New Stuff!

Let’s see. I haven’t updated the site in… four months!? Bad Jo. BAD JO! Boy, I’ve got some stuff to go over, huh?

Cipher Hill

The most important announcement is the pre-order of Cipher Hill! Newsletter subscribers already know about this, but I’d best put it here for latecomers and lookee-loos. 

Cover, as always, by Nick Deligaris

Cipher Hill is the fifth book in the Free-Wrench series. It follows hot on the heels of the plot of The Calderan Problem, and for the first time allows our heroes to go on the offensive rather than waiting around to be targets. The Book releases on July 11th wherever ebooks are sold, but if you’re really impatient, Apple once again has an exclusive early release on July 3rd. So if you want an extra week or so to read it, pick it up on iBooks!

The Poorly Planned Short Story Experiment

It had been my intention to release monthly short stories for an entire year. I made it about three months. Where did it all go wrong? Covers and edits, my friends. Covers and edits. I can pretty easily pump out a 15,000 word novella. Nominally it would take me between 3 and 6 days. But I am pathologically incapable of producing that many words, or even a whole sentence, without making errors. So I’d have to revise and get time with an editor. And I pride myself on good covers these days, so for a story to be recognizable on a store shelf as one of mine, I’d need a good cover.

The issue comes in the form of cost for those things, which could probably managed, and scheduling of those things, which it turns out could not. I simply couldn’t get enough time on artists’ and editors’ calendars to get a monthly release handled. I  might try again and try to streamline the process a bit (I know plenty of authors who do near-monthly releases, so it CAN be done), but for now, I shelf the project after having released the following former Newsletter Perks wide:

Entwell Origins: Ayna

Beta Testers

The Stump and the Spire

Upcoming Bundle?

If you’ve missed out on some of my stuff, or have a hankering for some of my oddities that haven’t ever been released as eBooks, keep your eyes peeled in the coming months. A big fat bundle is coming. More details as they arise.

Sci-Fi Series Bundle

Hello, folks!

As you may know, from time to time I am lucky enough to be called upon by Jason over at StoryBundle to curate something. The most recent such bundle is a real doozy, and it’s going to run from today to Feb. 1st!

I present to you the Sci-Fi Series Bundle!

I’m calling this the Sci-Fi Series bundle because all of the books you see here are parts of larger worlds you can explore. And with the exception of my own addition, The Calderan Problem, they all represent the beginning of their series! Let’s see what stories we’ve got in this bundle, and what the critics and customers have to say about them:

Descent (The SpaceMan: Chronicles Book 2) by Tom Abrahams

“Fantastic continuation of one of the freshest post-apocalyptic/dystopian series out there. Tom Abrahams’ series delivers everything you could want from the genre, adding an entirely clever twist to the greater plot that I absolutely did not see coming. Descent takes on a whole new meaning, as the planet earth braces for an extinction level event. Highly recommended!”

 – Author Steven Konkoly

SpaceMan (The SpaceMan Chronicles: Book 1) by Tom Abrahams

“Tom Abrahams is a master with this genre. In a plot paced just this side of orbital velocity, his not-so-ordinary spaceman –and the family he loves— battle a new and unique unknown that tests their resilience, courage, and love for one another, both on and off the planet. Failure to turn the pages of this book quickly is simply, “not an option!”

 – Astronaut Clayton C. Anderson, 6-Time Spacewalker and Author of The Ordinary Spaceman

Trader’s Honour (Return of the Aghyrians: Book 2) by Patty Jansen

“Trader’s Honour is an enjoyable science fiction read. It’s low on technobabble and explicit sciencey stuff, although the worldbuilding is fairly solid. As such, I think it might also appeal to fantasy fans who don’t mind a few aeroplanes and a spot of interplanetary travel in their fiction. I highly recommend it to science fiction fans.”

 – Tsana Dolichva

Watcher’s Web (Return of the Aghyrians: Book 1) by Patty Jansen

“The rich and powerful tapestry of world building captures the imagination and just doesn’t let go. The characters are full of life and complexity. I thoroughly enjoyed this story. It is easy to identify with the peoples and through suspension of disbelief, this world was very real, as are the struggles being faced. Love books that make me think about what I would or wouldn’t do in that situation. Great strong female lead.”

 – Amazon Review

Icarus by Matt Verish

“Well written, fast paced, and solidly crafted. An engaging tale of adventure that takes me back to the early works of past sci-fi masters from the days of John Campbell’s editing years.”


“Matt Versh is my new favorite author with the title ‘ICARUS’. If you like good, old-school sci-fi, then this is for you. A good storyline that grabs you from the very beginning. It’s one you just don’t want to put down, there are no dull moments. And, of course, I can hardly wait for the next installment. Get it and read it…there’ll be no regrets if you like action and a great plot that keeps your attention.”

 – Amazon Review

Derelict (Halcyone Space: Book 1) by LJ Cohen

“Get on board Derelict, and you’ll take an edgy, nonstop flight into an audacious SF future with unremitting danger as your pilot — and thrilling adventure your destination.”

 – Lynn Viehl, NYT best selling author of the Stardoc and Darkyn series

Relic of Sorrows (Fallen Empire: Book 4) by Lindsay Buroker

“I have read the first four books in this series in 5 days, and I’m having to physically restrain myself from launching into the fifth book. I love the characters, the pace is fast, and I’m completely hooked.”

