Author Archives: Superdullboy

Writer Artisan — Getting off your ass and writing. Well, on your ass… Whatever.

For as long as I can remember I’ve written stories.  A little over a year ago I was with family at my mom’s house for Christmas.  She was showing old photos to significant others — the more embarrassing the better, as per article six, subsection three of the Mother Code.  But inside one of these boxes was a single-sheet newsletter from my second grade class, where an A. Michael Marsh original was featured front and center.  Okay, it was in the back, but that doesn’t help the story so let me embellish a bit.  What are you, the story police?  Anyway, this little nugget of prose was my retelling of a family camping trip that featured such zingers as, “I’m not saying mom’s cooking was bad, but I barfed.”  Or, in regard to a campfire ghost story, “Real scary.  Last time I heard that one I fell off my dinosaur.”  Yep.  Gold, people.  Pure gold.

Point is, story has always been something that I naturally gravitated to.  I’ve always written.  The first time I set out to write a novel I was ten.  It was going to be about a cop that gets injured in the line of duty and returns to service as a half-man, half-machine servant of justice.  Yeah, I know that’s the plot of Robocop, but lay off.  I was ten, okay?  What were you doing at that age, Captain Judgmentalpants?

That’s what I thought.

Regardless, I must have gotten about twenty five pages into the rough draft before I lost interest.  That was probably the first time I realized the biggest fact about writing that people who don’t write will never truly understand:  Writing is hard.

Shout out to Brittany Dashiell

Shout out to Brittany Dashiell

Which was a shame because I had big plans for “Night of the Cyborg” (oh, shut up already).  The book was going to be a bestseller, on the shelves of every library and bookstore around.  Once the ducats came rolling in we’d be able to afford name brand cereal and cable tv.  Shit was going to be legit, folks.

Fast-forward a decade or so and I’d still been writing.  Short stories, journals, that sort of thing.  There was even the occasional foray into poetry but I’ll just file that alongside cyborg cop stories as “failed experiments.”  Around that time I decided to make a serious go of it.  Actually write a novel, start to finish.  Ever since then, I’ve been a daily writer.

Except for about nine or ten months out of the past year.  I could speculate as to why I didn’t feel the drive to produce as much as I normally do, but that’s beside the point.  For a long while I didn’t get my fingers on the keyboard, and a hole formed inside of me because of it.  Even though I had thought that I was long past the stage of abandoning drafts twenty-five pages in, I realized that there’s a part of me that will always need a kick in the ass every now and again in order to get going.

Chuck Wendig wrote in his book, The Kick-Ass Writer, that “…just finish the shit that you started.  Stop abandoning your children.  You wouldn’t call yourself a runner if you quit every race halfway through.”  It’s absolutely and unequivocally true.  For those writers out there, just write.  It’s okay if it doesn’t turn out the way you thought it would the first time around.  Just start and don’t stop until it’s done.  There’s a corollary truth to Chuck’s lesson as well:

Aaaaadventure Time!

Aaaaadventure Time!

Sucking really is the first step to being sort of good at something.  Writing is no exception to that rule.  You get better by practicing, learning, and honing your skills.  Period.  People don’t become virtuoso violinists by simply intending to play.  A painter doesn’t master their technique by reading books about Van Gough and picking up their brush once every couple months.  You have to actually do it.  Writers are absolutely not an exception to this rule.  For a while there, I forgot those fundamentals and it affected me in more ways than I realized.  Never again.

For any readers who are interested, the sequel to The Changed is coming along and should be released this winter.  I can’t wait to bring it to you.

Are You A Blogger?

I’m not sure if I like the term “blogger.”  It has a social media Johnny-come-lately feel that I can’t stand.  I’m being a jerk, I know, I just can’t help it.  Whenever people find something fun within the overly commercial depths of teh interwebz, a timer of sorts is set in motion.  Soon enough the profit glands get to salivating and every opportunist this side of the Pecos is leading the charge over to your favorite sites.

noahsarcade

“It’s hip, it’s fresh, it’s Noah’s Arcade. Word.”

