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.

How I Write: Step 6 – Into Beta

While some people are better at editing than others, people who can get a flawless edit without any help are about as common as unicorns. It’s been said many times, but when you read something you’ve written, especially shortly after writing it, you’re more likely to read what you meant to write than what’s actually on the page. Add to that the fact that you, by definition, know the entire story and you’re in danger of leaving out important facts and clues that could leave your readers confused. Thus, even if you think you story is structurally perfect, you could use a few spare sets of eyeballs.

The Hardware

Paper. I haven’t tried this one, but it was recently suggested to me that having a printing place like Kinkos (do they still exist?) print up a dozen or so spiral-bound copies of your first draft. For the security conscious, this makes piracy a little more difficult—but if you’re worried about piracy from one of your beta readers, you should probably pick your beta readers more carefully. It also allows the less tech savvy to read and take notes on your stuff. The person who suggested this idea to me, Mark Coker of Smashwords, even suggested putting little questionnaires after key chapters to see what people think. Interesting.

The Software

In the most basic form, you can just print or email the original manuscript. This is simple, but limits the ways people can interact with hit. Thus, the time has come for me to mention one of the workhorses of my self-publishing toolchain, Calibre. Officially, Calibre is for organizing and cataloguing your ebooks. Think of it as sort of an offline version of the backend that keeps your Kindle fed from Amazon. However, to ensure that it can take the books you own and make them work with any of your devices, it includes one of the most robust ebook conversion tools I’ve ever seen. It is free, it takes many formats for conversion, and it spits things out in just about any format you can imagine.

The Content

The first thing you’ll need for a beta reading round is beta readers. There are loads of ways to find them, and I’d recommend you do your best to find at least one person of each sort to get the best range of perspectives on your book. I’m of the opinion the more readers the better, as good advice is indispensable. More importantly, schedules can fill up in a hurry, and having a lot of names to call on increases the chances that someone will be able to help you out.

So where do you find folks? Family is one good one, though not the best. Family is quite likely to be more mindful of your feelings than the quality of the story. It may hurt to have someone point out a plot element that doesn’t make a tremendous amount of sense, or that your prose could use some polishing up, but these are things you need to know. So, don’t avoid family for beta readers, but don’t rely upon them exclusively. Presumably you know where to find your family though, so tracking them down is easy.

Friends have all the same strengths and weakness as family, though possibly they’re less likely to sugar coat things. Friends of friends and family of friends are a few steps closer to being strangers, and thus are still more likely to be punishingly honest.

If you’re already an author, fellow authors are very good to have as beta readers. They’re much more likely to have an opinion about the finer elements of storytelling. They might be more unforgiving, but they are also likely to have opinions that are flavored by their own voice. Something that wouldn’t make sense in one of their books would make perfect sense for you and for your audience. Authors congregate in places like KBoards, and there are plenty of writing groups in places like reddit or Facebook, so look around and find a good match.

Fans. If you’re really lucky, you might already have fans. They’re handy to have as beta readers because they are intimately familiar with your voice and your writing, and moreover they have very good insight into the desires and expectations of your specific audience, since they are your specific audience. I would suggest picking fans who have been vocal, who have shared their thoughts in depth, and maybe who have caught typos for you in the past. They might have the same problem as your family, though, in that they might not want to give you bad news.

Once you have your beta readers, you’ll need a way to organize them. For the longest time, I simply talked to them via individual emails, using a custom contact list to keep track. More recently, my fellow author Lindsay Buroker suggested a secret Facebook group, which has proved quite effective at allowing not only the distribution of files, but the fostering of conversation.

When you’ve got all the people you need, and you’ve got a way to keep in touch with them, you’ve got to get the files to them. I’ll go into the fancier details in later steps, but here’s where Calibre comes in. I like to save my story as a docx (it is an option as export from Scrivener, and a standard export format for most word processors). I drag and drop it into Calibre, then select it and hit “Convert Books.” ePub and Mobi will cover 99.9999% of all ebook readers, and will be readable on most phones via the appropriate apps. Some prefer PDFs for reading on the PC, so you can choose that as an export, but in my experience that format is better off exported directly from the original word processor. You can add them all to the secret group, email them, or upload them to a service like Bookfunnel, which not only provides a single link, but provides instructions for readers who might not know how to load up the ebooks themselves.

Now your readers can get your books. All you need to do is let them know when you need the feedback by (if you have a deadline) and give them any sort of guidance regarding concerns or things they should focus on. At this stage, if you’re planning a professional edit later (and you really should) then you should let people know that typos aren’t a concern at this point as they’ll get swept up in the edit.

