Back from the Abyss

Well, friends, National Novel Writing Month is drawing to a close …

How did I do?

Not so great. In fact, I almost considered giving up halfway through. But a wonderful friend told me, “Only losers give up, and you are not a loser.” So with her encouragement, I adjusted my goal to simply write every day and build a good habit to carry into next month and the next and so on. And that, I’m glad to say, I managed to successfully accomplish.

But that’s not the only reason I’ve come out of social media hibernation.

After showering you all with several teasing hints, today – finally – marks the release of my holiday short story collection! Behold, I give you …

solstic02

Isn’t it glorious? Here’s what it’s about:

Ever wondered how your favorite fantasy characters celebrate the holidays?

In this special two-story collection, you’ll journey to Myrillia to find out!

Set during the events of Fire Blessed, the second volume of the Blessings of Myrillia series, readers will catch an unseen glimpse into the lives of two popular couples.

Marius and Renelle’s complicated relationship makes their everyday lives tricky, but when they’re expected to celebrate their first Solstice together, things turn out a little differently than they expected.

Meanwhile, Kisara is experiencing her first Solstice among the Transeatur and discovers a major difference in how her race and theirs celebrate the holidays. Her resulting preparations are a disaster-filled adventure that ends with a surprising – and heartwarming – gift exchange.

Cute, huh? I bet you want to know how to get your own copy, am I right? Well, you can pick up a copy for just 99 cents at Amazon!

Or, if you subscribe to my newsletter, you can get a copy absolutely free. It’s my way of saying ‘Thank you!’ to all the wonderful people supporting me. Don’t worry, I don’t spam my newsletters – in fact, I sent my last one back in June. You can sign up here or on my Facebook page.

My Writing Journey – Part Five

Previously on My Writing Journey Parts One through Four – I accidentally discover the plot for my first novel, suffer through the first week of Nanowrimo, discover  a devoted beta reader, and finish the draft of my first book. Instead of letting said draft sit for a month, I last a week before diving into revisions.

That probably says a lot about my personality. I was so excited, so eager to have that book in my greedy little hands, I simply couldn’t wait. After all, for winning Nano that year, I won two free paperback proofs from Createspace and one free hardcover through Lulu. I could get three free copies of my book, just like that!

Now, in addition to the physical goodies, I also had the opportunity to enter into a few contests – which I did – and I also received a few free resources on publishing and marketing. One fun reward was a complimentary manuscript review that broke down my writing style (sadly, said file is no longer available to download – how dare they not keep it available online indefinitely!) I just remember that I use a lot of dialogue in my writing, which is something Louisa May Alcott also did, and that I apparently write like Ray Bradbury and Stephanie Meyers. (Two incredibly different types of writers, I thought.)

While I waited for the results of the publishing contest to get tallied, I reread my book and looked up the basics on publishing. Guy Kawasaki’s APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur- How to Publish a Book ended up being one of the most valuable resources I received from Nano – I didn’t read it cover to cover, but it had some great advice on how to avoid the ‘self-published’ look. For example, as a reader, have you ever noticed the running heads along the top of books? I sure didn’t, not consciously anyway. But as Guy pointed out, if they aren’t in place, many readers will notice that something looks off. They may not know exactly what it is, but something about the book will feel ‘unfinished’ or ‘unprofessional.’ Eep! Those running heads also have rules associated with them – the author’s name belongs on the left, and the name of the book or chapter title goes on the right. This book is also the one that taught me what belongs on your front matter page: something I’ve been complimented on multiple times!

Through yet more research, I also learned that the 50,000 word novel I wrote for Nano was actually more of a novella, or a short novel. According to publishing statistics, a proper fiction book generally had closer to 70,000 words.

This, of course, sent me into a panic. My book wasn’t long enough?! (This may or may not have been the leading cause of only taking a week before jumping back into my book. Oh, who am I kidding, this is exactly why I started working on the book again.)

I dived right into a whirlwind of reading and revision. I tweaked lines and entire sections to read better. I added several new scenes that fleshed out a few of the side characters (including my new favorite character who originally had no part in the book – he was a name of a friend – but who ended the book with a plot twist and cliffhanger of epic porportions.) I also added a fun little flirty scene to develop the romance between two characters. At the end of it all, I managed to push my book up to 75,000 words – right on target!

Even more exciting, during my revision process, I found out that one of my coworkers was an editor! An-honest-to-goodness, I-went-to-college-for-it editor. In fact, she was in her final year of her master’s degree, and she was willing to edit my book for almost nothing! Score!

Well, not so much.

