Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Felicia Day can Write!

Once upon a time, a brilliant redhead broke through the stereotypical barriers of the entertainment industry and became a living legend, both on and off the internet. Embraced by geekdom far and wide, she became a pop icon, adored by millions. Now she's written a book about this amazing journey and it's fantastic. At least my kid tells me it is...

I'm going to do something really, really weird here--I'm going to review a book I haven't read. See, I don't feel like I need to review it, because my daughter read it and won't stop talking about it. And that's a great, and curious thing. 

I'm a nerd. And was once upon a pre-parent time, an avid reader. I rarely read anymore, what with my own writing, Netflix and X-box sucking up what little time I don't spend with my kids. I was crushed when my eldest daughter didn't turn out to be a reader. She is full-on nerd, and does so much else with me. But she just doesn't enjoy immersing herself in a book--not Douglas Adams', nor even her dear old dad's. With one exception: THIS BOOK

My teen read Ms. Day's book in a week. Impressive. She dedicated her school project for Advanced English to it. She did a slide show presentation about it. She regaled me with Felicia Day stories all day long, every day, to the point I had to find podcast appearances by Ms. Day so I could fire back with something original. 

As a parent, I can't think you enough Ms. Day. You really captured my kid's attention. Hopefully, she'll embrace books like her younger sister, and I can get her to try Piers Anthony's Xanth series, or maybe Tolkien, or even Roger Zelazny. In my wildest dreams, she'll scoop up the classic pulps by the likes of ERB, Howard, and even Dent. Or she'll stick with nonfiction. Maybe I can get her to check out "If Chins Could Kill" or Ted Nugent's interesting books. 

In any event, job well done. I've added your book to my own reading list, but short of a lottery win and life of luxury, I probably won't get around to it until about 2020. I look forward to it though!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

SELF PUBLISHING 101: Where to Start

So you've finally finished that short story, novella or novel you've been working on and you want to get your work out there for all, or some, to see. Where do you go?

In the old days, you could mail a hard copy to an agent or Publisher and wait around for months to see if anyone bothered to read it or it was banished to a slushpile before its ultimate demise in the local landfill. Assuming your work was read, and green-lit for publication, you might get an advance then get to sit back and wait a year to see it appear on a book shelf in a store.

Your alternative to this lengthy process was to sell a kidney and pay an exorbitant amount of money to a vanity publisher who would run off a few dozen copies of your books and mail them to your doorstep. From there, you'd begin a campaign of begging at local bookstores, gifting to friends and family, and selling your prose from the trunk of your car like a drug dealer. Eventually, all those leftover prints would languish in your garage, feeding countless generations of insects and mold spores.

Thankfully, those days are over.

Today, we have Self-publishing, where we, the Authors, get to decide when people see our work. Better yet, as Internet Entrepreneurs, we control everything. Cover, content and marketing. For many aspiring writers, this may sound daunting, but it's really not. Self-publishing is actually very easy to do.

First off, ignore the naysayers. Traditional publishers and authors will often look down their noses at us Indie, self-publishers. They don't want us playing in their market, taking money they could have gotten. Friends and family might roll their eyes, scoffing at your idea to publish or telling you there's no money in writing. Forget all that crap. If you want to publish, you can. YOU are all that stands in the way.


That's a question I hear a lot. Heck, I even sat on a panel yesterday at Imaginarium, a Louisville, KY writer's conference. "Self-Publishing for Dummies" was an enlightening time for me. I was shocked to see so many folks wanting to publish but not knowing how to do it.

So, where do you start? The absolute best resource on the internet (which I assume you use, since you're reading this blog) is, and specifically, the sub-forum Writer's Cafe. This amazing online community of authors, readers, editors, proofers, cover designers, artists and more have a collective knowledge base that CANNOT be beaten. Ask ANYTHING and you'll get several answers. Please not, have a thick skin, though--some answers can be rough. Like any online community, there are trolls. DON'T FEED THE TROLLS. Read up and learn. You'll be amazed what you can find out, FOR FREE.

You can also listen to podcasts. is a great weekly show from the UK's Simon Whistler. He interviews those who have succeeded at self-publishing. Simon has a very liberal definition of "succeeded", with guests who are just starting out all the way to those making professional sums of money.

Joanna Penn hosts the weekly "The Creative Penn" podcast, another great interview podcast. Joanna really focuses on the behind-the-scenes of self-publishing and is a huge proponent of looking at your writing as a business.

Finally, check out your library. If there isn't a writers group, ask them to start one. Odds are, there are at least a half-dozen other aspiring authors in your community.