Faster than you can say “Facebook used to be fun” your beloved blogs, message boards, and stupid image sharers are now littered with advertisements, your relatives, and that thick sewage of the internet, spam.

Which is a rough segue into the point of this post: If you are a blogger, and you hate getting spam traffic on your page, there is hope.  You may not know that you can do this, but you can actually block specific IPs and domains from accessing your site.  If you’re tired of trackback comments in broken English and false page hit stats, then you may have just stood up with a fist in the air and proclaimed, “The hell you say!”

The hell I do say.  And it’s pretty easy to do.  All it requires is finding the .htaccess file in the root directory of your website and appending this code to the end:

SetEnvIfNoCase Via evil-spam-proxy spammer=yes
SetEnvIfNoCase Referer evil-spam-domain.com spammer=yes
SetEnvIfNoCase Referer evil-spam-keyword spammer=yes
SetEnvIfNoCase Via pinappleproxy spammer=yes
SetEnvIfNoCase Referer semalt.com spammer=yes
SetEnvIfNoCase Referer poker spammer=yes

Order allow,deny
Allow from all
Deny from env=spammer

This isn’t meant to be a tutorial on how .htaccess files and the apache web server works. There is more than enough documentation out there for those who are interested. But for the casual blogger, just know that this code essentially specifies a domain you know to be sending you spammers, and then blocks them from accessing your pages while allowing everyone else entry.  For example, look at the line containing the word “semalt.com”.  Semalt does nothing but send bullshit spammers to your site.  That’s their business and business is good.  This line basically tells the web server that there is a domain called semalt.com which is referring users to this site, and that semalt.com should be labeled as a spammer.  At the last line of the file, we see that the web server is being instructed to deny access to any domain we’ve identified as a spammer.  Easy peasy.

Now that you’ve reclaimed your land from the dreaded spammers, you have cause to celebrate.  Treat yo’self.

You can't look at this frown.  I dare you to try.

You can’t look at this and frown. I dare you to try.

 

Happy blogging.

 

Pricing update on the paperback edition of The Changed

We’ve got a bad news/good news situation here. I was recently fortunate enough to review an outstanding rating from Foreword Clarion, who provides catalog services to retailers, academic institutions, and libraries. If you’ve read some of my previous posts, you know that I’ve got a real love for the public library system, as that’s where I was introduced to so many of my favorite books as a kid. To be completely realistic, the chances of receiving orders from these great institutions for my book are probably somewhat low. I’m not a well known author, and funding for public institutions that do anything other than defense is abysmal these days.

chance

But, there’s still a chance. I have to take it. Even the remote possibility of getting The Changed into a library would mean the world to me. The bad news is that enabling distribution to the wholesalers that supply these institutions has raised the cover price of my novel on Amazon to $9.50. That’s about as low as I could realistically get it.

Now for the good news. A. Michael Marsh, in addition to being someone who refers to himself in the third person, is also a computer engineer. Within a few days I’ll have a simple and secure store set up on my website where readers can purchase copies of paperback at the old rate of $6.50 (plus any taxes and shipping, naturally).

While I know that many people are comfortable only purchasing from established retailers, I will offer a secure purchasing environment and my solemn pledge not to spam you or sell your data to anyone. I think it’s crappy when businesses do that to me, and I’m not going to do that to you, either.

Almost all my sales are from the Kindle store, anyway, and the price there will remain the same. So this is probably a non-issue for most readers. Still, I felt really bad about the price increase so I’m going to do my best to provide a more affordable alternative to anyone who’d like to buy a copy of my book. You are worth the effort. Always.

Pretty Awesome News

Yesterday I received a review on The Changed from Foreward Clarion.  For those who haven’t heard of them Foreword Clarion is a book review publication, like Kirkus or Publisher’s Weekly.  The purpose of their publication is to provide critical feedback on available titles for the good people who purchase books for libraries and the few surviving bookstores.  These publications aren’t known for pulling punches or treating authors with kid gloves.  Their reviewers provide an unbiased opinion, which is exactly why purchasers care what they have to say.

