Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Guest Post: K.S. Mitchell

This is an opportunity for readers to ask questions about our craft. Thanks fellow authors for helping me out! I know you are busy.

Musti asked: Do you pay someone to proofread your work?

Children and YA author, Kimberly Mitchell, responded to this question.
The short answer is no. I've always partnered with other writers in a critique group while I develop my books. Once I hit the stage where the book is ready for beta reading, I ask a few friends. My twin sister has been one of my best beta readers as well. During this process, most of the proofreading gets done. Then I'll do a final version before I send the book out and focus closely on grammar and sentence structure instead of the plot line, trusting that the earlier edits have ironed out the story.

However, I did hire a sensitivity reader to read through a middle grade novel that contains diverse characters. Since one of the characters is black, and I'm not, I wanted to be sure I wasn't falling into stereotypes or presenting the character in any way that might be offensive. I found the reader's feedback valuable and I was able to revise the character accordingly.

If I were to self-publish a book in the future instead of pursuing the more traditional route as I am now, I would definitely hire an editor before I released the book.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

How Do You Design a Book Cover?

My friend, John, asked me, “How do you design a book cover?”
Finally a technical question! There’s several different ways to go about it. I designed my first book on the Windows Art program. Honestly, it’s my favorite cover. Unfortunately I had to cave into business pressure and go with a photograph based cover… mainly because my second book had a photo cover.
Speaking of that, my publisher of El Tiburon was amazingly cool to have given me a great book cover. I’ll admit I asked them to stay with my design style, but no. So I had to approve their design, which meant saying no to several models because they didn’t look right.
Eventually I asked them to remove the models from the cover because it looked like a steamy romance (after about two years and multiple complaints from readers that the cover was misleading). Don’t get me wrong… El Tiburon has its romance, but steamy doesn’t quite fit the bill.
My first experience with making a professional quality cover was through a friend who used a Fiverr tech. We made Counterpart’s new cover. Again, I only had yay or nay power. I wanted to have control from the beginning.
For my recently published book, In the Crossfire of Revenge, I contracted with Fiverr all by myself. I felt so grown-up! :) I chose from their long list of book cover specialists based on reviews. I wanted one who allowed for multiple revisions. My lady was in Germany. We dialogued back and forth about how I wanted the cover to look. I was directed to an enormous photo bank to choose the photo I wanted (it took me about a week to decide). Then I sent it to her and she went to work. It took about six revisions until I was satisfied. I love the results… and it only cost me about $45 bucks! She gave me a cover in 3D, a thumbnail for eBook sites, and a square one for the audiobook, and the cover for the paperback.
Then I learned how to make it animated with glittering light using Glitterboo. I think it looks pretty cool on the cover I made for the McGee Series. That one I did using the phone app called Canva. My nephew took an artistic photo of his police gear for me to use. Canva is a great app.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Did you write stories or books when you were a child as well?

Megan Pagan asked, “Did you write stories or books when you were a child as well?"
“I know you ask because you have little ones at home,” I commented.
“That’s what made me think of it. It’s so interesting to hear how some things stick with people since childhood or how people stumble into something they’re passionate about later in life. Also, Levi writes books all the time. It’s so cute.”
I’m going to answer this from two angles: Firstly, did I write as a child and secondly, how to be an encouragement to the little writers in your charge.
My beginnings as a story teller started with just that… story telling (some call this fibs). Plus, I was an avid reader from childhood and was encouraged to relate what I’d read to my family. We all loved ghost stories and would sit around the campfire (we camped a lot) telling goose bumpy tales. Even when I was little I was expected to tell a ghost story. My dad was a bit of a prankster, and loved to tell us tall tales just to see how much we’d believe. We would sit around for hours and tell jokes. To add to that environment, my mom had the nickname, “Little Miss Adjective.” She could describe things to death! It was never a simple cloud in the sky… it was a puff of dragon’s breath chasing a dream! Or some other equally extravagant description. A favorite game on road trips was Mad Lib. Have you ever played that? It’s a fun way to engage the whole family in silly creativity.
English classes were always my easy classes. I started a couple of really, really cheesy romance novels in high school. I’ve kept them for a good laugh. My college coursework required an English class so I took creative writing. My professor challenged me to clean up the cute little stories I wrote, and to get serious. He felt I had the potential to be a writer. I was going to college to become a physical therapist, not a writer. It turns out there’s a lot of writing going on in that career. I found I had a skill for documentation and Medicare rebuttals.
In the meantime I had an intense dream bordering on nightmare that woke me up from a dead sleep. I wrote down the dream and that was the first chapter of my first serious work of literature—Counterpart. It took a decade to write while going to college and then working, but I finally did it.
My recommendation to parents of any child who writes is to let them write. Don’t correct anything they write. Even if you’re an English teacher. Writing can be taught, but creatively expressing yourself cannot. It’s a natural instinct (I think in everyone) that should be allowed to develop young. If a child thinks their ideas are stupid, they will usually stop. Let their teachers teach them the rules later in life. If a child shows you something they wrote, my recommendation is to make a private moment and have them read it to you.
Listen with sincerity. Question things that don’t make sense graciously. They can become good when they’re twenty. I also think this teaches them to start writing projects without getting too hung up on how it should turn out. That’s paralyzing. There’s nothing wrong with being overly confident when they’re ten! Trust me when they go to publish their first book they will become humble.
Okay, I’m stepping down off my soapbox now :)

