A to Z Letter AWe here at Routines for Writers are big fans of writing challenges, specifically, NaNoWriMo. The November writing frenzy is firmly implanted in my writing routine arsenal. Even if I don’t write a novel that month, I at least increase my output for whatever I’ve got going at the time.

So imagine my excitement when I stumbled across a month-long blogging challenge in April! The A to Z Blogging Challenge has you blogging every day (except Sunday) using the letters of the alphabet as your prompt. Every. Day.

As I type this, I’m getting ready to blog the letter M on my personal website. It will be a wonderful Mushroom Soup recipe that my mom gave me last winter. Yummy. Check my blog on Tuesday: http://shonnaslayton.com/

Here is what I have experienced so far, and why I think writers should participate in a challenge such as this:

1. You learn to blog faster. You can’t spend forever thinking about what to blog, writing the blog, editing the blog, etc. If you are going to survive, you’ve got to pick up the pace. Don’t worry about being less than perfect.

2. You learn to write shorter blogs. People are busy and they are zipping through the blogs. Be short and sweet. Write the occasional masterpiece to stand as an evergreen article, but not every time you blog.

3. You learn to write about topics other than writing. You become very aware that the people visiting your site for the month will not all be writers. They aren’t going to want to read about plot structure. They are readers .You have to entertain/inform them a different way. Isn’t this the problem so many of us writers have? What else are we going to talk about if we aren’t writing about writing?!? Take the blogging challenge and find out.

4. You learn to visit other blogs–not just writing blogs. This has been one of my favorite lessons. As part of the challenge, you start at your name in the sign-up list and you visit the five blogs below yours. I’ve learned such interesting things this month, going outside my normal blog-type.

Also, this sequential method gives you a reason to visit a random stranger’s blog. You are all in this challenge together and it brings an instant sense of camaraderie. You’re not just trying to sell your book or build your platform.

5. You learn to comment. When you visit the five blogs a day, you are supposed to comment. And then if you have time, you can go back and visit the blogs of the people who left comments on your blog. I’ve “met” some really great people and found some new blogs and Pinterest boards to follow.

Bonuses: I’ve picked up a couple Twitter followers and newsletter subscribers. I feel more connected to the blogging community. My blog is not as lame as it used to be ;)

How about you? Are you in on the A to Z challenge? Are there other challenges like this out there?

Little Miss Lovesick_NEWSIZE_FINALI was thrilled to be invited to join a group of friends who wanted to do a fun cross-promotion for our books. For one day, today, all of our books - all in various sub-genres of romance - will be available on Amazon for only 99 cents! Yay!

If you like my books, you’ll find several in this list you would enjoy. :) And if you’re reading this after Friday, my book Little Miss Lovesick (and perhaps some of the others) will still be on sale through the weekend. Plus, I’ve made Lovesick 99 cents across all retailers, so you can get it for a buck on Barnes & Noble or iTunes or anywhere you like to buy ebooks!

If you’re on Twitter or Facebook or other places, would you mind passing this information along? I’d love to feel like I helped my friends find new fans. :-D Thanks a million!

Happy reading!

Kathy Bennett, A Deadly Justice

Kitty Bucholtz, Little Miss Lovesick

Linda Carroll-Bradd, Capturing the Marshal’s Heart

Kathleen Creighton, The Prince and the Patriot

Jacqueline Diamond, The Cowboy and the Heiress

Gillian Doyle, Mystic Memories

Susan R. Hughes, A Baby for Christmas

Michelle Knowlden, Indelible Beats

Heather MacAllister, Counterfeit Cowgirl

Mindy Neff, The Bad Boy Next Door

Louella Nelson, Cora Lee

Lyn O’Farrell, Worth the Risk

Dee Ann Palmer, Where Eagles Cry

Sandra Paul, Last Chance For Marriage

Michael H. Payne, A Curial Quartet

Edie Ramer, Christmas at Angel Lake

Angie Ray, Ghostly Enchantment

Susan Squires, Waiting For Magic

Kristy Tate, Beyond the Fortuneteller’s Tent

Patricia Thayer, Colton Creek Cowboy

I’m taking a class this semester in ePublishing. (When I’m done, I want to talk to Kitty, who I suspect is just as qualified to teach the class as my professor.) At the start of the class, the professor basically said we’d be learning as we went. That there are no standards and that epublishing is developing in much the same way that the Internet grew and morphed into what it is today. Organically. Driven by those who are using it and doing it. That means we writers and readers who are using epublishing in any way are making history.

In this class we each must write a book which will be published onto Amazon. (We’ll also learn how to publish on iBooks, but will not be required to because of the fees.) The past several weeks we have been writing these serious, silly or downright ludicrous tomes. Or at least that is the expectation. At least half of us have said at one time or another we have very little written.

