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Month: October 2016

Cover Reveal – On a Crooked Track

Posted in Artwork, On a Crooked Track, and The Chained Adept

20161016-on-a-crooked-track5-frontHere's the final draft of the cover art for the fourth and final book of The Chained Adept series. There will still be some tinkering with the position of the author name for consistency with the other covers, but my cover artist Jake Bullock is done with the illustration.

I thought you might be interested in how this sort of thing evolved.

The scene I wanted to illustrate was Penrys returning to Tavnastok in Ellech. The famous Collegium lies across the river, but her passage is barred by some of her old colleagues.

See how it looks with the other three books in thumbnail, compared to other fantasy covers (click to enlarge). This is the acid test for legibility.

thumbnails-on-background-draft2

We began with three sketches to sort out the composition.

That dreaded event — a new computer

Posted in A Writer's Desk

Two connected laptops. Computer network. Computer generated image.

I'm a techie. I made my career in building and running small to medium software products and services companies. I've written code at the operating system level, analyzed performance in mainframes, and helped many large firms transition to the internet.

Back in 1976, contemplating a job offer, I can remember thinking to myself “Ya know, I bet computers are going to be interesting…”

So I'm not a computer illiterate, even if I'm no longer hands-on in current programming languages. I think of myself these days as a leading-edge computer consumer.

And every time I swap to a new computer, I have to remind myself of this.

I've had high-end business laptops ever since there were laptops, and I've continued that practice in the freelance world. I have a specialized workstation for photography (very big storage, fast processing), and another one just for writing (old, no unnecessary software to distract me), but like many people all my day-to-day ordinary work is spent with a big honking laptop. I buy them new, and run them until they drop, typically 6-7 years.

My long-past-warranty Win 7 Dell laptop has been crashing more and more lately, and I've anticipated the final failures by picking up a new Lenovo Win 10 system (Thinkpad P50). I splurged on disk (1 TB) and screen resolution (3840×2160) but otherwise kept it close to off-the-shelf.

I have a lot of software and many specialized tools. The essential tool for moving from one PC to another is a product called LapLink which allows you to copy everything from the old machine to the new, where most of it will end up running properly without further attention (a minor miracle). This process takes hours (or days), depending on whether you spend money for a special LapLink cable (recommended) or try to tough it out across a (much slower) local network. I have occasion to swap to a new machine every few years and, like time-lapse photography, I appreciate how much more convenient the process gets each time.

High-resolution screens and font-size management

So, what am I complaining about? Fonts. The inability, more than a year after Windows 10 was released, for many products to accommodate the font sizes needed for their internal menus in a high-resolution situation. As I do research into my problems, I discover this is not just a Win 10 issue, but has been around ever since the hi-res monitors have. And it still isn't fixed. The products blame Windows but I don't know who's right (yet).

It's not just an issue of hi-res. Windows 10 also allows you to amplify the native text setting to accommodate higher resolution. And that's where the problem seems to lie. The ordinary navigation menus in programs respect that text resizing. But products that have complex internal menus, often with icons rather than text, do not seem to respect the text resizing, so they shrink in a high-resolution situation, and don't resize.

I use four expensive and critical programs that are so complicated that they have internal menus: Photoshop and Lightroom, and Quicken and QuickBooks. And here's what they look like in Win 10.

After action report — Foxburg Fall Festival

Posted in Events

foxburg-event-img_20161009_153919423-croppedIt was a splendid autumn day, and Foxburg is a lovely little river town along the Allegheny River not far from Pittsburgh. The single riverfront street was lined with vendors in tents selling food and trinkets of all kinds, and alpacas for the petting roamed the library lawn.

The library was a nice, old building, with one large front room, some stacks in a back room, and a tiny alcove for children's books. The library ran a used book sale, and there were eight of us indie authors inside, selling our wares.

Or, at least, that was the theory.

All the signage mentioned “used book sales”. None of it mentioned visiting authors and new book sales. If you weren't in the main room, like me, you were essentially invisible. That would have disturbed me more, except that it became clear after we compared notes that few of us had sold even a single copy of a book.