NOTHING. Not a damned thing. Many will tell you that writing is a business and requires investment, blah, blah, blabbity blah. Bullshit. Got a computer, or access to one? A completed story? Internet access? Bam. That's all you need. Yes, spending money will make a better product, thereby increasing your sales, but you don't need money to get started. You can self-publish for nothing, and even earn a few bucks, that you then reinvest to improve your product.


Writing is not the lottery... well, it is, kind of. But don't think of it that way. There are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of us self-publishing. The odds of being that one needle in the ebook haystack that scores it big and sells enough money to buy a new house are slim. Don't chase that pony. Write because you want to write. Because you enjoy it. If you get all desperate to make a buck or ten, you will suck the joy out of this possible profession. Instead, think of writing, and self-publishing as a part-time job. When you get better, you might be able to go full time. You might make enough to quit your day job. Or to buy a speedboat and vacation in Monaco. Or you might be like most authors and just have enough to pay the bills and enjoy yourself. As long as writing and self-publishing doesn't cost you anything, or stress you out, it's a win.

A lot of authors, and cover designers, and editors will tell you that you have to invest in your book. That you don't want to put crap out, that it makes us all look bad, etc. etc. I say bullshit. Life insurance salesmen tell you that you need a policy not because they actually care about you, but because it's their job to sell them. Don't listen to an editor or a cover designer who says you need to pay for their services. You might, but don't let them pressure you into buying something you don't want. Or worse, convincing you to wait to self-publish because you can't afford a cover or an editor...


That doesn't mean having grandma read it with her trusty red pen in hand. It means go online and find some beta readers. Or join a website like Wattpad, where you can post snippets or whole novels and get feedback. Some online writers groups will have authors who'll edit, quid-prose-quo: you read theirs, they read yours.

You don't need a college degree to write a novel. Sure, it might help, but if you can tell a story, you can learn the mechanics of writing, for free, by talking to others or reading how. NEVER PAY for this information. The people who charge you for it are out to make a buck. Plenty of folks will share information for free.

Once you think you've got some good edits, start bargain shopping. FIVERR.COM is a great website that offers every imaginable service for $5.00. That includes covers, blurbs and more.


Keep it Simple, Stupid. That's an engineers expression, but it also works for covers. If you've ever been to a library, you've doubtless seen hardback books. Not all have fabulous artwork. Some have NO artwork. The only really important rules about cover design are:

1. Don't have bad art. Moldy bread isn't appetizing, and neither is bad art. Self-publishing is great, self-publishing something people buy is better. No art is better than bad art. Get opinions for free online before you put that art up.

2. Your cover must be readable. If a reader can't read the title of your book, you might as well have a blurry image or no image.

3. You don't marry your cover, nor is it written in stone. That first cover may be all you can afford, it may not generate many sales, but it's a cover. You can always go back and replace it later. Remember, REINVEST in your work. Start with a simple cover with a single symbol, title and your name. can give you that. Later, spring for some stock art at places like Fotalia or Shutterstock. Learn to do the art yourself with free programs like GIMP, or (re)invest in some cheap software online, like Corel Paintshop Pro on Amazon--it's less than $50 if you get an older version (just make sure it's compatible with your computer's version of Windows or Mac).

4. Keep it simple. (I know, I'm repeating).

5. Make it relate. Don't false advertise. Make sure you cover has SOMETHING to do with your book contents. If Harry Potter had a magic wand on the cover, it would work. If it had a mechanic's wrench... well, that would be misleading.


Proofreading is vital because our brains want to see our work the way we want it. We will often gloss over mistakes we've made, oblivious to them. Printing your work and reading it helps. So does reading it aloud, but there's still going to be something to slip through. Even if you paid an editor, something might slip through. Get a Proofer, or a Beta Reader. People will do that for free sometimes, or, again, you can swap proofing with another author-to-be.


Always improve your work, polishing that turd to shiny perfection. At least for a while. Don't put off your next work to perfect your self-published work, but there's no reason why you can't go back and fix typos, or plot points readers griped about, or put a better cover up. Hell, you can even change the title if you want! It's YOUR book!


More than 70% of ebooks are bought on Kindle. Don't sweat iTunes, Kobo, etc. etc. when you're first starting out (and avoid Google, their interface sucks). Kindle has easy, simple instructions online. If you can use a word processor program and pay bills online, you can get your manuscript read and uploaded. It's not that hard. If you can't, shop around for someone who will format it. Maybe even on, or on KBoards.