And there you have it, you’ve started your beta round. My last bit of advice on this is to treat your beta readers right. These people are the last line of defense between you and yourself. Without them, you might put out a book that only makes sense to you. Don’t argue with them unless you’re friendly enough and familiar enough with each other to do so without hurt feelings. And don’t forget to show your gratitude. I offer sneak peeks, free swag, etc. Wine and chocolate are standard bribes as well, and for authors, offering to beta read in return is customary.

Stuctophis and the Calderan Problem

Hi everyone! If you’ve not seen it elsewhere, you should know that Structophis is available now

I’m pleased to see that people are enjoying the story (some really good reviews) and I’m relieved to know that the Kindle exclusive nature of the book hasn’t ruffled too many feathers. More to the point, though, at long last the time has come to formally announce (here, anyway) the first book in too long to not be Kindle Exclusive.

The Calderan Problem

Yes indeed. Written during last year’s NaNoWriMo, I’m happy to announce that the fourth book of the Free-Wrench series is available for pre-order on iBooks, Amazon, and a bunch of other places! The release date on most places is Sept. 20th, but iBooks will be getting it on Sept. 5th because they’ve been real friends of the series.

Because I’m a blithering buffoon, my website–ostensibly the key element of my promotional platform–is the last place I’ve announced this. But hey, save the best for last, right? Anyway, here’s the blurb:

The Calderan Problem is the fourth high-flying, swashbuckling adventure in the Free-Wrench series from Joseph R. Lallo, author of the Book of Deacon and Big Sigma series.

Several months have passed since Nita’s last adventure in the fug, and though she has spent them back in her native Caldera, she has never been busier. After countless debates and discussion, she has finally convinced her people to give the Wind Breaker and its crew safe harbor on the shores of her idyllic homeland. Now she is looking forward to introducing Captain Mack, Lil, Coop, and the rest of the crew to the land of her birth.

Back in the fug, Gunner has remained behind to help their friends in the Well Diggers deal with problems beneath the fug. Their old foe Lucius P. Alabaster has become even more unhinged and eccentric since their last clash. When his latest scheme seems to be having even greater success than his last, Gunner decides he needs to get to the bottom of it. Flamboyant and overconfident though he may be, Alabaster is not to be taken lightly.

As machinations unfold, worlds clash, and relationships develop, the Wind Breaker and its crew discover that this latest adventure may have greater consequences than they’d ever imagined.

A special note of the “relationships develop” part of that description. Some folks know exactly what that means. Others will be taken by surprise. Hopefully it’s a pleasant surprise, but I look forward to hearing what people think!

How I Write: Step 5 – The First Revision

It’s been a while since my last post, but that’s because several short stories and at least one whole book have wedged themselves into my calendar, and as a result, the specific book I was basing this series on was shuffled around more than I typically allow. That said, it’s time to get back to it. By now you’ve Done the Bird’s Eye View, possibly drawn up an Outline, sliced things up into Scenes, Written a Rough Draft, and maybe even done some On-The-Fly Rewrite. Now it’s time to do the first real revision.

The Hardware

Not too much new here. I like to keep a “tear out the pages” style pad around. Any of the memo pads I’ve described in earlier steps will do fine.

The Software

At this stage, I’m still in Scrivener, but you’ll be in your word processing program of choice.

The Content

If you’ve been following along, your story will be littered with little, easy-to-find notes regarding how you want the story to go. The first thing you’ll want to do is do a global search and put all those notes in one place, with some indication of what position they belong in the story. Sometimes I paraphrase or clarify as I go, but mostly I just copy them from where they are in the story and plunk them down in a universal “time to fix this” location. For Scrivener, this means I split the screen into two horizonal panes and keep the notes in the top one and the current chapter of the revision in the bottom. I also do not delete them from the body of the story until they’ve been addressed or I’ve changed my mind about them. That way you have a second indicator of precisely where you felt it should be place, or at least where you thought of it.

A few words on specifics here. If you’re using Scrivener, there are a ton of ways to keep notes. If you open “Inspector” (accessible via the little blue “I” in the top right corner), you’ll have a section for Document notes (for only this section) and Project Notes (For Everything). I used to plop all my notes in there, dividing them up into global and specific changes respectively. Lately I’ve abandoned that to the single, universal notes document. Basically, I kept losing specific changes I wanted to make, missing that I’d not fixed a specific one because I happened to have the Project version of the notes pane open and vice versa. Your experience may vary, but I prefer a separate document that I can keep open.

