Category Archives: research

Self-Publishing 4

Do it yourself self-publishing can be a scary thought, but if you can write a book and get it ready to publish, then you do have enough skills to get that book out there. I took the plunge and so can you.

What made me change my attitude from scary to possible? Sure, I talked to others who had done it, but I was still hesitant, until I came across a book by Lucinda Moebius called Write Well Publish Right. First of all, I was interested in reading a book about writing from a high school and college teacher. Her book is what she teaches her students from beginning to the end at publishing. Mainly, I thought maybe I could implement some of her concepts into ideas for teaching language to small groups. Moreover, what I really took away from this book is that it is possible for me to self-publish a book.

Lucinda states that it is easy with the use of the formatting guides available through ePublishing platforms. She hired a formatter for the Kindle version of her science fiction books, but formatted the Smashwords version on her own. Also, she had help with her cover, hired an editor, and went through Amazon CreateSpace as her printer. Many times she states that it is up to you to do your own research and do what is best for you.

Yes, she inspired me, so I went to and got started. There an author can put in the title and paste in your manuscript and cover. Remember you have to have an ISBN number for your e-book, another one for your print book and CreateSpace can provide them for you. I did have to hire help with the e-book, my son did the front cover work, then I hired Fiverr for the spine and back cover for which I paid a little extra. Instead of five dollars with Fiverr, it was ten dollars and I’m very happy with their work.

I learned that the CreateSpace process for me was somewhere between adding art and print to a Vistaprint writing advertisement to doing my own taxes (on an easier year).

Yesterday, I went to hear multi-published author, Joanne Pence, give a talk about self-publishing at my local writers group in the Boise area. After already using CreateSpace, I learned the following information:

For those of you that want to add a publishing name to their self-pubbed books, Joanne says that you can go through SBA.GOV for your assumed business name. Registering a name will cost you $25.00. For my writing business name of Melland Publishing, LLC, I went through the Secretary of Idaho and paid $100.

Joanne also says that off-white or cream is the paper color of most fiction books. The 6 x 9 inch book size is becoming the industry standard and costs less than a book sized 5 ½ x 8 1/2 inches. You can buy a cheaper, older version of Adobe Photoshop on eBay for making your own covers.

Finally, Joanne adds that, especially for multi-published authors, the value of going to and using them exclusively to sell your e-book for your first 90 days can give you five free days on Amazon. It’s a way to get your name out there in hopes of readers choosing to buy and read your other books. After 90 days you can renew with them, or you can put your book into an .epub format and download it to other bookselling sites.

Yet, as Lucinda says, you need to do your own study and then decide what is best for you.


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Outside the Genre

One of the more frequent pieces of writing advice I see is to read outside the genre one writes in. The reasons to read extensively in one’s genre are obvious: one needs to know the rules and assumptions that define that genre’s boundaries. Figuring that out, really understanding it, requires you to read books comparable to the ones you write. But the risks of reading exclusively one genre are a little more nebulous than the advantages of reading extensively in that genre. I think the fear is that reading one genre exclusively risks internalizing those rules too much and becoming formulaic and stale by creating a closed creative feedback loop. 

Obviously, what we read is not our only source of inspiration, but, for me at least, it’s an important one. I want to write books I want to read. Reading a fantastic romance makes me want to write one. It inspires me to want to write better, faster, deeper. So, you know, that’s great! Read romance! Yay! And, honestly, I’d really be pretty happy if all I read was romance. About five years ago I realized that I have no interest in reading fiction that doesn’t have a happy ending. I remember the two books that drove that home to me: The House at Riverton and I Capture the Castle. They’re both fantastic books, but about 2/3 of the way through The House at Riverton I realized that there was just no way that book was going to end well and I couldn’t take it. I put it down and didn’t pick it back up and felt bitter and unhappy about having forced myself to read that far. I did finish I Capture the Castle, but the ending destroyed me. To this day I pretend that the end wasn’t, that my edition was just missing some happy epilogue found in all other copies of the book. In fiction, I need a happy ending to enjoy the experience. And reading for me is about enjoyment. I’m not going to force myself to read fiction just because it’s good for me, but I really do think that reading romance exclusively is bad for my writing. So what’s a happy-ending addict to do?

