Creating professional quality eBooks requires a lot more than a quick export from a word processor!
Step by step, “Zen of eBook Formatting” takes a detailed look at the process that Guido Henkel has used to format close to a thousand eBooks over the past years. Formatter to New York Times bestselling writers and indie authors alike, Henkel makes the process understandable and easy to follow for anyone.
“Zen of eBook Formatting” covers the entire process from basic clean-up of the manuscript to basic HTML tagging, all the way to advanced features, and error-checking, teaching you the skills necessary to give your own eBooks the professional polish they deserve.
(Spencer’s Own “Livin’ In The Moment” official video.)
Nearly every time I tell someone I’m an author, they ask we where I get my ideas for my books. Where does your inspiration come from? they ask again and again and again.
The thing is, I don’t usually know. Sure, I can usually point to something specific for parts of each book – 99 Days of Laney MacGuire came from me working through my own sexual assault; Someone Else’s Summer came pretty much entirely from my love of lists and road trips; The Stars At Night was an idea that hatched when I remembered how much I adore Drill Team. But in general? I find inspiration everywhere, from other books and movies and music, from nature and weather, from Monster and Geek Husband. Inspiration is everywhere. It’s not a finite resource; it’s there for the taking. We just have to open our eyes and our ears and our hearts and grab on.
Sometimes, I struggle for inspiration. That’s just a reality. But, when I do, I can always turn to Spencer’s Own. I first met these guys more years ago than I care to admit.
(Okay…it’ll be 19 years in July. Almost two decades, y’all! I’m not sure how that even happened!)
I was on my yearly vacation to Seeley Lake, Montana, with my family. A friend and I saw a poster for a free concert at the end of the lake. It was a Thursday night. We were thirteen, couldn’t drive, and anyone who could drive was definitely not in a state to do so. Even a little bit. So we did what any thirteen-year-olds would do in the situation (the situation being: we were bored and thought it’d be kinda fun to check out this concert for a group we’d never heard of, playing in a tiny town): we waited for everyone else to be sufficiently occupied, and then we took a canoe and rowed our butts across the lake.
My buddy had just discovered the joys of hardcore, underground punk. I was a listener of primarily classic rock. And this group we canoed to see? They were a cappella. He was, um, less than entertained. Me? I was totally enthralled. We caught the second half of the show, then paddled back across the lake, wondering for the first time if we should’ve told someone where we were going.
For my friend, it was one night. But for me, that one night was the start of almost two decades of memories. More road trips than I can count. Some of the best friends I’ve ever had. And so, so much more.
I went from being a random girl at a random concert, to a diehard fan, and eventually to a friend of these incredible guys. When I say they are an inspiration to me, I’m not just talking about their music. I’m talking about them as people. I’ve seen them succeed, and I’ve seen them fail. But most importantly, I’ve seen the improvement and the work they’ve put behind the improvement. I’ve seen them tackle obstacles head-on, with smiles on their faces. I’ve seen them stretch and grow and become the act they were meant to be.
So when I get stuck and am feeling uninspired, I go back. I remember the early days, listen to the old music, laugh a little. Then I put on the new tracks and listen to the difference. I remember the work they put in because they love what they do. And then I remember that I love what I do and I get back to work.
And somehow, invariably, a bit of inspiration has made its way through their music and into my heart. Every. Time.
The Stars At Night takes place in small town Texas, in the world of competitive Drill Team.
(Think Bring It On but with Drill Team instead of Cheerleading. And a few other key differences I’m keeping secret so far. 🙂 )
I was on the drill team in high school. That’s right – I was a full blown high-kicking, baton-twirling, splits-doing drill girl. I wore the sparkly outfits and the awesome boots and the short short skirts. I was part of a fantastic team, and some of the girls are still some of my favorite people [redacted] years later.
(Mom, I know you’re reading this, but maybe not till after Tax Season ends? Either way, when you do read: Why do I not have any drill pictures? Where did they all go?!)
A year ago, as part of the big 50th anniversary celebration for my high school, we did a throwback routine. Basically what that means is they had a bunch of
old ladies former Wranglers (that’s our drill team name, natch) come perform a routine at a basketball halftime show. One woman was from the first graduating class. She was pretty much the coolest. Being back in the gym, twirling my baton again (yes, I still had my baton from high school – what, you don’t?), brought back so many fond memories, and before long, the seed for The Stars At Night was born.