Don’t get me wrong – she was an excellent editor. She critiqued the heck out of my book, and pointed out all sorts of educational aspects of how I handled different morals and themes. (That was fun to listen to, especially since half the time I hadn’t done any of it on purpose.)

No, my mistake was twofold. First of all – remember how I said that Nanowrimo said to let the book sit for a month? I really should have listened: it’s impossible to explain the perspective you’ll gain from walking away from the story for an extended length of time. I revised too quickly – the shiny sense of accomplishment and love of the story as it was hadn’t worn off yet. Hard to revise accurately if you’re still in love with the words already on the paper.

The second half of my mistake? Settling on the first editor I came across. While my coworker was an excellent copy editor, she didn’t have experience in fiction editing. Sure, I needed a copy editor, but I also needed a content editor – someone who not only spots when I use a comma incorrectly, but who also notices when I overuse certain sentence structures or points out when my characters blinked for the hundredth time. (After meeting my current editor and letting him at my manuscript, I feel an irresistible urge to poke myself in the eye every time I use the word ‘blink’. It’s my most overused form of body language.)

Of course, I didn’t realize any of this until over a year later.

Like I said, I was completely intoxicated with success. Not only had I written a book, but I had even started on the second in between edits! (To be fair, the epilogue of book one begged for an explanation – so the first six chapters or so of the sequel focused on telling key events from the first book from an alternate character’s point of view. Which made it incredibly easy to get started – I already knew what happened, I just had to reveal what was going on behind the scenes.)

By this time, January 2014 had arrived, along with the crushing disappointment that my book didn’t win the publishing contract contest. Oh, well – just because I didn’t win a contest didn’t mean my book wasn’t worth publishing. After all, Murph loved it! In fact, thanks to the copy of Scrivener that my in-laws got me for Christmas (with my Wrimo winner’s discount, of course) I figured out how to create simple eBook files to send to a few of my other guild-mates who also loved the story. (Note: I haven’t included the fact that my family all liked my book, because I believe there’s an unwritten clause somewhere that states they’re required to like whatever I decide to write. After all, they have to live with me afterward.)

So, I had a revised book and I had an editor. Time to start looking for publishers, right? Or at least an agent.

I spent a week looking at agents and reviewing how to write a query letter. After a few dead ends, I found one agent that accepted books in my genre. After carefully reviewing what she was looking for (and thereby finding my new all-time favorite author), I decided to take the plunge and sent her an email, following the exact specifications that she requested. (Namely, a single page letter and the first chapter of my manuscript.)

Now, I definitely sent that initial query letter with a healthy dose of realism. I knew I had a .00001% chance that the agent would get my email, read the first chapter, and then decide she simply had to represent me. Did I hope such a thing would happen? Of course I did. But I sent that letter fully expecting to get my first (of the legendary many) rejection letter – and I did.

However, while I waited for that inevitable rejection, I did a bit more research on traditional publishing. One of the resources I found (I can’t remember where or what it was called) stated that even if I found a traditional publisher right away, it could take over two years to actually see my book in print. In fact, the reality for a brand new no-name author to get their book published drifted closer to six years.

Yeah, right. Remember December and the week of restraint I managed? There was no way I was going to wait that long to hold my debut novel in my hot little hands.

There you have it folks. Fact number one: the reason I decided to go the self-publishing route – the only reason, I’m ashamed to admit – is because I’m impatient.

I started researching and formatting my book into a print-worthy file before I even heard back from the agent. Needless to say, I wasn’t particularly broken-hearted when I got the rejection. (In a weird way, I got really excited about it. Look! My first ever rejection letter! And she was nice about it!)

“Wait,” you say. “You researched how to format your book? Don’t you just send a plain word document and let the printer do the work?”

Well, yes and no. You can pay the printer to format the book for you. Or you can send the unformatted version and have a hideous mess on your hands.

Let me share a couple more facts about the type of person I am, in addition to being impatient.

Fact number two: I can be incredibly stingy with money. Especially when it’s something I can do myself and save thousands of dollars.

Fact number three: My research skills and ability to follow instructions are superhuman, and I’m just OCD enough to need my book to look like, well. A book. From a technical standpoint anyway.

I can’t even guess how many hours I spent formatting that first book. I read through my copy of APE and scoured countless articles on Createspace. I started with a Createspace template, and I learned how to set margins and adjust trim size. I found out what smart quotes were and what fonts worked best for novels (I prefer palatino linotype). I wasted an entire day adjusting dialogue to eliminate widows and orphans (the solitary stray lines or words that float alone at the top of a page or bottom of a paragraph) before I learned there’s a button for that in Microsoft Word. Apparently, it’s called ‘widow and orphan control’ and it can be found under the paragraph tab. Just so you know.

