There have been books where I had to agonise over the title, and ask for help, and toss coins, and read the cards…Through theHostage wasn’t one of them.
The title was inspired by an old, old Keanu Reeves film, ‘Speed’, where Keanu is working as an American police officer. Near the beginning of the film, his partner’s being held up by the bad guy with a gun to his head, and the partner keeps on mouthing ‘Shoot the hostage!’. In the end, Keanu’s character does just that, and much drama and manly distress ensues.
The concept seemed very appropriate for the first book in the Cortii series. Jack Connagh is the human hostage, held on a Cortiian Base, his only real protection the fact that an alien species has some very powerful leverage over the Councils of the magaii, and those aliens want him alive.
However, given that the magaii are violently allergic to being blackmailed, and that Jack is in the keeping of Khyria’s trainee unit, whose chances of surviving to full Cortia rank get slimmer every day, the chances that someone’s going to shoot him are pretty high. ‘Through the hostage’ seemed uniquely appropriate.
Reliable rumour, however, indicates that there’s at least a few hareni on most Bases.
There have been hareni at least as long as there have been Cortii, maybe even longer. The word ‘harena’, in modern Cortiian, has some nasty connotations built in, but historically the meaning was very similar to ‘berserker’, and was used to refer to the best fighters, the ones that threw themselves into the front line of a fight.
Like any unofficial group on a Cortiian Base, they’re extremely secretive. Membership is invitation-only, and the only qualification for staying a harena is ability to stay alive. The hareni allow any training level to join, which makes it a risky gamble for junior deriani. Those that do survive, through luck or fighting ability, have the advantage of training with some of the best fighters on a Base at any rank, and exposure to a diverse range of fighting styles and techniques.
While the hareni are primarily infamous as a fighting group, and the majority seem to have a strong focus on fight skills, they’re also the Cortiian equivalent of gremlins, frequently blamed (or praised) for the more unexplainable casualties.
Although time in the haren can be considered worth the risks, there’s also the point that discovery is a guarantee of a slow and messy death at the hands of the akrushkari. The Councils of the magaii do not tolerate disobedience. The hareni are also, by best accounts, a set of violent mavericks and thrill-seekers. Some of their reputation, according to solid Base rumour, is absolutely honestly come by.
On Corina Base, because Khyria got sucked into the hareni before even achieving full rank, there are several hareni whose names show up regularly: Khyria, of course, but also Ashan Maklin, Evor Leistor, and later on, Tayin Vern. They make up an over-powered set of powerful allies and enemies, or occasionally heavily-armed neutrals, depending largely on context and the mathematics of personal profit and loss.
Well, it’s finally That Time – after months or years, you’ve written, revised, gathered your alpha and beta readers’ input together, revised a bit more, run a spellcheck, discovered just how awful MS Word spell check is, got a human editor to read it, found a cover designer … and you’re sitting in front of your computer with your heart pounding and your palms going sweaty, about to actually upload your work of genius for the worldwide audience.
How many copies will I sell?
Will there be trolls?
Will anyone pirate my stuff?
When will I be able to live off the money my books make for me?
Will the world know my name?
Before you can become an international bestseller of E L James-style fame (oh, God), you need to find a self-publishing platform. I’m going to provide a non-exclusive, non-endorsing list below of a few of the better-known options to give you an idea.
Self-publishing platforms come in two basic flavours: ebook only, or print-on-demand. In this post, I’m going to focus on the print-on-demand platforms – or this post will attain novella-length in short order. Catch up with me later for the ebook 101 post.
CreateSpace (Amazon), and Lulu are two of the best-known self-pub options if you want to provide physical copies of your book as well as (or instead of) an ebook. They both allow you to set up print-on-demand for nothing and take a cut of the book price every time you sell a book as their payment.
I’m also going to touch on Bookbaby, which doesn’t offer a completely free option, but does offer a lot more support options if you happen to have the funds to pay someone else to tear their hair out to get your book printed.