I’m loving this book so much, y’all – and I’ve not actually written yet. I’m still (finally) finalizing my outline. But it doesn’t matter, because I love El and Sadie and their team and their lives and their summer and their story.
And I’m loving the research I get to do (and holy commas I’ve learned how much different drill team is in Texas vs Montana):
And one from Utah because DANG. (Just ignore the “Kyle Kyle Kyle you were wrong” kid, mmmkay?)
April is Camp NaNoWriMo, so I should be writing like a maniac. But the truth? I haven’t even started my book yet. *shrug* I’m not too worried. It’s been a weird start to the month, and I can start any time. But, to get me in the mood for some massive word counts, how about a repeat of a post I wrote right after NaNoWriMo 2014, shortly after finishing Someone Else’s Summer. Good? Good.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
I spent the month of November joining thousands of other novelists in the mad dash noveling experience known as NaNoWriMo*. The idea of NaNo is to write 50,000 words in one month – for some that’s a whole novel, for others the start of a longer novel. Me being me, I set out to write a full book in the month, and I knew it would be longer than 50,000 words, because they always are. In the end, my shiny new novel came in at 71,996 words, all written at a manic pace last month.
(Someone Else’s Summer is 75,000 words now. Edits, y’all. They’ll do that to ya.)
So, now, in my sleep-deprived state, I thought I would give some sleep-deprived wrap-up thoughts and things I learned** from NaNoWriMo.
1. Outline, outline, outline.
I’ve written books with outlines before; I’ve written books where I’ve started at Word One and just punched keys until I had an idea where the story was taking me (ahem, 99 Days of Laney MacGuire); I’ve written with hyper-detailed outlines. Someone Else’s Summer is one of the latter. The idea for the book came to me way back in July. I tried, and failed, to put it on the back burner, and when it got so persistent I knew I had to write it, I started outlining. For this project, I used Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake method. (I maybe didn’t follow his guide 100%, but it gives you an idea of how intense this outline was.) I spent more time outlining the book than writing it. (Outlining ran through August and September.)
(My outline for The Stars At Night – my Camp NaNo book – isn’t nearly this intense. In fact, it’s so basic I’m a bit twitchy about not having such a strong road map. But hey, different book different adventure.)
I used to worry – and have talked to many other authors who have the same concern – that such a detailed outline would kill the excitement of discovery in the first draft. But, actually, I found that it did the exact opposite for me. Having everything already figured out, the plot kinks and holes fixed during the outlining, gave me a map to follow, so I never got stuck wondering what happens next. Each scene still surprised me as it unfolded in the draft, and it made me realize: that’s where the real discovery comes. Not with the path the story will take, but with the how it will take that path.
My outline kept me going so I never felt lost when I sat down to write, and I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to finish the book so quickly without it.
2. Be madly in love.
It’s no secret how much I love Someone Else’s Summer. Ever since the idea first worked its way into my brain – on vacation, when I told myself I was going to leave all my writing behind, natch – I’ve been obsessed with it. So when I hit the middle of the month, and the middle of the book, and had the typical middle-of-the-book-this-book-sucks panic…it was short lived. Because the writing maybe isn’t great right now, but even during the panic I still loved my characters and my story. Even now, when the draft is done, I’m still so in love with it that I can’t wait to dive into revisions.
Writing is hard, y’all. There comes a point where it gets tough for anyone, and there comes a point when you realize that the past two pages you wrote just kinda stink. It’s easy to let that realization pull you down until writing becomes even harder…or you quit. But if you still have that love for your story, it’s easy to move past it. So when I realized that what I’d been writing smelled like a middle school locker room, I shrugged, told myself to fix it in revisions, and kept moving. Because it didn’t really matter, not much at least, when I adored the story so much still.
