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  • Friday Indie Review: Remembering Love by Nadine Christian


    Remembering Love is the debut novel by author Nadine Christian.  It is set on Pitcairn Island, and features some lovely descriptions of that island.  Unfortunately, that’s the best thing that can be said about this book. The main characters in the story are little more than card-board cut-outs that the author awkwardly drags around that scenery.  The book suffers from so many common first-time author mistakes (which I automatically expect a good content editor to catch) that I looked the title up, expecting it to be from a self-published author.  It’s not.

    Which in all honesty, made me wonder more about the quality of the small press that published this book, rather than the writing flaws themselves. Those can be chalked up to simple inexperience.  All first-time books go to their publisher filled with weird inconsistencies that have to be hammered out.  The draft of Frog and I’s first novel was not an exception.  Had an editor worth their salt gotten their hands on this book, I’m willing to concede this story may have fallen into the “fun romp” category for me.

    Sadly, that content editor did not, apparently, exist.   In fact if a content editor did exist, they did such a poor job they were not doing themselves, the publisher or the author any favors by putting this book out for public consumption in its current condition.
    Onward to the problems with this book in its current incarnation:
    The character reactions and motivations are only briefly explained through obvious “tells”, leaving the characters lacking in personality.   Too many scenes are nothing but exposition with the character just sitting or standing, telling us how she feels while doing absolutely nothing in particular.

    Nothing drags down a book faster than the author outright instructing me how I should be feeling about a scene or event in the character’s life.  The very fact that it’s necessary means the author has failed in their number one objective to draw me inside these characters’ lives and minds.  Since this story is billed as a Romantic Suspense novel, it’s kind of important that the author be able to build up both the romance and the suspense without ineffectually swinging an exposition sledgehammer at my head.
    In another rookie mistake, the flat characterizations in this book are compounded by the author’s tendency to give us very simple actions out of order.  It hard to explain without showing an example, so I will pull the first paragraph from chapter two of the book:

         Jack opened the door with a flourish, and motioned her in.  Holly found the house easily with Jack’s directions. A short walk down the unpaved, dirt roads, past the banyan trees, and up a small turn off, led to a tidy clapboard house, not unlike her own. Lights shone warmly in the windows in the twilight of the evening.

    Obviously Jack can’t open the door and motion her in before she’s found his house. Chronological errors like this mean it’s also possible during the course of a scene for someone to crawl deeper into a hiding place before the reader knows the character is trying to hide, or what in the world the character might be hiding from.  The whole book is peppered with these time and place relationship problems, causing characters to randomly teleport or suddenly move forward or backward in time. Not surprisingly, errors in cause-effect relationships are another huge problem.  To wit, the characters’ feel the pain of being hit before the blow falls, or struggle to escape before being caught.

    Once you look at all these problems together, it feels like this book was:
    1. plucked directly from the slush pile
    2. judged to be somewhat readable as-is
    3. scanned for simple grammatical errors
    4.  published without any of the usual polishing or refining that is a standard part of the editing process

    Ultimately voiding one of the biggest benefits an author gets from going through a small press.

    Now I haven’t read any other books by this publisher, but based on the condition this book is in, I was so sure that the above scenario happened that I actually googled the imprint and parent press–  Damnation Books and Eternal Press– just to see what kind of results would come up. It turns out there are multiple warnings and disgruntled authors posting about this press– all of which are easily found with a simple internet search for either Damnation Books or Eternal Press (its imprint).  These results included a “Beware” post on the Passive Voice Blog, which many folks will recognize as one of the go-to sources in the author community for news & commentary on the publishing industry from a legal perspective.  Like I said, I’ve read none of this publishers other works, and I have no idea if the contract disputes with some of their current authors are legitimate, but solely based on the condition book I just read, a bad reputation for this publisher is well justified.

    I guarantee none of this is what this author wanted to hear when she sent me her book for review. And yet here we are.

    Do I think that Nadine Christian is a bad author? No. While the book is very rough in its current form, that’s not what I’m saying at all.