Pros: They’re flexible, efficient, have great customer service and, provided you use one of their formatted templates (really. This part is important unless you’re a masochist) very easy to use. They provide a great quality of product. They’re also an Amazon company, so your print offering shows up, hassle-free, on the majority of Amazon country sites almost as soon as you approve your proof. You can opt for expanded distribution, which makes your work available to bookstores, libraries, and academia as well as Amazon. You can also opt for a number of helpful extras if you have the need and money, such as professional formatting, cover design, editing, etc. For the record, I print with CreateSpace.
Cons: Getting paid. CreateSpace only offers Direct Deposit (as of today) to authors with bank accounts in the USA, UK, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Belguim, or the Netherlands. If you happen to not have access to a bank account in one of those countries, CreateSpace will accumulate the royalties from the sales of your book in each region, and send you a cheque when the total for that region hits about $100 USD. To be clear, this doesn’t mean you can sell $33.33 worth of product in Asia, Europe, and South America (or wherever else) and get a cheque: it means you have to sell $100 worth of product in Asia, or Europe, or South America to get a cheque, which you then have to convert into your local currency. So be prepared for the fact that for a lot of indie authors, this means you’re going to be effectively providing your print books for free for the foreseeable future when it comes to money in hand. Another con: should you choose not to copy your text into one of their pre-formatted templates, be prepared for a lot of hell when you come to upload into their online proofing portal. Their main outlet is Amazon.
Pros: They offer payment via PayPal, which basically means you can be paid anywhere you can have a PayPal account that you can receive payment from. This may, of course, incur PayPal fees, but you aren’t left hunting a bank that will cash a USD cheque for you. They offer optional professional publishing services, but you can also go full-DIY if you choose. They will allow you to distribute your print on Lulu, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Ingram, and they offer a wide variety of sizes and binding options, including stitched if you happen to be a fan of the traditional.
Cons: You have to have the software to put the ISBN and bar code, wherever you choose to get that from, on your own print cover for a certain set of print formats. The up-front expertise needed to prep your files for printing from you, the author, is a bit higher than for CreateSpace.
Pros: They give you a webpage space with the publishing package. They distribute to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, Baker & Taylor, and Ingram, among others, as well as several niche options. You can choose to be paid via PayPal (there is a $1.50 processing fee per PayPal payment). They offer promo services with their packages, and a 100% satisfaction guarantee.
Cons: You have to go with one of their publishing packages. There is no full-DIY option with Bookbaby. You can only opt for Direct deposit if you have a US bank account; if not you’re stuck with cheque in the mail (or PayPal).
So, you’ve now followed a bunch of links, checked out arcane FAQs that talk about metadata, ISBNs, ASINs, the non-transferability of your platform-assigned ISBNs, and tax-witholding, and your head’s spinning.
Is it really worth all this effort and research, just to get a print copy of my book? I mean, I’m indie. Is anyone really going to buy the d*mn thing anyway?
For me, I wasn’t going to bother. Not right away. Not after having figured out that I couldn’t get paid for it in any reasonable amount of time, and given indie sales generally.
Then, I actually had people – family, friends, colleagues – start asking me if they could get a print copy, and I sat down and thought a bit more. After a bit of that, I actually did set up POD – and I’m really glad I did. Not because it’s making me a fortune – hell no, far from it. But it’s not costing me anything extra, as I’d opted to get a print and an e-cover from my cover designer anyway.
But the real pay-off, from my point of view, was the moment my actual book proof showed up on my doorstep, and I got my book, after all the blood and sweat and tears, in my hands looking like a real book.
Readers are picky beasts, and just because they couldn’t necessarily correct your writing, it doesn’t mean that they can’t recognise and be annoyed by constant technical issues. Leave enough editorial screw-ups in your manuscript, and not only will you lose readers, but arsehole book reviewers, like me, will call you on it in public. Actually, so will Amazon.
Yes, editing is expensive – or time-consuming. And boring, for the most part. But no, people won’t cut you slack just because you’re indie – and nor should they have to.
When you publish a book, you’re producing something you’ve spent months or years on. You owe to yourself, not to mention your readers, the respect of doing it properly.
You may not be able to afford to have your 350-page manuscript professionally edited at $45/hour.
However, there are a number of things you can do yourself.
