Tag Archives: author

Writer’s Toolbag: Attending Conventions Part 1

It is possible to have a career in writing and never attend a convention.  That said, conventions provide a wealth of opportunities for an author.  Conventions are gatherings of like-minded people.  Genre conventions, especially science fiction and fantasy conventions, are where you’ll be able to find lots of potential readers in one spot.  They’re also excellent places to network, to build relationships with other authors, to pitch ideas to editors,  and in general, get your name out there.

So, what’s the key to going to a convention and being a success?  Well, there’s two parts of this.  Assuming you’re just getting started, I highly recommend going as an attendee just to get your feet wet.  Study what other people do, learn what’s acceptable and unacceptable con behavior.   This last one is a key part.  Nine times out of ten, most of the professionals won’t remember your name or face from one convention.  They see too many people, interact with too many people, at too many conventions.  But if you’re a jerk, or annoying, they’re probably going to remember that.  So, as I said, learn what’s acceptable.  Don’t go charging in.  Take the time to get a feel for the place.

The next part is selecting an appropriate convention.  Small cons are perfect for getting your feet wet, and there’s an important part on this in that you can get some time with authors and editors without having to get pushy.

Also, know what a convention is about.  Gaming and anime conventions aren’t the best place to go for trying to network as an author or to pitch your book to potential readers.  Read up on what a convention is about before you go.  Learn who will be there.  If you don’t recognize any of the names of the guests, it probably means you don’t read their stuff and therefore what you write may not be what the readers there will be interested in.

Lastly, panels.  Panels are the main content at a lot of conventions.  These are discussions by the panelists… so if you aren’t one, don’t interrupt.  They’ll have time at the end of the panel for questions.  One of the big irritations to panelists is when someone in the audience hijacks the panel.  Do some research here, too, and pick topics and panelists you want to learn more about.

Conventions are tons of fun.  Take a friend, meet people, and enjoy yourself.  Don’t forget to keep receipts because all of this is tax deductible as an author.  Next week I’ll talk a bit about strategies on how to participate in conventions rather than attending.


Writer’s Toolbag: Preparation

It has been said that preparation is the key to success.  I’ve found that’s true for writing as well.  Preparation, of course, can mean many different things.   Some writers like to come up with extremely detailed outlines while others merely want to have some vague idea of the setting and go from there.

The most important part of preparation, then, comes back to what you need as an author.  Do you need a full, detailed outline of every event and character arc?  Do you just need some quiet time before you sit down to write?  Do you need snacks in your writing area so that you can focus on writing without interruption?  Do you need to make sure other stuff (chores, work, whatever) is done first, so you don’t have to take care of it later?  You have to have a good level of introspection, to know what you need to get to the task at hand.

Trust me, the simple things are the ones that can interrupt the flow of words.  Writing is a purely mental exercise and if you have distractions or concerns about outside events, they can make it difficult or even impossible to write.  The same goes for your writing itself.  If a scene or plot device isn’t working, it might become a source of irritation or distraction that can impact the rest of your writing.  Take care of the things you need to do before you start writing.

That said, procrastination is also a factor of preparation.  I’ve wasted entire weeks and months before “getting things ready” for writing.  That could be outlining, world-building, or figuring out the mechanics of what I’m working on.  I’ve also seen authors who set aside a day to write who then think of all the other things they “should” be doing and end up doing those things instead.  Not because they have to be done right then, but because they’re afraid to try and fail at writing.

Writing is hard.  Set yourself up for success.  I find the preparation I need to work on different projects changes from story to story.  Some stories practically write themselves, with little or no preparation.  Others require a great deal of time spent focusing, outlining, and getting myself into the mindset.  Get to know your writing style, what kind of preparation you need, and take care of it.  Lastly, don’t use preparation as an excuse to procrastinate.  Getting words on the page is the goal and even if they aren’t the perfect words, they’re another step along the road to success.

Writing Toolbag: Character Notes

If there’s one thing guaranteed to annoy most readers, it’s when they discover some dramatic discrepancy with a beloved character.  Note here, I didn’t say “main” character, I said beloved character.  And as a writer, oftentimes you don’t have any control whatsoever over what characters your readers might take a liking to (in fact, I’ve several readers who have polar opposite likes and dislikes in my series) .

