quite a bit about dialogue from, you know, reading, writing and eavesdropping, but there are several dialogue pointers that I did pick up from time spent memorizing scripts, running lines and rehearsing scenes. And a few of those tips have translated nicely into writing fiction. So here they are.

Subtext

Subtext is the dialogue beneath the dialogue. In other words, subtext is what the character really means, regardless of what he or she says.

Here’s an example.

Say Samantha, your protagonist, has just gone on a hot date with Alex. Samantha’s best friend, Simon, is all ears to hear about how things went and Samantha obliges, gushing about the greatness that is Alex. “That’s awesome,” Simon says. But then later the reader finds out that Simon has actually been in love with Samantha the entire time. So even though Simon says, “that’s awesome,” the reader comes to the understanding that he didn’t really mean it.  Inside, Simon was probably feeling pretty rotten about the whole thing but putting on a brave “I’m a good friend” face. What he might have been thinking instead was probably more along the lines of, “I wish you thought I was awesome” or “I’ve missed my chance with you, haven’t I?”

A good exercise with subtext is to look at the dialogue you’ve written for a scene and, above the dialogue, write what your character would say if he or she had just been lassoed by Wonder Woman Lasso of Truth. In acting classes, we used to do this as an exercise with our scripts and this is great way to get to know your character’s true feelings and innermost thoughts.

Another good exercise is to re-watch a movie you’ve seen before and try to decipher the subtext.  Any scene between Han Solo and Princess Leia would lend itself well to this exercise. Like in The Empire Strikes Back when Han is getting lowered into the freezing chamber. “I love you,” Leia says. “I know,” Han replies. Which is hilarious and heartrending all at once and so true to Han’s character. But yeah. Come on. We all know what he’s really saying there. Probably something along the lines of, “I love you too, Princess, but even though my ass is about to go into carbonite and none of us are really sure if I’ll survive, I’m still a scoundrel and I have an image to protect and I hate goodbyes anyway so see you on the flipside, toots.”   

Actions

Of course, subtext can be hard for your reader to grasp initially, unless the narrative has reached a point where your readers know the character or the situation well enough to see through the dialogue to the underlying subtext. But there may be some instances where you want to be less subtle than others. In those instances, actions can sometimes help highlight subtext.

For example, say your protagonist, Jennifer, is planning to go to a concert. Her older brother, Jason, is super protective, which is something your audience may or may not know at this point in the story. Jenifer babbles on and on about how much fun she’s going to have at this concert, and how their mother and father won’t ever know she’s gone because she’s sneaking out. She tells Jason what a great older brother he is for keeping her secret.

Jason’s response could read something like this:  

“Yeah,” Jason said, folding his arms. “Sounds like fun.”

There are a few clues here to show us how Jason really feels about his sister attending this concert, the biggest being the folding of his arms. This line suggests without my having to mention voice tone or facial expression that Jason is not, in fact, too jazzed with his sister’s plan.

This tactic can be great way to ratchet up sexual tension between two characters as well, especially when body language contradicts what the characters are saying.

Again, going back to Han and Leia and The Empire Strikes Back—remember the infamous scene where Leia is wrestling with equipment on the Millennium Falcon and Han comes up behind her? He wraps his arms around her, grabs her wrists and she flings him off, angry.  She berates Han for calling her “Your Worship” but can’t handle it when he calls her “Leia” either.  But we know she kind of digs the guy because, about four seconds later, Han is wrapping her hand with his hands, massaging her fingers, and talking about being a scoundrel. She tells him to “stop that” but her voice is soft and she doesn’t pull away and she doesn’t try to fight him off again. From there the dialogue gets quite fun and the steaminess of the scene rises.  Leia is telling Han how much she is so not into him then bam they’re totally snogging and it’s a magic magic moment.   

 Inflection and Emphasis

In drama school, I once did an exercise where the instructor asked us to take the same three word sentence and read it three times. Each time, we were to place emphasis on a different word. And each time, the line meant something completely different.

I love you.

I love you.

I love you.

Though italics should be used with care and certainly not overused, it’s worthwhile to mention that inflection and emphasis can be a useful tool in dialogue scenes.  

I hope these few pointers help you to dive deeper into your dialogue construction.