Will this self-editing be as good as having it done professionally? No, probably not. But at least you can minimise the chance that someone’s going to use your precious manuscript for toilet paper because the typos, homophones, and other easily-avoidable technical eff-ups are making their brains hurt.
Step 1: Eliminate the obvious
I use MS Word, but whatever word-processing tool you use, either find the native spellcheck option or mug someone for their computer and load your MS up into software that has one.
Highlight your entire MS. (In Word, Ctrl+A.)
Select the dialect of English (or whatever language you’re in) that you want your MS to use. I use UK English.
Go through your entire MS and check out all the errors.
If a word, phrase or sentence has a coloured line under it, that means you either have a spelling error or a grammar error – or the spellcheck thinks that you do.
If you write fantasy / sci-fi, or some other genre that you’ve made up words for, I recommend adding them to your dictionary. It saves you having to ‘ignore’ them several times a page.
Spellchecks can be wrong. If you aren’t certain that your red, blue or green wavy underline is actually right, go online and do your research.
Spellcheck, for the most part, will not catch homophones (words that sound identical but mean different things). You’re going to need to figure out that a horse doesn’t have reigns yourself.
Step 2: Use your brain
Go back up to the very first sentence in your MS. You know, the one you hoped never to see again, because you agonised over it for weeks.
Re-read your entire MS. Don’t skim. Read it as a reader.
If a sentence makes you pause, highlight it.
If you see an error you missed and the spellcheck missed, either fix it or highlight it.
If something doesn’t seem logical, highlight it (possible plothole).
If you find yourself starting to skim, ask yourself if it’s because you’ve inserted four words, four paragraphs, or four pages of unnecessary yak. Highlight it.
Does your scene suddenly change view-points? Highlight it.
Got sections where the hero’s rugged face took on a look of surprised dismay before he began to reach out to gently touch the heroine’s velvety, petal-like cheek? Highlight ’em.
Be consistent. If you hyphenated ‘cloud-filled’ in chapter 1, hyphenate it in chapter 20. If you spelt it ‘adrenalin’ in chapter 3, don’t use ‘adrenaline’ in chapter 4.
If you find yourself wondering about a word or words each time, make a list of the things you keep having to back-check on and use the list to stay consistent.
Go back over all the sections you highlighted.
Could you rephrase the sentence / paragraph / section to get rid of whatever made you uneasy when you read it? For example, have you used the same sentence structure multiple times in a row? Is there a pet word that you’ve just used too often? Is the sentence structure just clunky?
Get all the weird and wonderful things that spellcheck missed and you highlighted. Spellchecks are tools, not a substitute for your brain.
Check the places where something struck you as not logical or missing something. Maybe you need to add an explanation or tie up a loose thread.
Check the spots were your eyes started to unfocus. Do you really need them in the book? Or are they pacing disasters that are going to put your reader to sleep?
Check your point of view. If you needed and planned to head hop, fine. If you’re just slipping from one character to another at random, or sliding into the omniscient view-point, re-write.
Yep. Really. Even if you can’t afford a full edit (we get it: they’re expensive), there are a number of options that won’t cost you $3,000-plus.
Beta readers. Get some. Beta readers are free, if occasionally difficult to come by. Ideally they should be people who read your genre, but who don’t know you, don’t care about you, have never seen your manuscript before, and will tell you the absolute truth. Try Goodreads as well as the options in the other links.
Give them some guidance (The Killzone Blog questionnaire is a good start)
Give them a timeline
Give them a free copy of your spell-checked, re-read, re-edited manuscript
Get a manuscript critique, or partial manuscript critique. This may probably will cost money, but it’ll be double digits to low hundreds money, not thousands.
Friends / family. Not ideal because they will for the most part want avoid hurting your feelings, but they’re usually easy to come by. Again, if you choose to go this route, give them some guidance (like the Killzone Blog questionnaire). Tell them when you need the feedback by.
Join a writers’ group. Again, the standard on these varies wildly, but they’re another free option to get some feedback.