 – Goodreads Review

The Fallen Empire Set: Books 1-3 (Includes Bonus Prequel) by Lindsay Buroker

“This series is one of the best classic sci-fi tales I’ve read in years. Author Buroker’s spare prose leads the reader deftly through an action-packed but character-driven story of loss, struggle and the aftermath of war. Yet the story has an upbeat feel to it, partially due to major characters who engage in the cheeky, ironic humor that we often see in “buddy” films. To add a twist, at the heart of the drama is a slowly developing, fragile love story.”

 – Amazon Review

The Calderan Problem by Joseph R. Lallo

“Simply awesome as always! All of his books are very good and this series is one of the best. With The Calderan Problem just leaving me wanting more!”

 – Ray, Goodreads

Irradiance (The Dream Guild Chronicles: Book 1) by David Bruns

“The premise and the plot of this book hooked me…kept me turning digital pages right to the end.”

 – The Kindle Book Review

The Catalyst (Targon Tales: Book 1) by Chris Reher

“A wonderfully written space adventure that starts with action on page one and doesn’t stop until the last page. There are several twists and turns throughout, both in the story and in the characters. Worth the read, and it’s even one of those rare books I will probably re-read at some point and has earned a permanent place on my Kindle.”

 – Goodreads review

Only Human (Targon Tales: Book 2) by Chris Reher

“I completely enjoyed this novel. The aspect that was a bit challenging was that I was unable to put it down! The characters were all interesting and well defined. The various alien characters were smoothly developed, rather than just dropped into the story. Many were likable and a natural part of the story, which was well developed and had a very logical flow to it. It is a riveting battle tale that will capture the reader in the mire of a well written story. I completely recommend this book to any sci-fi reader!”

 – Amazon Review

I had loads of fun picking out these stories. The novels are fun, exciting, intriguing, and just plain good. If you’re not familiar with StoryBundle, it’s a great site! The bundles run for a limited time, and you can choose your own price, starting as low as a few dollars, and going up to as much as you think its worth. In exchange, you’ll get the base bundle or, if you pay enough, the bonus. These books are yours to keep, DRM free, and the authors get an equal share of the profits.

StoryBundle is a great ally to the indie folks, so please consider picking up a bundle!

Free-Wrench Collection

Hi folks! Look what I’ve got! A pre-order for Free-Wrench Collection: Volume 1, which comes out January 15th!

The gorgeous cover is, as always, by Nick Deligaris.  And the original design of the wrench is courtesy of Viistar.

If you’ve paid close attention to how my releases work. you’ve probably been expecting this for quite some time. When I write a fourth book in a series, that means it’s time to include the first three in a collection, so folks don’t have to buy a stack of books to understand where the story has come from and where it is going. It’s happened with The Book of Deacon and Big Sigma. Now Free-Wrench gets its turn.

If you’re not familiar with the series, it’s my take on Steampunk. The story follows Nita Graus, an engineer from an idyllic island nation, Caldera. She leaves her home aboard Wind Breaker, an airship with an assortment of misfits who trade goods back and forth between Caldera and the mainland, a place called Rim. The continent has been blanketed by a toxic “fug” which has forced most people into the mountains to survive. A whole twisted race of people altered by the fug, known as the fug folk, have got the surface dwellers on a short leash. The series is largely about Nita and the crew attempting to break that leash.

In this collection, you get the first three books, Free-Wrench, Skykeep, and Ichor Well. They lead nicely to the fourth book (released earlier this  year) called The Calderan Problem. Previously, the collections have also included some short stories that weren’t available individually. I’m not doing that this time. Why? Because I will just be making the short stories available individually! It struck me that making people buy the collection to get the short stuff was silly if they were already fans, and making them wait until the stories became newsletter perks wasn’t much better! So expect to see some Free-Wrench shorts hit the market in the coming months.  Along with shorts from my other settings, and maybe even some new stuff!

If you’ve not started the series, consider picking up the collection.  It releases on Jan. 15th, and it’s a cheaper, easier way to get started!

Book of Deacon 5 and Structophis!

The Crescents

The fifth book in the Book of Deacon main series is available now!

You can buy The Crescents wherever you buy eBooks now!

Cover, as always, by Nick Deligaris.

As you may have noticed, the way I usually do releases is a nice long pre-order followed by a launch day flurry of activity. A few days ago, I popped onto twitter and asked when people would like to see the new Book of Deacon story roll out. Just about everyone who replied had the same answer. Monday.

Far be it from me to disappoint.

And so, The Book of Deacon 5, The Crescents, is available now! Since the Book of Deacon series is a little tough to follow in terms of reading order, I’ll clarify where this one lies. It is a few months after The D’Karon Apprentice (Book of Deacon 4) and many, many decades before Jade. You can find the full reading order for the series here. Who knows maybe you’ve missed some!

I took this story in a different direction than many may have anticipated, but hopefully you’ll still enjoy it! Here’s the blurb:

In a place untouched by the Perpetual War, a new conflict threatens to ignite.