3. Maybe not every day.
I know, it seems crazy to not write every day when you have such an intense goal. Especially when the NaNoWriMo site breaks your goal into nice little bite-sized chunks. (1,667 words a day to hit the 50,000-word goal.) But, aside from the fact that I don’t write on Sundays for religious reasons, writing every day doesn’t work for me. I tend to really hit my stride after about forty-five minutes, and once I’ve hit that stride, I want to stick with it for a couple hours. As nice as it would be to be able to write for four hours every day, the reality just doesn’t match that. Not with a three-year-old crazy boy in the house.
(Turns out this is still true when the crazy boy is five instead of three.)
So I didn’t. My local NaNo group met every Tuesday and Thursday evening (except Thanksgiving), and Saturday mornings/afternoons. I wrote at those write-ins, and I didn’t even try the other days. That way, instead of being frustrated with my lack of productivity on a Monday evening, I got to relax and watch Castle and hit a big word count on Tuesday. I aimed for 5,000 words every Tuesday and Thursday night, and 10,000 on Saturdays. And for the most part, I hit those goals pretty easily. I think if I’d forced myself to write every day, I would have gotten frustrated and/or burned out. Resting days are wonderful.
4. Have a support group.
I have wonderful writing friends that I talk to regularly. Online. Because we live too far apart. For NaNo this year, I was able to find a group of local writers to meet with, and they have made all the difference in this journey. It is so nice to meet up with other writers, grab a few hot drinks (oh my commas, peppermint white hot chocolate will be the end of me), and set to work, together. To have people there to hear the ridiculous typos you make when they are still fresh and hilarious. Friends to cheer you on in your journey. It’s fantastic. I cherish my online writing buddies, but I hope to never ever ever be without a local group again.
5. Write for yourself.
You can revise with a mind for the market, if you want, but the first draft needs to be only for you. Nothing will stop you in your writing tracks faster than worrying about whether that chapter you just wrote will make it in NYC. To pump out the massive word counts that I did this month, I needed to be fully immersed in the story, not worried about whether it can nab an agent or publisher. Really, this is good advice for any first draft, but especially pertinent if you’re trying to fast draft.
6. Have a reward system.
Having a finished first draft is reward enough. Hahahahahah NO. Rewards are the lifeblood of my writing – as long as I have something to look forward to, I’ll keep pushing even when the doubt sets in. Our group met at a local bookstore/coffee shop. So each meeting, I’d get there early, set up my space, and go to work. Once I’d written about 2,000 words, I could go get a hot chocolate or tea. If I brought food, it wasn’t allowed out of my bag until I’d reached whatever goal I met. And this past Saturday, my last writing day of the month, the bookstore still had its Black Friday sale going on. All used books, $3 each. The cafe overlooks the Young Adult section – my favorite – with all those green Used tags staring me down. So I told myself that once I finished Someone Else’s Summer, I could wander into the book section and go a little crazy. I got my words out in record time, and then maybe bought a record number of used books. It may seem silly, a bit Pavlovian, but a reward system really, really works.
7. And so much more…
I could go on. And on and on and on. Because it seems like every time I sat down to work on this journey, I learned something new. But these are the biggies. Well, these and one more thing I’ll talk about later this week. But for now, I’m done.
*If you’re not with the lingo, that stands for National Novel Writing Month.
**Things I learned. As in, things that work for me. Because they won’t work for everyone,*** I promise.
***Case in point: I credit my intense outline with getting me through the month. Natalie Whipple credits her lack of outline with getting her through the month. Neither is wrong.
(I’m really hoping my relative lack of outline this year will be a benefit to me, not a detriment!)
April is the A-Z Blogging Challenge, and we all know I love a good challenge (I’m also doing Camp NaNoWriMo this month, because CHALLENGE). So. I’ll be blogging all through April, except Sundays, with each post going along with the order of the Alphabet. A TON of bloggers are playing along (I’m #1,774 to sign up!). It should be a fun month!
Today is April 1st, so today…A IS FOR AGENT
If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you saw yesterday when I announced that I signed with Liza Fleissig at Liza Royce Agency. And I’m thrilled! But as thrilled as I am, I have been hesitant to tell the story of how it came to be. Because it is SO NOT TYPICAL, and I don’t want aspiring authors looking for advice coming across this story and thinking it’s how it’ll happen for them, or that it’s a normal thing, or whatever.
But, I’ve had a lot of people ask, and I’ve had some great friends convince me that I should share the story anyway, so here it goes.
