Monday, May 5, 2014

Beta Readers - Why They Are Important

I'd like to discuss beta readers today.  Before I started writing, I had no idea what a beta reader was.  Coming from the I.T. field, I'm certainly cognizant of the beta tester term.  In IT a beta tester would be used for testing a program to make sure all the bugs are worked out before it can be released to the public.  A beta reader basically does the same thing.

When you write a book, it is essential, in my opinion to solicit advice from your target audience.  If you think you know it all, you're wrong.  Readers can point out flaws that you won't see because of the way you think.  In my opinion, to write a book well, you need several things including: 
  • A proofreader other than yourself - Don't try to proofread your own work.  It's a good way to miss A LOT of mistakes
  • An editor, if you can afford one - Editors are extremely important in helping you craft your work.
  • Alpha Reader - This may be your editor, or it could be someone close to you who can give you immediate feedback.  They need to be tough on you otherwise their usefulness is limited
  • Beta Reader - After taking into consideration the editor and Alpha reader, you need to have other people look at your book before it's released for general consumption.
A beta reader should be someone who is well-versed in the genre you're writing.  Having a beta reader read your romance book when that person only reads sci-fi, isn't helping you.  You need someone who knows the genre and can point out flaws and plot holes, much like a good editor would.  Beta readers who already like your work AND can be critical are perfect.  They know your style and they can tell you when you get off the track. 

How should you give them your books?  I think that a lot of authors give out their books in chunks to the beta reader.  I'm different in that I want to give them the entire book.  It's not that the other idea is wrong, but I like being able to let the reader feel the entire flow.  I'm afraid if I only give them a couple chapters at a time, they may miss something because of the delay between readings.  I used my alpha reader (in this case my lovely wife, who is firm but fair) to look at various passages and chapters as I go through the entire book.  My alpha reader is also the first person to read the book in its entirety when it's complete.

So do yourself a favor, make sure you have a beta reader to check your work before you release it to the public.  It can only help make your book all that much better.

Good luck and happy writing!

On Getting Reviews

As an Indie Author, reviews are the lifeblood of my writing existence.  Reviews and word of mouth are two of the most powerful ways to get your story across to more people.  Think about it, when you look at a book on Amazon that you've never seen before, you most likely look at 4 things.
  1. Title - That's your first chance to sell your book
  2. Cover Photo - The eye naturally goes here next.  A poor cover will destroy your chances.
  3. Blurb - Another critically important thing.  If the potential reader has made it this far, the blurb is the thing that will hook them.  If it's bad, you've just lost a reader.
  4. Reviews  - Lastly, people want to know what other people thought of the book.  The more reviews you have, the better a new reader can gauge your book. 
So that means you'd like all 5-star reviews correct?  After all 5-stars is the best.  If a person sees that all 10 or your reviews are 5-stars then they are more likely to read it correct?  Well, yes and no.  You certainly want 5-star reviews, but more importantly you want reviews that are well thought out and tell you more about the book.

It's more important in my opinion to have a 3 or 4 star review that goes into detail about the book and tells the strengths and weaknesses of it rather than a 5-star review that just says the book was great.  Think about that.  If the review just says "read this book" or "I thought it was awesome" what does that tell you?  Not a whole lot.  A longer, well written review is worth ten of those non-informational ones.  Would I rather all my reviews are 5-star?  Of course, as long as I earned them.  If it's not, I can live with that.  One-star reviews that are informative can be very helpful, not only to you as an author, but to potential readers as well.  Would I like it?  No, but I can swallow my pride and take what the reviewer mentions to heart so that I can improve my writing in the future.

Other than the quality of the reviews, quantity matters as well.  Twenty 5-star reviews looks impressive, but 300 4-star reviews looks even better.  The more reviews, the more chances for people to talk about your book. 

So remember, next time you finish a book, but sure to reward the author by giving them an honest, thoughtful review.  It's the best thing you can do for them.

Good luck and happy writing!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Status Update for 4/9/2014

It's been awhile since I've been able to post anything here, and for that I apologize.  I've been working hard on finishing book 2 while at the same time preparing book 1 for release as a paper book.  Monday, I received the proof of Vacant Hearts.  My heart beat just a little faster as I held it in my hands for the first time.  There's nothing like seeing your work in book form for the first time.