When you’ve collected all the changes you had in mind, it’s a good idea to read through them to see which ones you’ll need to be mindful of early on. “Go back and make sure this happened” is the sort of note that comes long after you were supposed to have addressed it, so maybe move it up in the order. You can also take this time to delete notes that either conflict or that were bad ideas. This is also the best stage to make a list of the scenes you think need to be added and maybe trace some ideas out for them, if you haven’t already.

After prioritizing and pruning the collection of notes, there are two ways you can choose to progress. One way is simply to step through the notes one by one and make the changes. This works well for specific, one or two sentence changes. It’s less suited for notes that require subtle adjustments across the whole story. The alternate method is to read through the whole story, checking back frequently to cross off changes as they are made. I prefer the latter method because, as you’ll soon see, you’ll have to go through and read the whole thing anyway.

Let’s assume you’ve chosen to go with the “read and apply changes as you go” approach. This is a combined proofread and revision. As you go, there are a few things you’ll want to watch out for.


You don’t have to be comprehensive in catching your typos here. That’s what the final pass and editor are for. However, since this is the last step before someone else will be reading your story, it’s a good idea to get it to something approaching an intelligible state. You’ll also want to rework sentences that don’t hit the ear right and try to filter out the usual dings and dents that show up in a rough draft.


Now that the story is a complete unit, you finally get to see if the pacing you set up in your scene and outline steps was well done. In my case, there is always some disconnect between how long I intended certain sections to go and how long they actually went. This could mean that what you intended to be a short information scene as become a huge exposition scene. Or it could mean that the sprawling fight scene you expected turned out to be just a few sentences. Either way, you might end up with a story with too many lapses in the action for your taste, or too much action and not enough time to breathe and let the characters be characters.

I am not the sort of author who deletes whole scenes or trims huge chunks. Maybe someday, when I’m better at writing, I will be. Right now, it always feels like I wrote that for a reason, and thus can’t lose it without making dozens of adjustments everywhere else to accommodate the edit. Thus, my solution is normally to split scenes that run too long into multiple parts. I can then either write a new scene from a different story thread in between the two halves (most frequent solution) or shift a later or earlier scene into the split (much rarer).

If you determine the only thing you can do is cut a scene, I suggest making a folder or document for deleted scenes rather than outright deleting them. You can borrow good lines or at least keep track of plot developments that way.


This one is a huge problem for me, and one that only becomes more problematic if you’re doing a lot of scene splitting and scene shifting. You need to keep track of the passage of time. What I do is, at the bottom of my notes document, keep a running tally of how much time has passed since the inciting event in the story. Every time you get to a passage of time phrase, tack it onto the tally. You might also want to include with that where each of your characters physically are and what they are doing, if you’ve bot multiple threads that will need lining up. If nothing else, this will make it more difficult for you to entirely forget a plot thread or character… which may or may not have happened to me many times in the past.

Frequently doing this timeline audit will reveal to you that things don’t flow right. A character didn’t have time to travel, or something of that sort. The fix is the same as problems with pace. Find a way to insert an even elsewhere. Either to speed things up or to slow things down, such that the story falls back into alignment. This is also where “for a few days” and other non-specific passages of time can be your friend, though many stories don’t have the flexibility for that sort of fudge factor.


You’ll need to write the scenes you feel need writing. Probably the best way to do this is to wait until you’ve completed the readthrough and thus identified every scene that needs writing, so you can write them all at once. What I do is write the scenes as I get up to them, which means I may have multiple mini writing sessions, but I’ll also still have the same brain context from the preceding scene. Do what you feel works best.

Once you’ve gotten all the way to the end you may want to go back and read it a second time. Feel free if you like, but in my experience, you’ll be better served with waiting a bit, during which your beta readers can get their crack at it. We’ll cover that in the next section.

Structophis Pre-Order!

Hey folks! One of the many things I have obliquely hinted about over the past year or so has been a project called Pizza Dragon. It languished in the background for a while because, as you may agree when you read the description, it’s sort of an experiment. Well, having already experimented once this year with Rogue Derelict (available now as a part of Kindle Worlds), I figured, why not try another experiment? Thus, I offer you, StructophisIt is available for pre-order now and releases on July 12th.

Structophis V2a

Cover art is by the antidarkheart

This is sort of a young adult-flavored story (according to my early readers), following a young man named Markus who finds himself the defacto mama to a rare and exotic creature called a Structophis Gastrignae. As if taking care of it would not be difficult enough on its own, it turns out this particular creature wasn’t being very well cared for prior to his discovery. If the police were to discover he even had one of these, let alone that it was potentially neglected, he’d be in hot water. Not only that, but there are greedy, very well connected people out there who have their own far less nurturing plans for the beast he’s dubbed Blodgette. Can he and his animal expert-buddy Gale keep Blodgette safe and themselves out of jail? Let’s find out!