Generations of war have been put to rest. The D’Karon scourge has been wiped away. All that remains for Myranda, Deacon, and the other Chosen is the long, slow road to recovery for their weakened kingdom. It is no small task, as dark magic has taken a terrible toll on the land. Crops struggle to grow. The scars of war are slow to fade. But from across the sea comes hope.

The haughty King Mellawin presides over the kingdom of Sonril. His people, the elves of South Crescent, have grown concerned with their place in history. Fate left the prophesy in the hands of the mortals of Tressor and the Northern Alliance. And now the legendary unseen tormentors from North Crescent, the Aluall, have spilled the blood of their people. Mindful that his subjects have come to doubt him, King Mellawin comes to the Northern Alliance with an offer. In exchange for the service of the Chosen, he shall provide a treatment to heal the land.

Myranda, Deacon, Ivy, Myn and the others shall be the first of their people to set foot on the Crescents since before the Perpetual War… Or so they believe. But what they find there will reveal long-hidden secrets of their history, and threats they could never have imagined.

The Crescents is the fifth epic entry in The Book of Deacon Saga, from Joseph R. Lallo, author of the Big Sigma series and Free-Wrench.

Enjoy the story! I’m already working hard on two additional stories in the setting.


Remember that weird story about a Pizza Dragon? It is no longer exclusive!


Get it now in all the usual places!

Some of you may recall this bizarre little story. It was my first experiment in putting a story in Kindle Unlimited. I knew it was a long shot that it would do well there. This is Young Adult (young adults don’t do their own shopping) and it is a niche genre (the mainstream isn’t clamoring for Pizza Dragons). That, as the folks in the book marketing biz would say, is a story that was not “written to the market” and thus isn’t known for succeeding in KU.

Surprise, surprise, it didn’t succeed in KU. It did okay, but not okay enough to continue to exclude the significant portion of my audience that doesn’t shop for their books on Amazon. Today, that has been corrected. If you’d like to know about Blodgette the Pizza Dragon (Structophis Gastrignae), pick it up and enjoy! And if you like the character design, go check out ProjectENDO, who created it! If you like the cover, that’s anti-dark-heart.

How I Write: Step 11 – The Formatting

Now that you’ve got your finished and (reasonably) error-free manuscript, it’s time to get it ready for release. That means formatting. Realistically, you can feed modern ebook distributors a pretty janky file and still get something you can sell. Don’t. This is where the rubber meets the road for your book. You don’t want your killer story to be wrecked by a mediocre reading experience.

The Hardware

If you’ve gotten this far, you’ve got everything you need in the hardware department.

The Software

My own method for formatting uses Microsoft Word and Calibre, both of which have been discussed earlier. If you’re a Mac user, Vellum is a somewhat pricy but highly recommended alternative. It provides spectacular results with very little effort.

The Content

Formatting your ebook can be intimidating for a first timer. If you follow the instructions below, you shouldn’t have any difficulty, and I encourage you to give it a try. That said, if you’re really worried, this is a service many editors provide as an add-on. There are also no shortage of freelance book designers who can help you out. I’ve never worked with one, so we’ll be looking at my methods below.

I recommend working with DOCX as your base file. It works natively with up-to-date versions of Calibre, and saves cleanly to most other formats. Save a copy and clearly label it so you’ll know this is the publishable version. Then open it up in Word (to be able to follow this tutorial literally) or your word processor of choice.

For the best shot at the book looking the way you want it to regardless of how the reader is reading it, you’re going to want to keep the format as simple as possible. eReaders can to things like change font size and font color, so the fewer things you’ve written in stone, the fewer problems are likely to come up. Since it bit me in the butt more than once, I’ll make this clear. WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T SPECIFY “BLACK” AS YOUR TEXT COLOR.

“What? But I want my text to be black, why wouldn’t I want it to be specified as black?” you may rightly ask.

The underlying problem here may have been fixed, but once bitten, twice shy. If you are reading late at night on an electronic device, it is frequently more comfortable to do so with white text on a black background. This is called “High Contrast” mode or “Nighttime Mode” for a lot of eReaders. If you’ve set your text to black, some of the more naïve programs will happily obey your wishes, and you’ll end up with—you guessed it—black text on a black background. This is what we in the business call “a bad reader experience,” what with the not being able to see anything.

So when going through the next few steps, remember, the color you’re looking for is “automatic.” That’ll give you nice black text in standard situations, but still allow the program to swap to a more appropriate color when necessary.

But on to the step by step stuff.

Choose your Normal

Most of your text is going to be “Normal” text. Most of the rest will be based on it. So your first step is to choose normal. On the “Home” ribbon in Word, click the little arrow in the lower righthand corner of the “Styles” section. This will bring up your Styles box. In the lower righthand corner of this, there’s the “Options” link. Click on that. I usually pick “In Use” for the “Select styles to show” dropdown. I also make sure to check “Paragraph level formatting” and “Font Formatting” at this stage. Click Okay.

Now you’ve got a list of every little formatting quirk in your document. Find “Normal,” right click, and choose Modify.

You can make your normal text whatever you like. The eReader is going to make some of its own decisions about this later. As a rule though, here’s what I stick with.

In the Modify Style Window, I pick Times New Roman, size 12, Justified Alignment, Single Spaced, Automatic Color.

In the lower left hand corner, I click the format button and choose Paragraph. Here, I pick First Line, 0.5” for indentation.