I’m not one of those writers that labors under the impression that every sentence I type is pure gold.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  I work very hard to improve with every story I write.  To me, one of the greatest gifts a storyteller can give someone is a sense of wonder, and the feeling that they’ve been taken to a new world — even if it’s just for a couple hundred pages.  My writing process is a series of emotional highs and lows, writing, re-writing, re-writing, more writing, then followed by re-writing.  It’s hard to leave the baggage of all that work behind when you submit something that has been such a large part of your life for review to a complete stranger.  When I put my work out there like that, I can only hope that the reader will care about my story as much as I did.

So, needless to say, I was ecstatic, surprised, and maybe a little shocked when they rated The Changed five out of five stars, and wrote a glowing review about my novel.

Just wanted to share, because this really made my week.

Just a Quick Thank You

As the first round of reviews are coming in for The Changed, I just wanted to take a moment to give a heartfelt thank you to those who are taking the time out of their lives to tell others about their experience with my novel. I do genuinely appreciate it. Reviews are the easiest way for other readers to gauge whether or not they may be interested in a book.

It can be a wonderful system. See a book that looks interesting? Hey, what do you know, this guy hated it. But, wait! This guy also hated books that you love. Hmmm. This lady seemed to really enjoy it, and what do you know, you and she have the same taste in books! Simple. Sites like Goodreads are amazing for many reasons, but this has got to be in the top of that list.

I understand that reviews aren’t perfect. Some authors have been accused of encouraging biased parties (like friends and family) to artificially inflate their review numbers. It’s unfortunate, but it happens. With The Changed, I’ve tried to make it a point to get my book out to as many readers that are completely unknown to me as possible. To date, I can tell you truly that not one of my reviews on Goodreads comes from someone who I know, or owes me money, or is otherwise obligated to lie to the rest of you. This is a good thing.

Of course, my advice on book purchasing in general is always the same, regardless of star-ratings and text reviews. Read the first few pages, just like back in the days when we had book stores. See if it catches your interest. If it does, you’re probably in for a treat.

In closing, thanks again. Thanks a million. For your time, insights, and advice to other readers — thank you. What’s more, I can’t tell you how much it means to me that people seem to like the book.

Oh, and I’ll be doing more giveaways in the future! So if you have a friend you think may like a copy of the novel, make sure to let them know to enter. I’ll do one on Goodreads, and a concurrent giveaway on my Facebook page.  Just like last time.

Here’s a picture of cats looking proud and happy.

Proud Kitties, pic jacked from Imgur.

Proud Kitties, pic jacked from Imgur.

Book Giveaway!

Here’s the thing:

On December 15th, my new book goes on sale.  I’d love for you to have a copy, so I’m doing two giveaways to mark the occasion.  The first giveaway is going to be held on Goodreads, where I’ll be giving away twenty free copies of the book.  Click the link below to see all the details and enter.  In conjunction with that, I’m also giving another ten copies on my Facebook page.   Just give the page a like and comment on the giveaway pic on the page timeline.  When the contest ends on January 15th, ten commenters will be selected at random to receive a copy.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Changed by A. Michael Marsh

The Changed

by A. Michael Marsh

Giveaway ends January 15, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

That’s all!  Best of luck to all who enter.

Robots for Kids

Our society is incredibly dependent on computer technology, and it’s amazing how few people actually understand how it works. These little toys look like a great way to introduce kids to the logic that provides the foundation for programming.

So…

This happened.

New Cover Artwork for The Changed

Howdy.

Just wanted to share a quick peek at the original illustration which will be used for the cover of The Changed.  This piece was done by Kyna Tek, and I think he did an outstanding job.  If you’re a writer who’s looking for a talented and dependable artist to work on your cover, I highly recommend getting in touch with him.  I’m really excited to get it typeset and ready to go to production.  Right now it’s looking like the book will be available in early December.

TheChanged_Final_Merged_Web

I’m going to write a post about creating a cover as part of my Writer-Artisan series, but that won’t be completed for another couple of weeks.  In that post I’ll share more about the progression of cover art and some of my thoughts on collaborating well with a visual artist.