Our hosts were just as nice and helpful as they could be, but the absence of proper signage meant that few people dropped by, and none were prepared to find anything except used books and had a hard time understanding that there were actual authors there prepared to sell them something else.

Sigh… So after a few jokes about starting up a couple of bridge games, we spent the time sharing stories and tips about writing and publishing. I got some recommendations for other book shows (somewhat sardonically) from one of my neighbors. And we shared lists of books-to-read in various genres.

At least I got to try out all my new gear for setup and display (on a card table). The only hitch was the tablecloth — I bought a rectangle suitable for a 4'x8′ table and expected to have some difficulty folding it neatly for a square 3′ x 3′ table, but little did I know… The cloth, marked “rectangular” in the packaging was actually round. That, my friends, is why you bring large ACCO clamps and tape to show events.

At least I had the opportunity to network a bit with other authors. Here I am with Cindy Marsch, one of my colleagues from the Alliance for Independent Authors.

foxburg-event-w-cindy-rinaman-marsch-img_20161009_172027351_burst000_cover-cropped

Four years in the business

Posted in A Writer's Desk

woman-climbing-tall-mountainD'ya know what today is?

Four years ago I published my first novel, To Carry the Horn. Since then, there have been more than a million words, seven novels (the eighth should be out in November), and a handful of short stories and a collection. That's two fantasy series, and a third in the wings coming up.

It's sixteen titles. When you count up all the different formats and combinations (print, epub, mobi, audio) and bundles, I make it fifty-five published editions, and there are more titles going the rounds of story submissions not yet published.

It's been a wild ride, but I'm just getting started. I've got a science-fiction series in mind after this next fantasy series (The Affinities of Magic). That's eight novels in four years so far, but this year alone I will have published four novels, so I'm ramping up my game.

In terms of the business side, I've just scraped the surface of serious international distribution, and you're all going to be hearing a lot more from me in terms of marketing in the upcoming year, an area too long neglected.

pulling-boulderI enjoy the writing enormously, but novels are marathons, not sprints, and the daily discipline of sitting down and doing the work is always a challenge.

Sometimes it feels like this.

But it's always worth it when I get to the top and release the next book. Love the view from up there!

Bookmarks, business cards, and other stationary

Posted in Artwork, and Just for Writers

2 x 6 Bookmark-VerticalWhenever we send someone a book directly, or sell one at an event, we have an opportunity to include other things. Most commonly, these are bookmarks, which we also distribute wherever we can.

Business cards are also very useful to carry when you're meeting people, or standing around at a convention.

What are they good for? How can we make them maximally effective?
 

Why bookmarks?

Bookmarks are the stand-alone representations of your books. They're popular as leave-behinds in bookstores or at group events, and are the obvious choice for inserts into your books when you sell directly (via online ordering or at trade shows/events).

There is debate about whether all bookstores want them, but many do. If you're not sure, ask.

What's the goal of a bookmark? To interest someone in buying another book. You can't list all your books on a bookmark, as though it were a mini-catalogue. That may seem plausible when you only have one or two books, but it defeats the purpose of seducing the reader with well-designed, professional information.

Instead, set up one bookmark for each series or important stand-alone book. Remember, when you start a series, you may not know how many books there will be, or what their names are. I created the bookmark above (using cover art from the first book) before I wrote a fourth entry and a story collection.

Focus on the first book of the series, name as many of the other books as you can without muddying up the image, and refer to “… and more” after that point. If you create a new bookmark for each series, you can be inventive about including a bookmark for series 2 in a book sale for series 1 to encourage cross-sales. Whenever you have any reason to mail something to someone, include a bookmark and a business card.

And since you may write faster than you use up a print run of bookmarks, future-proof them by using only digital contact information bits, not physical ones. I've moved since I made that bookmark, and I expect to move again before I run out of them.

Why business cards?

businesscard-300dpi-rgbLet's be blunt. If you're in business and you don't have business cards, how do you expect to support a professional impression? A business card is a courtesy to a potential buyer or colleague or vendor. It keeps them from having to write down your contact information themselves.

Better yet, it's another opportunity to sell your product and seduce potential buyers.