(1) I read mysteries by authors I know from past experience will leave me content. Romance is my current love, but mysteries were my first love and they meet my need for a satisfying ending without feeding my gluttonous desire for happy love stories. Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, Dorothy Sayers, Edmund Crispin, and Elizabeth Daly are old friends. They follow different rules and write in different styles and feed my creative well in an entirely different way than romance does.

(2) I read non-fiction. I go through phases where I start obsessively collecting books on different subjects. You need recommendations for an entertaining non-fiction book on the Black Plague? WWI? British travel writers? English country houses? The history of the British aristocracy? English social history from 1919-1939? I’m your girl. (I said they were different subjects, I never said they didn’t have a common theme. What can I say, I’m an Anglophile.) These are all subjects that are very unlikely to make their way into anything I write, but they stoke my curiosity and keep my brain learning and stretching in different directions. They’re not useful, except in the way that they get me outside of the obsessive romance-reading bubble I would otherwise happily live in.

What about you? Do you naturally read books outside the genre(s) you write in or do you have to push yourself a little? Any other Anglophiles out there?


Are You Ready for Indie Publishing, Part II

A Haunting in Trillium Falls_Mary Vine.jpgYou can find Are You Ready For Indie Publishing, Part 1 here:

I’ve written and edited a book, asked other writers to read it and then I made changes. So, now I’m ready to start the steps to indie publishing. Yes, I wallowed with whether I should try to submit this baby to a publisher, but only sent it to one who rejected it. After some disappointment, I reminded myself that with three published books to my credit, this is the one I’d chosen to branch out with.

To be sure, I talked with other authors about the self-pub business. Many found success and encouraged me to do the same. An indie author referred me to Indieromanceink, an email loop for those who are, or plan to be, an indie author. It is a large group of writers that ask questions, or answer them, and there’s quite a bit of knowledge to be gained from this site.

An incredible amount of work to self-publish is necessary and it can be downright scary. First, you need to hire an editor to do a line-by-line edit, especially for a first time author. Some suggest two editors. It takes hours of time to read about marketing to prepare for launching out on your own.

There are two things I just don’t know how to do, and don’t have the time or inclination to learn. Number one is: Cover art. There are many indie writers out there doing it all, including the cover art and some a very eye-catching. I am lucky to have a designer, graphic production, multimedia, digital artist guy in the family to do mine.

Number two is to publish the e-book and send it to various outlets. I chose Wildflowers Books, a division of The Wild Rose Press to self-publish and distribute my book, A Haunting in Trillium Falls. The cost totaled $199 and the package includes a digital ISBN, conversion of the book into various formats, and distribution to the following retailers and partners:
Amazon Kindle
All Romance
iTunes (iBookstore)
Barnes & Noble Nook
Overdrive Content Reserve (distributes to libraries and various retailers)

Whether you are published first or not, marketing your book(s) takes time and scheduling time to write is the one thing most authors struggle with. It’s like going to school to be a special education teacher and when you get the job find out you are overwhelmed with so much paperwork that you have little time to work with the students that fascinate you so much. Yet, going the indie route with an e-mail loop has helped me learn volumes about the book publishing business which seems to change every day. And to top it off, you will earn more money on your own for that book you’ve created after hours of hard work.


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Rockets and Leaf-Mould

Two months ago, I was watching Youtube videos of rocket launches as research for a short story.  My kids, fascinated by the giant column of fire and smoke, joined me.  We chatted about rockets — what they are, what they’re used for, and where they go.

Today, the kiddos are still using blankets and bits of toys to build rocket ships, which they then ride to the moon.  It’s all highly imaginative.  But before they could imagine rockets, they needed that spark of information, that image of a column of fire blasting a cylinder of metal skyward.