I wrote Someone Else’s Summer for NaNoWriMo 2014. It was a mad rush of words, and all told (because I’m a nerd and track stuff like this so I know) I spent 44 hours on the first draft. Obviously, it took edits after that fast draft, but all in all, it was the cleanest first draft I’d ever written. The edits were fairly minimal. (Not trying to downplay…there was definitely WORK involved. But after the edits I had on 99 Days of Laney McGuire this really didn’t seem like much.)
So I edited. And then I…did nothing. I figured I’d get around to querying some day, even wrote a couple query letters to try to nail down my pitch. I thought about enrolling in Swoon Reads, just for the fun of it. I thought about self-publishing, not because I didn’t think the book could go the traditional route, but because I have fun self-pubbing. But, ultimately, I just let the book sit for a long while. I was still madly in love with it, but I was also super busy with other stuff, so it was easy to leave it alone.
I knew Pitch Madness was coming up sometime in the near future, but didn’t think much of it. I like watching the game and seeing the writers get their requests and sitting on the sidelines of the excitement, but I’ve never seriously considered entering in past years. But when the submissions window happened this time, I thought, Why not? and decided to throw my hat into the ring. I ran over to Brenda’s site, took about five minutes to craft my 35-word pitch, and put my first 250 words in. Then I pushed it to the back of my mind because I knew the chances of getting in were such a long shot that I didn’t worry about it.
(There’s something to be said here about not giving time to second guess myself. That little baby pitch I threw together in five minutes was pretty darn good, if I do say so myself!)
Draft day came and…I didn’t realize it was draft day. It wasn’t until the next day that I saw someone talking on Twitter that I realized teams had been picked. And I made it!
(Someone Else’s Summer was the 11th round addition – the draft was done, then Brenda gave the go ahead for each blog to pick ONE MORE and I was that one more. It’s super subjective, y’all.)
Anyway. You know how Pitch Madness went. (hint: awesome) So now (FINALLY) the rest of the story that you don’t know:
Since Liza won, she got a 48-hour lead on reading my book. I was crazy busy that weekend, so I sent it to her LATE Saturday night. Like LATE. I had an email when I woke up Sunday morning saying thanks for sending, that she’d get back to me.
Monday came. I got another email. “I’ve started reading and I have a question. Can you talk?” Well OF COURSE I CAN. So she called me. We talked about our kids and general life and stuff, and then she brought up Someone Else’s Summer. Told me that she’d opened my manuscript to make sure it was properly formatted so she could send it off to one of her readers, but she got sucked in. She was on page 70 before she even realized what was going on, and was on 180 when she called.
And she loved it!
I was elated, y’all! I wanted to jump and scream and laugh and cry and tell her YES PLEASE BE MY AGENT RIGHT NOW! But we are freaking professionals, you guys. So instead, she told me she was sending it to her readers because she very much values their opinion, and they could say, “Look, Liza, I know you like this, but it’ll never sell.” It was still an option that she wouldn’t officially offer representation. And I had a bunch of other requests from Pitch Madness I still needed to send out. So we hung up with mutual excitement but nothing decided.
Then I woke up the next morning.
Liza’s name was in my inbox, and just seeing it made me do a little happy dance. (But only in my head. I was still in bed, and I was not ready to dance yet!) She said:
Love Love Love
I laughed and cried and just OMG. It would be an honor to rep this incredible book…I didn’t hear back yet but don’t care. I will. And I know they will love it too!
(I trimmed that a little bit, but a VERY little bit. That was pretty much everything.)
And I died.
Not really. Really, I let the other agents know I had an offer and that they had two weeks to weigh in. Four of them came back right away asking for the full, so I sent it then buckled in for the ride.
Those two weeks almost killed me. I was so impatient, and poor Liza thought I was impatient because I was really wanting to get an offer from a different agent, but that wasn’t it at all…I just wanted to have a solid answer!
I did my research like a good girl. I talked to some of Liza’s other clients and some people in the know in the industry. I chatted on the phone with Liza again. (And you guys, I’ve found the only person on the planet who talks faster than I do!) I talked with Ashley, my fantastic critique partner, and I talked with Geek Husband. And halfway through the second week, both Ashley and Geek Husband told me, “I think you already made up your mind, that you picked Liza on day one and have just been waiting because it’s what you’re supposed to do.”