I still remember my first draft of my first novel, where I’d mentioned the name of a character’s cat near the beginning and (horror of horrors) used a different name for the cat near the end.  I’ve noticed errors with other authors (even mainstream ones) where character’s eye color and hair color have changed, height has dramatically changed, and parents/family details have changed.  These aren’t game-ending, but those kinds of errors are annoying to readers, they show a lack of consistency, which can come off as laziness or ineptitude… both of which are impressions you don’t want to give your readers.

So how does a writer maintain consistency with one’s characters, especially over multiple books?  A few authors I’ve talked with keep the details in their heads.  If you’ve a eidetic memory, I suppose that works, but for the rest of us mere mortals, notes are not just a good idea, but a necessity.

What goes into character notes?  It doesn’t have to be much, really.  A short physical description, family details (if important), birthday, and then any details about them that you plan to use in your writing.  Some authors I’ve met use 3″ x 5″ notecards, some have Excel spreadsheets, and others use word and just have typed notes.  The intent is to write it down somewhere so that you don’t have to remember it, you can just look it up.  As you write more, you can add more details to your notes as they become pertinent.

Such a simple thing is not only good for maintaining consistency, but also for speeding your writing flow.  When you get to a passage where you mention the character’s great aunt showing up, you don’t have to stop writing to go back and look her name up, sifting through your earlier works.  You can put a marker there and keep writing, secure in the knowledge that you’ve got the detail in the notes.

The downside of notes, of course, is that you have to take the time to keep them accurate and up to date.  A couple people I know use their smart phones for this, creating their notes on their phones so they can update their notes anywhere: waiting in line, riding a bus, whenever and wherever they have time.  The same can be said for the 3 x 5 index cards.  Whatever method you use, having character notes that you haven’t updated or filled out is of little use.

That’s all for now.  Thanks for reading!

See Kal Run… American Ninja Warrior!

Kal Spriggs at American Ninja Warrior, 2015 San Pedro
Kal Spriggs at American Ninja Warrior, 2015 San Pedro

Yes, you read that headline right… I’ve just come back from the show American Ninja Warrior, specifically the Military Special in San Pedro, California.  While I can’t say anything about how I did, I will say I had an incredible time and if you want to watch me and a ton of other military veterans compete, be sure to watch it later this month!

I’ve been training hard for it over the past few months, so be sure to tune in and watch to see how I did.  While I was there, I met some amazing people with inspirational stories and incredible attitudes.  I’m sure the show will do them all justice.  Be certain to tune in and watch it!  While I don’t have the exact air date, yet, it will probably be Monday the 29th of June.

Book Review, March 2015 Update, and a Small Request

Echo of the High Kings, Book I of the Eoriel Saga
Echo of the High Kings, Book I of the Eoriel Saga

A new review for Echo of the High Kings and an update on my schedule for March.

Author JP Wilder has a book review of Echo of the High Kings up on his blog here.   JP has some awesome books available in both epic fantasy and contemporary fantasy genres, so I recommend looking at those, he’s got some good stuff there at his website.

As for March, I’m happy to announce that I’m doing editing on Wrath of the Usurper, outlining the sequel to Fenris Unchained, and starting writing on The Prodigal Emperor.  I’ve also opened a Twitter account.  So if you want to see updates from me on that forum, you can follow me there under KalSpriggs.  It’s another busy month for me, as you can imagine.  Book sales for Fenris

Fenris Unchained by Kal Spriggs
Fenris Unchained by Kal Spriggs

Unchained are very good and I’m excited to say that I’ll be doing more books with Henchman Press as a result, starting with the previously mentioned sequel to Fenris Unchained.  If you haven’t bought Fenris Unchained, you can find it here on Amazon, here on Smashwords, and coming soon to Barnes and Noble.  Fenris Unchained is currently on Amazon’s top 100 for Military SF and also for Space Opera, it’s a fast, exciting story and writing it was a lot of fun for me.

March is also my last month drawing pay in the US Army as an active duty officer and as yet, I’m still looking for a day job.  So, if you’re thinking: “How can I make certain this nice author keeps a roof over his head and putting food on the table so he can write more books?” The answer is: please tell your friends about my books.  The money I earn from writing definitely helps to keep a roof over my family’s heads, so if you’ve been putting off writing a review or telling a friend, please get the word out.  Reviews help and word of mouth really helps.  For that matter, leave reviews for all your favorite authors on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes and Noble or wherever you read.  Every review helps, believe me, it’s become essential to reaching new readers.  I don’t write for the money, but right now, the money makes it possible for me to write.