Read some bloggers who publish editorial hints and tips. Here are a few to get you started:
Most important: while the manuscript is out with your critiquers / beta readers / Aunty Mae … don’t open it, don’t edit it, don’t read it, don’t think about it.
Step 4: Use your brain some more
First off: Thank your betas / friends / family. You’re not obliged to agree with what they had to say, but all these people did donate their time to try and help you.
And now … oh yes. Now that you’ve got your beta read feedback, your manuscript critique, your Aunty Mae’s 4,000 word essay on why she never reads science-fiction except when it’s yours … grab a beer / cup of tea / relaxing beverage of choice and open up all the emails / documents / spreadsheets where people have taken their best shots.
Throw a pity-party, get over it, and spend a few profitable and possibly pleasurable minutes duct-taping your ego to the bedframe. I’m not judging.
Then, go through all the feedback. I recommend sorting it into at least two categories (1) things everyone, or more than one, of your sources is saying; and (2) the things only one person has noted.
If more than one person has highlighted something, put a big red circle around it for serious consideration. If only one person has it as a pain-point, well, it’s worth considering, but not agonising over.
Now …Yup! You’re going to read your manuscript again!
The good news is, the time while your readers were doing their thing means you haven’t seen it in a while. That means you will have got a bit of distance from it and you’ll probably be much more efficient (and ruthless) with the remaining errors.
Re-read it with the feedback, especially with the feedback where multiple people had the same thing to say. Implement what you feel needs implementing.
Keep in mind, however, the beauty of being indie: if you truly feel, after reviewing a bit of feedback and your book that you prefer your original set-up … well, you’re indie. Your call.
Now that you’ve added, deleted, struck scenes out altogether, spell-check it again. (You remember how that works, we did this already.)
Then, if you’re using Track Changes, get the final view, or print out a clean copy, or copy the whole thing into a 5x8 print template – make it look totally new and different – and repeat Step 2.
Step 5: Publish your masterpiece
This is the easy bit, right? You’ve got your cover, you’ve decided if you’re going Kindle Select, or Kindle and everywhere else you can get your book formatted for, you know if you want to do print-on-demand or not …
Good luck and thank you from all your prospective, un-pissed-off readers.
Believe it or not, my godmother by courtesy was a lady named Cyralene Gale, and she ran the Bequia Bookshop until sometime in the early 1990s. Needless to say, she was neither a witch nor several hundred years old; she was originally from Barbados, but had lived on Bequia with her husband, Ian Gale, for longer than I’d been alive.
When I was a kid and we happened to be anchored in Port Elizabeth, one of my favourite things to be allowed to do was to go and hang out in their bookshop and dust the books, and occasionally, be allowed to stay over up at their house in the hills. Every so often, they would come out to our yacht for lunch – a visit which usually lasted well into the afternoon.
So, when I was looking for a name for this character, it was a given that she was going to be called Gale.
Mama Gale in Death is for the Living
Mama Gale is a bit of a mystery figure. She holds significant authority over the Bahamian hunter teams; she and Francis Hardy know each other well, and she’s got a history with Sean, Cristina, and Jean.
We first meet her directly after the Artemis’s return to their home port, when she comes aboard to decide what shall be done with the vampire captive, and not at all coincidentally, to evaluate Sean and Cristina.
‘…he stood, belatedly, as an Islands woman in a patterned dress came up the ladder, followed by Cristina. The setting sun, a huge red ball hanging just above the edge of the sea, illuminated her mass of silver hair.’
By the time we meet her, she appears elderly, but her authority is unquestionable. Francis defers to her; she shuts the team loudmouth down with a few well-chosen words. Although she is clearly powerful, it’s an adjunct to who she is.
‘…either immune or oblivious to the humming power coming off the tall, portly lady wearing her bright dress like a robe of office in the middle of their cockpit.’
Mama Gale is, by intent, more of a wise woman in the true sense of the phrase than a witch or a voodoo priestess (both of which character types have been done to death in my not-even-slightly-humble opinion).
She sees almost everything, but she comes across as a very calm presence, even if that is with a distinct undercurrent that it’s the calm at the eye of the hurricane, and she could unleash some serious whup-ass if the situation happened to call for it.