    Do I think that she had the misfortune to find a bad publisher? All the evidence seems to point that way, yes.
    Which means that this review is now going to turn its focus to the all-important author self-survival technique known as: Vetting Your Publisher.  

    Remember that a publisher’s ultimate goal should always be to make an author and their books look as good as possible, so they can sell more books and readers will come back for the next one.  This publisher did none of that.

    As an author, you should really check out your publisher so you at least have an idea the type and quality of work they do before you put the effort into giving your first submission.  The very first step to vetting a potential publisher is doing exactly what I just did.  Put their name, and the name of the relevant imprints into a search engine and seeing what comes up.    Or what doesn’t come up.  Do they barely have a web presence at all? (Not good for e-books.) You’d be amazed at the kind of information you can find out just by hitting search.  Before you’ve tried it, it’s easy to scoff and assume that bad reviews or ”sour grapes” have to be out there about all publishers.  That’s usually not the case. Try it out. It’s a good starting place.

    It also pays to pick up one of that publisher’s previously published works and see what the quality is like.  If they have a habit of publishing poorly edited books, that’d be pretty easily apparent just by reading the excerpts available on Amazon or other bookseller’s websites.

    You should definitely research a publisher as thoroughly as you can before you sign on, and try to talk to a couple of their current authors if possible.  Does the press have any pending litigation?  How many other authors do they have? It’s much better to talk to someone who’s already been working with that company to get an idea if they’ve had a good experience or not.  Even if that author isn’t willing to go online and post about their contract with that company or talk in detail with a stranger, they’ll usually be willing to tell you whether it’s been a generally good or bad experience, and whether they’d sign another contract with that publisher.

    Finally,  you should always get your contract checked out by an attorney.  Not your agent (if you have one).  Not unless your Agent also happens to be licensed to practice law.  Agents are great, but they do not have the license saying they’re certified to give legal advice.  That should be a no-brainer, since a contract is a legal agreement.  A legal agreement that in all likelihood is going to tie you and your work to this publisher for years.

    There are tons of resources out there for authors looking for advice on how to research publisher, and rather than try to go into further detail here, I’ll just point you at a few places to go look:

    Preditors & Editors
    Writer Beware Small Press Page
    Finding the Right Publisher by December Quinn

    The last thing that threw me about this book is more of a quibble, or question of judgment, I suppose. But it was just one more thing I didn’t understand.  The author has given the main protagonist her own last name.  We are reading about Holly Christian as written by Nadine Christian.  That was just weird, and it gave me yet thing standing between me and actually getting into the story.  I wasn’t close enough to the characters to care about them, but at the same time, I felt uncomfortably close to the author.  Giving the main character her own last name seemed like saying, “The heroine in this story is really just a placeholder for the author.”

    Final analysis of this book?  I really can’t recommend picking it up.  It’s poorly put together, poorly edited.  The many rookie mistakes hamper everything about this story, resulting in the suspense and romance never leaving the starting block. As a first draft it might be ok, and I see glimmers of potential from the author, but is not up to the quality I expect when I pick up a finished novel. Especially one put out by a publisher.  Ultimately, pick up something else.
    Friday-Indie-Logo Zero point 5



  • John Green: Not necessarily wrong, but still an ***hole.

    “We must strike down the insidious lie that a book is the creation of an individual soul laboring in isolation. We must strike it down because it threatens the overall quality and breadth of American literature…”

    John Green’s comments have echoed about the blogosphere, and a torrent of rage has been unleashed at the disdain he displayed for the indie author.

    Now, this is a site designed, nay dedicated, to the proposition that there are great indie books out there.  So surely I am to add my voice to the chorus of people chanting for Mr. Green’s immolation, right?

    Weelllll, kinda.  Actually, my response is more along the lines of The Dude:

    His statements are, at their core, correct on a number of fronts.  Let’s take a look at them, piece by piece.

    “They hold me up as an example but I am not an example of publishers or bookstores extracting value because without an editor my first novel, Looking for Alaska, would have been unreadably self-indulgent. And even after she helped me make it better it wouldn’t have found its audience without unflagging support … from booksellers around the country. I wouldn’t have the YouTube subscribers or the Tumblr followers, and even if I did I wouldn’t have any good books to share with them.”