Set Up Your Headings

On your format list, you’ve probably already got Heading 1. If you don’t, add it. (Via the Manage Styles button on the bottom of the Styles menu. You can get a little fancier with this one, but I like:

Modify Style -> Times New Roman, size 14, Bold, Centered, Single Spaced, Automatic Color.

Paragraph Style ->Indent (none), Outline Level 1

Once you’ve got that set up to your liking, go through your manuscript and make sure all chapter headings and ONLY chapter headings are set to Heading 1. Missing a chapter heading can cause problems when making the table of contents, and having random text set to Heading 1 will randomly promote it to being a chapter of its own.

If you’re writing Non-Fiction, you’re likely to need lower level headings. I like to make them similar to my regular headings, but not bold and at Outline Level 2, 3, etc.

Other Special Formats

I find I frequently need a handful of other seldom used formats, so here they are.


For this one I use the same settings as Heading 1, but I set Outline Level to Body Text.

No Indent

You probably don’t have a style for this yet, so in the Styles Window, pick New Style from the bottom. Name it something like “Normal No Indent”

Style type: Paragraph

Style based on: Normal

Style for following paragraph: Normal

Then go into paragraph style and change Indent to (none).


 This is, perhaps, a little overkill, but when I center something, I like to make sure it has no indent. Otherwise, when you want something centered on the page, you’ll actually get something on indent to the right of center. Most people won’t notice. The ones that do are driven to the brink of insanity by it. So make a new style like you did for No Indent, except in addition to removing the indent, also set it to Center Alignment.

Your Title Page

For your title page, go to the top of your document and press Ctrl-Enter to make a page break. Type your title, and make it Title Style. Put a blank line, then in Centered Style, type your name.

At this point, I like to put another Blank line, then, still in Centered Style, Copyright ©2015 [Your name]. I’m not sure if this is necessary, but it couldn’t hurt. Another unnecessary but nice thing to do here is to add another blank line, then credit your cover artist (Cover By [NAME]).

From the Author

If someone gets to the back of the book, it usually means they liked your stuff. This is a good place to let them know you appreciate them, and let them know how they can help you out. On a fresh page after the end of the story, I like to make a heading that says “From The Author,” then type a sentence or two thanking the reader. I mention how if they liked it, it would be nice if they left a review. I’ll include links to my social media stuff if they want to get in touch with me, then add in a list of other books of mine they might enjoy.

Linked Table of Contents

This one’s a little overkill, but I’ve gotten into the habit of doing it. Hit Ctrl-Enter after your Title page stuff, then enter “Table of Contents” in Heading one. Under that, in No Indent Style, write the name of every chapter in order on its own line.

Next, the tedious part. Again, this isn’t 100% necessary, but doing this, I’ve found just about any ebook format or distributor will create a good output that behaves as expected.

On the “Insert” ribbon, go to the Links section and choose bookmarks. If you wrote this and spat it out of Scrivener. It has “helpfully” given you a ton of bookmarks. Delete them all. Even the hidden ones. The more unnecessary information you include in a file, the more likely a computer will use it to do something you don’t want it to.

Once you’re clear, click on the page count in the lower left-hand corner to bring up a list of all those headings you made. You’re about to do these next few steps a lot of times.

Click a chapter heading in the navigator. It’ll jump you to right before the heading. Now click Bookmarks and Add a bookmark with a name that will sort appropriately. I like to do CH_00, CH_01, CH_02, etc.

Once you’re done, go back to the Table of Contents. Highlight the title of the first chapter, hit Ctrl+K, click bookmark, and pick the appropriate bookmark for that chapter. Do it for every line in the Table of Contents.

Clean up the Styles

Open up the Styles window again. You want to pare down the list of styles you made earlier. For every style in the style window right now that isn’t one that you made and adjusted to your liking, do the following. Save after every successful adjustment, because there is a strong tendency to cause the program to hang if it is a particularly long file, and it is quite frustrating to lose your work as a result.

Right click the style. Click “Select all # Instances.” It will highlight each of them. Lots of times, there will only be a handful of them, and they will be blank lines. While they are still selected, just click the Normal style. This will shift all of them to normal and, now that the style is no longer in use in your document, it will remove it from the lit.

If the instances are, for example, several hundred individual italicized words, click normal, then click the italic button. The idea is to make sure that everything is at least based on Normal. There will be some variations on this. Using the same example, italicized stuff in a No Indent paragraph will required you to click No Indent, then make them Italic again. But you’re going to want to go through and make sure everything in the “In Use” style list is either one of the styles you made or based on one of the styles you made.

One thing to look out for. If a whole paragraph is the same format—italicized/bold/centered—then make sure you set it back, because sometimes those can get messed up if you fiddle with them.

Finishing Touches

A few last things I like to do, which make things a little nicer but don’t matter too much. If your chapters don’t all start on their own page, go to the end of the last sentence of the previous chapter and hit Ctrl-Enter to make a page break. You can actually do this with the heading format, but I like doing it manually.

Also, and this is super minor, lots of people like to make the first paragraph of every chapter No Indent. Not sure why, but I’ve started doing it. Just click somewhere in the paragraph and click the no indent style in the Styles window.