 Have fun and break a leg!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

YA FUSION's First Exquisite Corpse


April is one of my favorite months and not just because my first child was born on April 1 or because we all finally crack out of whatever ice coma we’ve been in for so long. April is NATIONAL POETRY MONTH! Which rocks in so many ways.


This month, my latest piece of short fiction in verse comes out on the online journal Young Adult Review Network, www.yareview.net, and my writer's critique group and I are playing along on YARN’s site with their “Random Word Contest” judged by Morris and Printz Award-winning author John Corey Whaley.

To kick off poetry month on the YA FUSION site, we’re starting an Exquisite Corpse game, a game that originates from the Parisian Surrealist movement where artists or writers passed time in cafes by piecing together their own bits of inspiration. Authors played by writing a single line on a piece of paper, folding it, and passing it to the next writer. The only rules were that the lines must include the same grammatical structure and writers were not allowed to read the lines written before theirs. The results were often surprising, interesting, and beautiful. YA FUSIONites are all of those things! So let’s create our own Exquisite Corpse. Here are the rules:

Exquisite Corpse drawing done by
Surrealist artists
 

1. Write one line about an outstanding positive or negative moment/feeling/event/person during yours or someone else’s teen years.
 
2. Follow this grammatical structure: Adjective, Noun, Verb, Adjective, Noun
 
3. Adding “function words” like articles or prepositions is okay as long as the basic structure is intact. 
 
4. While people post, don’t read the others until after you add your own. Let it stand alone and be completely original. That will make the poem more interesting!
 
5. At the end the month, I’ll string all the lines together to create a single poem by our bloggers and readers.
 
 
Here is an Exquisite Corpse example written by poets.org’s staff:
Slung trousers melt in a roseate box.
A broken calendar oscillates like sunny tin.
The craven linden growls swimmingly. Blowfish.
A glittering roof slaps at crazy ephemera.
Of course, we can do so much more in our YA way! I can't wait to see what it turns into! Leave a contact email in your post. If it turns out well, I'll send you a YA FUSION bookmark with the poem on it.
 
So to begin, here is my YA-related Exquisite Corpse line: 
 
Our cigarette smoke rings lasso shimmering stars.
 

Now no more reading until you post yours below! Have fun!!
 
 
 
 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Searching for the Elusive 'The End'

Have you ever reached the point where it feels like you've been working on a book forever and The End is no where in sight?

That's where I found myself yesterday morning. I'd hoped to have this manuscript finished--at least the first draft--two weeks ago. I planned to let it sit a week, then review/revise before sending it to my editor, April 7th. I have been writing like a madwoman, literally, until yesterday.

When I first started writing, I was a total pantser. I imagine most beginners are. As a newbie, I didn't know anything about plot points, or story arcs, or character growth. I just had a story I wanted to tell. But since that time, oh so  many years ago, I've attended classes, read tons of craft books and learned the art of writing.

Thus I became a plotter. Sort of. I map out my characters, their GMC, the plot points and any tidbits or quirks that feel relevant to the story. This change improved my efficiency, a big help since I work full time at The Job That Pays My Bills.

But this book refused to be plotted. For two, hair-pulling weeks I tried to fit what I knew of this story and these characters into my standard outline with no success. Looking back, I can see I was trying to hammer my round story into a square hole.

I finally gave up and started writing, and writing, and writing, until I wanted to lift my face to the heavens and cry "Will I ever reach The End?"

Which brings me to yesterday morning. I sat, hair still mussed from sleep, eyes gritty, computer in my lap. Page wise and word count told me I had to be close to The End. All my books tend to come in around 350 pages, 65,000 words. I was sitting at 265 pages, 57,000 words. I couldn't write another word without a clear sense of where I'd find The End.

So I reviewed what I'd written and found it wasn't Total Cr*#. I'm not the World's Worst Writer. I could finally see the full scope of the story and realized I only had five more chapters (two and a half now) to the glorious The End.

And I've learned yet another lesson. Nothing is set in stone. Pantser or plotter you think you may be, but some stories demand their own path.

Lisa

Sunday, March 23, 2014

For The Love (and Hate) of Words...

Like all authors, words are kind of my life. Big ones, little ones, tongue twisters and giggle inducers. But, like everything else in life, there are good and there are bad. Not all words are created equal. At least, not in my world. There are the ones I love and there are ones I hate. I thought I'd share a few of each.