    That statement is almost assuredly true.  Almost all of the best books I have reviewed on this site have been both copy and content edited.  It’s also true that, without the marketing budget that some authors get, it’s very difficult to get traction away from the massive pack of authors that are trying to pitch their own book.  I know; I’ve been trying to pitch mine for a year now.

    He is right; for a select few, the legacy publishing route is like hitting the jackpot.  For him, the machinery works, and the result is that he is a very successful YA author.

    “I’m in the book business, the idea-sharing, consciousness-expanding, storytelling business,” said the novelist. “And I am not going to get out of that business. So f*** Ayn Rand and f*** any company that profits from peddling the lie of mere individualism. We built this together and we’re going to keep building it together.”

    Ok, the language is harsh.  He is, no doubt, being an a**hole.  But is he wrong?  No.  This is the business that all of us are in.  And he is absolutely correct that in this business, no man is an island.  When a person tries to do absolutely everything by themselves, they rarely succeed.

    Now, let’s stop looking at Green’s disdain for what we do for a moment, and see if there’s a lesson to be pulled from this.  We all need a support system, and the legacy publishing system is lovely in that (when it decides to), it provides that support system for the author; the author needn’t look for it.

    Of course, there are also the horror stories that involve authors having that support suddenly removed.  Obviously, Mr. Green is not one of those.

    The fact is, when we’re out in the indie world, we have to find that support system for ourselves.  We blog hop, we link, we comment, we tweet, we facebook, we do all of these things to gain some form of traction.  We find cover artists, editors, beta readers, and reading groups to help us polish our work.  We have the same sort of support system, albeit not as well funded.  A published book, in the end, is not “the creation of an individual soul laboring in isolation.”  It’s the work of all of those people.

    Without them, books tend to be pretty darn worthless.

    What Green doesn’t see is this community.  He is atop his mountain, and he cannot see we peasants laboring beneath him.  He thinks that “independent” means “alone,” and in that, he is very wrong.  But the it-takes-a-village sentiment of his words?  Totally correct, and don’t ever think otherwise.

    But he is kind of an a**hole about it.
    *Originally Posted by Frog Jones.



  • Glimmers of Darkness – the rebirth of Cyberpunk

    Those of you know me know how much I love cyberpunk.

    OK, Digital Glamour has been really slow to get off the ground.  And the more I look at it, the more I realize why.  Good, solid, cyberpunkyness has been relegated to the dusty shelf of cliches.  It’s right there with men on the moon and writing stories about Mars.  We just don’t do it anymore.

    That is to say, not really.  Oh, we’ve got certain abominations running around woobifying the genre, making it Younger and Hipper and More Appealing to a Wider Audience, but on the whole cyberpunk seemed, for a while, like it was dying.

    I’m beginning to see a glimmer, though.  Not a lot, but just enough to make me hopeful.

    For instance, check this out.

    Now, that book isn’t out yet, or it’d be in my review queue in a heartbeat.  But I read something like:

    Her brain felt like it was being rewired and she stood in front of the mirror staring at herself as the transmitters in the pills did their job. She was glad to have packed a small prescription bottle in her purse containing a cocktail of pretty colors.
    It had proved, as she was sure it would, that the stress of perfection was too much. It was a cost Amelia couldn’t pay on her own. It was a price too expensive for even a general’s wife.

    and I am pretty excited.  Pills with transmitters rewiring brains to achieve perfection?  Yes, yes a million times yes.  Bring back my dangerous tech, my overreaching corporate-controlled governments.

    I don’t know where my readers stand politically, and frankly I don’t care that much.  My reviews and my works have little or nothing to do with politics.  But I think everyone has to admit that our tech is getting frighteningly close to the tech that causes so many social problems in a good cyberpunk, and without material like that, how can our society begin to think about what it should do when those days get here?

    So, bravo young cyberpunk authors.  Go forth and explore ethically grey areas of the near future.  Show me dystopias, and characters dealing with dystopias in different way.  As soon as The Deceiver is out, I’m putting it on the review list.

