How to Release (or Re-Release) Your First Self-Published Novel

Cover2When I originally published the first novel in The Conjurors Series in 2011, I had no concept of self publishing. It never occurred to me to promote my book. I simply used Amazon as an easy way for friends and relatives to download my book so I didn’t have to buy them a hard copy and mail it.

Two years later, self publishing had become a phenomenon, and my brother suggested that I market my novel and see what happened. But with a cover cobbled together using Microsoft clip art and no outside editing expertise, I wondered if my book was ready for public consumption. I’m very glad that I did some research and realized that for a self published author to be successful, she needs to have a polished product. A great story is at the core of any good book, but it’s hard to see through typos, horrific formatting, and a generic title that doesn’t provide any clues as to the content inside.

Below are some tips I would recommend any writer take before releasing a first novel or re-releasing an existing story.

  1. Invest in professional cover art. Unless you’re a graphic designer (or are close friends with one) this is a monetary investment that will pay off. It’s the first glimpse readers have of the quality of your work, and it needs to shine. I used Streetlight Graphics, and was thrilled with the quality of their work.
  2. Hire a professional editor to review your writing. I thought I had all of the expertise required to edit my own book – I was a double major in journalism and English in college, and part of my day job involves editing others’ writing. But I was astonished at how many nits my editor found in my writing. She also provided a much-needed sanity check to ensure that there weren’t any inconsistencies in the story. I worked with Shelley Holloway, and found her eye for detail was exactly what I needed.
  3. Evaluate the title of your book. I recommend searching Amazon books and using a search engine to see what pops up when you enter your title. I found that there were at least a dozen books with the title I had chosen, which would make it difficult for someone to search for.
  4. Write a blurb that’s as interesting as your novel. I was glad that I spent some time writing and having my editor review my book’s blurb as well. After your cover and title, it will make the biggest impact on whether or not readers choose to buy your book. For tips from successful authors who have done this well, check out this post.
  5. Create a web presence for yourself as an author. At the very least, have a Twitter and Facebook account that can keep fans, friends and family updated on everything you publish. This is also a valuable place to direct fans as your book attracts attention so they can hear about future works that you publish. I also recommend having a website with information about yourself and your books. A blog is great as well if you have the time. It’s an excellent way to network with other writers and communicate with your fan base.
  6. Consider releasing both an e-book and a physical copy of your book. Despite a slight learning curve when it comes to formatting for an e-book, there is no downside to making your book available in digital form. It’s free and is a great way for you to have giveaways without breaking the bank. At the same time, there is something powerful about a copy of your book that you can hold in your hands and bring to local libraries and stores to see if they are willing to display it.

So I’m proud to announce that I am re-releasing the first book in The Conjurors Series. It has a new title, The Society of Imaginary Friends (formerly Into the Dark), has been properly edited by an outside professional, and is rewritten with some of the knowledge I’ve gained in the years since I originally wrote it.

Below is a blurb about The Society of Imaginary Friends (available on Amazon):

The-Society-of-Imaginary-Friends-2500x1563-Amazon-Smashwords-Kobo-AppleBelief is a powerful magic.

Valerie Diaz has a power that she can’t contain, and it’s killing her.

Bounced between foster homes and the streets, she only has time to concentrate on staying alive. But a visit from the imaginary friend of her childhood opens a world of possibilities, including a new life half a universe away on a planet that is bursting with magic.

The Society of Imaginary Friends follows Valerie on a journey that straddles two worlds. In order to survive, she must travel many light years away to a realm where anything is possible.

On the Globe, imaginary friends come to life, the last of the unicorns rules the realm, and magic seeps from the pores of all the Conjurors who live there.

But choosing to embrace her potential will set Valerie on a treacherous course–one filled with true love, adventure and perilous danger.

The second novel in the series, Knights of Light, will be released in early March. I’d love to hear what you think about my story, and I welcome any reviews!

On Retitling My Novel After Publication

shutterstock_152047091My writing kryptonite is naming and titling people and things. From titling my book to naming my villian, I always have to go through an excruciating process that takes hours. I comb through the thesaurus, look up historical references, and poll family and friends. I’ll even admit to carrying around a scrap of paper on my purse full of scratched out titles. What sounds good to me one day sounds cheesy three days later. All that is to say that I’ve decided to retitle the first book in The Conjurors Series from Into the Dark to The Society of Imaginary Friends.

After I wrote the first book in The Conjurors Series, I never gave any thought to self publishing and promoting my novel. I put it on Amazon for the cheapest price they allowed so that my friends and family could read it if they wanted to. Then I promptly forgot about it and moved on with my writing. But after being inspired to finish my series and explore self publishing, I decided it needed a new title. There are roughly 1 billion books titled Into the Dark, and it was no surprise that mine didn’t make the first page of books listed in a search on Amazon or Google. Or the second.