And there you have it. Save it and you’ve got a file that should convert very nicely into whatever format you like. If you’re feeling feisty and want to have some good copies of files to distribute to readers personally, there’s a few more steps you can do.

ePub Format

Open up Calibre. Drag and drop the DOCX file you just saved onto it. It’ll be added to the list. Click it, then click Edit metadata. Fill in the title, author name, and series. If you’ve got your cover, you can throw it in here too. Then, hit convert books. Make sure the output format (in the top right corner) is EPUB, then hit OK.

When it’s done, right click the book and choose Edit Book.

This is the most tricky and intimidating part. You’re going to edit… HTML… This is all exceptionally optional. All you’re really doing is making sure nothing went wrong in the other steps and putting in some hooks to take advantage of some exceedingly minor features of some ebook readers.

We’ll start with the easy part. Go to the tools menu and choose Add cover. Make sure Preserve Aspect Ratio is checked and hit OK.

Now double click stylesheet.css. CODE! SCARY! Just scroll through this and look for “color: black” and delete it. There’s other stuff you can do here, but it can get hairy in a hurry.

Next, double click “content.opf” Scroll down to where it says “<guide>”. Replace the entire section starting with “<guide>” and ending with “</guide>” with what’s below.


    <reference href=”titlepage.xhtml” title=”Cover” type=”cover”/>

    <reference href=”TABLEOFCONTENTS” title=”TableofContents” type=”toc”/>

    <reference href=”STARTPOINT” title=”Start” type=”text”/>


Once that’s in place, scroll up to the top of the list of files on the left side of the window and double click them one at a time until you find the table of contents. (It’ll probably be index_split_001.html) Replace the TABLEOFCONTENTS (leave the quotation marks) with the file name. It will start to auto-fill. Once you’ve got the file name, put a “#” and it’ll autofill a list of headings. Pick one. Any of them should work.

Now do the same thing for STARTPOINT, except instead of aiming for the file with the TOC, you’re looking for the start of the novel.

Save it all and close the Edit window.

If you’ve got something to test epub files, you can click on the book you just cleaned up on the list, then click “Click to Open” next to “Path” on the right side of the screen. Double click the new epub and see how it looks. If you don’t have something to test it, just click “EPUB” next to “Formats:” and Calibre will preview it for you.

Either way, take a look. If it looks good, you can click Convert Books and make any other formats you like, though realistically, Mobi is the only other one you’ll need.

And that should do it. I started by saying this wouldn’t be too difficult, and now I see that this is one of the longest chapters, so I may have spoken too soon. Regardless, it’s over now. Next step, self-publishing!

How I Write: Step 10 – The Cover

Step 10: The Cover

Because people—for reasons that still elude me—consider me to be something of an authority in the world of indie authordom, I am frequently asked what the best bang for your buck in the book world is. Technically, the answer is “writing another book.” But if you’re looking to invest some money in your finished book, I can’t say enough about taking the time and money to get a decent cover.

The Hardware

If you are doing this yourself (DON’T DO THIS YOURSELF), you’ll need whatever art supplies you are most comfortable with. Even if you AREN’T doing this yourself, it might be worth having some pencils and paper around, along with your cell phone, so you can doodle a concept and snap a picture of it so the artist will know what’s what.

The Software

Just as Word is frequently the standard for exchanging manuscripts in an editable state, photoshop is the standard for exchanging covers in an editable state. It’s also pretty standard for actually making the covers. Now, I haven’t had access to photoshop since college, so I tend to rely upon The GIMP. It’s a free photo editing program that can be a little tricky and cranky. But if you’re willing to hammer on it, it gets the job done. Not a rousing endorsement, but it is what it is.

The Content

Behold. My original cover. It’s… wonderful.

Step one, find an artist. Please don’t make your own cover. PLEASE DON’T MAKE YOUR OWN COVER! Some people can do this, but even the people who can do this probably shouldn’t for the same reason that an editor is probably better off not being the only editor on their own manuscript.

There are loads of ways to buy a cover. The cheapest is to get a “premade” cover. Cover designers will often put together covers that fit a certain tone. These can be had for reasonable prices, and all you need to do is slap on your title and name. I’ve seen these go for <$50.

If you’re looking for something a little more made-to-order, those same book designers will usually make a custom cover for a bit more. They’ll use their magic to assemble stock imagery into something that looks like it belongs on a bookstore shelf. These are more in the $150 range. They can be absolutely perfect for something with very well-defined and relatively interchangeable cover elements, like romance. If you’ve written something in the sci-fi or fantasy realm, you might have some more difficulty, because there isn’t a ton of stock imagery in the dragon/spaceship realm. In those cases, you’ll need an illustrator.

My favored method for finding an artist is… well, to ask other artists. But I realize that others may not have been steadily building up a big list of artists of various styles, so you’d be better served going where I went. Deviant Art remains an excellent showcase site for artists portfolios. Do a search for the sort of stuff you want on your cover, then get in touch with the artist to see what their commission rates are. This can vary widely based on the artist and level of detail. I normally go with this method and budget an average of $750 per cover, but the sky is the limit. I once collaborated on a piece with a cover that cost $5000.