Love

1.      Cheesecake. I can’t eat cheesecake. Eggs are toxic to me, and since cheesecake is stuffed full of em, that pretty much lands it on a list of epic ways to kill myself. But I love the word. It might be the fact that the first part starts with cheese (because, who here does NOT like cheese!?!), or it might just be the random weirdness that is me. Even money that its a little of both.

2.      Turtle. Nope. Not my favorite animal—they don’t even make it into the top twenty (Sorry, turtles. Much love, just not THAT much love...). But it’s such a fun word. I know you agree. Just say it with me a few times. Turtle-turtle-turtle-turtle. Admit it. You said it, too. (I won't tell)

3.      Awesome. This word is so amazing, that even when you hate it, you find yourself saying it. Over and over and over and over... *cringes*

4.      Psychosomatic. I love the sound of it, the meaning—everything. This is a word that needs more love. Find an excuse. I challenge you to work it into a sentence today.

5.      Cadaver. I’ll admit that this one’s on the creepy side. But definition aside, it kinda rolls off the tongue. Am I right? Say it. Ca-da-ver.

Hate

1.      Auntie. I don’t know why, but every time I hear it, I want to rip my ears off.

2.      Panties. Why? Again, I don’t know. It irritates me to the point that I want to punch a sheep. Okay, not really. I love sheep. They're adorable. They waddle around, all fluffy and stuff. Seriously though, there’s a good possibility I have a deep seeded prejudice against words that end in IE…

3.      Awesome. Yes. It was also on the love list. But there’s something about it… I die a little each time it comes out of my mouth - which is sadly often.

4.      Yawn. Everyone hates this word. It’s okay to come clean. I mean, come on…what other word in the English language makes you *yawn* do something by simply speaking or writing it? Evil. Pure evil.

5.      Pimpin. I have a friend that used to say this. It was like styrofoam getting rubbed in my ear. You exactly know what I’m talking about. That grating, spine chilling sound that makes your hair stand on end and your muscles twitch.


You’re up. Tell me your favorite (and not so favorite) word!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Having a Bit of a Moan

It happened again.  I picked up a new book by one of my favorite authors, and found mistakes.  This one was especially bad, with everything from plot holes to typos to massive continuity problems—even a repeated scene.  Admittedly this wasn’t YA, but I’ve run across more than my share of mistakes in recent YA books, too.  Used to be, finding a mistake in a book was a big deal, and at most it was a typo.  Not anymore.  And that reminds me of a story.  Ready?  On the count of three, everybody do that wavy, moany thing they used to do on TV to signal a flashback.  One, two, three.  Woooooo-wooo-wooo.

My author friends are tired of hearing me say this, but loooooooooooong ago, I was tight with some good-sized book publishers.  I helped develop, write, and edit a wide range of third-party computer manuals, journals, and online articles.  At the start of my involvement, these were major productions, both large in size and heavy with content.  I’m proud to say that I was a small part of some of the best books in the industry.  Unfortunately, that quality didn’t last.  Print publishing was just starting the musical chairs of consolidation in those days, and that was especially true where a computer-literate customer base was more than ready for change.  Parent publishers, who were busy being bought and sold to one another, flailed.  Product lines ballooned and then popped before they could generate anything but expenses.  Inevitably, books got shorter, content got lighter, and editing fell by the wayside.  In-house management felt enormous pressure to move releases forward while pushing expenses backward.  Books went out before they were ready.  I read the reviews; trust me when I say people noticed.

Okay, the flashback is over.  I’m not sure what sound effect I should use for an analogy, but looking at this book also reminds me of parallel story.  It goes like this: I’m a bit of a construction junkie and like to read Builder Magazine, which is a trade magazine for the residential construction industry.  After the housing bubble burst, I noticed a common thread in many of the articles.  The industry, which had been focused on speed during the boom years, discovered that quality was far more important to their bottom line.  To survive in a brutal market, builders couldn’t keep cranking out badly-build houses—there were plenty of those already.  What builders needed were happy customers.  Enter quality.  And it turns out that when builders focused on quality, they lowered their long-term expenses, while increasing their referrals and repeat customers.  Ching!


So maybe I’m reaching here, but I think there’s a lesson.  Maybe publishers, even my beloved YA publishers who are feeling so much pressure from above, should put more focus on quality.  I know our teen audience grows up fast, but give them credit for wanting books without mistakes.  After all, their word of mouth is our biggest asset.