 

Writer Artisan – Printing Your ARC

Here’s the third installment in my series on the mechanics of self-publishing.  Again, this isn’t meant to be an expert guide, just a relation of my own experience.  In the last post I made a case for hiring a professional editor and set out a couple of reasons and resources for doing just that.  After the copy comes back from the editor, there are still a couple of steps to take before putting out the no-kidding, final draft of your book for sale.

Galley Copies and ARCs

The terms “Galley” and “ARC” are somewhat synonymous, but they aren’t exactly the same thing.  In a publishing house, the galley is the first, rough copy of the book that gets moved around within the company and to selected readers outside.  This is generally done before the book is ever shown to anyone outside the circle of trust.  Why?

Remember that most editors have approximately a 90% catch rate on typos.  That means that somewhere in your copy these little critters are probably still lurking around, dead-set on making you look bad.  The galley copy will help you track and eliminate these pests by getting extra eyes on the draft.  Beta readers who are given galley copies will annotate any typos or errors in the copy.  Usually, they’re also asked to provide feedback on the overall story as well.  This is the last chance for changes to be made before the story goes to print.

Ugh.  My hands are getting shaky and I feel the ooga-booga spirit possessing me.  I can’t help myself, I’m about to get preachy.  So, fair warning, I’m going to spend a moment on the topic of beta reading.  If you don’t care, skip on to the next section.

<preach>

When you look for beta readers, I’ve found the best feedback comes from avid readers of the genre who aren’t afraid to give honest opinions.  These are readers — not necessarily other writers.  The distinction is important.  At this point in the process, other writers should have already ran their dirty eyeballs all up and down that manuscript.  Right now, you need to be concerned about what the readers think — and there is a difference.  Writers are readers by nature, true.  The issue is that once you’ve committed to being a writer, you’ve peeled back the layers of the craft, and you’ve opened your eyes to the technical details of the story’s construction that a reader won’t necessarily care about.

It’s like going to see a band play with your friend, who happens to be a musician.  You loved the show for a dozen different reasons.  When you ask you friend, he windges a little and says that he wanted to like it, but the drummer held his sticks in an irritating way, and he doesn’t understand why the lead guitarist would ever use a Marshall stack while the rhythm guitarist had a Vox setup.  Don’t they know those create two completely different sounds?

In this imaginary scenario, your friend has some valid (if not nitpicky) points.  However, as astute as his statements may be, the fact remains that you and almost everyone else at the concert had an awesome time and loved the show.  For the people who weren’t well-versed in the technical points of the performance, none of your friend’s observations mattered.  All they know is that they enjoyed themselves.  So, despite the expert opinion, maybe the guys on stage actually knew what they were doing…

This is why non-expert feedback is exactly the feedback you want at this stage.  What I’ve found is that we writers have a difficult time taking our eyes off the mechanics, just like the musician friend in the previous example.  Technical and craft discussions should be had much earlier in the draft process, not when you’re two steps from show time.  By now, those issues should have long-since been put to bed.  At the beta-reading stage, you want to understand the reader experience.  What was their overall impression?  Was there anything they didn’t understand, issues that were unintentionally left unresolved, did one of your endearing characters turn out to be hated, etc.  Experiential issues and typos.  These are what you should be concerned about from your beta readers.  It’s exactly what a seasoned reader can point out to you.

</preach>

Exhale.  And done.  Back to printing books.

ARCs, or Advanced Reader Copies, are copies of the book that are sent out to reviewers or retailers before the book’s official publication date.  The goal is to generate interest in the title before its release, that way booksellers can place their orders ahead of time, and reviewers will (hopefully) start saying positive things about the book that can be blurbified on the back cover before the final printing.

While the galley and the ARC are two separate types of copy for the major publishers, the independent author generally treats the entities as one and the same.  My thought is that one can use the same method of printing for each type of copy, but should still treat them as separate and important phases of the publishing process.  In short, use the steps below to produce both types of copy.  Just make sure not to send a galley copy which could still contain typos to a reviewer as an ARC.  Take the time, print out your galley copies.  Work with your readers to catch the typos and fix the errors.  When the copy is in good shape, do a fresh printing of ARCs for the pre-release audience.  Remember, the ARC should be prepared after you’ve collected and acted on the feedback you’ve received from your beta readers.