If you want to go a little more extravagant, people have been known to set up photoshoots, complete with the casting of actors/models and the renting of costumes. I’ve never done so (I like illustrations) but I can tell you that it isn’t cheap. That said, if you’re doing a long series with the same characters, you can often get the covers for the entire series out of a single photoshoot, so the cost can become quite reasonable over time.

Let’s assume you’ve found your artist. The next step is deciding what the cover will look like. I’d recommend looking at the top of the charts for your chosen genre. You’ll quickly find that there are a few staples of almost any genre. First, if there is any romance at all, you’re pretty likely to see some bare man chest. If we’re in the fantasy realm, dragons are common and effective. Space opera gets you a big, complex ship. If you’re just looking for something that’ll do the job, show your artist the books most like yours that are selling well and tell them to use those to set the parameters.

If you want to be a little more creative, here are some guidelines. Stay relatively simple. Most people are going to see your cover as a thumbnail on a store page. You need your cover to read at that size. This means having a clear artistic focus. One big, well defined element. Character face, space ship, covered bridge, man chest. Whatever. You’ll want your title readable at that size as well, and if you’re really going for the “Big Publisher” treatment, you’ll want your name as big as the title. (I don’t do this, but most of the people more successful than me do.)

The most important thing I can tell you is, listen to the artist. Particularly if they’ve done book covers before and specialize in them. An anecdote I’ve frequently told is, when I was purchasing new covers for my books—I made my own covers originally, hence my urging you not to do so—I had a very clear image in my mind of what the cover would be. It was a specific scene in the book. I described all of it in detail to the artist. He listened, and then walked me back. “How about we just focus on your main character.” “Let’s give more of a mood and temperature of your setting rather than a specific place.” “She should look the reader in the eyes, inviting them to learn her story.” The result was the current cover of the Book of Deacon, and it is easily the most iconic image associated with my stories.

Behold, my new cover (by Nick Deligaris). IT’S WONDERFUL!

Cover requirements vary, but a good rule of thumb is to shoot for something in the 6×9 aspect ratio (useful for paperbacks if you decide to do them), and about 300 dpi (again, useful for paperbacks.) That works out to 1800×2700. And again, if you’re looking to do paperbacks, consider getting what’s called a “wraparound.” That’s a cover with a background that extends off to the left for another 6 inches, plus an inch or so for the spine. Specific dimensions of that one are determined by the length of your book, but that’s covered in the paperback chapter.

And there you have it! A cover to be proud of, and one that will attract potential readers. When I re-covered The Book of Deacon trilogy, it tripled my sales overnight. I can’t guarantee you the same success, but starting off with an attractive, professional cover will at the very least give you a leg up on books with less thoughtful or savvy authors.

How I Write: Step 9 – The Final Revision

We’re in the home stretch now! Your editor has just sent back the polished manuscript. It would be nice to say “you’re done” and move on to the next step. Unfortunately, unless you’re a far better author than I am or you have a rigidly authoritarian editor, chances are you’ve got some stuff to look over. Here’s the process I go through. It’s worth pointing out at this point that this is likely to be a subjective process, as different editors will provide subtly different manuscripts. I’ll try to be as general as I can.

The Hardware

You probably won’t need much in the way of hardware for this one. Keyboard, mouse, monitor. I genuinely hope you haven’t received your revised manuscript as a physically marked up printout. If you did… you’ve got loads of typing ahead of you.

The Software

Most often, you’ll get the manuscript back in the same format you presented it. In my case, that’ll be DOC or DOCX. As before, I’ve made do with LibreOffice or OpenOffice in the past. These days I have a subscription to Office 365, so I’ve got the current version of Word. It’s not a bad idea to consider this if you’re going to be doing a lot of writing. In all honesty, though, even an old copy of Word will do just fine.

The Content

This is a rare situation where you are the one receiving content. You’ll have a manuscript from the editor with every change and correction they made.  Make a copy of this manuscript and call it your final draft. The first thing you’ll want to do, if it hasn’t been done already, is go to the review menu/panel and turn OFF track changes and turn ON show markup.

Depending on how typo-ridden and grammatically questionable your story is, you’ll see loads of red corrections pop up. You can use the review menu to step through these and manually accept or reject them. If it’s the first time you’ve worked with a given editor, it may be worth taking the corrections in this way. I warn you, though. Doing so will leave you at the brink of madness from the tedium. My preferred method is as follows.

When you turned on show all markup, a little side column may have popped open beside your main text. This is the comment section. I know, I know, the internet has rendered the term “comment section” a synonym for “hate-filled criticism pit.” In this case, it is where your editor has indicated things that cannot be simply corrected. If you’re lucky, some will be remarks commending a particularly good turn of phrase or plot element. More common will be a note about a grammatical issue that is a matter of taste, and thus is left for you to correct or leave alone. When I have an inconsistent characterization or bit of broken continuity, my editor marks it with a comment. Really, just about anything that requires thought gets a comment. I’ve had to fill in dialogue tags, clarify ambiguous action, you name it.

Before I do anything else, I go through and address every comment. Some particularly trying ones may require you to talk to your editor again to work out how to move forward. Eventually, though, you’ll get to the end of the comments. At this point, I usually feel safe going back to the review panel and just marking “Accept all changes.” Why? Because anything that wasn’t raw grammatical correction has been dealt with by the comments, so the rest is predominantly stuff I got objectively wrong.