Watching them reminds me of something J.R.R. Tolkien wrote about The Lord of the Rings:

 “One writes such a story not out of the leaves of trees still to be observed, nor by means of botany and soil-science; but it grows like a seed in the dark out of the leaf-mould of mind: out of all that has been seen or thought or read, that has long ago been forgotten, descending into the deeps. No doubt there is much selection, as with a gardener: what one throws on one’s personal compost-heap; and my mould is evidently made largely of linguistic matter.”*

My children’s cobbled together rocket has been a marvelous reminder that simple every day adventure — like watching a Youtube clip — can grow into a journey of epic proportions.

*Carpenter, Humphrey.  J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography.  New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.  p. 131.


Posted by on May 9, 2013 in Family, imagination, inspiration, research


But … it’s for Research!

My best friend has always been kind of secretive about his love life. We’ve known each other for over 20 years and it’s only since I’ve started writing that he’s begun sharing his adventures (and misadventures) in the dating world. Why is he opening up now? Well, he prefaces every story about sketchy dudes on Grindr or awkward encounters with former boyfriends and their new lovers with: “Here’s some research material for you …”

I love it. His stories are hilarious and fascinating and way outside my own dating experience. And because he now sees everything he does as potential plot fodder for me (even though it’s really not relevant at all to my current WIP), he no longer guards this part of his life quite so jealously. Because he sees every experience, every encounter, as research material, I’ve started looking at my own life in the same way.

I believe I’ve mentioned before that I have some pretty darn strong hermit tendencies. One would think that writing would make those even stronger, but I’ve found that it’s the opposite. A high school acquaintance is getting married in Las Vegas? I have to go. It’s research. An old friend offers to buy me a plane ticket to Tennessee because he’s feeling nostalgic? Research. A spring-time hike with people who are much fitter and more adventurous than I am? Research! None of these things are directly related to anything I’m writing. I can’t use them as tax deductions. But they’re all things that I’ve done in the last year that scared me, where my immediate inclination was to say “Thanks, but no. I’m good. I’ll just sit here in my cabin with my cats and quietly continue to age.”

Two weeks from today I’ll be in Chicago for my ten year law school reunion. I am terrified and, honestly, if I wasn’t a writer now, I probably wouldn’t have gone. But there are loads of people and experiences there waiting for me. I will reconnect with people whose lives have diverged sharply from my own. I’ll eavesdrop on conversations about nannies and the pressures of being a law firm partner. I’ll drink wine at the Art Institute while chatting with people comparing working in the White House with working for the NFL. I’ll get on the El and be reminded of the press of bodies during a morning commute. I’ll sit in the back of a cab and remember what it feels like to be pushed up against a giggling friend on naugahyde-covered broken springs by the force of a quick left turn. It’s life. It’s research.

What about you? Have you found that writing has changed the way you look at new experiences? Ever justified doing something outside of your comfort zone as research?


Posted by on April 18, 2013 in friends, Idaho, inspiration, research, travel


An Exercise in Waiting

thCAXOZ9W6I was so good this morning, I took my laptop with me to the car place so I could write while I waited. But what I found was a waiting area full of life. Two men were watching the Today show. I’ve always thought of it as the precursor to our modern 24-7 news networks. But my brain wanders. Both the guys watching TV were under 40. Two other guys (must be the day for men to bring in their cars,) both over 60, were reading, one a book, the other his iPad. Must be a generational thing. Another guy who looked to be somewhere in his mid-to-late 40’s is, like me, working on his computer (note to businesses who make people wait: put plug-ins in your waiting areas.) He kept getting up, leaving, then returning with papers. I’m guessing he’s a rep. of some kind who’s taking up the plugin I want.

I’m not the only woman here. Since I’ve been here (about ½ an hour), there’s been four women come and go. One was waiting for a ride to get back to work. The other had her mom come and get her. I know because she told her son that Nana was coming.

My point is they’re all normal people doing what normal people do. No one stands out, no one is acting strangely It’s a scene that would never make it into a book.