It was time for a title change. This time, I put some real thought into the titles that made sense for my series. Guilds, where people can study various magical professions in the world I created, play a key role in connecting the story from book to book. It made sense to name each book in The Conjurors Series after the guild that played the primary role in that story. Because the Guild called The Society of Imaginary Friends kicks off my heroine’s adventure, it made sense as the title of the first book.

In addition to a new title, I have also invested in professional cover art and made some significant edits to The Society of Imaginary Friends, because my writing has come a long way in the two years since I wrote it. In the next couple of weeks I’ll unveil a new cover, and in November the updated novel and cover will go live.

Have you ever retitled or re-released one of your novels? If so, how did the process turn out for you?

Jumping into the Rabbit Hole

Alice_in_WonderlandSince I was a kid, I have always been drawn to the story of Lewis Carroll’s (whose real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The idea that you could be walking along in a completely ordinary world, and then fall down a hole into an extraordinary one, is mesmerizing.

At night when I can’t fall asleep, I imagine myself falling through Alice’s rabbit hole. As I drop, images flash through my mind of whatever my semi-conscious mind can dream up. Sometimes I find answers to problems in my life or in my writing, and sometimes I am just lulled to sleep by a cascade of pictures that eventually blurs together.

My favorite thing about Alice in Wonderland is Alice herself. One of her defining characteristics is her curiosity, a value that leads her down exciting paths. She isn’t afraid to say yes to something new, and as a result she meets bizarre people and explores strange lands. I have tried to imbue this quality into Valerie, the heroine of The Conjurors, and let her curiosity lead her where it will.

P3240097The real-life inspiration for Valerie is my sister, Cheryl. She has Alice’s curiosity but more brains. Some say that writers create idealized versions of themselves in their main characters, but I realized after finishing the first book in the series that I had unconsciously modeled Valerie’s personality on the most adventurous, fun, compassionate person I know. Her fans call her “Cheryl the Explorer” because she embraces traveling the world and learning about new cultures. She takes smart risks with her life and doesn’t accept the status quo. But best of all, she is kind. She’s someone who will give you the shirt off her back and has a moral compass that always points true north. I just hope Valerie can live up to the person who inspired her.

Read It and Weep (Literally)

shutterstock_102844172This week I killed off my first character, ever. It was difficult – even though I wasn’t super attached to him, I couldn’t help feeling a little guilty. After all, he was a good guy and under different circumstances maybe he could have lasted for another chapter or two. But after reminding myself that he was, in fact, a figment of my imagination, I was able to focus on the most important part. How to make his death compelling.

What is it that makes death truly gripping in great young adult fantasy writing? I remember crying when Sirius Black and Dumbledore died while reading J.K. Rowling‘s Harry Potter series. And little Prim got a sniffle or two when I read Suzanne CollinsHunger Games trilogy. But I wasn’t sad so much because the characters were gone, but rather because of the emotional toll it took on Harry and Katniss. It was their response that sparked the reaction in me.

Gandalf‘s death in J. R. R. Tolkien‘s The Lord of the Rings, however, didn’t move me in the same way. He was my favorite character in the series, but when he died I felt more like shrugging than crying. Maybe it was his age. Maybe it was because he died a victor and had led a full life. Of course, then he returns as Gandalf the White, and as happy as I was to see him, I was glad I hadn’t wasted any time grieving for him. So it’s safe to say that you won’t find any of my characters coming back from the grave.

As a reader, I like when an author isn’t afraid to kill off main characters. It makes me feel like no one is safe, which heightens the tension during the action scenes. Now I just have to work on writing the emotion of these moments well.

Do you have any suggestions about things to consider for writing about death in young adult fantasy?

7 New Studies on How to Boost Creativity

shutterstock_49582234I don’t know about other writers, but when I hit a mental block, I’ll try just about anything to get past it. And I’m willing to admit that I’m not above looking for an easy answer. After all, if I can get a boost of creativity with minimal effort, there’s no shame in that, right? For fun, I did a little research on what the latest information is out there on how to find some inspiration when you’re stuck in a fit of doldrums.

1) Make Time to Daydream

Consider it an early Christmas present. I found several studies saying that daydreaming can increase creativity, including a study by the University of California, Santa Barbara, which promises that letting your mind wander helps your problem solving skills, and another by the University of Central Lancashire specifically encourages daydreaming at work to boost creativity.

