5 Things I Learned Publishing Children of Fire

  1. Amazon is tricky for a first-time user.

Amazon makes it easy to publish a book. That’s the claim. Anyone can do it, if they’re patient. But, what is said to take “minutes” took me 6 hours to do, first try. And that’s being tech literate. I wonder if luddites would have fared better? I doubt it. Point is, big companies tend to have issues, and it might take longer to resolve because they’re so big and have so much going on at once.

With Amazon, it took me ten tries to get the book to publish. Ten tries to upload a Word file version free from errors, errors which I knew for a fact I’d fixed (it must have been because I was uploading from my PC, when the latest version, edited by a friend who I’m paying nearly enough, was on my laptop. I figured this out after the fact, by the way.

So ten tries to get it done, and it took closing the web browser and starting the process again, before I managed to get it right. Closing the browser and restarting was the only thing that worked. Eventually. On the final try, I managed to not upload the cover. So my book was in a cover-less state, where the text was there but there was no cover, and I had to wait until it was approved before I know whether the cover would upload or whether I needed to do that part of the process all over again.

And that’s not fun. I get that these are big businesses and you can’t expect things to move 100% smooth and clean. But you also have to try and not melt into a glob of frustration, swearing storms and crying.

But I learned how to do it eventually. With so many attempts you’re bound to.

  1. You’re probably not as ready as you thought you were.

The number of things I’ve realised after hitting ‘publish’ (not that the button says that) is staggering. I realised I called a brassiere a bra. I realised I am translating crazy into English. I realised the blurb I have is vague, that I need a better one that tells of the central idea, the theme, and is an overview of events, all at the same time. I found that I rewrote the blurb about 50 times, which is nothing compared to how many times I rewrote some sections. And rewriting does take the life out of your work, if you do it too many times.

Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief, rewrote the prologue about 150 times… and it shows. It might be flawless typographically, but it also felt DOA. Get past that and you get one of the most enthralling pieces of literature I’ve ever read, which was both commercially and critically successful. But that prologue was rewritten too many times. Somewhere, you just have to let it go and move on.

  1. You’re at the whims of your budget.

If you have no job, or if you’re minimum wage, you don’t have money. You can’t afford the $500 you have to pay a proper editor, or a proper cover designer, for example. If you don’t have money, you’re doing it yourself, and if the story fails, it might be because of this. Money makes the world go round, even if it’s the root of all evil (sorry, the love of money). Self published authors still have a stigma attached to them. Self publishing is still seen as a cop-out, a pathetic thing, to some degree – despite bringing about the likes of Hugh Howey (I loved Sand) and some of my more successful writer friends (such as S. Elliot Brandis). Yes, self publishing allows anyone to publish their novel. That’s the good news. The bad news? It allows anyone to publish their novel.

But the thing is, even if you put no money into it, you can make a top tier cover, or do a top editing job, or just plain write a good book. It’s harder, unless you know what you’re doing, but it’s worth it for today’s author to know what they’re doing in all aspects, and with self publishing, you have to unless you want to fork out the cash for a professional job – which isn’t a bad idea.

That said, there’s still some terrible crap in traditional publishing, and I guess that just shows that effort in means better product out. And don’t mistake your art as a non-product – if you want to sell your art, you have to see it as a product as well. Best-sellers are rarely Pure Art. There’s also a monetary factor involved. You might get lucky, but don’t count of that happening – act as if it won’t sell unless you’re prepared to put effort in, or spend on professionals who’ll help you for a fee.

  1. Things will go wrong.

You’ll forget to take hyphenation out. You’ll forget to format it to exactly the requirements of the publisher. Maybe, if it’s good enough, the reader – be that the editor or the person dropping $5 on your ebook masterpiece – will forgive you for that because they’re so engrossed in such an awesome story.

But you can’t go in expecting that people will forgive you for your follies. This harkens back to the previous point, money in usually means quality out. Yet, things will go wrong. Sometimes you can do something about it. With Amazon’s ebooks, you can alter things to your heart’s content. Once you hit publish, though, generally speaking, errors are committed to print. And you’ll do your best editing after you hit go. Good thing Amazon lets you alter things. Some companies don’t do that. Which is what editors are for. But the thing about editors? While yes, you’re supposed to consider them God, they aren’t actually infallible. *hides from the army of editors with red pens brandished as knives* Editors might be really smart, but at the end of the day there are actually human (so treat them with common courtesy and respect). They are trained and able to pick out errors and anything that doesn’t work. They’re not divine (*hides again*) but if you’re paying for their services, or you get noticed by them with your killer submission, then you can expect them to get a good 99% of problems worked out – more, if they’re Just That Good.