Now, there have been times when the people around me do make it into my prose. I wrote about one not long ago. But no one today had turned into a character.

We can’t take slices of life and just plop them directly into our book, no matter how real they are. At least not ones from a Toyota dealership on a Monday morning, in Boise, Idaho. We have to do a little inventing, a little embellishment. We take the people we see, their actions, dress, and looks in to account, then let our imaginations run. That’s what’s what makes writing fun.

That guy working on his computer—the one who keeps getting up and returning with papers—suddenly becomes an computer hacker posing as a representative from a vender who is trying to catch a salesman with his company who is stealing from them.

How about the old guy with his iPad? He turns into an FBI agent tracking an employee who has been making threats against government officials. He is coordinating the agents who are about to move in for the arrest. And on it goes. A story for everyone.

thCA6OWSRKWatch the people around you when you’re out. Take each one and give them a story. You may never use the saga you invent for them, or it may spark something interesting. It’s all about exercising your skills.

How do you exercise your creative muscles?


Guest Kelly Jones

kelly-resized“Shoot from the rooftop,” my husband says, pointing to the Grand Hotel Praha, “and you can drop the Senator beneath the clock tower with a single shot.”

We’re in Prague and the square is bustling with noisy tourists, crammed beneath the astronomical clock in the Old Town Square, jostling for the best spots, waiting for the show to begin.  We blend in, completely unnoticed.  We could be plotting a real murder.

I raise my iPad, click on video, and do a 360 to get in the entire square.  A mime dressed all in white (hmmm . . . sometimes ideas just pop into the scene!), waves into the camera.  I’m aware now that people are watching, but I doubt they suspect I’m gathering information for a book.

Often I’m asked, “When you’re writing a novel, at what point do you visit the site?”  I’ve learned that it is best, at least for me, to wait until I’ve got a good first draft.  I’m not an outliner, so it’s important to be aware of the exact places I want to visit before setting out to explore.  I often discover aspects of a scene that are not at all what I’d imagined.  The Grand Hotel Praha, for instance, is not as grand as I’d expected.  I had the killer taking a shot from an upper floor but, as it turns out, the hotel is a mere three stories.  Even with the information available to writers online (including a web cam on the hotel’s website), I’d pictured it differently.

We visit a church on Karmelitska where the world-famous Infant of Prague resides.  I’m a little nervous when I realize we are sitting in full view of what may or may not be a surveillance camera as we whisper back and forth, attempting to determine if  climbing over the communion rail for a better view will, as the sign warns, really set off an alarm.

We spend the next several days roaming, crossing back and forth over the vendor-lined Charles Bridge, photographing the spires and towers of Prague, visiting the Letna Park, where a pivotal scene in my “work in progress” takes place.  We peer into shop windows and photograph myriad marionettes.  One or two of these will appear in the story, though I hadn’t realized there might be so many choices—witches, clowns, skeletons, mermaids, devils, angels, Charley Chaplin, Don Giovanni.

Another question I’m sometimes asked:  “If you are writing about real places and historical events, how obligated do you feel to stick to the facts and when do you fictionalize?”

I always attempt to get it right.  I stick with the facts, but use my novelist’s creative license with the unknowns.  When I wrote about the Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries in Paris for my first novel, THE SEVENTH UNICORN, I was delighted to discover the designer of the tapestries remains unnamed.  When I wrote about Renaissance art in Florence for THE LOST MADONNA, I didn’t invent artists, but I did invent a painting lost in a flood.  Hanna, my fictitious character in THE WOMAN WHO HEARD COLOR, becomes involved in authentic historical events in pre-World War II Munich and Berlin.

Good fiction, I believe, will convince the reader it’s real. Authentic setting, even if the author invents it, is essential to a successful novel.  I enjoy writing stories set in real places and feel fortunate to be able to visit these cities.  I’d love to take you along on a journey to Prague.

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Posted by on December 14, 2012 in Guest Blog, research, writers, writing craft