What? You want print editions? It'd be cheaper to buy some scrap wood to shove under the leg of that wobbly table. Don't kill yourself trying to put together a print edition until you're ready. It is a lot more complicated. Not impossible-complicated, but significantly harder. (yet another Amazon subsidiary) offers a fairly easy system for making print copies. But before you do that, make sure the eversion will sell. Make sure you have a winning, or at least selling cover. Print copies are an investment of money you could spend on better cover art or editing. Invest those royalties easily.


Just because Hugh Howey has sold a bazillion copies of Wool, or the guy working the drive thru at McDonalds sold one whole ebook in five years doesn't mean that is your fate. Genre, target audience, and product quality are just some of the factors that make books sell. LUCK is the greatest. Your book is one of millions out there. Even if you win the lottery and produce a Superbowl Half Time ad, what you write may only sell to a few folks. That's perfectly okay. Keep writing. Keep self-publishing. You can do it.

Friday, September 04, 2015

In Memory of Warren Murphy

(September 13, 1933-September 4, 2015)

It is with great sorrow that I mourn the passing of one of my literary heroes, Warren Murphy. Best known for his co-creation of the incredible "The Destroyer" series, Mr. Murphy has joined his former writing partner, the late Richard Sapir, in that mystery that lies beyond this mortal coil.

A New York Times best selling author, chess grandmaster, and father of many, Mr. Murphy and his co-creation were my inspiration to start writing decades ago. I was fortunate enough to attend a fan birthday celebration in 2014, finally meeting Mr. Murphy in person. 

Like the heroes he wrote about, Warren Murphy was a larger than life character. A friendly man who seemed humble about his accomplishments but who made time for his fans all the same. He leaves behind sons and daughters, some of whom I was fortunate enough to meet. Judging by those children, and by his writing offline as well as between the covers, I have no doubt that Mr. Murphy was a kindred spirit and one our modern world, so in need of role models and heroes, will surely be the worse for without.

I salute Mr. Murphy for his accomplishments and character and am glad to have had the opportunity to have met him. My deepest sympathies and strongest prayers go to those he has left behind, and I look forward to meeting him once more when I too make that eventual trip to Heaven.

God bless, Warren Murphy and his family and friends, and may we all learn to be a little better by following his example. 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Don't Bring a Novel to a Comic Book Convention...

(Every Sunday is Self-Publishing Sunday, where we discuss tips, tricks and failures learned from self-publishing since 2012)

After all is said and done, you've written and self-published your novel, you need to sell it. At least, I assume you do. Some folks self-publish simply so they can say they have. Not I. I self-publish to create a product I can sell for money. Or barter. I'd consider bartering.

It's often not enough to simply self-publish your novel and have it for sale on Amazon, or iTunes, or Nook, or wherever. You're one of millions of novels. A small grain in a sea of endless sand. And, as the days pass after publishing, you get washed out, further and further from the New Release shore. Will readers wade in to find you, or will they stay high and dry on shore happily sifting their eyes through the dry, beachfront literary sand?

Comic book and scifi conventions might seem like a tempting venue to hawk your wares. They are more then plentiful these days. But before you dash off to Createspace and make that print edition, step back and look at things objectively. Don't act in desperation.

First, as with any product, determine who your buyers are. You aren't panhandling. Or at least, you shouldn't be. Waving a cup at passerby hoping they'll buy your book is foolish at best. You need to plan on selling. Kids don't erect Lemonade stands in the dead of winter for a reason. 

Knowing your audience/target demographic is key to not wasting your time. And, if you're like me, time is precious. Sitting in a booth all day, not selling anything is a crime against your craft. Far better to sit at home, actually writing all day, than frittering away your weekend--and spending money you won't recoup.

"But I meet all kinds of cool people at cons!" you might protest. That is true. But you could meet those same people merely by attending. Which is far cheaper, takes less time, and is more interesting than sitting in a booth. 

But I'm getting ahead of myself. 

Once you've determined who your novel will sell to, determine where they might be. And where they won't be.

Got a kid's book about Giraffes who can't scratch their nose and need a friend with stubby arms? Odds are you won't find many kids at the latest Horror Convention in town. Yes, some zombie cosplaying parents might be there, but they might want to bring up little Johnny in the same gothic lifestyle they embrace. Itchy Giraffe may not sell. 

From personal experience, I will tell you that people at comic book conventions aren't looking for novels to buy. Unless maybe they're super hero novels. No, comic book conventions are places people go to buy comic book-related items. Like comic books. T-shirts with favorite characters. 

I know, I know. There's a whole cottage industry of crap at every convention. Candles. Soaps. Mugs. But those are RELATED to the focus of the convention. Would I buy a Human Torch candle? Maybe. Would I buy a Punisher coffee mug? Absolutely. But would I buy a novel about two star-crossed lovers embracing passionately on the cover as a field of grain sways behind them. Hell no. I want ass KICKING, not kissing.