Methods of printing

Good news, when it comes to printing, you’ve got options these days.  From the images above, you can see that a galley copy looks a bit like something spit out at by a copier, and the ARC looks like a plain-Jane paperback.  This is because back in the day, it was much cheaper to assemble the galleys in office using your own equipment.  Short-run printing runs on books (anything under about a thousand copies) through an actual printing house were ridiculously expensive.  Since the galley was shown to a relatively small number of readers, the publisher would distribute those hand-made copies, and then after all the resulting changes were made, they’d order an actual print run of books for the ARCs.

Thanks to Print on Demand technologies, you don’t have to use hand-made galleys.  In fact, it’s cheaper not to.

The hell you say?

I do.  Let’s say you have a standard, three hundred page novel to print out.  If you went to FedEx Office (the print shop everyone still calls Kinkos) and printed one of these out, it would cost you about forty dollars.  Don’t believe me?  Go ahead, go to their site and put an order together.

You can take that same content, and print it in an actual paperback book for about four bucks a copy.  That’s quite a savings for something that’s going to look much nicer when you hand it to a beta reader.

Using Createspace

There are plenty of sites that will print your book.  For my purposes, I’m going to use Createspace.  I’ve found that their setup is relatively easy, and there’s no minimum order of books.  In the next few sections I’ll get a bit technical and walk you through the way that I, and some other writers, use this platform to create galleys and ARCs.

If you’ve never used Createspace, it would be helpful for you to acquaint yourself with the site.  Create an account, check out their user documentation, and get a feel for how they do business.

Setting up your projects

Getting a project set up in Createspace is pretty easy, IMHO.  They have a step by step process that will walk you through each step.  The only real consideration here is what you want the publication date of your final product to be.

inigo

Lemme splain.  When you set up a project in Createspace, the system will not allow you to select a publication date that takes place in the future.  This means that you can’t plan on a December launch for your book and then use this project to start cranking out ARCs in August.  What does it matter?

Well, that kind of depends on you.  If you’ve set a release date for your novel, and you are a stickler for what the publication date associated with your ISBN is, then this is going to put a hitch in your giddyup.  I’ve heard of some review and giveaway sites which only accept titles that within a certain window of their official publication date.  I don’t think this is a common practice anymore, so it’s probably not a big concern, but it is a concern.  Additionally, if you get reviewed by a larger publication like Kirkus, they’ll use the publication date associated with your ISBN record on their review.  So, again, if that’s a concern you’ll want to do two projects.

If you don’t care so much what the official publication date for your ISBN is, then go ahead and just set up one project in Createspace for your novel.  If you do care, then you should go ahead and create two new projects.  One for the galley/ARC, and create the second for your official publication of the novel.  For the project that will be your final novel, go ahead and fill in the title information for the project, but leave the publication date field blank.  When you do eventually approve the proof for printing, Createspace will use that date as the official publication date.  The advantage of setting the project up ahead of time is that you’ll know what the actual ISBN of your novel is ahead of time.

pub_date_auto

If you’ve created a separate project for your galley/ARC, then just bear in mind that Createspace will automatically place an ISBN on the back of the book when it’s printed.  I don’t believe you have any control over that.  The ISBN they print will not be the ISBN that’s associated with your final product, so you’ll have to cover it before you hand out copies.  I’ve got some tips for that at the end of the post.

Another caveat for those who will be creating two projects is that you shouldn’t enable sales channels on the project which you will use for your galley/ARC.  Once you approve the proof, make sure that none of the channels are selected, like in the screenshot, below.  If you don’t, people will be able to buy copies of your galley.  Not a good thing.

Channels

Preparing the interior

I’m going to assume that you’ve already got this novel written out in a Word document.  If you’re a Linux geek, you may even be using Apache Open Office.  The instructions in the link could probably translate more or less to any solid word processing software.  Unless you’re so dedicated to being obscure and hip that you’ve pounded out your novel on a typewriter, you should be okay.  As an aside, I actually met an author who wrote an entire novel using command-line Emacs.  That’s dedication, man.