After the initial euphoria wore off, I discovered that it wasn't quite ready for prime time.  It didn't even have page numbers!  How could I forget those?  That and a dozen other small things cropped up.  If you have the money, it's definitely worth having professionals do the formatting for you.  I can tell you from experience, especially using Word, that it's not easy.  It's frustrating in fact.  But eventually, it got done, I'm happy to say.  Now I'm just waiting on the second (hopefully perfect) proof before I can okay it for good.

At the same time I was banging my head against the wall trying to get the formatting correct, I was working on book 2.  Incredibly, I was able to complete the last chapter and epilogue in only three days.  I love it when things come together.  It's revision next and then I can send it off for review.  I can't wait to see what people think.  Writing one book was hard, but writing a second one, now that people have an expectation is even harder. 

It's time to get back to the revisions. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

My Experience with a Facebook Book Release Party

Okay, I'll admit it.  I've never really gotten into Facebook before I became an author.  I never really had a reason to.  Now that I do, I still don't "get" it.  But last week, my PR Director (my wife) thought it would be a good idea to sign up to be part of a Facebook Book Release Party on a site called One More Chapter, a site that does book reviews and promotes a lot of different books.  I had no idea what it entailed and was a little apprehensive about doing one. 

I spoke with Jamie over at the site who walked me through what it was and what I would have to do.  So I signed up for the 5-6 time slot and then plotted my plan of action.  When the time came, I was a little nervous, not knowing how I would be received or what would happen.  It turns out that I had a great time.  The people on the site were friendly and very interested in what I had to say.  They became even more interested when I told them my story.

The hour went by incredibly fast, but not before I got to chat with a bunch of friendly and interesting people, a lot of them authors just like me.  I ended up getting to promote my book and gave a way a few copies as well as an Amazon gift card.  It was a wonderful experience and I can't wait to do it again really soon. 

Because of the release party, Jamie has honored me by spotlighting Vacant Hearts on their site starting this weekend.  It's a thrill to see my work being recognized.  Hopefully it will bring about more attention to my book. 

It should be another fun experience, to say the least!  Well, that's it for now.  Good luck and happy writing.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Vacant Hearts Status Update

From time to time, I'd like to show you how my book is doing now that it's been released.  The whole purpose of this blog is to show you what a typical first time writer goes through.  It's been 10 days since my first book was published.  In that time frame, I've sold exactly 18 books.  I've given away a few as well.

Is that what I expected?  Pretty much.  I think that the one thing a new author needs is exposure.  If the book is good enough, it will sell - as long as people know about it.  I currently sit at number 426, 668 on Amazon for all Kindle Books.  I'm just a little bit away from best seller status.  That's ok.  The beauty of ebooks is that they are timeless.  There's no limit on how long it can be on a "shelf".  Perhaps it takes a year for it to take off.  Maybe once books two and three are done, readership will explode.  I think my book is good.  So far the reviews have been very good.  Time will tell the rest.

But in the meantime, I will look for ways to promote it.  I'll find ways to get the word out somehow.   And all the while, I will not give up.  Even if Vacant Hearts ends up not being "successful" I'll continue to write what I love to write.  I've got ideas for many stories.  Writing is my passion, not my job.

Would I love to have a best seller?  Sure.  Once you do, it makes selling your other books very easy.  But it won't define me.  I will continue to write if no one buys my books at all.  So write what you love, and don't worry about the rest.     

Good luck and happy writing.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

How Do You Write?

How do you write?  Do you have a desk in an office where you can close the door and not be disturbed?  Or do you write in a completely different way?  There is no correct answer other than you should be writing.

I write in one of several ways.  My primary vehicle for writing is Google Docs.  I use this for my rough draft before I switch to Microsoft Word or Libre Office to finish.  The primary reason I use Google Docs is portability.  I can use it on any computer that connects to the Internet.  In fact, when I'm at my daughter's gymnastics practice, I'll use Google Drive on my iPhone with a bluetooth keyboard.  It's the ultimate in portability.

