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Gender and genre

Gender and genre

Gender and Genre

…lying on my back on the library floor, staring blankly up at my bookshelves, I realised two things.

First: it’s not hoarding if it’s books; second, that I have a lot of series by female authors. Given all the unmitigated crap that occasionally hits the airwaves about ‘women ruining science-fiction’, and given the amount of sci-fi I read, it took me rather by surprise. I didn’t, in fact, set out to collect books written by women authors. Actually, if I’m completely honest, unless I’m looking for some more of someone’s work that I’ve already enjoyed, the author’s name tends to be about the last thing about a book that I look at.

Generally, if someone’s unwary enough to let me off my chain in a bookshop, my method of picking out books (yes, it’s never ‘a’ book, kindly don’t blaspheme) is to wander along the sci-fi and fantasy shelves, picking up random books that look interesting and reading the first few pages.

I like that first few pages, I buy the book – simple. If I like the rest of the book, when I’ve got it home and devoured it, then I’ll take notice of the author – so that I can go and see what else they’ve written, and hang out in their metaphorical garden hedges watching to see when the next book may come out. Yes, I author-stalk. (Rabia Gale, I’m looking at you. W. Clark Boutwell, you too.)

From my unexpected vantage point on the floor (I was trying to clean – don’t judge), for the first time in my life, I counted fingers and realised that, having used that method of book selection most of my life, I really do have a lot of books by women authors. C J Cherryh, Lilith Saintcrow, Anne MCaffrey, Dorothy Dunnett, Patricia Briggs, Rob Thurman, Michelle Sagara, Ann Aguirre, Laura Anne Gilman… I could keep going. I was almost relieved to come across half a shelf of Jack Campbell, a complete shelf and a half of Terry Pratchett (all hail Sir Terry), a clump of Jack Higgins, the full Robert Jordan Wheel of Time series, some Jim Butcher, a bit of Simon Green, and… yeah, I read a lot.

Basically, I like good writing, by which I mean a writing style that doesn’t make me roll my eyes on page one, characters that aren’t two-dimensional, and a plot that actually, well, has a plot. I don’t select my books based on the shape of the author’s genitalia. The correlation between gender and genre that seems to be so popular with most of society seems like an even bigger steaming pile when viewed from my position (on my library floor).

Something that pisses me off no end is the sheer number of individuals (insert epithets of choice here, I’m a dirty-word intellectual trying hard to keep my blog mostly PG) going around claiming that ‘men can’t write fantasy’ or ‘women can’t write science-fiction’. I call bullshit. J R R Tolkien, for example. C S Lewis. C J Cherryh, Octavia E Butler, Anne McCaffrey. I suffer violent urges when I read that J K Rowling is J K because someone told her that she’d sell fewer books as Joanne Kathleen Rowling.

I think at heart I feel that the only criteria that a book should be judged by is the quality of the writing. A good cover and a good blurb may well help to attract the reader’s attention, but ultimately, you can have the best cover in the world, and unless that excerpt makes me want to read more, you’re going back on the shelf…

E-book publishing 101: Draft 2 Digital

E-book publishing 101: Draft 2 Digital

Draft 2 Digital, or D2D

Draft 2 Digital is one of the sites that helps you go from ‘I can haz wordz!’ to ‘I’m a published author.’ D2D is one of two major content aggregators in the publishing world; the other is Smashwords.

A content aggregator takes your manuscript and creates a customised file or files, which then allow it to push your book to its affiliate sites, e.g. iTunes, Barnes & Noble, or Kobo. Think of it as a centralised distribution for your book to multiple sales channels. Both Smashwords and D2D do also distribute to Amazon if you want them to, although Amazon makes it very easy to set your manuscript up with them directly.

Content aggregators are particularly important if you live in one of those areas outside the United States, where reputable currency is deemed to be non-existent and we barter with trade items. Various booksellers, such as Barnes & Noble, cannot make payments to certain areas (Canada was my personal example).

However, both Smashwords and Draft 2 Digital can and do pay to PayPal, among other options, and do have an affiliation with multiple booksellers. This is to say that not only can you format your manuscript once and it goes to ten or more distribution outlets, but you get your reports in one place, and your payments in one place.

Disclaimer: I publish with Draft 2 Digital, among others.

Draft 2 Digital: the bare essentials

  • Working Internet browser
  • Word processing software, ditto functional
  • Your manuscript, ideally in .docx or other D2D-accepted format
    • If you have already formatted for Amazon, you can use your Amazon manuscript file for D2D and it will need at most minor tweaks
  • Your book blurb (back jacket text)
  • E-book cover art
    • And for the love of all the little wriggly deities, if you’re going to spend money on any one part of the publishing process, do it here. Get a professional cover designer and a professional cover. Don’t photograph your baby cousin’s finger-painting and use PowerPoint to paste your title in on top of it. Your cover is the thing online book buyers see. If that doesn’t interest them enough to stop and read your blurb and open your book, nothing else about your book matters because the buyer will never see it.
  • Your PayPal email (or other bank account set-up details)
  • Your local tax identification information – the interview is relatively painless, but you’ll need to tell them where you pay tax.