(Really, it should have been super obvious when the second agent to get back to me – someone I really admire and have thought for years that I would like to work with – and she passed because my book was too similar to another in her line. And instead of being disappointed I was relieved. How’s that for your gut telling you what you want?)
They were totally right. So I send a big excited YES to Liza and told all the other agents thanks for their time. And then SQUEEEEE! We had a little virtual party. 😀
I’m impressed if you stuck around this long, really. This is all so very bizarre to me. Because I’ve been around long enough* to know how this story is supposed to go: you write for years and query and query and query and get a stack of rejections to show for your work. But it’s okay because it only takes one agent to say yes, and eventually you find that one agent and it’s beautiful. That’s the story. Not: you’ve never queried a project in your life, you enter a contest on a whim, and the first agent to ever see your book offers representation two days later. That’s not the story. It’s so far from typical that I’m still trying to catch up to it.
But I’m thrilled. Liza is so fantastic and SO enthusiastic about my book. She’s already doing great things for me and Someone Else’s Summer and the ink on our contract has barely had time to dry. I can’t imagine finding someone else as enthusiastic about this book as she is. Sometimes I think she likes it better than even I do. For real.
So that’s it, my very atypical story. I don’t know how much help it’ll be to anyone, but that’s okay. People asked, and now you know. 🙂
*I may only have a couple posts and a brand-new site, but that’s due to an unfortunate hacking incident and me being too busy/lazy to restore all my previous posts, but I’ve been active in this online writing world since 2009.
Sometimes writing takes you on a path you never intended to take. It sweeps you away on a journey that is both exhilarating and terrifying. It consumes you, morning, noon, and night; it woos you away from your other obligations and tasks.
It is the most amazing feeling.
That’s what’s happened with Someone Else’s Summer. And it’s what’s happening now with a new project I’m calling The Stars at Night. It’s all I can think about. I eat, breathe, and dream it. I’ve not even started writing – I’m still in the process of plotting and outlining – but it’s already completely taken over my life.
Here’s the thing: I spent the last month plotting out a different book. I even made a mock-up cover of it, as I tend to do. It’s something different for me – a mystery – and I’m super excited about it. But….it’s not The Stars at Night. It’s not the one that is demanding to be written next, the one that sneaks its way into all my thoughts and makes me feel all exhilarated, the way I’ve only felt before with Someone Else’s Summer.
So I’m gonna chase that feeling, put the mystery on the back burner, and jump into The Stars at Night. Because sometimes you have to let go of your plans and plots and just take your writing where it wants to go.
And this seems to be exactly where it wants to go.
Can we talk a bit about writing and expectations and trusting your gut and taking chances?
A while back, I wrote this book. I was so madly in love with it. I couldn’t get enough. For some reason, it took me forever to do anything with it after I finished. But, even so, I still thought I had something special on my hands.
Pitch Madness sign-ups were last month, and on a whim, I entered. I honestly didn’t think I’d even get in – the competition is fierce, and there are SO MANY great authors trying to get in. All told, there were 811 entries. I was sure mine wouldn’t be a finalist, so I didn’t worry about it.
And you know what? I almost didn’t get in. Each host blog got 16 entries. I didn’t get in those 16. Then, Brenda Drake (the Pitch Madness Maven) decided to give each blog one more bonus entry. SOMEONE ELSE’S SUMMER was that 11th-hour bonus entry for Team Rainbow Road.
This week has been a bundle of excitement and nerves and “I’M GONNA ROCK THIS” and “I’M GONNA BE ONE OF THE ONES WITH NO REQUESTS.” Also, a bundle of ice cream making and eating and painting the house. As one does.
Well. What happened? In the end, that little book I loved but didn’t think would even make it in? The one I only entered on a whim? It had SIX agent requests, the most of any of the entries on my team.
The point here–other than to share my excitement–is this: If you think you have something special, you probably do. Self-doubt will creep in and try to convince you otherwise, but don’t let it. Believe in yourself and your story. Take risks with it. You just may be thrilled with the results.