While I’m proud of the story itself, the story of the story is pretty interesting too. You see, I’m not the person who came up with Structophis Gastrignae. The species is the brainchild of an artist named ProjectENDO. He’s a skilled artist who has created some of the more memorable images of my characters, including one of the rare moving images:


I read his reference on the species and was impressed by its specificity. It inspired me to write a couple of chapters as a gift to him. Many months later, after getting a little burnt out on writing the stuff that would pad out The Big Sigma Collection, I decided to take a few weeks to write this story, and once it was done, why not release it. After all, the artist himself even drew Blodgette in all of her pudgy glory.


Since this is based largely on his brains, naturally I would be splitting the money with him. This, however, has a consequence.

I am rare among my peers in that I have got a VERY diverse income. On an average month I get at least some money (often only a few dollars) from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, Google, Kobo, Audible, CreateSpace, and many others. Separating the income from a single book from each of those storefronts and doing proper accounting for it would be VERY time consuming. Thus, to simplify matters, I’m going to be limiting this book to Amazon. It is the largest single earner for me, and going exclusive there provides some benefits which I’ve been itching to try. If you are a non-Amazon customer, my apologies. Depending on how things go, I may go wide eventually, but in the mean time, I’m hoping to get the paperback up quickly for this one, to give another option.

Anyway, I hope you’ll enjoy the story! Once again, you can pre-order at Amazon, and the book releases on July 12th.

Paperback Cheat Sheet

This is more of a service to my fellow author-types than something that might be of value to readers, so if you’re interested in book doings… well, unless you’re reading this at a very specific point in history, you’ve already read about the Structophis announcement directly above this.

I do my own paperback formatting, and as such, I do it very rarely. Below is my semi-organized paperback formatting list. I hope you find it helpful. This is specifically for setting up for a 6×9 paperback at CreateSpace, but it should be fairly obvious where changes should be made for other sizes.

  1. Select the whole document.
  2. Go to Page Layout Ribbon
  3. Click the “Page Setup” dropdown button thing.
  4. Margins Tab
    1. Under Pages, make it Multiple Pages: Mirror Margins
    2. Under Margins: Top, Bottom and Outside are all 0.5″
      1. Inside varies by word count, but I usually do 0.75″
      2. Page Count Inside Margin Outside Margins
        24 to 150 pages .375″ at least .25″
        151 to 300 pages .5″ at least .25″
        301 to 500 pages .625″ at least .25″
        501 to 700 pages .75″ at least .25″
        701 to 828 pages .875″ at least .25″
    3. Gutter 0″
    4. This applies to the whole document.
  5. Paper Tab
    1. Change width to 6″, height to 9″
  6. Hit Okay
  7. After the title and Author name, insert a section break
    1. This is on the Page Layout Tab under “Breaks”
    2. In this case, chose “Next Page”
  8. Go Back to the title page and click on the name, then click the page setup dropdown again.
    1. Section Start: Odd Page
    2. Headers and Footers: Different Odd and Even, Different First page.
    3. Page: Vertical Alignment: Center
    4. Apply to This section.
  9. Hit okay.
  10. Remove bold and make Title size 36 font.
  11. Make Name size 18 font.
  12. Put 4 “name” sized new lines between Title and Name.
  13. Go to the next page, where your Copyright should be.
    1. We’ll be using a size 10 font, centered.
  14. Copyright ©[year] [Author Name]
  15. Blank line, then: All rights reserved.
  16. Blank line, then: ISBN: [the isbn-10 for the paperback]
  17. On the next line: ISBN-13: [the isbn-13 for the paperback]
  18. After the ISBN-13 line, insert section break, specifically “Odd page”
  19. Go back to the Copyright page and click the page layout dropdown.
    1. Should start on even page.
    2. Should be alligned vertically with the bottom.
    3. This section only.
  20. Next page will be the Dedication.
    1. “Dedication” in size 14, Centered, All Caps
    2. One blank line
    3. The text of the dedication in normal body text size. (12, right now).
  21. After Dedication text, make a new section that starts on the Odd page.
  22. Go back to the dedication page and set the page layout
    1. Should be vertically centered.
  23. Next Page will be your table of contents.
    1. Go to “References Ribbon”
    2. Click “Table of contents”
    3. I choose automatic table 2 (the one that says table of contents.)
    4. Optionally, fix the header to look like the rest.
  24. After the table of contents start a new section on odd page.
  25. This will be your Acknowledgment Page.
    1. “Acknowledgments” in size 14
    2. One blank line
    3. The text of the dedication in normal body text size. (12, right now).
  26. After Acknowledgment Text, new section, odd page.
  27. Back to acknowledgment page and center it vertically.
  28. Double click the footer area:
    1. Unclick Link to Previous at the top.
    2. On the left of the ribbon, click page number, then format page numbers.
    3. For this page, it’ll be “i”, and click for it to start counting at i
    4. Ok.
    5. Click Page number again, and click Bottom of page, then plain number 2.
    6. Make sure you have done the same for Odd and Even Numbered pages.
  29. Close Header and Footer by clicking that button or double clicking elsewhere.
  30. Now fix your headers:
    1. Modify the style to be size 16, bold, centered.
    2. Don’t automatically page break.
    3. Add 72 pts before line.
  31. Make sure that you put page break after the last line of each chapter. This will automatically space the next chapter (which starts with a heading) by 72pts (plus one line).
  32. Be sure to update the table of contents for the new page numbers.
  33. On page 2 (which should be the second page of Chapter 1, double click the header.
  34. Type the author name in the header, centered, without indent
  35. On page 3, type the title, centered, without indent.
  36. With Header and Footers still open
    1. Click on each page upto and including the first page of the first chapter.
    2. Click the Different First Page box on the top of the screen.
  37. Save the result.
  38. Export as a PDF.