    And remember:  I’m always open to new submissions to Digital Glamour.  Slow does not mean stopped.

    *Originally posted by Frog Jones


  • Marketing, or I Got A Book, Now What Do With It?

    *Originally Posted By Frog Jones

    It’s been a week since my last blog post, which is kind of silly given that it was the intro week of Grace Under Fire.

    Marketing is just a beast. Let me capitalize that. Marketing is just a Beast. As in, The Beast. It slavers at me, its jaws gaping, convincing me that if I post oooonce more on Twitter or submit to this ooooone more reviewer, that’s what is going to break things loose and cause me to become a best seller. Right?

    Ok, I’m not actually that naive. I do know that isn’t really the likely result. But I have to keep that in my head, because otherwise the slog of social media one dredges oneself to just for a couple of sales would really numb my skull.

    The sad thing about that is, it requires a set of skills almost completely different from writing the book to begin with. I have to appear to be a normal person (which I’m not, viz. my writing a fantasy novel with my wife) and send out links to the books without being a spammer.

    That said, there’s really no other way to get noticed. The market is flooded with self-published authors, and most of their books are not very good. This is not a knock on the authors — we would have been at the same quality level were it not for our editor, Sue Bolich.

    I don’t have a solution for this. But it’s a problem, and it’s one our industry is going to have to deal with in time.

     



  • Wacky Hijinks” or “How to Irritate an Editor!”

    *Originally posted by Frog Jones

    No s***, there I was.

    So Esther and I got our second round of edits back, not nearly so severe as the first, and we spent the weekend plugging away at them. We finally completed them Monday night and e-mailed them back to Ms. Bolich.

    Or so I thought.

    Yesterday, we got an e-mail back. Ms. Bolich was trying to be nice with us, but it was clear she was very offended. She wanted to know whether we’d just given up, or whether we’d actually looked at all her notes and decided to blow her off. As the two of us had burned an entire weekend into responding to those notes, most of the time by agreeing with them and altering the story, we were taken aback. We thought we had done what she asked, and now she was asking us why we hadn’t. Had we completely missed the boat somewhere? Were we not understanding?

    Nope.

    Instead, we found out that Esther over there had e-mailed Ms. Bolich the wrong file. You see, my computer is being a little fritzy, so we’ve moved our shared work over to Esther’s. We downloaded Ms. Bolich’s edits onto my computer, but we made the edits based on the copy on Esther’s, just in case mine decided to completely crap out on us.

    Guess which file Esther sent back? Fun fact: It wasn’t the one on her own computer.

    So our editor, who has been nothing but understanding and gracious as we bumble through our first novel, got slapped in the face as we sent her back a file that, to her perspective, hadn’t been touched by either of us and a note that said “OK, we’re done. Here you go.”

    You can’t see me, but my face is in my palm just thinking about it.

    So there’s the writing tip for the day, folks. Make sure that, once you do all the revisions, you send the right file back.

     

     



  • Inching Toward Publication

    If you’re wondering why Frog and I are so quiet, it’s because we’ve been furiously working on edits.  While you wait for us to have something wonderful and interesting to say, here’s a beautiful new book on writing novels written by our Gears and Levers Anthology editor (We’re in vol 2 tentatively coming out in January), that is totally worth checking out: So You Want to Commit Novel.

    Phyllis Irene Radford has years of publishing and editing experience, and more works in print than I have time to list.   She’s always a great resource and mentor. When I get a chance I’ll come back and link her blog.

    I promise we’ll be back soon!

    *blog link added!*



  • Reacting to Your Editor

    *Originally posted by Frog Jones

    You’re probably wondering where I’ve been this last month.

    About three days before SpoCon, we got the edits back from SA Bolich.  Now, Ms. Bolich is an experienced professional, and both Esther and I have enjoyed her Masters of the Elements series to date.  (Since you’re waiting for us to publish, go check them out). 

    We respect her a lot.