Start here

You’ll need to go and set up your D2D account. You’ve done this before at some point; you’ll need your name, a sacrificial email address, your publishing company name (which is your pen name if you haven’t created a registered company), and a password. It takes a couple of minutes, and you’re in.

Head over to the ‘My Account’ area; you aren’t quite done. Go into ‘Payment Options’. This is where you’ll need that tax identification information I listed up top.

Tell the nice D2D folks where you live and how you want to get paid. I use PayPal because it’s convenient for me, but fill your boots with your option of choice. You’ll also need to take the tax interview to either set up your tax payment in the United States, or if like me you live somewhere where beaver skins are the preferred payment method, then you tell them your citizenship, country of residence, country where you pay tax, and your tax ID for that country, and they will generate the appropriate documentation for you in their system.

Book set-up

…because that’s what we’re really here for, after all.

Click ‘Add new book’. (Pretty self-explanatory, right?). It’ll ask you to upload your manuscript. They ask for .docx, but they also accept anything MS Word-readable, and if you have a pre-formatted .epub file, they’ll take that as well.

Enter your book details – title, blurb, ISBN if you have one, etc. Select your BISAC categories. Don’t panic about this; you’re really just telling the system where your book would be displayed in a brick and mortar store. Would it be under Comparative Religion, or Fiction / Thriller? Once you’re done with that, pick some keywords. If you’ve done a lot of research into keywords for your book, good for you, you know what to do. If you haven’t, and are staring at this next hurdle in blind panic, take a deep breath. If you were searching for your book in the search bar, what’s the first word or phrase you would type in to find it? Great. Put that in. Do it again. Shoot for at least six or seven keywords or phrases, don’t repeat words that are already in your title or your BISAC selections.

Check all your fields, take a deep breath, and click the ‘Save and Continue’ option.

Cover and layout

Upload your cover. Your professionally-designed cover, please God, unless you’re a whole lot better at graphic design than I am and know exactly what you’re doing.

While that’s crunching through upload, check your chapter layout. Unless you made a real dogs’ breakfast of your MS formatting, you should see a list of entries you recognise, and which match your Table of Contents in the file you uploaded. (Please note, if you opted to upload an epub, you won’t have to go through this section; D2D will siply accept your epub formatting.)

Once the cover’s uploaded, and once you’re happy that the chapters displayed are right, click ‘Save and continue’.

Now you’re in the preview section, and this is where D2D really shines. Depending on your genre, and how you want your book to end up, you can select from a variety of pre-programmed layouts. For those of us who don’t have an epub formatting program, and know next to nothing about it, this is great because you have some limited formatting options and, best of all, you don’t have to upload a .docx and pray the epub comes out legible: D2D shows you a preview.

Pricing and distribution

Basically, D2D lets you set up shop on their site for free. They make their money (as do you) when you sell a book. They take a small amount from your book price based on some alchemy around storing and transferring your book file to the reader. All the rest is yours. Not a bad deal, compared to the pittance a traditional publisher will give you when they sell a copy of your book.

Pick your book price. Oddly enough, cheaper isn’t always better. (Yes, I am going to stand this up with some sources – patience, grasshopper.) For an average novel length (75K – 150k words, let’s say), the recommended price point for sales versus being taken seriously tends to be about $2.99 – $3.99 USD for most genres.

Who died and made me God? Here’s some articles on book pricing you can check out.

Now…hit ‘Save and Publish’.

Congratulations, you’re a published author. Go and check out your masterpiece under ‘My Books’, admire the cover design, make sure it’s going out to all the right distribution channels, and spend a moment patting yourself on the back and enjoying the moment.

Extra – read all about it!

One other thing that D2D offers that Smashwords and Amazon don’t make quite so streamlined, if they offer it at all; audio books. D2D has a partnership with Findaway Voices, whereby you get a special offer on audiobook set-up (no fees until you actually settle on a narrator).

D2D will provide you with the set-up interview, where you give Findaway a bit of additional information on your book and select the ideal characteristics for your narrator, and then you hit ‘go’ and wait for them to send you the follow-up with potential narrators to your email.

While I was spoilt in terms of audiobooks as a child by the BBC version of The Hobbit, with a full cast of voices and full sound FX, and therefore almost never bother to pick up single-voice book narrations (because I’d rather read it to myself and get the full cinematic immersion in my head), a lot of folks do like narrated books, either because of vision difficulties, lifestyle, or whatever else.