When I'm at home, I use a laptop in bed.  I don't have a desk or office.  If I can, I'll put on my noise cancelling headphones and listen to my Music for Writing playlist on iTunes.  Otherwise, I'll just write while I make sure that the kids aren't fighting or destroying the house.  When I'm at work, I can sit at my desk and bang out a few sentences while I'm on break or lunch.

What do you do?  Some people need music but I've heard of at least one famous author who can't stand any noise whatsoever when she's writing.  I find it fascinating that we can all be doing the same thing but we all have different methods to do it.

That's all for now.  Happy writing!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

I Published My First Book! - Now What?

So on March 10, I self-published my first book.  There was the initial thrill of pressing the "publish" button, then the agonizing wait as it went through the vetting and reviewing process, then the final exhilaration of seeing my book for sale on Amazon.  The culmination of seven months of work was finished...  Now what?

Well, in my dream world, I sit back and watch my book sky rocket to the top of all the bestseller lists.  Then it's a matter of which Brinks Truck I need to deliver all that money to the bank.  In reality, it won't work that way.  Your book will have a decent first day as your friends and family (hopefully) support you.  After that, your sales will most likely be small or non-existent for awhile.

So rule number one is that after your book is published, you are not done.  You're only beginning.  You've got to get the word out to people.  Hit the review blogs, do whatever it takes to get your name out there.  Unfortunately, that book won't sell itself.

I have a theory about how an indie author ends up with a bestseller.  The answer is first, the book has to be good.  If it isn't, forget it, no amount of marketing can change the fact that a bad book is not going to sell.  Second, it takes a certain amount of luck.  Books that hit the bestseller lists, especially from unknown authors do so because of events falling into place, I believe.  It takes hard work, but if Amazon suddenly displays your book prominently for whatever reason, you can be sure that your sales will take off.  If Apple promotes your book as an up and coming author you are well on your way to being a bestselling author.  All it takes is that one break to get you going.

So while I market and wait for my chance, I'm still writing.  The more books you have for sale, the more books you can sell.  Now it's just a matter of selling enough to buy me that Tesla Model S!

Good luck and happy writing!

Monday, March 10, 2014

On Publishing - Or How to Make Newbie Mistakes

Today is the day that I released my first book to the public.  It was a trying weekend, trying to get the formatting down and making sure to find as many errors and typos as possible.  This leads me to today's post about my publishing experience.

I chose to publish my book on both and Amazon for reasons I mentioned in a previous post.  Over the last week, I worked on getting a preview up on Smashwords so that my readers would have a chance to look at the book before they bought it.  Before that, I was testing the book on kindle and iBooks to test the formatting.  I've come to realize that the two are not the same.

Smashwords will include a table of contents if you set up the text properly (use a header 1 format).  Amazon will not.  I had to include a table of contents for that one to show up.  Also, Smashwords was able to make my chapters start a new page, Amazon did not.  I had to manually add page breaks for those to work.  All this is the curse of the newbie novelist.  It didn't help that I set a deadline that was fast approaching.

To say the least, it was stressful.  I urge you to learn from my mistakes and make sure that you test all of this far in advance of your book's release date.  It will only help things go more smoothly.  Good luck and keep on writing!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Excerpt from Vacant Hearts for my Facebook Audience - Caution Contains Adult Content.