2) Take a Shot of Vodka

I’ve been looking for an excuse, and now I have one. Alcohol does, in fact, encourage creativity. A 2012 study at the University of Illinois showed that having a blood alcohol level of .075 (a couple glasses of wine) increased people’s ability to solve problems and have sudden insights more quickly. Of course, the benefit doesn’t stick if you’re smashed. But for the sake of science (and solving my current plot puzzle), I’ll drink to this one. Check out more details this article in Psychology Today.

3) Think Negative

This one surprised me. We’re always told to think of the glass as half full, but a 2013 study in the Academy of Management journal suggests just the opposite. That’s not to say that a positive attitude doesn’t have many benefits on a daily basis, and certainly people can be upbeat and innovative. But the flip side is that people are even more creative when they are feeling negative and then channel it into something positive. The jump from negativity to positivity increases the chance of tapping into big inspiration.

4) Look at Something Green

shutterstock_116604139I knew there was a reason that this is my favorite color! A recent article in Prevention discussed how people exposed to the color green scored higher on a creativity test than any other color.

5) Reconnect with Nature

While you’re looking for something green, you might as well step outdoors. This one comes as no surprise to most of us, but now there’s proof. According to an article by the University of Utah, going for long hikes and being disconnected from the daily bustle yields big benefits for the creative process – people scored 50% higher on a creativity test after spending four days outdoors.

6) Think Like a Lefty

After a lot of controversy, scientists are beginning to agree that activiating the right side of your brain increases creativity. According to a recent article in Psychology Today, one easy way to do that is to squeeze your left hand into a fist (because using the left side of your body activates the right side of your brain). The right side of your brain will light up, and you’ll feel a boost of inspiration.

7) Send Electricity Through Your Brain

shutterstock_132908159Here’s where we separte the boys from the men. I mean, who wouldn’t have a glass of wine or go for a stroll outside for a little inspiration? But it takes guts (or desperation) to hook electrodes to your head and send a jolt of electricity to your brain. But if you’ve reached the point where you’ll try anything, this really works. According to an article in the Atlantic Monthly, a recent study at the University of Pennsylvania showed that people were much more inventive when it came to coming up with unusual ideas after passing a weak electrical current through their brains.

Now to start on my next blog post, 5 easy ways to stop procrastinating and get back to writing 100,000 words in 100 days…

What’s Your Writing Research Style?

DaVinciCodeA few years ago, when I read The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown, I was struck by how the depth of his research made his story so appealing. He had obviously deeply studied the legends around the historical buildings and objects he mentioned, as well as their recorded history. And when Robert Langdon found something new in these famous objects that millions of eyes had viewed but never noticed, I felt a tangible thrill of discovery. It reminded me of reading Nancy Drew when I was younger – it felt like an adventure that anyone could stumble upon, like secret passages are around every corner and the world is a mysterious, exciting place.

stonehengePlaces with history are particularly fascinating to me. Whether it’s more myth than reality, like the legend of Atlantis, or real-life architectural marvels, like the Great Pyramid, I find myself researching everything I can on these topics. When I included the Great Pyramid and Stonehenge in my first novel of The Conjurors series, I rented videos from the library, scoured the Internet, and even interviewed friends who had visited the monuments. I learned a ton of information that I never used when I wrote my book, but a few intriguing details sparked my imagination and made my story much richer.

I’m deep in the midst of writing the second book, and I feel almost guilty that I’m not taking the same amount of time to do research on the places I’m writing about. Instead I’m relying on my imagination and a setting that best suits the plot I’m writing about, rather than embedding the story in actual facts or legends. I’m happy with what I’ve written so far, but it has me second-guessing myself. Am I taking the easy way out? Should I return to my research roots? Or is it okay to let my imagination take the lead this time?

100,000 Words in 100 Days

shutterstock_77716045Lately I’ve been fighting with myself. There are so many excuses not to write every day – I have a toddler with a virus every other week, a demanding day job, and family and friends that I want to spend time with. At the end of the day I’m so tired that I feel like eking out an ounce of creativity would be like squeezing water from a rock.

But on the other hand, I’m a happier person when I write. Suddenly on my commute to work instead of being annoyed with the traffic, I’m imagining scenes that I’m working on. I feel more attuned to what’s going on around me, because I never know where inspiration might strike. And when I wake up in the middle of the night, instead of stressing about a deadline the next day, it’s because I just solved an important plot puzzle that had been nagging me.

I’ve always been a person who likes to have a solid goal, so I’ve made the decision that I will write every day, no excuses, for 100 days. With some luck, I hope to have a very rough first draft of the second book in my series completed at the end of that time. Hopefully at the end I’ll have something solid that I can edit, and my sanity will still be intact. Wish me luck.