(My husband laughed his head off when he showed that to me. I responded with a stream of language so foul, I refuse to repeat it here. There’s nothing more frustrating than realizing you’ve wasted hours due to sheer ignorance.)

Once I had the technical parts of my book finished, I scoured through my hoard of books to see how other authors handled their copyright pages, acknowledgements, and author bios. I picked bits and pieces I liked from everything I read – my disclaimer on my copyright page is a good example. I don’t think you have to have one – but by golly, I wasn’t going to let some dude named Sebastian try to sue me ten years from now for basing my fictional character on his life story. (Although, if one shows up looking exactly like my Sebastian and manages to shapeshift into a panther, I’ll consider giving him whatever he wants.)

Then came my least favorite part of writing a book.

The cover pitch.

Shudder.

Run away while you can, little authors. Here, there be nightmares.

Okay, so it’s not that bad. But really – no one in their right mind wants to take a 70,000 word novel and squish it down into less than 200 words.

No one.

To be continued in a new series – My Publication Journey – starting Dec. 1st!

NaNoWriMo Week One – A Study in Stubborn Optimism.

NaNoWriMo Week One – A Study in Stubborn Optimism.

Week one of NaNo has passed, and I have to admit: even though the world tried to capsize my little writing boat, I managed to stay afloat.

Key highlights from the week:

  • My suspected cold turned into a definite cold with a horrific cough – which makes getting restful sleep an adventure, let me tell you.
  • My daily twitter updates lasted until BlizzCon started on Friday – which, surprisingly (NOT!), is when the cold bloomed full force.
  • BlizzCon was awesome – there were a million incredible announcements, including the official movie trailer for the Warcraft movie which may or may not have had me shrieking like a banshee (or pretending to shriek like a banshee since the cough/cold took my voice hostage). I’ll take a brief moment to share my favorite piece of info: Transmogrify wardrobe feature coming in Legion!!!
  • I’m incredibly proud of the fact that I took advantage of the blank spots during BlizzCon without interesting panels to write. Yes, I wrote during BlizzCon. Go me!
  • Point of pride: no matter how awful I felt or how cramped my schedule got, I made time for writing EVERY DAY. With a minimum of 500 words every time – it’s the principle and the habit that matters.

I’m currently at 9,376 words written so far this month. I’m supposed to be closer to 15,000. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not too awful; after all, I still have three weeks left to catch up. See? Stubbornly optimistic, that’s me.

Goals for this week:

  • Keep up the momentum! Even better, increase momentum so that I’m not behind. 😀
  • I’m testing out a writing productivity book, which requires me to track word count, time spent writing, mood, time of day, and other key facts that might help me pinpoint ways to improve my words per hour. This week, I’m just going to focus on collecting the data.
  • Wednesday, November 11th, I’m hosting a write in at my Starbucks in Austin, TX! Any Wrimos that follow my blog are more than welcome to join me, though I don’t know how many of you are local … I’m willing to post details if needed.
  • Get back to the Twitter updates. I kinda liked posting word counts.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a little teaser quote!

“… lies are messy—constantly trying to remember who you told what and when? It’s much simpler to remain vague and let the other person create their own illusions.” –Marius

(Disclaimer: Quote is from a work in progress and is still subject to change.)

National Novel Writing Month – Day one, complete!

National Novel Writing Month – Day one, complete!

My NaNoWriMo’s starting strong, with 1,849 words written today.

Woohoo!

That puts me at roughly 40k words into book three. Remember, I’m aiming to finish around 90-100k, so I’m not quite halfway. But I like how the story is shaping up.

I also like that I actually hit my word count goal for the first time in ages. Hooray for days off!

Now, I just have to keep up that momentum during the work week…

The next NaNo post won’t be until Friday – I want to give myself time to actually achieve something worth posting about – but follow my Twitter feed @crystinlgoodwin for daily updates.

For the rest of my fellow Wrimos out there – write on! 😀

Progress report – and another review for UnBlessed!

Progress report – and another review for UnBlessed!

I’m happy to announce that after a rough start, I’m now back to my 1,500 word habit a day – just in time for NaNo! My third manuscript is sitting around 34,000 words right now, and I’m definitely still in the beginning. It’s maybe about a third of the way there, depending on how far I want to take events and how much I want to flesh out the budding relationships. Yes, relationships plural – and I’m not just talking about romance here. How’s that for a vague teaser? 😉

I’ve already found one quote that I plan to share in November (ooh, it’s a good one!) and I’m keeping my eyes peeled for more. I’m starting to worry that my writing doesn’t have lines that really stick with the reader, or at least none that aren’t potential spoilers. I need to comb through my previous volumes and see what jumps out at me.