What's that? You do sell at comic conventions? Bored wives dragged along by their geek spouses snatch up your literary porn on a regular basis? Little Joannie loves your latest "Rainbow Ponies on Parade" picture book? Well that's just swell. I'm sure all five copies will net you sufficient profit to stop at McDonald's on the way home. And now you have five potential future readers, that might buy the next six books in your series, once you finish writing them a decade from now. Well done. 

However, let's recap your costs to get those possible future sales. Your booth probably ran you anywhere from $100.00 to $300.00 depending on the size of the show. You sat in it for one to three days, instead of writing "Diverse Donkeys in Delaware", the spinoff you've been thinking about starting. Not being at home, you couldn't run to the fridge for meals or call for delivery. And you didn't pack a cooler of food. So now you meals--unless you skipped them, sacrificing for your art--go on the ledger too. And don't forget travel time. Gas. Print costs--you know, those little bookmarks you had made, or spent two weeks laboriously cobbling together at home instead of you know, writing. 

All in all, by the end of the day, that Happy Meal you treated yourself to on the victorious drive home ended up costing you several hundred dollars--if you're lucky. You'd have been better off digging in the couch cushions for change or begging in a street corner. Bum cosplay has been around for decades, you know.

So, keep the kids books at home. And the epic Scifi. And the Murder mysteries and self-helps and thrillers... you get it. Comic book shows aren't the place to sell novels. Nor are Scifi Conventions--even if you have a scifi novel. 

People at conventions aren't looking for new properties. And they aren't going to stand there and read your book for several minutes to see if it's any good. That's the disadvantage we novelists have. People really can't judge our books by the covers. Any other product they can pick up and decide if it looks good in seconds. Particularly comic books that are filled with art. Or mugs. Or jewelry. Heck, they can even sniff the air of defeat and longing in those Bring Back Firefly candles. Novels are just page after page of letters. 

If you want to sell your novels, go where people are looking for novels. Like Book fairs. Or book conventions. Not farmer's markets. Not conventions for Cosplayers. You can still go to conventions. Jingle with fellow authors and fans, promote your work with logowear or a pocketful of business cards. But please, stop spending time and money on booths. It just doesn't pay off. 

Oh, and for the love of God, STOP TRYING TO SELL OTHER AUTHORS YOUR WORKS! Nothing is more defeating than to be pitching your novel to someone to interrupt you and begin talking about their novel. See, they got bored sitting in their booth, not selling anything, so they took a walk to stretch their legs. I know, I said I'd consider bartering, but I meant for good stuff, like collectibles, or chocolate. Not books. I have plenty of books. Stacks of books.

Want to buy one?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


Well, this is depressing...

I've been making my daughter stick with a schedule for podcasting lately... after she convinced me to start a podcast, she saw how hard it was and seemed to lose interest. It's been a struggle the past ten weeks to keep her motivated.

Ten weeks? Yep, ten. We only have seven episodes up though. We've missed three recording sessions now. One because we had to completely re-record. One due to technical difficulties in editing a session, and now, one because our computers crapped out. Yes, computers--plural. 

Being the packrats we are, the Martins have a collection of computers on hand. One desktop in need of a new HDD, one desktop that's about ten years old, running XP, my formerly-trusty Toshiba Satellite laptop running Vista, and the kids each got a brand new Toshiba laptop last summer when I retired from my last job. 

The working desktop isn't so good for recording... it freezes up repeatedly and has very little disk space left. 

The kids' laptops run that idiotic Windows 8 Tablet-wannabe OS, and have a single port for microphone and headphones, like a smart phone. So, we've been recording onto my trusty Satellite, which is about 5 years old. A great, albeit heavy, laptop that I do all my book covers on, format my novels for print editions and of course edit the podcast.

Well, it's time to bury the old Satellite. It's gone the way of the Amiga (although I have two working Amigas boxed up in the basement...). I believe it's a motherboard issue, meaning it's far beyond my paltry repair skills. Add in the kids repeatedly defy my prohibition on "free" gaming sites, clogging their laptops with adware and spam, and there was nary a laptop to be used last night. 

So no episode of Weirdology this week. 

This is doubly-depressing in it was our last episode before I started recording interviews with authors I've met online over the past three years of my own self-publishing endeavors. I was rather looking forward to that. 