    She sent our manuscript back with a letter that began by telling us how much she liked the book.  That was a good opening.
    The rest of it…was a little raw.  I’ll paraphrase the rest of the letter here, so you can get the tone of it right:

     

    “Hey, Frog and Esther.  Read your story, loved it.  Fast-paced, great characters, and a good story.  I really want it to do well.  There’s only one problem, and I think it’s a small thing, really, but we should probably address it.  So, other than it being totally awesome, I just need you to fix the fact that it sucks beyond the telling of it.  Ok?  Just fix that, and you’ll have a wonderful thing here.”

    Now, Ms. Bolich’s actual issues with us were much more specific than that.  But that’s what the letter felt like.  Then we read through her edits, and it felt like we were up against insurmountable odds.

    This, right here?  This is make-or-break time for a new author.  Getting constructively gut-punched is a rough feeling.  We thought we were ready for it; it’s not like we haven’t been doing it to each other this whole time.  We weren’t, though.  Emotionally, it took its toll.

    That said, it’s not like Sue was wrong.

    In fact, she was dead on.  We did have a great book.  Our only problem was that it sucked.

    SpoCon, the place that started us, really came to our rescue here.  Every author there told us that the moment you receive the book back from the editor is the most disheartening moment you can have, but also the best opportunity you have for improvement.  Once we started to look at the time and effort Ms. Bolich had put into improving our work, it made us realize that she really did think there was something worth saving in there.  As we went through and revised, it was like a sculptor peeling away the rough chunks of stone to reveal the sculpture underneath.  Grace Under Fire is ten times better now than it would have been had we self-published it.

    At some point during your revision, you know the story so well that you can’t see the reader’s perspective anymore.  It’s almost impossible to tell what a reader is going to do their first time through, because this is your hundredth time through and you already know everything.  That’s where the professional editor comes in really handy.

    Grace Under Fire would have been a good book had we self-published.  Thanks to Sky Warrior Books and SA Bolich, it’s going to be a great one.

    And when you get your book back from the editor, take a deep breath, then start in.  It’s going to be a better book for it.

     



  • Time isn’t your worst enemy- you are.

     

    Those words are especially true when it comes to writing. It’s easy to get caught up in the unfinished chores, the outstanding bills, the things that break down, and the weirdness of life in general. Writers need to make time in their lives for writing, otherwise it isn’t going to happen.

    I’ve really thought about this lately, because I’ve talked to several aspiring writers over the last few months, many of whom had various unfinished manuscripts rattling around. Manuscripts which they just don’t think they’re going to finish.
    One recurring theme keeps popping up.

    For one reason or another, they haven’t made time in their life for sitting down and writing regularly. I’m not saying writers have to have a particular time of day to write, or even a schedule. But writing has to be somewhere in the top of the priority list, if its going to go anywhere. It can’t be down at the bottom underneath everything else that needs to get done. It will get pushed off again and again in that scenario. And writing has to be done consistently, or else of course you’re going to forget where your characters are, or what you were doing with a particular plot point.

    Maybe some of these writers are at a point in their lives where they’re just not ready to give the time commitment necessary to complete a novel or even a short story. I’ve been there before myself. I can’t even try to deny it.

    But make no mistake, when someone says, “I just don’t have time to write,” what they’re really saying is, “Writing isn’t as important to me right now as x.” Where x can be any number of truly serious things including, health, children, family, work, etc. My point is, no matter what is going on, that mythical place where you have all the time in the world to sit down and write is never going to happen– unless you make it happen.

    There’s another benefit to writing regularly. You get better! I personally write much rougher prose when I’ve taken several weeks’ break from my desk. Then miraculously, as I get back into my habit, it starts to clean up with little conscious effort from me. I have no idea why it works that way. But it does.

    There will always be other things happening. If you want to finish a novel, make the time to write, and then actually do it. It sounds so simple, and yet, it never sounds easy.

     

     



  • Transforming What We Know

     

    There’s an age-old, tried and true, writing idiom – write what you know.   But that doesn’t mean what we write has to be boring.  Successful writers and artists have a knack, a skill, for taking every day situations and exaggerating (or understating) them just enough to give a new and interesting perspective.   Norman Rockwell was especially good at this.