So it pays to get an editor, otherwise you might find all sorts of typos and the like in your work, and people on the internet LOVE to point out flaws and inaccuracies and typos, especially the typos. So make sure you go through it thoroughly.

  1. It’ll all be worth it.

And that’s the thing – it will be. This side of putting it up there for the world to ridicule, COF is finally done and I can be proud of this fact. By simply hitting ‘publish’ I’ve done what millions of others haven’t done. I’ve written a book. The first part in a series of whacky adventures in a world that’s one part Mad Max and one part Dresden Files, as well as one part Fallout, but it’s a book nonetheless. I’ve done what other people only dream of. I think I deserve this $15 box of cheap wine (cause that’s about how much I’ve earned in a week, without advertising) so I’m drinking it knowing it’s celebration wine (if you knew me you’d think I was a beer drinker, but I drink both, like how I write both sci fi and fantasy, and combine them despite my mother’s insistence that I simply aren’t allowed to do so).

And whatever its flaws, I’m proud to have finally published a book that’s taken 8 years of rewrites and edits and changes in direction. It’s good to hit ‘publish’. Finally.


5 Things I Learnt Writing Children of Fire

  1. In your first draft, you’ll leave out important details.

I wrote the first draft of what would become this version of Children way back when I was still in University, still learning to write… still shaky and unsure of my abilities, my voice, my style, everything. I wrote poorly. I gave it to someone to critique, and it came back with a lot of yellow in Word (highlights) and with a tonne of track changes. The comments often were of the “what is this person’s motivation?” and “where is this taking place?” variety (thanks Avril!). I forgot to actually put a LOT of things on the page. I had it all sorted out in my head, and thought that hiding these things from readers was important. I still have to get that notion out of my head; motivations and locations and descriptions have to be there, or readers will get confused. You’ll be entirely too clever – in your own mind – and you’ll overlook the importance of making things clear for readers.

That doesn’t mean you go on five-page descriptions of trees, or eyes, or clothes, or anything really. Keep it short and sweet! But, you do have to do these things. Anchor the reader in the time and place, don’t do talking heads, give the reader something.

  1. That you’ll have to rewrite it. Probably a few times.

My first draft, as you can probably guess, was rubbish. My second draft was a bit better. It was not until the fourth or fifth that the story took shape. It was this loose, watery thing. Now it’s much more like what I want it. And you’ll want it to be one thing, but it’ll turn out to miss the mark. That’s what rewrites are about. They allow you to go “why the fuck did I put that there?” and you must hack away with a machete (or slice apart with a scalpel, depending on the work) and your novel will rock because of it.

  1. That I’m a planner, not a pantser.

I was trying to rush completion of the first draft for a submission. And you know what I did? I changed the climax from what I’d written down in the plan. I deviated from something good, for something crap. I don’t to this day know why I felt I needed to do that, but I was panicking and I darted left when the sign said right. Stupid, really. I’ve done that a few times since, but not without feeling like the work suffered for it.

It’s a Romantic thing to gush about Discovery writing, or Pantsing, as Nanowrimo calls it. Stephen King does it and treats it with holy reverence.

It doesn’t work for me. I’m not that flexible, and when I am, it’s because I’m being a wuss and giving in to ‘I’m almost finished’ fear. My mind does weird things when I’m close to the finish line. I have to weigh it up and see if it’s really that good of an idea. In the start it wasn’t, it never was, though these days I tend to make my last-minute additions pull their weight.

  1. That I find it difficult to actually edit a piece.

You get an edit back from a large group of critiquers, and maybe you’re like me and have anxiety about it. About the sheer volume (my critique group is big now), maybe about the work involved. There WILL be work in editing, rewriting, or the like. But I’ve found sometimes that my rewrites are actually worse than the original. With Children, not so, but certainly with one story set in that world. Thing is, I didn’t like the thought of WORK. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: writing IS work. You’re putting words on a page to put food on the table. You’re working for your supper. Books don’t magically pop out of unicorn bottoms in a stream of rainbows and candy. Ideas might, but you actually have to type the words and plot the events (if you’re a plotter) and you will probably go through a couple of keyboards in the process. Flatmates, family or whoever you live with will probably be sick of the sound of keys being bashed. But it’s a necessary thing. I was going to say evil, and it can feel that way, but it’s certainly a thing that needs doing. Because see unicorns, above.

  1. That you’ll cut mercilessly… but find somewhere else to put portions of it.

There’s an old adage about killing your darlings. It means that, in layman’s terms, any piece you love to bits that doesn’t pull its weight – a ‘darling’ – gets left behind. It could be a word, a sentence, a paragraph, a page, a section of multiple pages. If it doesn’t work, cut it. Cut that fucker out with a machete.