Do any of my readers out there have a favorite line or quote they’d like to share? Spoiler-free, please; we wouldn’t want to ruin the surprises for anyone else! 🙂

Speaking of previous volumes, I have some exciting (for me, anyway) news: UnBlessed received another five star review on Amazon! This fan really brightened my day with their kind words:

Six stars should be an option for a book like this. There was not a dull moment on this twisting and turning adventure of a book. This one will always be on my display shelf and on the top of my list for recommendations to friends!!

Seriously, you should see my face right now. I haven’t stopped smiling all day! It makes me happy when someone enjoys my books, and even happier when they take the time to tell the world about it. Thank you, mysterious stranger, and I appreciate your support! 😀

(Yes, the featured image is me. Specifically, me in Disney World about two years ago. And yes, that expression fits what I’m feeling right now.)

NaNoWriMo – The beginning of the end.

NaNoWriMo – The beginning of the end.

Heh. I had way too much fun with the title of this post. Explanation to be provided shortly – first, I’d like to explain what, exactly, NaNoWriMo stands for.

November is National Novel Writing Month – or NaNoWriMo for short. It’s an event that encourages aspiring writers to pen (or type) 50,000 words in 30 days. Sounds daunting, doesn’t it? But let’s break that down – to achieve this, you only have to write about 1,600 words a day. For me, that’s about two hours of nonstop-no-distractions writing. Not so bad, right? Plus, there’s a  a website linked to the non-profit organization where potential Wrimos (a coined term for NaNoWriMo participants) can connect with others – either in their area or in anonymous cyberland – for mutual support and encouragement. Winning the event (writing the 50,000 words within the deadline) entitles the writer to special website badges, bragging rights, and even exclusive offers from NaNoWriMo sponsors.

Fun fact: My first novel, UnBlessed, started with NaNoWriMo.

I can honestly say there is nothing, I tell you – nothing – that compares to the feeling I had when I realized I hit 52,149 words on November 28th, 2013. I submitted my word count and instantly my screen was filled with confetti explosions, congratulations, fun digital winner banners and headers for social media, and even a special video from the members of NaNoWriMo.org (basically a bunch of people shouting ‘Congratulations, you did it!’ – which is pretty darn epic if you ask me). For the first time in my life, I realized I was on the way to achieving my biggest dream, a dream I’d had ever since middle school. Not only that, but I had accomplished something that most people never take the time to do – write a book. All it took was a promise, a bit of dedication, and thirty days.

Now, granted, you don’t end up with a finished, polished, ready-to-publish novel at the end of NaNoWriMo. One of the tricks to hitting that 50k mark is that you don’t waste time editing or agonizing of the perfect word choice: it took me an additional six months (three back then, and three recently when I revised and released my second edition) and an additional 20,000 words before the book was ready to be marked finished.

Of course, one taste of success wasn’t good enough. I wrote over half of Fire Blessed (my second novel) for NaNoWriMo 2014, ending with a total word count of 113,596 – almost doubling the final word count of the first book.

This year, I’m going to finish the first draft of my third novel for NaNoWriMo 2015.

Which brings me to my play on words: not only am I going to finish the end of book three, but since this novel is part three of four in a series, it’s literally going to be the ‘beginning of the end’ for my characters. There will be a lot of conflict and suspense and building tension for the final climax in book four … basically, it’s gonna be awesome.

And note: I said I’m going to get this first draft done. Not that I hope to, or intend to – it’s gonna happen, even if it kills me. Which it shouldn’t – I have a good feeling for where the story is going. And by first draft, I mean the book will be in a readable format for beta readers to provide necessary feedback to make whatever tweaks are needed before sending it to my editor.

Starting November 1st, I’ll be posting a short weekly blog update on how NaNoWriMo is progressing.

I’ll mention whether I’m on track to finish on time (I seriously hope I won’t be cramming at the end – but if that’s what it takes, I’ll do it) and I’ll share a favorite line or quote or two each week. In addition, I’m going to try and tweet my word count every three days or so – follow me @CrystinLGoodwin if you want to see my progress.

I’m going to stop making promises before I make more than I can keep.

Updates, announcements, and more!

Well, Nano was off to a decent start. I had almost 2k on Sunday, but only added about 500 words yesterday. Today doesn’t look so great either, with a mid-day shift at my real job, followed by a fancy dinner at the Melting Pot with my hubby. I’ll still try to squeeze a bit more in.

The good news is thatFire Blessed has been sent to my first wave of beta readers, and I’m waiting to hear back from a few others. There’s still plenty of space (and time) for more readers, so don’t forget to drop me a line if you’re interested!