     

    Just looking at one of his painting you know immediately who painted it.  And yet most of his paintings are based off of black and white photos of everyday life.  He saw those ordinary photos and evolved them into something much more than their originals.  Those scenes have an inherent poignancy when transferred to his canvas.

     

    Writers do this same thing.   We take something that could be quite ordinary and (hopefully!) transform it into something extraordinary that touches readers’ hearts.  Sue Bolich also talks about this, and how obnoxious weeds inspired something entirely different in her writing.  Her persistent fight with a force of nature became the heart of her recent novel.

     

    Sometimes, especially as a beginning writer, it is easy to get discouraged and think you have nothing new to add to the dialogue.  Personally, I dislike conflict, and I’m quick to back down if someone questions my views.  Especially if that person is older, or has more experience, or any number of reasons my little self-doubting brain can come up with.

    The truth is, no one views events quite the same as anyone else.  We all have quirks and backgrounds which color our perceptions.  Those perceptions color our writings, whether wanted or not.  If you gave my sister and I the same novel outline as a project, I am confident that the resulting novels would still be entirely different.  They might have similar pit stops, but they’d be different.  Just like no two vacations are the same, even if you go to the same place at the same time of year.

     

    Now this isn’t to say you shouldn’t take good advice. Readers and editors whose advice you trust are also absolutely essential.   Be true to the trust you put in them, and why you picked them, but also be true to yourself.  It’s OK to say, “I trust this person’s judgement, and this passage didn’t work.  Based on their feedback, I’m going to change it.”  I’m just saying not to get discouraged by that feedback, and remember at all times that the ultimate goal is an (extra)ordinary story you loved to tell, and share with others.  No one else will transform your world in quite the same way.



  • On Writing and Promoting

    I have been hearing the saying a lot lately, “Authors write because they have to.”

    Because it is their passion.

    And I think that’s true.

    But then those same people turn around and belittle authors who are trying to make good business decisions regarding their stories.  I’ve read several statements from authors recently that say because writing is their passion they can’t be bothered with numbers or treat their writing like a business.   I’ve even read a comment from an author saying that authors that do pay attention to how their books are performing are trying to “play the numbers” or “wasting time trying to get noticed.”

    I think the number one priority as a writer is to find the story you want to write, and tell it as best as you can.  But to me, once you’ve revised so much that you can’t see straight, and you send it off to the waiting arms of potential publishers, (or readers, if you self-publish) the job is only half done.  You have poured your soul, your sweat, sometimes your exhaustion into that story.  If they reject it, you have more work to do, and more story craft to learn.  If they don’t, well… this is where the hard work really begins.

    I realize I am a young grasshopper in the writing world.   But if a publisher takes our story, and puts it out to readers, I feel as an author that I have a duty to that amazing story I’ve tried to tell, and to that publisher who is willing to take a chance on us, to try and make sure that readers at least know the story exists.  Thus, I think book promotions and knowing if your book promotions are effective, are also an essential skills of a successful author.  If your book promotions aren’t effective, you’d be better off saving that energy on trying a different tactic, or if absolutely nothing is working, or putting that time and energy back into your writing.  If you aren’t paying any attention, then you won’t know when you’re wasting your time and your energy. More importantly, you won’t know when you’re missing an opportunity to write more books!

    Not all promotions are a sales pitch.  I don’t think an Amazon rating is everything, nor do I think checking it every hour helps you sell more books. I do think that knowing where your sales are coming from and how you got them is an incredibly powerful tool that will help you sell more books in the future.  And guess what!  I would like to sell more books, because it will give me the freedom to write more of what I love.   It is my dream for Frog and I to be able to write books, go to conferences or workshops and talk about books, and then go to conventions, and meet other people who love books as much as we do.  I’d love to treat writing like a business, because it would mean we were actually able to support ourselves with just writing!  I am a dedicated worker wherever I am.  Why can’t I throw even more dedication at writing?

    Until I am an older grasshopper, and someone can show me otherwise, I can’t believe being good at the business side of writing could possibly be a handicap. I believe that great books sell because they are great, but someone has to pick up the first copy and tell other folks about it.  Book promotion and understanding why your promotions work can help make that happen.