I’m trialling the system with Death is for the Living, just to see if it’s feasible.

Nassau, Bahamas – where the hunters base

Nassau, Bahamas – where the hunters base

Nassau, Bahamas – base for the Artemis hunter team

At the beginning of Death is for the Living, the Artemis team is based out of Nassau, in the Bahamas. It’s a nice central location, and a thriving city, which provides supplies, and much-needed cover, as well as a large enough marina complex that a yacht moving in and out won’t attract much notice.

The Bahamas are actually very pretty, but offer very unusual sailing conditions. With shallow seabeds and low-lying islands, it’s not the first place I’d take a deep-keeled yacht like Artemis, but in terms of finding tourists for cover, it’s a popular destination – and, as we know, Artemis isn’t just there to look pretty.

Nassau, Bahamas mapFor those of you wondering where the hell the Bahamas are, exactly, here’s a map. You can find Nassau without too much trouble, due East of the tip of Florida and North of Santiago de Cuba.

You’ll see the whole area is a mess of little islands and sandbars, which makes for gorgeous blue-green water, really nervous watching of the depth-sounder, and a lot of white sand beaches.

Because vampire clans like a large, transient population, the Bahamas are a prime area for them. Violent crime in Nassau is high, meaning that a few disappearances don’t raise too many eyebrows. Yachts move through the Bahamas in numbers, especially in winter, and liveaboards vanish all the time – either intentionally dropping off the map, or through accidents.

Due to the presence of vampires in the Cays, Artemis was based there semi-permanently to watch and hunt, and was supplemented by the presence of the wise-woman, Mama Gale, a magic user of some power and influence – at least until a routine raid went startlingly sideways.

However, don’t let me put you off the Bahamas. They’re a lovely place to visit – especially in daylight.

Chapter quotes – why add them?

Chapter quotes – why add them?

Why add chapter quotes? Where do you get your chapter quotes from? Aren’t chapter quotes hell to format?

Me, personally, I enjoy chapter quotes. Dorothy Dunnett, Seanan McGuire, and of course Frank Herbert are all awesome examples. If you’ve never read any of these authors, don’t tell me because I will get very judgy.

“Facts are a commonly accepted interpretation. Truth is a commonly argued fiction.” A Planet’s Philsophy, Ankara Zaneth (From book 8…yes, I’m way ahead of myself.)

They’re an insight into the world backdrop, a good laugh, or a context-setter, depending on what the author is doing with them and with their book. I put them in because, well, I’m a pure pantser. I don’t outline. I generally have no idea what my characters are likely to do once I’ve dropped them into a scene. I find out when I write it down. As you can imagine, therefore, I usually end up writing my chapter quotes well after the fact. They’re actually help me in the editing stage, because they act as a kind of focus mechanism for me when I’m editing a chapter. I can stare at the chapter quote for a bit when I get stuck, remember the awesome thing I was trying to do in that chapter, and return to hacking and slashing motivated and refocused. (Hah.) At least, that’s how it sometimes works.

“Modesty is like arsenic: safe only in small doses.” Sayings of the Wise, Olar Fantoml (From Fighting Shadows, book II in the Cortii series.)

As I kind of gave away in the last bit, I don’t get my chapter quotes from anywhere. I make them all up. My father, who had very serious tastes in most of his reading, and considered sci-fi to be an extreme form of escapism, never actually read any of my books – but he would steal them from my mother when she was reading them, and he would read my chapter quotes. I still regret that I never really asked him why, because I think the answer would have been interesting.

“Avoidance requires continuous effort. Confrontation merely requires standing still.” Universal Truths, Jahira Suran (From Elemental Conflict, book IV in the Cortii series.)

And yes, sometimes, depending on the platform, chapter quotes can indeed be hell to format. Kobo, for example, thinks my chapter quotes are a whole separate page unless I spend hours tickling it with an ostrich feather while immersing it in chocolate. (Kidding. I had to get much kinkier than that.)

“Training is not a substitute for experience; it is merely easier to survive.” Training of a Cortiian, Nadhiri Longar (Yeah, Book 8 again…working on it.)

As to what my chapter quotes are supposed to achieve other than providing a focal point for my edits – I mostly leave that up to the reader. If they’re something that you just skip on your way to the main events, no worries. If they make you grin, or start an interesting train of thought, then I’m happy. I frankly suspect most of mine actually come from Khyria’s choices of reading matter. Most of them are downright cynical and sound like the kinds of things she’d remember.

Top ten books – also known as author torture

Top ten books – also known as author torture

Name my top ten favourite books? Ten?!?

This must be some kind of bizarre mental torture.

