Write Tip: Making Perfect Bound Arcs With Create Space

After almost a year, nine drafts, two independent editors, a series of beta readers, two critique groups, and a few rejections, I was tired of looking at the word file that was my novel’s manuscript. I still believed in the story and characters and felt good about my writing though. Both the professional editors I’d worked with and the betas had raved at about, as had my crit group members. I’d polished and polished. But still had not achieved what I wanted — holding the finished book in my hand.

Then I remembered the process I’d used to self-publish my short story collection using Create Space. If you format the cover and book interior yourself, there’s no set up cost. And if you don’t click “Submit For Publishing,” Create Space never releases the book to Amazon or stores. This could be the perfect way to get to that next phase, I thought.

I went through the manuscript again and polished it some more, addressing a few issues I discovered with the main character’s arc, polishing and tightening words and sentences and making sure it was ready. Then I sent it out to two betas for corrections and final notes.

After their notes came back, I implemented them into the manuscript, made a copy of the Word file and started reformatting the copy to meet Create Space’s instructions for the interior of a 6×9 trade paperback. Locating a free temporary cover image off the web, I trimmed that down and used Photoshop to fit it into Create Space’s cover template. Then I sent both files off to a friend who was experienced with Photoshop to double check and polish.

When they were ready, I sent them to Create Space for file approval.

Up to this point my total cost: zero. Much cheaper than print cartridges and paper reams would be.

A day or two later, after Create Space approved the files (which took a couple of tries with the cover because Create Space’s instructions aren’t any more understandable than anyone else’s), I ordered a copy for proofing.

Looking it over, I made a few changes, resubmitted the files, and, a week later, had another proof.

What a great feeling it was to finally hold the book I’d dreamed up 25 years before in my hand looking like a real book. Oh sure, I still had to find a publisher, but at least I knew it would look good that way, and reading the paperback was much easier than reading a backlit .doc file.

Since I never submitted for publishing, Create Space never released the book for sale so no one except me and Create Space even know it exists. I sent a few copies to faithful betas and a couple of reviewers and then submitted to small presses.

Now I am awaiting word from two who are interested in bidding for it. Altogether a very useful tool for getting professional looking book copies inexpensively. Total cost per ARC: $7.50 + shipping.

For what it’s worth…

Word Limits

I have been really neglecting my blogging duties lately. Apologies to anyone out there who actually wanted to hear from me. The reason for this, besides deadlines to write yet more release notes and update the user guides again at work, is that I have been writing a set of serial stories which will begin running in July in Digital Dragon Magazine online, and I decided to release them as a book and include chapters from my two novels. The idea is to get my name out there by handing them out at conventions to writers, editors, agents, publishers and whomever else strikes my fancy. But because one of the two conventions I have blocked out for this year happens at the end of May, so I had to rush the project through to be ready in time.

So in the past two weeks, I have written 11 stories. Not all that impressive given my usually daily output, but nonetheless good for me given that I was not working from an outline or mental plan like I usually do with my novels. Additionally, I was working with a 1500-1600 word limit, something I am not used to.

When I first heard of Digital Dragon, it was from the loop of Lost Genre Guild, in which I participate. Several others had stories accepted there and I decided to check it out. Though it doesn’t pay anything, I liked the family-friendly focus, so I checked out the guidelines. 1500 words?! Are they crazy? I couldn’t imagine writing anything so short. None of my short stories had ever been less than 2900 words, and that one was a rarity. Most were at least 4000. Many came in at 6500. 1500 seemed impossible. But nonetheless, I sat down and decided to give it a try.

The idea which came to me was of a space opera about a Christian starship Captain and her crew fighting pirates/raiders from a neighboring empire. Since space opera is my favorite sub-genre of science fiction, and the sub-genre in which my completed scifi novel falls, it seemed a natural. As usual, I chose to make the characters more Christian-influenced than blatantly Christian because I want to write for a wider audience, not just Christians. What came out of me was a story about a female Captain on her first command leading an inexperienced crew into battle. And I thought it turned out pretty well. TW Ambrose, the editor at Digital Dragon, thought so too and suggested I might consider writing other stories in that world.

About the time the first story, “The Korelean Raiders,” appeared in the April issue of Digital Dragon, I wrote a follow up story, and found myself stuck on the idea that I could indeed do a lot more with these characters. Not just that I had story ideas, but that I myself wanted to know more about them. An idea soon developed to write ten more stories, all earlier than the previous two and bring the characters from when they first met up to the current stories, setting up their relationships, the origination of the conflict, etc.

With all the stories, I stuck to the 1500-1600 word limit, knowing not only that Digital Dragon would like to publish them, but also that as a pulp-type story, it would work best. For a guy who dreaded word limits, I found it amazingly easy and as time went on, found myself having to trim less and less as I somehow found a natural rhythm matching the desired length. The advantage of doing a serial was to do character development and story development which just couldn’t happen in one or two 1500-word stories. I also added a couple of new crew members and one more major enemy character and devised a plot line I believe could sustain not just these twelve stories but perhaps 30 or so.

In any case, I encourage any writers out there to test yourself by writing to a limit. With 1500-words, every word really has to count. It’s tricky to balance dialogue and description, and thus, some of my stories are dialogue heavy, while others are better mixed. But I did learn a lot about precision writing and thinking through character arcs in small chunks of very few lines and words. I think it will make me a better writer, and I think it will make you better writers too. If nothing else, I now feel a lot better prepared to trim stories for specific market’s demands. That is a valuable asset in and of itself. I even took the prologue of my scifi novel down to 1600 words from 2900 in an abridged version which will be featured in the May issue of Digital Dragon.