Throw in the start of a new school year, a dog with ongoing, expensive medical problems and needing to set the wife up a home office for her work-at-home sessions from her job, and a new laptop gets bumped pretty far down on the old family budget. If only Kindle hadn't hamstrung my book sales with their Unlimited program. Not that I blame readers, I'd choose free over cheap too. 

Time to drown my sorrows in some Xboxxing...  

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Weirdology 101, Episode 8

It's time to record another Weirdology101 episode... This week: "By the Numbers", where we'll talk about numbers and how they're all around us, inspiring fiction, folklore and superstitions.

Got a favorite number, number trivia, story or just interesting bit of numerical insight? Give us a comment below.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Podcasting Update: What we've learned so far...

So the eldest daughter really wanted to podcast--she was enjoying a lot of shows on Youtube. Alas, none of her buddies would help.

Meanwhile, dad was balking at the prices for advertising books on podcasts... A perfect podcasting storm.

Almost two months later and we're slowly putting out Weirdology101, our introduction to the strange and mysterious, the supernatural and the paranormal--with the occasional help of my nine year old daughter.

What have we learned in two months?

1. If you record, they will not necessarily come. Your 'cast of dreams is not enough to lure in listeners. Just like with self-publishing, you're one of thousands of free content producers out there. You've got to reach potential listeners. There are a number of sites you can send the equivalent of a pres release to, but even then, there's no guarantee of listeners.

We're going to try guests next. Guests not only provide fascinating, new content, they bring with them listeners. Listeners who will hopefully try other episodes and learn about other guests. It's like hosting a convention.

2. You need a plan. Yes, I could turn my teen loose and let her ramble on incoherently for hours, then break those up into episodes, but it would get pretty dull, fast. I've been listening to a lot of 'casts this year, having never really bothered with them before. The best shows follow a format and have segments. They don't just drone on and on. Just like good writing, you need an outline of what you're going to cover. Print it out and pass it out like a script--it alleviates lots of "uh"s and uncomfortable pauses.

3. You need to be able to hear. I'm amazed by all the 'casts that sound hollow and crappy. Adam Carolla's network of shows generally sound perfect, with studio-quality sound. Then there are independent shows like ours that sound boxy and hollow, like they were recorded in a garbage can with a first-gen smartphone. If you want people to keep reading, you write a good story. If you want people to keep listening, you need to record a better show--and quality of sound is a must. Eliminate echo, hums, background noises and the like, and make sure the volume is high enough to actually hear. Oh, and keep the volume level throughout. No high peaks or low dips. If I crank the volume all the way to hear a quiet person, I'll get a burst ear drum when someone else decides to scream into the microphone.

4. You don't need expensive equipment. I see a lot of articles online about the minimum equipment you need to record. I have to say, I don't think it's all correct. For Weirdology,  we use two Turtle Beach gaming headsets. I mean, they sound great when you're blasting Nazi Zombies in Call of Duty on Xbox Live with your friends, so why wouldn't they work for podcasting? They have a built in pop screen--a small windsock of foam, the boom is adjustable, and they fit snugly over your ears, controlling what you hear.

Next, you need a mixer. Not a DJ BigBucks Superboard, capable of accepting a bazillion different inputs. We got a simple 3 channel mixer on Amazon for under $30. Yes, it's pretty cheesy, but it works. It blends our gaming headsets and an external tablet with sound effects just fine. The output goes right into:

A recording device. Everyone shills Audacity, and I'm sure it's fine, but I've used Goldwave for almost 20 years. I bought the full version, loaded it on a laptop and then sent the output from the mixer right in. I can adjust volume, level out the recording, reduce noise... it does it all. Yes, we may sound a little soft, and recently I had the record volume WAY too high, forcing us to redo an episode, but it's really simple. And, with an editing program, we can chop out when we get tongue tied, wee say "um" too many times or we just don't like a comment or segment we recorded. It's not live, it's recorded, and we take full advantage of that fact.

Studio? We don't need no stinkin' studio. Simon Whistler, over at The Rocking Self Publishing Podcast has a nifty home closet-studio. with blankets hung for noise canceling. We record in the basement. At a desk. The only extraneous sounds we pick up are the occasional barks from the dog, or my wife walking through the living room above us. Again, I think those gaming headsets are totally the way to go...

5. Finally, regularity. It's not just for the bathroom. I've watched our paltry numbers, and both times we've missed putting out a new episode, it's hurt us. People expect regular content. If they don't get it, they might wander to another source and never come back. Keep it regular.

And that's pretty much what we've learned so far. As I force my daughter to finish what she started, making her commit to 6 months of episodes, we'll see what else we learn in this little fun, family experiment. Got any tips or lessons-learned you want to share? Put them in the comments below--we appreciate the knowledge.