The one exception to this is if my editor provided a style sheet. (Some of my editors have done this, others haven’t.) If you’re not familiar, the style sheet is a list of quirks unique to your setting. Any made up words will be listed and defined in the style sheet. Characters’ names will be recorded here. Colloquialisms and vocal ticks are listed. And sometimes, some deeper, more widespread issues for reconsideration will be listed here too. Make sure you look at any notes on the style sheet before you officially consider your manuscript to be done.

In most cases, if you’ve done your due diligence elsewhere, if you’ve reached this stage, congratulations, you’ve got yourself an almost final draft. Sometimes, though, the comments from the editor will have revealed something that requires a sweeping addition/correction to the story. If you end up adding/changing more than a page or so of text, I would highly recommend seeing if the editor can look at the affected section of the story a second time. With nearly 100% frequency, if I add a paragraph post-edit, that paragraph will end up with a typo in every sentence.

A few things before I call this part done. Remember that this is your story. Your editor is going to provide some excellent advice on how to smooth out the rough spots, and might even offer some top-notch suggestions on changes and improvements. You can ignore these suggestions if you like. Sometimes it’s hard to articulate just why you feel a certain turn of phrase or character choice needs to be the way you envisioned it, but you know the story you were trying to tell. It is very rare that I find myself second guessing my editor, but if you find yourself wishing you didn’t have to do something or missing a line you really liked, go with your gut! And if afterward readers say that was a mistake, then you know your editor’s got a pretty good eye.

There you have it! You’ve got your finished book. If you were the traditional publishing type, this is the version of your story that you’ll have the most luck shopping around to agents and publishers. If you’re self-publishing… I’m afraid there are a few more steps you’ll need to consider. But we’ll get to those when we get to those.

How I Write: Step 8 – Off to the Editor

Ah, the editor. When I talk about going to the editor, I’m specifically talking about copyediting or line editing. Many editors handle what’s called “Substantive” or “Developmental” editing. These are the folks who help you develop and improve a story. Basically they do what the beta readers did in the prior chapters, and maybe even hold your hand through the first revision. Such people are a key part of traditional publishing, and some of the most successful indie publishers use them as well. But there is a good reason only really successful indies do it. This level of editing is extremely expensive. I’ve never done it, and I’m not likely to unless I find myself consistently hitting the top of the charts and ending up with serious cash to spend.

Thus, we’ll be talking about the folks who try to comb out your typos.

The Hardware

No hardware for this one. If there is an editor out there still working on hardcopy, chances are you won’t be finding them via the internet.

The Software

This will vary from editor to editor, but in my experience, most editors like to work with a doc or docx file. If you’ve been writing in Scrivener, that’s an export option. If you’ve been writing in Word, that’s what you’ve probably been saving it as. If you’ve been using any other word processor, chances are very good doc is an option.

The Content

Before we get to the process sending off your manuscript to an editor, which is fairly straightforward and not really enough to justify a full step in this series, we should talk about finding one.

Once again, this series is called “How I Write,” so I can only really tell you what I did. So let’s take a trip back to the wild west of the indie publishing boom. The long-ago year of 2011, when I was just getting started.

By just getting started, I mean I’d been at it a year and had released my book in a self-edited state. (PLEASE DON’T DO THIS!) Folks were clearly enjoying the story, but my reviews inevitably included some form of the phrase “cluttered with typos.” Enough people had suffered through my story that I decided the time had come to put on my big boy pants and act like a professional.

The literary world is littered with people who either don’t know what they are doing, or know exactly what they are doing, and that thing is taking your money and running. I was mindful of this. A bit of investigation turned up a site called Preditors and Editors. It was a list of publishers and editors, rated by how successful they were and now crooked they were. There I found a well-rated editor named Anna Genoese. Her rates were in my budget, and she hit the deadline, and she did excellent work. My review average jumped up a full star once I’d implemented her edits.

Unfortunately, as of this writing, Preditors and Editors is no more, but there are other ways to find good editors. I now rely upon a second editor for many of my books, Tammy Salyer. I believe we crossed paths back when both of us were up for the same blog award for best sci-fi book of the year. (We lost to Hugh Howey, as many people have.) After some cross promotion, I decided to give her services a try and I’ve been very happy with her work as well.

Naturally I don’t expect you to follow my path of using websites that don’t exist and general serendipity to find your editors. If you’ve come this far in my series, you’ve probably had some interactions with other aspiring writers, in writing groups, on KBoards, and similar places. Those are also good places to find editors, or to find people who can give recommendations. Do your homework, make sure they do good work, and when you find someone you like, reach out to them.

A few notes on this. Most editors are fine editing any genre, with the possible exceptions of erotica or non-fiction. Both require a different editorial eye and sensibility, and you may need to find a specialized editor to handle them. Also, expect to pay. Not that there aren’t top-notch editors out there working for less, but as in all things, editing is something where you get what you pay for. I usually budget (as a rule of thumb) about a penny a word for standard copyediting. If I write 100,000 words, I pay $1,000. Other editors work by the hour, but you’ll often notice that this works out to about the same price. (Almost as though they calibrated their rate to hit the industry standard.) I assure you, if you end up getting a spike in sales at any point, that $1000 can easily be the difference between those people loving your book and picking up the next one and trashing your book and ruining your review score. This is not a place to be stingy.