But here’s my take on it. When I first started Uni (University, not Unicorns, although one political team had a unicorn as their mascot, I’m pretty sure of this, though I might have been snorting lines of sugar off the guild bar table with some people from class at the time) I met a guy who told me to keep everything, no matter how bad. Why? If it’s crap, you should throw it out, right? Well, luckily I listened to this wise old man who was probably born of the wind and the earth. I keep everything I write.

Because you never know when you’ll be like “Oh god, I wish I’d kept that one piece!” and cry because it’s gone and you can’t remember how it goes and you wish you could just grab it from an archive and have just one tiny peek at it. On the more practical side of things, you’ll probably want to look at your teenage efforts with an adult’s eye to see how far you’ve come. Or you can just bury that in the back yard behind the shed with old yella. Your call, really. This is just what works for me.


Interrogations and other news

I’m really getting a kick out of writing my first interrogation scene(s). Which is weird, because I’ve never been a fan of crime shows, or crime movies or crime books. Nothing against them, just never been into them. And now I’m writing a few interrogations. Sorry, “interviews” (does that put people at ease, does it make them feel like rockstars, or both?)

Of course, seeing as I don’t read crime, and I’m not a cop or lawyer, I am probably getting about 50 things wrong. Hopefully I can run it past my lawyer friend. I don’t want to spoil the plot details though. But the hero is the only person in the room who was awake when the assassin took his own life.

In other news, last night I cut up like, 9 onions before I started tearing up. 9 onions. No tears till like the tenth (I think it was ten onions). I am officially either badass or cold. You know, because the way to avoid crying over onions is not to form emotional connections with them.

In some more news, today I was browsing Facebook when Inkspired came up with Children of Fire as the story of the day. That was pretty sweet. It was in the Russian version (I think) of the site, mind you, but still.

Children of Fire, Writing stuff

The Fear

I have, because of the first reviews being low-starred, a fear that my book sucks. That no-one will read it. Considering my luck in just about everything being pretty bad, from being constantly bullied to always being forgotten about by cooks when ordering food in a group sizable group (despite ordering first), I’m always feeling like the bad is all I have.

Okay, well, I have good friends and good parents and a place to sleep and I’m not having to strike out on my own just yet. I get money, though not a lot (and I spend it unwisely) and I can afford to eat out. I have *some* good things.

But I also get a lot of bad luck. And when my first two book reviews are a 1 and a 3 star rating, well, the fear settles in like a splinter and I feel like my writing is crap.

I don’t know how to get my self esteem up. I suffer from very, very low self esteem/confidence; have all my life. So maybe I need a confidence boost. Somehow. How do you turn your mood around? If you’re a writer, how do you get into a positive mindset? Do you have the same self esteem problem? The same lack of confidence? The same pessimism? Is that just part and parcel of writer’s brains?

Sound off in the comments.

Children of Fire, Reading stuff, Writing stuff

Ink and bits

No, I haven’t gone out and gotten at tattoo. But someone I know got one (and the way she and her partner talked of it in secretive, “can we tell them?” terms, it sounded like they’d gotten engaged) and that made me wonder… if I got a tattoo (I doubt I will) what would I get?

The answer is both very easy and very hard; I’d get a Name of the Wind quote… but there’s so many good ones to choose from!

What I think I would get in the hypothetical scenario where I get one, is quote from that book, written on my inner arm where it’s not too obvious, and which is in a place that appeals to me as a writer, which gets me thinking of my inner arm (talking about the inside of the section that contains the forearm). I can see myself with writing down my left arm on the inside. I think that’d rock. I strongly doubt I’ll ever get a tattoo, but I figure that’d be my first, if we’re talking about hypothetical events.

Do YOU have any bookish ink?

Also, I decided I’d put COF up on Inkspired, an Australian self-publishing initiative thingy. as another possible source of revenue. This means that I could, potentially, get money before Amazon pays out (which doesn’t happen till you make $100, and then it’s $25 to convert the cheque into Australian moolah) and could buy myself something nice, sooner. IF people like my work and feel like paying me, that is.