Announcing Rogue Derelict

An original story set in Lindsay Buroker’s Fallen Empire setting


For quite a while I’ve been interested in collaborating with another author on a book. If you follow me at all, you know that my paths have crossed with Lindsay Buroker on many occassions, most notably her recruitment of me to pitch in on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast. She’s basically the author I want to be when I grow up, with the dedication and prolific brain to pump out books three times faster than I could ever hope to.

Lindsay’s multiple series tend to make a pretty big splash once they build up a head of steam, and her Firefly-esque space opera known as the Fallen Empire series is so popular Amazon tapped it for their Kindle Worlds program, which allows other authors/fans/etc to write stories in a setting and split the earnings with the series creator. When she was looking for reliable authors to pen a novel for launch, I ignored the requirement that we be reliable and threw my hat in the ring. The result? Fallen Empire: Rogue Derelict. Here’s the Blurb:

Rogue Derelict is pulse-pounding side-story set in the universe of Lindsay Buroker’s Fallen Empire Series.

In the chaos following the fall of the empire, Benita Castor wants nothing more than to live a nice quiet life. She thought she made all the right decisions. What could be safer than becoming an accountant? Where could she be more secure than the industrial fringe of the empire’s most civilized planet? Yet somehow, she finds herself in the employ of a crime boss and is shipped off to audit a recent acquisition in a forgotten corner of the system.

Her new assignment is an old Kirian space station being developed by Nori Veshcha, an enterprising woman with big plans for the relic. Nori is overflowing with ambition, innovative ideas, and confidence—though her crew leaves something to be desired. Her chief technician, Blick Mathson, is a man more familiar with collecting debts than repairing ships. The only other crew member, her personal valet Lefty Hammermill, is a dim-witted but well-meaning grunt with secondhand cybernetics. Not much of a workforce to tackle the task of converting a centuries-old hunk of junk into a cutting-edge resort, but Nori is nothing if not determined.

At first, the assignment has the makings of an unpleasant but uneventful enterprise, even if Nori is somewhat overly cool, Blick is a bit overly warm, and Lefty is just overly Lefty. When a second relic of a bygone era makes an unscheduled arrival and its crew assumes Benita is their Kirian commander, she and the others realize the echoes of the past could have grave consequences for their future.

Can a mismatched skeleton crew on a malfunctioning space station rise to the challenge, or will a remnant of history remind the system that some threats aren’t gone, they’re simply forgotten?

If you’ve never read any of Lindsay’s Fallen Empire stories–first of all, you should–fear not. I chose to produce an original set of characters to play around in their setting. Though pre-existing knowledge of the setting might help you enjoy the story, I’ve endeavored to include enough context to make it enjoyable even from a complete newcomer’s perspective. (None of my beta readers have read Lindsay’s stuff, and they seemed to enjoy it.)

I hope you’ll give the story a chance. If you like it, remember there is a whole world of others, not to mention Lindsay’s original stories. Right now it is exclusive to Amazon, and also exclusive to the United States, so not all of you will have the opportunity to read it. For those aren’t chased away by those limitations, check it out along with the rest of the series. For the rest of you, I’ve got a little something to make it up to you…