Kal’s January 2015 Forecast

2015 is here, and boy is it busy already.  Production continues on the audiobooks for The Shattered Empire and Renegades: Origins.  I’m continuing work on Wrath of the Usurper and plan to have it done and the first version out to my alpha readers by the end of the month.  I’ve got The Prodigal Emperor outlined and I’m outlining Renegades: Out of the Cold in my free time.

If everything goes to plan, I’ll begin samples/snippets of Wrath of the Usurper sometime in February, followed by samples of The Prodigal Emperor.  I’m really excited to be working on both books and I can’t wait to get them ready and finished for publishing.  I can tell already that 2015 has the potential to be a great year and I’m starting it off with lots of projects.

I’ll be attending Cosine here in Colorado Springs from 23-25 January.  I’m excited to be participating in another local convention and this one looks like it’ll be a lot of fun.  Check here for the website.

That’s all for now, check back soon for reviews on some movies and some other content!

How I Learned To Hate The VAT

My fellow self-published authors have no doubt already been bombarded by emails from Amazon in regards to changes in the VAT, but I thought I’d take a moment to tell my readers why prices are going to suddenly change on a number of books and how this change affects authors.  These changes take place on 1 January, 2015.

You see, the way the VAT used to work, it applied based on the seller’s country. So an author in the UK had a 20% VAT on top of the price of their book, off each sale. Now, however, it is based off the customer’s country. So when I sell a book in, oh, say Ireland, there’s 23% tax on top of the price of the book. This means for a book that is €5, the tax is an additional dollar, making the book €6.15. The way Amazon is resolving this is that the tax comes off the top… and my royalties, therefore are still as if the book sold for €5. What this means, is that either I lower prices (IE, to €4.12) which then should make that same book €5 to the customer or it goes for €6, which pushes me up around where some of the well-established authors are, and makes it less likely for a new reader to buy my book.

Now, since I get roughly €3.42 (70% royalty minus some delivery fees and such) off the sale of a €5 book, the difference, as far as I can tell through my projections, is that I get €3 now for a book that sells for the same price. Basically, a foreign country gets a dollar off each of my book sales while I lose forty cents per sale. Not a lot, individually, but that’s around €200 a month that I won’t get (and  €500 that some other nation does get). Keep in mind, writing is my second job, I still work full time. How would you feel if your boss told you that your pay is getting cut €200 a month to pay taxes in a country you don’t live in?

Independent Author’s Toolbag: Alpha and Beta Readers

One of the biggest fears that I face as an author is the dread of wondering what people will think. The reaction of family and friends is one thing… but what about people you don’t know who are going to pick up the book in a store or glance at it on kindle? For that matter, how do you go through and make certain that the plot, characters, and other issues are iron-tight?

My solution, and what many authors do, is make use of alpha and beta readers. It’s a common use in the gaming industry, though I’m certain authors have used the technique long before they borrowed (okay, stole) the term from the gamers.

Basically, your first readable copy (or maybe second or third, depends on how you feel about it) goes to your alpha readers. This is normally a small number of people. These people should be picked from people you know as filling several key catagories: Critical Thinking/Reading Skills, Honesty, and Timeliness. You may laugh at some of them… until you’re trying to get that nerdy friend of yours to explain why the opening scene feels ‘a little funky’ after they’ve had the book in their hands for over a year. Critical Thinking/Reading is essential in an Alpha, they have to understand what you wrote and they have to be able to think about what you’re doing and then tell you what they thought about it. If you’re interested in Independent Publishing, time is a serious factor here. Traditional Authors have years to get books out, independent authors need to feed the voracious appetite of their readers… else be forgotten as those readers go elsewhere. You don’t need an alpha reader who sugarcoats their opinions or, worse, is too afraid to hurt your feelings to tell you the truth. One of my favorite alpha readers has straight up told me before when he thought what I wrote was crap. I disagreed, but I’ll admit he had good points and his comments made me reevaluate what I was doing as a writer. I’m grateful that I have alphas like him who can tell me when they don’t like something.

After I get all my feedback from the alphas, that’s when I go back through and do the serious edits. Often I’ll spend hours discussing some of the changes I’ve thought about… sometimes I’ll be talked out of some of those edits, other times, I’ll do them in spite of what the feedback says. There have been times where I’ll write two or three versions of a scene and run them past certain readers trying to get it just right.