  “You know, a shower can be the ultimate sensual experience if done right.  How’d you like me to show you?”
     My eyes light up in anticipation.  “You can show me anything,” I say huskily.  Right now I’m feeling hot and wet and it isn't because of the shower.
     “Turn around,” he orders.  He puts my head under the shower until my hair is thoroughly soaked.  Then he takes some shampoo, squirts it onto my hair and begins to rub it in.  He has both of his hands in my hair, fingers massaging my scalp in slow long strokes.  It feels so good, that I have to moan out loud.  I move my head back and he takes his fingers and rakes them through my scalp from the top of my forehead to the bottom of my hair, which reaches the middle of my back.  I never knew that the simple act of shampooing my hair could turn into something so erotic, so hot.  He does this several times before he helps me wash it out.  Next, he does the same thing with the conditioner, working it into the bottom of my hair.
     I’m a little light-headed after that so he takes a break from me to wash his own hair quickly.  I lean up against the wall and watch him hungrily.  My eyes follow the suds as they drip down his body and I wish it was me tracing my fingers down instead.  He quickly rinses off and spins me around so I’m facing the wall away from the shower head.  “Don’t move,” he whispers into my ear.  I tremble with anticipation.
     I feel his hands on my shoulders, rubbing in some body wash.  He lathers me up and works his way down to my breasts, circling my nipples with his fingers.  He takes his time, soaping them up until I go weak at the knees.  Then he moves down, making slow circles on my belly.  Lower and lower he goes and I start to breathe heavily the closer he gets to my clit.  He puts his hands on my hips and slides them inward and down until he reaches my labia and then goes back to my hips.  He repeats this action several times until I push up against him in ecstasy.  Now he moves one hand to my clitoris, circling it, using the soap as a lubricant.  He presses down and alternates rubbing, circling and pinching.  I fall forward against the wall.  I can barely stand, my knees are trembling so violently, but he doesn’t stop.  He speeds up his motion and the sounds of desire escape from my lips.

Making the Important Decisions - Update

In the course of writing a book, I've come across many important decisions that need to be made.  Which places do I publish it?  Do I look for an agent or an editor?

There are a ton of choices that I must make before I finally publish.  Over the months that I've been writing and re-writing my first book, I've made nearly all the decisions that I've had to.  Here are some and an explanation why.

Where will I publish?   

Amazon (duh), and through Smashwords.  Smashwords gets me to almost all the ebook sites other than Amazon and at a really good commission (royalty) rate.

Do I look for an agent or an editor?  

At this point, I've not thought about an agent for a couple of reasons.  One, it would probably be hard for me to find one.  Since the ebook craze took over in earnest, there are tons of authors out there looking for representation.  I feel my time is better spent writing my book than searching for an agent.  At least at this time.  Once my book is published, then I can think more about an agent.  Remember an agent can open opportunities for you that you could never do yourself, but they will also take a decent percentage of your royalties.  For a first time author, it's too early for me to try to find a good agent.  It's a decision that shouldn't be taken lightly, however, and your experiences may be different than mine.

As for an editor, I think that all books would benefit from them.  The reality is, however, a good editor is fairly expensive.  For a first time book with no expectations of income, it's more than I'm willing to pay.  I did check into it, and the price of nearly $900-$1300 for a book of my size is way more than I can afford.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I chose to self edit at first, and then have a grammar expert (who happens to by my wife) edit it some more.  Is it ideal?  No.  But at this point, it's what I can do.  In the future I hope to be able to hire an editor for my works.  It will only help.  Be sure to look other options as well.  Writer's groups are a good way to get started.

There are many other decisions as well that must be made.  We'll talk about them in future posts.

On Deadlines and Release Dates

Forgive me my lack of entries.  Between kids, a job and editing, most of my time has been taken up.  I will endeavor to add entries much more quickly in the future.  Today I want to discuss deadlines and release dates; a subject I'm far too obsessed with right now.  My first story is done, with the exception of a final pass through.  I will be releasing it on March 10.  At that point, it's no longer my own and I will face all that comes with publishing a debut novel.

There is one thing I should mention when you come up on your own deadlines.  If your story is not ready, don't force it.  The only thing worse than missing a deadline is releasing a book that's not ready for consumption.  I'd rather disappoint my readers with a two-week delay than disappoint them with a crappy book.  One they can forgive, the other, not so much.

So remember, in your excitement to release a book, make sure it's ready.  Read it over and over again.  More importantly, have others look it over for mistakes and typos.  You don't have to be Hemingway as a writer.  Most of us aren't.  You don't even have to be an English major.  If you can tell a good tale, it will make up for a ton of flaws.  But what you should never do is release a book that's riddled with errors.  That is within your control.  Don't rely on spell check, rely on other people.  You'll be glad that you did.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Process - Or how to write a book in 20 years

I've always liked to write.  I think I started my first story in the first grade.  I've always had a dream to write a book.  Over the years, I started writing plenty.  Choose your own adventure books were a favorite of mine back in the day, but I never finished one.  I was good at starting them, but completing them was another story.  Perhaps you can relate.