What the article tells us is that if your software can format the document correctly and produce a pdf, then you’re in business.  However, if you’re using Word, you can upload the docx file and Createspace’s web application will do the conversion for you, which is a little bit easier.

Additionally, if you’re using Word and you don’t want to mess around with the formatting too much on your own, you can use one of Createspace’s document templates, which you can paste your own text into.

Cautions

After you upload your document or pdf, Createspace has a text reviewer that will parse your file and report any errors that it finds.  Like any piece of software, it’s not perfect, but I’ve found it does a pretty good job of alerting you to any formatting issues.  Please keep in mind that this tool doesn’t proof for spelling or grammar, it just looks at the document set up and couple other items.

One such item is the ISBN number.  If you’ve listed the ISBN on your cover page (which the templates do) it will have to match the ISBN that Createspace has associated with your project.  Normally, this is no big deal at all.  However, if you’re creating an ARC in a separate project, and you want to insert the ISBN of your actual book, then the checker will reject your document.  The easiest way to resolve this is to just not include the ISBN in your galley/ARC cover page.

Another common gotcha comes about when you’re using Createspace’s document templates.  If you delete a section from the front matter, there’s a good chance you’ll throw off the alternating page gutter setting.  When that happens, your pages won’t align correctly and the interior document will be rejected.  The easiest way to manage this is to simply not delete any sections from the front matter.  Customize as you like, just try not to get rid of any complete sections.

Preparing the cover

Ah, cover art.  I’m saving the topic for another post, but if you’re putting out your galley/ARC, you’ll need some type of cover for it.  If you’ve already got a cover, great.  If not, then there’s no need to panic.  For the most part, ARCs released by publishers just have plain-Jane covers on them.  Take a look at the these.  Cover art usually isn’t finalized until shortly before a book is sent to print, so in order to get an ARC out well in advance of the release date, they just use placeholder covers.  Most people in the business understand the practice.

Darth_PlagueisArt_Fowl_ARCRed Mars (1992)_phixr

Now that you know I’m not lying to you, those who don’t have cover art ready yet can take a deep breath.  Use your favorite image editing software, and whip up something simple.  Createspace provides a good example of how to set up a document using Adobe InDesign, but really, the guidelines they provide as far as dimensions and document setup are concerned could be applied to just about any software you want to use.

If doing the document on your own is too much work to handle, they even provide their own cover creator tool.  I haven’t used it, so I can’t speak to how well it works.  It seems simple enough though, and for an ARC cover that’s going to be kept simple, it’ll probably do.

cover_creator

Screenshot of the Cover Creator

Covering the ISBN

If you decided to go the two-project route, then one last consideration when printing the galley/ARC is the ISBN which will be automatically printed on the back cover.  Since your finished novel will use a different ISBN than the one printed on your galley/ARC, you may not want to expose it.  Covering it will eliminate confusion, as people who read and review frequently will use ISBNs to search for books online, or will place them in a review for others to search on.

The auto-generated ISBN on the back cover is 2″ wide by 1.2″ tall.  That means that all you have to do is get some Avery Labels  large enough to cover the code, and you’re good to go.  You can print them out to say “Promotional Copy: Not for Resale” or something similar.  If you want to get crazy professional, you can go to a site like this  and get barcode labels printed that reflect the actual ISBN of your novel — the ISBN which is available on the second project you set up (see what we did there?).

That’s All, Folks…

With a little bit of prep work on your end, it’s easy to get galley copies and ARCs at a very economical price.  Whether you decide to go with the one or two project approach, it’s a great way to generate the copies.  I’m an advocate of Createspace, and I feel like they make the process of printing a book really easy.  More importantly, they provide a method to get a great-looking book printed.  When you’re an author who cares about your reader’s experience, then putting together your novel is actually pretty exciting.  I hope that some of the tips in this post will help others out as they get ready to print out their next book.