Beta readers are the next step. Once you have the final draft, you send it out to a larger audience. These, for me, are often friends or acquaintances that I trust to give me overall opinions on the work as a whole and maybe some more focused opinions on individual items or characters. If I’m featuring some science/technical aspect that I’m not certain about and one of my betas is an expert (or at least knows more than me) I’ll run it past them during the alpha stage. Beta readers are a spectrum of a general audience. They can include genre readers, but also out-of-genre readers. If I’ve written something with a target audience, those beta readers from that audience are the main voices I want to hear. The responses from all my beta readers are often used to make final tweaks. If a scene didn’t have the emotional draw that I wanted or if a character wasn’t memorable enough, then I go back and tweak a bit more.

The key thing you get from your beta readers is an overall evaluation of the quality of your work. Ideally, your work is publishable by the time it gets to them, but their reactions to it are the key to understanding how ready it really is… and how great a story it is. If you get frantic phone calls at 2 AM because a reader couldn’t put it down, that’s a good sign. If you have to prod, nudge, and heckle your beta readers to get so much as a thumbs up or down, that’s a bad sign.  I’ve had both happen (on the same novel no less).  The big thing is to get an honest appreciation of your story and to adapt it and improve it as a result.

Independent Author’s Toolbag: Writing Groups

Hi there, my name is Kal and I write stuff.

It sounds a bit like an introduction from an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting… because that’s what some writing groups feel like. And in a way, that can be good or bad. Writing groups are, at their root, about support. Writers, get together and read one another’s stuff, critique it, discuss where they’re going or improving their craft, and then they arrange to meet again. The pattern is hopefully one where the individuals within the group gradually improve upon their work. It also provides a variety of backgrounds for new and inexperienced writers to draw upon for both the business and writing sides of the craft. Writing groups have a number of advantages, not least of which is you get someone to read your manuscript besides your mother/best friend. This can be invaluable just in the knowledge of whether or not someone was able to finish reading it. Feedback about characters, plot, and plot devices can also be invaluable, letting you know if you fooled someone with a clever bait and switch, if your humor fell flat, or even if you accidentally wrote fan fiction. Writing groups also, however, come with some hazards.

One hazard, I think, is that as a writer grows, they may outgrow the writers in their group or the group itself may shift as new people come in and others leave. A writer who is actively seeking publishing, in a group that is about completing works, is quickly going to become frustrated. The reverse is true, as well, an author who just wants to finish their first book is going to find the critiques of more experienced and even published authors daunting enough that they may give up. I’ve seen a little bit of both, myself, just in one group. The group had a central core of attendees focused on writing and publishing. It also had a ‘floating’ population of people who would attend every now and then. Some of them would become very disheartened at the progress they had made versus the progress of others. I myself would often become frustrated because some members would show up with the fourth or fifth (or tenth) revision of their first chapter. These are writers who don’t really want to grow, they’re comfortable retelling the same bit of a story. A good group can coach them along towards growth, but it isn’t something you can force and a group with more chysallis authors than mature ones is not the place to improve your own craft.

The other hazard is ‘toxic’ groups. These are writing groups where, somewhere, somehow, there is a dominant individual who attempts to turn it into a social hierarchy, where other authors must kowtow to his or her principles and/or writing style. I haven’t personally encountered this, yet I have friends who have completely soured on any kind of writing group as a result. The worse of these types of groups are ones where new authors are ridiculed or belittled for their work in some kind of cult-indoctrination method to get them to then believe that only through emulation is success possible.

Another hazard of writing groups is that the writers there are going to have their own perspectives and interpretations of how stories should be told. Sometimes, for the best of reasons, they’ll give you feedback that you are doing something wrong and they might even talk you around to it. With the best of intentions, they can give you a feeling of inadequacy that can leave your manuscript half finished with notes of broad plot and character changes to be made. The thing to remember here is that you are the author. Whatever story you are telling, you tell it your way. In the end, when it is finished, if the group says they still don’t like it, then you can think about revisions and changes. But if it goes against the grain, if you feel your story is better/stronger/greater without those changes… don’t do it. Write what you want.

So, basically, the lesson is to first do some research on a group and then to test the waters a bit. Be sure they write/read in your genre. If authors have no interest in what you write, they’re not going to be as attentive and they’re not going to know the style.  Writing groups where some or all of the members gush about one central figure should generally be avoided. Writing to cater to the interests and desires of the group is also to be avoided.