It helps that our professor doesn’t really care about our topic. He is expecting us to produce a finished, professional product, but it can be on any topic we desire. He said in our first class, it could be something as simple as “29 Ways to Prepare for the Coming Zombie Apocalypse” or as serious as “Surviving Cancer” or as practical as “How to Create a Functional Wardrobe with 10 Pieces of Clothing.” As long as it was 30-40 pages in length, the topic didn’t matter.

Sometime in the next week or two, we will begin learning the process of formatting and publishing our books. As that time nears, I’m reminded that a writer must have content before she can publish. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? And it is. But how many times have we begun the “Where will I publish this?” questions before we have even started to write. One of my classmates has asked several times about how to format. And received the same answer each time. “You’ll learn that later. For now just write.”

That is my advice to you. For now, just write. Once you have your story, book, poem, screenplay, whatever written, that will be the time to consider publishing. When I’m finished with this class, I’ll let you know some of what I learned about that process. (Although I’m sure Kitty could teach us soooo much more. She is one of those trailblazers influencing the way epublishing develops.)

My publisher, Entangled Publishing, uses the three-pass editing system. As I write this, I’m in the lull between first and second passes, and am busy taking care of my to-do list, so when the second pass arrives, I can dive right in.

The three-pass editing method is a great system for authors to add to their writing routines.

First Pass

THE BIG EDIT. This is the pass where the editor(s) take a look at the big-picture items. The plot, the character arcs, the plot holes, etc. This is the “dreaded editor letter” everyone talks about. It’s a developmental edit. This is the pass where you may have to get rid of an extra character or change the POV or cut/add whole chapters. Here is the video I made for my editors to show them how hard I worked on their notes:

 

Second Pass

The second editing pass shrinks down to line edits. For my book specifically, we’ll be looking at the speech patterns of my foreign speakers. I’ve got an elderly couple who fled Poland during WWII. When they first arrive in New York, their English is limited, but by the end of the novel (which covers several years) their speaking has significantly improved. Well, mostly, because one of them is suffering from dementia, and so I have to show her reverting back to Polish. We’ll also be looking at the other characters, making sure they stay consistent. And, of course, I’ll do a Margie Deep Edits pass to amp up the use of dynamic language.

Third Pass

Yikes. THIS. IS. IT. Unless I find a huge-can’t-believe-we-missed-this kind of plot hole, I won’t be making any changes. This is our final copy edit check for spelling, commas, proper grammar, etc. While I’ve done this kind of pass before sending work out on submission, I’ve never been at this stage FOR REAL. As in, I’m not revising this book any more. I think I will be both elated and incredibly sad at the end of this pass. I don’t know. I’ll have to come back and give an update.

So, there you have it. The three-pass edit. Add it to your routines!

Over the next two months, I’ll be assembling my newest book, Superhero in the Making, book two in the Adventures of Lewis and Clarke series. (“Superhero Books for Her!”) This will be the fourth time I’ve put a book together to self-publish, so I’m finding patterns and creating checklists.

whyWhere Will You Distribute?

I’ve found that one of the important things you need to know before you begin is which distributors you will use. For instance, while Scrivener (where I write my books) has the capability to create an EPUB file, Smashwords still required a Word document the last time I uploaded a book there in May 2013. Since I want my ebooks to be absolutely identical on any device, and because as of May 2013 all the distributors I used accepted Word files, I found it was easier to create just one file and then make the necessary changes on the copyright page. (As opposed to having a Scrivener EPUB file, a Word file, and an InDesign file and having to remember to make any little edits to all three files, at least this way I only had to remember to make the same edits in two files. We’ll see if I do it differently this time to take advantage of Scrivener creating the EPUB and mobi – for Kindle – files for me. When I created my ebook-only short story, “Superhero in Disguise,” Scrivener helped me format the files fast.)

One thing to love about the free Smashwords Style Guide is that if you are meticulous in following the instructions there, your completed Word file will upload to any of the other distributors as well on the first try. (As of May 2013, I uploaded to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, All Romance eBooks, and Smashwords – who distributed to “everyone else.” I had no problems with B&N’s original “PubIt!” program, but its new NOOK Press messes up my books now, every time. So I now let Smashwords distribute there for me. That will change when I decide to spend the money hiring out my formatting or figure out my NOOK Press problem.)

Incompatible Upgrades

Another thing to consider is whether one of the programs you use has been very recently upgraded and other programs will not work well with it until they upgrade as well. This happened to me in May 2013 with Unexpected Superhero. Between Scrivener, NOOK Press, and an EPUB validator I was using, the Scrivener EPUB file had errors I couldn’t fix when I tried to upload it to NOOK Press. It was frustrating and time-consuming tracking down the problem, trying potential solutions, and eventually having to abandon my upload and have Smashwords distribute it. But these things happen and you need to go with the flow. (Again, unless you hire a professional formatter.)