ALSO-also, I thought I was hemorrhaging money on Amazon from people either not liking my work, or being scummy, because I’d gone from $26 earned to $12 in my report. So I checked it out on a hunch, and lo and behold, the report only covered the last 30 days, so I extended it back to the start and found I hadn’t been losing money, and people weren’t being scummy, like some Amazon users no doubt are. They weren’t getting immediate refunds after reading, like I thought was happening. That was a massive relief, and it means I didn’t lose readers, so that’s good too. But I saw the money earned drop rapidly and despaired, because human minds latch onto the first sign of trouble and jump to conclusions, at least as far as I’ve found so far. But not, I wasn’t losing money, I just needed to look at the entire timeline. Phew. So people aren’t being scummy, and they’re apparently not hating it, I think, though I don’t get any kind of feedback without reviews, so I can’t confirm this. But I can relax. Or at least not despair so much. That’s good.

Oh, and for some reason I got a bite on Plenty of Fish after maybe 5 years of nothing. Then I got 5 more. Nothing since the sixth, but that was a massive boost to my pitiful self-esteem. That was nice.


BWF wrap-up

Another year, another Brisbane Writer’s Festival. I only went to my writer’s group’s presentation thing, this year, because I’m poor and also I wasn’t interested in a lot of sessions. But I went along to our presentation, which is to say the group did critiques in front of a bunch of people. I’d say strangers but it was friends and family mostly. (And some festival volunteers)

This year we (well, *they* – I myself haven’t been brave enough to critique someone in front of outsiders, and you can forget having my work critiqued in such a setting!) read out the pieces (which were shorter this year) and you could tell, in a good way, that they’d practiced. Kind of like… what are those people who portray characters in film and theater? Those people.

Okay, I would like to have something for next time. Got a bit of an idea what, but not sure.

Then we decided to go to the Ship Inn for dinner, like last year. And boy, that’s a long walk from the State Library! Easily half an hour, with a fair bit of grumpiness by the end. Next time I think we’ll be going to our usual after-session haunt, the Communal Bar and Eatery. They have long tables. This suits us really well, meaning we don’t have to rearrange chairs and tables to form one big table. Coffee Club meant dragging tables and chairs, though the staff were cool about that. They always took forever to get MY order, of course. Even if I ordered first, I’d frequently be last to get theirs. Same thing happened tonight. And last year. And out with a friend a few years ago, where I didn’t actually ever receive what I ordered, at all. Same thing with the between-sessions break I had last year between two BWF sessions. 20 minutes for a milkshake is pathetic.

I think what I’m doing wrong is NOT snapping at them in anger. I swear, next time it happens, I can’t be held responsible for my behavour. It will happen – it happens with distressing regularity – and I always go unnoticed and I swear I’m actually half invisible, like I don’t even exist. I feel this more when technology fails to register my existence, and same with people, so maybe I need to raise some hell next time. I certainly don’t know if I can restrain myself much longer.

That got dark. Have some Adventure Time!



On a Roll

I am currently on a 2 or 3 night roll with my writing of Crystal City, the follow-up to Children of Fire and book 2 of 6 planned. And it is great. I’d actually forgotten what first draft novels felt like to write. I’ve done a few short stories lately, but one was an old start to COF with a new element introduced, which I scrapped for a more recent idea (taken from an Adventure Time episode, but more of a serious post-apocalypse setting that I haven’t worked out yet but am interested in fleshing out some time.

I don’t know whether I’ll do more Elemental series work straight after CC, I might give Zephyr Wind, my steampunk-with-supernatural-elements short stories another go, aiming to maybe turn them into novellas, since there’s so much going on in the first one.

I have a few other ideas, in various stages (none more than a chapter, actually).

The Silver Shard is an epic fantasy, not likely to be Grimdark but not entirely whimsical and light-hearted either. It’s what TvTropes calls “Magepunk”; if you’ve played the Eberron setting for D&D, it’s that. That will probably be a trilogy. The books might be pretty short. But I’m interested in one more try – I’ve tried to write a good first chapter about 3 times, and nothing’s stuck.

Ghost Titan is a mecha V kaiju book. No, Pacific Rim did NOT come up with Kaiju, those have been around forever in Japanese film. Godzilla is the iconic kaiju. That’s about how long it’s been around, though probably longer than him.

Aeon Force is going to be giant robots as well, though I *could* just combine the two. I have no idea where I’m going with Aeon Force. But it’s like a dark and gritty Power Rangers or Voltron or something. They tend to fight kaiju, but maybe they could fight terrorists instead? Mech vs mech, in other words. I could recycle some elements from the stuff I wrote as a teen, which is where COF got its characters from, but I’d be using stuff I never actually wrote.

So many ideas, many of which were simply to stretch my muscles and do “something else” for a bit. And that’s not to mention old stuff, like Swords and Spirits, (epic fantasy, YA) or Shift Chaser (superhero with a parallel-universe shapeshifter) if I ever want to go back to them (probably not).