I'm not sure why I didn't write, but I never did.  Perhaps I was afraid of the rejection from a publisher, perhaps I couldn't think of a good story.  All these things and more are certainly likely reasons.  But in 2013, I decided that it was time.  My wife had read the 50 Shades of Grey books and after that was reading a ton of books with a similar storyline.  I read the books as well to see what the fuss was about.

It gave me an idea for my own book.  I didn't want to write about a billionaire into bdsm.  Take a look on Amazon, there are TONS of books on that subject.  I actually decided to co-write a book with my wife.  At first, it went well, but then our ideas diverged and we decided that we'd have a friendly competition instead.  She has her book, which she's well into and I created my own.

It took me roughly three months to complete the first draft.  I can't describe the feeling of accomplishment I had when it was finally done.  Over 89,000 words.  I never thought I'd be able to finish, but I did. 

You will probably feel the same way.  There are times when I got stuck, when I didn't know what to write, but I got through them.  The best piece of advice you will ever get about writing is that you need to write.  It doesn't matter if it sucks, that can be fixed later.  What matters is you continue to write.  I've heard authors talk about writing as if it's a muscle.  The more you work it out, the stronger you become.  I truly believe that.  The more I wrote, the easier it became.  It would take me a week and a half or so to write the first chapters.  By the end, I was writing nearly two chapters a week.

Set yourself some goals and try to stick to them.  I have a goal of writing at least 1,000 words per day.  At that rate, I should be able to complete a chapter in roughly 5 days.  Some days, I can only write a few words, maybe a sentence or two.  Some days, I write 2,000 or more words.  But the key thing is that I write something.  Even if everything I write is replaced in a second draft, it's something.

In my next post, I'll bring up my process for starting a story.  I hope you'll find it useful, or it will at least give you pause to think.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Vacant Hearts Status Update

For those of you who don't know, my first story, Vacant Hearts is a trilogy.  As I work on the story, I will give status updates to tell you how I'm doing.  Currently, book one is nearly complete.  I'm working on the edits and a cover and it should be published very soon.  I hope to announce it within the next week or so.

When you're writing your own book, please make sure that you have someone available to read your book and find errors.  In my mind, it's vitally important to find as many as you can before you publish.  A book riddled with typos and misspelled words tells a reader that you care so little about your work that you can't be bothered to proofread it.  If you don't care, why should they?  It's been said before, but I'll say it now in big shouty caps so that you know I'm serious.  DON'T PROOFREAD YOUR OWN WORK.

Now, understand that I proofread my own work.  I want to find as many errors as I can by myself.  Having said that, I also have others proofread as well.  The more, the better.  You know what you want to say in your story.  That means you're likely to read what's in your mind, even if that's not what you wrote.  I tend to get me and my mixed up.  I don't know why, but I see that error a lot in my work.

That's my message of the day.  Have someone proofread your work for you.  Your book will be all the better for it.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Who is DJ Larkin?

If you've stumbled across this site, you may be asking yourself who just how DJ Larkin is.  I'm an author of five bestselling novels, a concert pianist, and a former NHL hockey player.  Impressed?  So would I be if I met a person like that.  Actually, I'm probably just like you - someone who has wanted to write a novel in their spare time when work, kids and the other vicissitudes of life allow me a moment to breathe.

This blog is for you, the reader, to follow me down this path of writing from start to finish.  From the first word on the first page, to the end of the beginning, which is publishing it.  Join me as I explain my methods, my triumphs and failures until I get to the end.  Perhaps I can teach you what I've learned.  Perhaps we will learn together.  I cannot promise success, I can only promise that I will do my best to succeed.  The cruel reality of it is that no matter how good, most novels will not succeed.

But have faith, believe in yourself and your novel.  If we only sell one book, then that is one book more than we've ever sold before.  Follow me down this new and scary path.  The path of authorship.  My next post will delve into my thought process for my first book, Vacant Hearts, which I hope to publish very soon.