Since my husband used to be a graphic designer and owns several professional programs, and I’ve done some newsletters using Quark Xpress, I decided to go that route for my print books. My husband and I created a template in Quark for my first book, Little Miss Lovesick, and I uploaded the final file as a PDF to CreateSpace. Again, plan for the unexpected. I couldn’t get Quark to create the PDF even though it was an option for the software. Turns out a lot of people were having the same problem. I finally had to send the file out to have it converted. Of course, then I had a PDF that I couldn’t change. Why was that a problem if my book was already printed?

A Professional Print Version

Yup, found a few typos. When I created the ebook files, I corrected any little things I saw as they came up – without thinking about it. Meaning, I didn’t make identical changes to the Quark file, which is why I mentioned above, be aware of how many separate files you have to change if you find a typo. And now, because I couldn’t get Quark to create a PDF for me, I could make my edits but would have to send the file out to be converted to PDF every time, forever. My husband and I started talking about upgrades and – voila! I got an email from Adobe about their Creative Cloud suite. Instead of purchasing the software and upgrading every year or two, you could pay a monthly subscription fee and always have access to the latest version. Not only that, you have access to every piece of Adobe software (that I’m aware of). Because my husband and I both use more than one piece of Adobe software, the monthly Creative Cloud membership seemed perfect for us.

So for my second book, I used Adobe InDesign. LOVE. IT. I sent out my Little Miss Lovesick Quark file to Nick Davies at Tinstar Design and he quickly converted it to InDesign for me for a very reasonable price. I made my minor edits in the new file and it was ready to re-upload. I also took that Lovesick file and created a master template for my future books, which I then used for Unexpected Superhero. Now my print books all have the same look every time. Definitely the professional way to go.

Writing SmileyChecklists Save Time

During the last 2 1/2 years, I’ve continued to make notes about what I do, how I do it, and what order to do it. For instance, in your print version, if you add the header in the master section so that it appears on every page, then manually delete the header from the first pages of chapters, then go through every line of the book taking out words that are split/hyphenated to the next line, it will change the way the text flows and…wait for it…your manually deleted headers will sometimes be on the wrong page. Sigh. Then you have to re-do the header.

Yes, I learned that by doing it. ;)

So now with Superhero in the Making, I’ll take my newest checklist and begin working down it in order. Any time I find something not working right, I’ll make a note of how to fix it and, if necessary, change the order of steps in my checklist. Until I decide to send out my book files to a professional formatter, this is an effective way to get my books printed so that they look absolutely professional, and I’m not re-inventing the process every time. I haven’t looked into the prices of professional formatters or know who’s the best at a reasonable price because I genuinely enjoy the book-building process. But someday I may have to let go of this part in order to get more writing done and more books out.

I hope this has been helpful to you. If so, let me know and I’ll try to post more on this topic in the future. I’ll be teaching a self-publishing how-to class online in September that you may find useful as well. I’ll let you know the details soon. Happy Self-Publishing!

This month we are talking about the books and/or authors who have impacted us. I learned to read at four and have read so many books in the past half century, there’s no way to pinpoint all the influential books and authors. Most have merged into a living collage of memories in which specific details may bubble into the forefront at times, but which usually remains a backdrop for my thoughts and personality. There are a few books, though, that have radically changed my perspective in some way, changing the course of my life for the better.

Thirty years ago or more, I decided to believe the Bible.  In the years since, I’ve read every word multiple times, studied some sections so intently I have them memorized and put into practice much of what I’ve learned. It is safe to say the Bible has influenced me more than any other book I’ve ever read and, while the change was slow, it did radically change my life. For the better.

Three years ago I read a book that did the same thing, only more dramatically. When I read “Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men” by Lundy Bancroft, I was bludgeoned with an awareness that what I’d perceived as true was in fact horribly wrong. His detailed descriptions of manipulative, controlling and abusive behaviors shined a spotlight on my marriage. Like puzzle pieces suddenly falling into place, my memories coalesced into a picture that made a horrible kind of sense of the decades of confusion, misunderstandings, doubt and manipulation. 

Lundy Bancroft’s book revealed the truth about the manipulative and dysfunctional patterns present in my marriage, but it was Leslie Vernick’s books that launched the healing process. Leslie Vernick, a Christian counselor, vividly, compassionately and accurately wrote about the damage destructive actions cause and how to respond in ways consistent with the Biblical principles on which I’d built my life. In “The Emotionally Destructive Relationship” I found ways to verbalize my perceptions and objections. In “The Emotionally Destructive Marriage” and “How to Live Right When Your Life Goes Wrong,” I found helpful tools and suggestions to build health and life into my relationships.

Uncounted numbers of books have influenced me in ways I only dimly perceive. Uncounted more will continue to enlighten, educate and influence me. These three authors, however, created a crossroads in my life that dramatically and irrevocably changed me. For the better.