Okay, so that covers getting your editor. Once you’ve got him or her, what’s next? Check for availability. Good editors are in high demand, and it isn’t unusual to have to wait months for a slot. Once you’re familiar with your writing speed, it’s common for folks to book their editor before they’re even done writing. Getting a slot will usually involve offering up a brief description of your story (genre, not plot, though again, check or ask for their guidelines and make sure you’re not submitting something on their no-no list) and an estimation of the word count. They’ll quote you a price and a timeline. If that sounds good, you might get a contract to sign, laying out what services they’ll provide, what materials and payment you’ll provide, and the terms of the payment. Look it over, sign it, and follow the instructions on how to send your manuscript.

In Scrivener, I hit compile and save everything as a docx, then send it out. In word, I hit save and send it out. That’s it. Some editors may request to receive your manuscript in a “basic” format, meaning no fancy formatting. In my experience, it’s never really been an issue. Just send it off and you’re good to go.

How I Write: Step 7 – The Second Revision

So now you’ve completed a book, and people have read it. If you are phenomenally lucky, even your harshest critics will think you’ve done a wonderful job and you’ll be good to go. If you are normal, people will have observations/problems which may need to be addressed. And that means you’ll need to do a second revision.

The Hardware

No new hardware for this one.

The Software

Likewise, no new software. You’ve already revised once, this is the same deal, just with feedback from people besides you.

The Content

For the second revision, you’ll have notes from beta readers to contend with. The first thing you’ll want to do is gather and classify them. Beta readers can identify all sorts of things, and addressing them can have varied amounts of priority. Here’s my personal ranked list.

Most important: Plot Holes

I hate when plot holes make it through to the main story. Some of them can seem very minor. (How did that guy get his sword back after he dropped it?) Others are utterly gaping. (That character died in the last book and saves the day in this one with no comment or mention from the other characters.) So you’ll want to make sure you address every single one of these before moving on to other proposed fixes. Frequently, the solution is as simple as adding a sentence foreshadowing or explaining it. Sometimes you’ll need to restructure your story. Seal these up, though. They ruin the story for the reader and really hurt your review score.

Very Important: Pacing Problems

I almost always have to deal with at least a few pacing issues. These come up when you have, for example, two or three chapters in a row without any action or plot advancement. You might feel like you’re heaping on some delightful character development, but if it doesn’t feel important or if it’s too much too quickly, you can bore your readers. Less dedicated readers might even abandon the book entirely. So if something’s too slow, consider whittling it down a bit or mixing in something exciting in the center.

Similarly, sometimes you can end up with—oh, I don’t know—200 pages of solid climax. That sort of thing can be hard to follow and can exhaust a reader. Better to space it out or trim it down. Another common problem I run into is the tendency to rush the ending, either very quickly resolving the final conflict or leaving an awful lot of dangling plot threads. These can be solved with a revised climax and/or a nice long epilogue. I love me a nice epilogue.

Somewhat Important: Character Consistency

It’s a bit misleading to put this at a reduced priority compared to the other two, but that’s just because very frequently fixing plot holes will fix character problems. What we’re dealing with here is when your characters act… out of character. Do you have someone who is afraid of heights striding confidently across the top of a cliff? Do you have a dimwitted character using some serious vocabulary? Did a kind person act viciously cruel or vice versa? In any of these situations, that could be an intended element of plot. But if your beta readers felt it was out of character, double check to see that you’ve properly set up the evolution or motivation.

Also, a very different problem with a similar name, make sure you’ve got the right character names. Shameful as it may seem, often at least once in a story I’ll swap the names of who characters for a whole conversation, which can really throw the reader into a spiral of confusion.

Low Priority: Wish Fulfillment, Recommendations

This happens most often with ascended fans who are doing your beta reading, but sometimes people wish things had gone another way. Bob and Alice should realize they’re in love. Evil K. Villainpants should be humiliated before he’s defeated. Worrywart Sadsack should get a chance to be a butt kicker.

You’ve got to be careful with these. Sometimes they are a great idea, but they need to be a really great idea to derail your story for its inclusion. Which brings up an important point. Don’t feel obligated to incorporate every opinion. The most vocal and consistent of my beta readers (you know who you are) almost inevitably gets into a debate with me about a minor plot point. Sometimes that point is valid and I eventually address it. Other times that point is addressed in five other places across the book and earlier books in the series and doesn’t require any adjustment. It’s important to be willing to accept criticism and admit faults, but it’s just as important to remember that it’s your story to tell and sometimes things are going to be subtler, or more chaotic, or gentler, or rougher, or a dozen other things than the reader is expecting.

Once you address all the changes that need changing, if you’re very lucky, you might be able to hand it back for another round with the beta readers. Don’t bet on this. Unless you’ve got world-class beta readers or a very long timeline, you might just have to settle with re-reading the adjusted chunks of the story on your own before moving on to the next stage. The exception is if a sweeping and massive change to the story is made, possibly due to a glaring plot hole that makes the rest of the plot unresolvable. If you re-write enough story for it to basically be a whole new story, it might be worth doing a full, beta-tested third revision. If not, brace yourself, because next up you send it to the editor.