All the stories so far for the North Star-Korelean saga will be available soon via Amazon and my website, but other stories are also available at www.bryanthomasschmidt.net. If you want, go check them out. Meanwhile, thanks for reading my thoughts on writing with word limits. For what it’s worth…

Sharks in Publishing

I just got an exciting email this past week: an anthology wanted to publish one of my own favorite short stories. Having not yet made a professional sale in fiction (so far I have had fiction work only appear in ezines) and given that he was paying the professional rate, I was naturally excited. Until he broke the terms out. He wants me to hand over the copyright to DE (his company) and that’s for life. He wants to have his editor rework my story to meet his needs with no input from me (I did negotiate and finally got him to agree to give me approval), and he wants to restrict my sale of the story in the future unless he gets paid.

I have submitted to a lot of professional fiction and nonfiction markets. This is the first time I was ever asked to give up a copyright. I sent out the question to three groups I am involved with, including American Christian Fiction Writers. The combined membership of the groups is easily several hundred. Of the fifty responses I got within an hour, only one person had ever been asked to give up copyright and she had refused. Another friend told me it is unethical to even ask.

DE’s reasons were to protect his investment in the anthology he was creating. He wanted total control so he could market it. When I offered him First Serial Rights and Electronic Rights, he told me that was archaic and the way of the past. He was working in the way of the future. If he’s able to foretell the future, that is indeed impressive, but every fiction market I research online still asks for the rights I offered, never copyright. Not even book publishers ask for that. So I guess he’s the only one who’s really hip and ahead of his time then.

I pulled the story and refused to agree unless he changed terms, so I lost a nice pay check and a chance to be published. It made for a depressing day, but imagine what would happen if one of my favorite stories was suddenly in demand by Hollywood for a film or TV production and I didn’t own it. If I wanted to someday do a collection of my short stories (if I ever do sell any and become respected enough) and couldn’t use this one. Imagine if someone wanted to give me an award and include it in their award anthology and I couldn’t allow that?

DE justified this additionally by saying he was buying stories from Indian writers for $10 each and was offering me thirty times that, so he was treating me more fairly and helping me get exposure. Well he’s exploiting the Indians and he wanted to exploit me, because this is his first publication venture. He has no track record, no distribution and isn’t even sure which stories he’ll end up using and whether it will be print or ebook. The more we emailed, the more I realized he doesn’t know what he’s doing, and that made me even more convinced I’d be a fool to turn over my intellectual property rights to him.

To all you writers out there, it sucks to lose a sale. I get that, believe me. But don’t get so desperate you lose your self-respect and sell out. It’s not worth it, and it will come back to haunt you. Take my advice and those of lawyers and others and stand up for yourself. I hope someone else buys this story, because I really like it. But at least if they buy it, it will be from me and not someone else.

Wouldn’t you prefer it that way with your stories?

For what it’s worth…

So You Wanna Be A Writer…

I get asked a lot about how to become a writer. What advice would I give?

Two things: Write every day, Read every day.

If you want to be a writer, you can’t just think about it. As much fan as sitting around daydreaming ideas is, if you don’t write them down, you aren’t a writer, you’re a dreamer. Write daily. Set aside specific time for it. Because of my day job, I usually write weeknights around 6 or 7 for an hour or two. On Saturdays, I write in the morning, on Sundays, in the afternoon. Write something, good or bad. I set a page goal of between 4 and 10 pages, but many days I write twice that.

You can only become better by writing, so don’t worry too much about quality. You can always throw it away and not share it with anyone and you can always revise it to make it better. If you never have anything to start with though, you can’t do either, so write.

I suggest you read daily. Read good books, read bad books. You can learn as much or more from the bad ones as the good ones about craft. And don’t just read books about writing or books in the genres you like most and/or want to write. Read everything you can get ahold of. I writ primarily science fiction and fantasy, and I do read a lot of both, but I also read Nicholas Sparks (romance), WEB Griffin (military, thriller), John Grisham (legal thriller), Stephen King (horror), John Jakes (historical), Robert Ludlam (suspense) and a lot more. Every writer has something to teach me, and I use all of it. If I write a romantic storyline as part of my scifi or fantasy, I use what I learn from writers like Nicholas Sparks. If I write suspense, Robert Ludlam, John Grisham or WEB Griffin come to mind. You get the idea. The more tools you have in your arsenal, the better writer you will be.

As far as books on craft, here are my top recommendations:

Writing The Breakout Novel by Donald Maass
The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman
Narrative Technique by Thomas Uzzell (out of print and old, but worth finding at a library or used online)
Writer’s Market Guide by Writer’s Digest Books
Novel & Short Story Writers’ Market Guide by Writer’s Digest Books
Christian Writer’s Market Guide by Sally Stuart
A Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Agents by Jeff Herman
Creating Character Emotions by Ann Hood

and the Elements of Fiction Writing series by Writer’s Digest Books. They have books by successful authors on topics such as Plot, Dialogue, Description, Scene and Structure and more, which I have found very helpful in learning my craft and you will, too.

Above all, write and get readers to critique it. Critique groups can be especially helpful in this. Your Mom and your friends will not tell you what you most need, unless they’re writers or editors at a professional level. You need good feedback to help you grow. Take the feedback, rewrite, and send it out again. Rejection is part of the game, and, yes, it hurts, but if you don’t get feedback you can’t get better, and if you don’t get better, you’ll never make a professional sale.

Lastly, never write for money. Write because you have something to say and you have to get it out. Write what you know, write what you love, and never stop believing in yourself. No one else can write it like you. No one else can write it but you. Your voice and your work are unique. If you work hard enough and stay strong, you’ll get read and you may even change lives.