Those were pretty much my thoughts when a well-meaning friend tagged in a #10in10days event on Facebook. (Every author has a secret drama queen. If they claim they don’t, they’re probably being contextually inaccurate.) To add to my woes, my personal library downstairs currently runs to several thousand books, and doesn’t by far cover all the books I’ve loved and left in my life.

So, after I calmed down, and checked out various other peoples’ entries, I got into it and started thinking. My top ten books of all time? What would they be, and why?

I figured I’d share below, in case anyone’s looking for something new to read.

#1 - Favourite book of all time

The Horse and His Boy. Yes, of all the books I’ve read in my life, and as you may’ve gathered, there’ve been a few, this one probably takes the top spot. I fell in love with it sometime between the ages of six and seven, tried to move to Narnia, and very probably it gave me my initial interest in learning to ride. (I lived on a boat at the time…)

I still have a lovely, Folio Society copy of it in my library, a gift from my father, and every so often I get it out and re-read it. Of all the Narnia books, it’s my favourite, and at the simplest level, I think it’s because it’s the only one entirely set in Narnia.

#2 - Because Sir Terry...

The Monstrous Regiment. More than any other author I know, Terry Pratchett can expose the nonsense that underpins society and make it hilarious, and possibly nowhere more than in this book. I made the mistake of reading it for the first time on a bus, and laughed so hard I actually had a seat to myself. Topical, unflinchingly accurate, and stand-alone, I’ve just about worn the covers off this Discworld.

#3 - I want to write like this when I grow up

The Game of Kings. I love Dorothy Dunnett’s writing. I’ve read at least a couple of versions of this series to pieces. She writes historical fiction, and the characters, plots, and settings are incredible. Crawford of Lymond is an incredibly rich and complex character; there’s nothing transparent and open-and-shut about him. In a world of YA written for the grade 6 reading level, this series is like yoga for the brain.

#4 - Dragons, ire, flame and fire

Dragonflight. Anne McCaffrey was my first brush with science-fiction, aged about ten, and I still have that copy of the book – it’s gone in the harbour, it’s got marine varnish on it, and it’s been chewed on by kittens. I don’t like all her later books, but the original Pern series may well be what hooked me on sci-fi. When it comes to epic vision in world-building, this series is a great example.

#5 - One Ring to rule them all

Lord of the Rings. I scared myself so thoroughly with this book aged seven that I wouldn’t go to the bathroom on my own for six months. J.R.R. Tolkien has the ability to write a story that drags you in to the extent that you wake up and shake your head and try to figure out why all the colours are drab, you can’t feel your feet any more, and which century is it, anyway. This is one where the book is and will forever be better than the movie (although get back to me once we have Star Trek-style holo environments…).

#6 - That was opportunity knocking

Valour’s Choice. In terms of military sci-fi, you really can’t do better. Tanya Huff’s protagonist is Torin Kerr, Confederation Marine, and along with cracking pacing and excellent writing, the one-liners and turns of phrase in this book (and the rest of the series) keep me coming back for more. If anyone’s having trauma flashbacks to the Starship Troopers movies, have no fear – there is no comparison.

#7 - Here, kitty, kitty

Magic Bites. Magic and technology rule the world in cycles over multiple millennia, and technology is beginning to lose its sway. Kate Daniels is a mercenary for hire in the USA, front and centre for awakening demi-gods, magical curses, and rogue shape-shifters, even if the non-rogue ones debatably cause her more trouble. This series is a relatively recent find, but for fun and originality, it definitely earnt a spot on my list.

#8 - Because anti-heroes...

The Eagle has Landed. Actually most of the Jack Higgins are on my read and read again list; for gritty, realistic thrillers that are much more than simply point and shoot, he’s one of my go-to authors. I started climbing my parents’ bookshelves to steal these books about age nine or ten, and one of the things I really like about his work is that the villains are often more relatable than the heroes. Jack Higgins has a unique skill for taking everything you think you know and making you think about it again.

#9 - Because (more) anti-heroes...

The Morgaine Cycle. I found this in a charity shop somewhere near school, and consequently was MIA for most of a week of classes. C.J. Cherryh has her weak points with things like consistency (see the Phoenix series), but in the Morgaine cycle, the atmosphere, the settings, and the characters combine into the perfect sci-fi / fantasy read – complex, dark as hell, and compelling.

#10 - The art of the double-cross

Tarnished Knight. Jack Campbell is one of my more recent discoveries in sci-fi, and his Lost Fleet protagonist is so damn perfect it makes my teeth hurt, but in the Lost Stars series, the characters are dark, cynical, and prone to double-crosses, and totally hit my happy place. Campbell’s books excel in plausible battle scenes, but this later series also brings strong characterisation and great plots to the table.

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