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

How do you select the names of your characters?

Debra Lewis and Kelly Spencer asked: How do you select the names of your characters?
Good question. It really depends on the character. I choose names based on personality, age, and nationality. For basic American characters, I just name them whatever seems right. I may (probably will) change my mind and go with a different name before I publish it. I may feel I have too many people with names starting in M. Or the names are too similar in cadence, such as Harry, Larry, and Gary. That can be confusing to a reader. So I’ll go back and change Harry to Hank. It still fits the age group and style of the name, but sounds different.
Sometimes the character just has a name. When I change the name for my reasons I feel guilty. For example in The Crossfire of Revenge the youth pastor’s name is Pastor Tim. Period. That’s his name. I know this guy in real life. When I’d completely finished the book, I changed his name from Tim to Tom. Mainly because I didn’t want people to think it was a true story about Tim… though he was the inspiration behind the character.
If it’s a really important character with a major role (especially an evil role), or a deceptive character, I’ll refer to Character Naming Sourcebook by Sherrilyn Kenyon. This gives a breakdown of names by country of origin and what the name means. For a character who will seem good but is actually evil, I’ll choose a name meaning “trustworthy” or “noble.” If the character is immediately evil and remains so, I’ll choose a name meaning “dark” or “deceptive.” Sometimes it will be based on modern perceptions, such as Adolph, or Damien, which are both considered dark names. Sadly, Adolph is actually a cool name meaning “noble wolf,” and Damien means “untamed.”
Otherwise I just surf the web, especially if I’m looking for a teen name of let’s say an Italian girl: Sofia, Emma, Chiara, Aurora…. Or maybe I’m looking for a cool upbeat name for a teen boy? I’ll search teen movie stars: Keegan, Skylar, Jake, Penn…. 
There’s lots of different ways to choose a name, but each name is important. As I said earlier, I may change a character’s name a couple of times. My name for example has very specific meanings. Heidi means “female warrior,” Schussman means “sharp shooter” (it was the ancient title for the dude who sat up in the turret and shot arrows down at the bad guys trying to invade his master’s castle), and Gilbert means “shield.” So I’m a female warrior, sharp shooter, with a shield! Hmmm… now maybe you understand why I write espionage :)

Monday, January 28, 2019

Where do you write?

Debbie Bailey asked; Where is your favorite place to sit back and write?
The short answer; wherever I can find the right ergonomics. I usually like to sit bolt upright with my laptop on the surface in front of me. Sometimes I slouch way back in a lawn chair and prop my laptop on my... lap. Another option for me is to stand at a counter, or I place my laptop on an up-ended box on the table.
Most of my effective writing is done at a local Marriott Hotel Starbucks. I can sit for hours and be stimulated by the constant parade of people but never get interrupted by a friend. It’s just noisy enough to be white noise. If it’s absolutely quiet, I can be productive. The only time I cannot write is if there’s someone near me and I can hear everything they’re saying… I’m a compulsive eavesdropper! Trust me, if I can hear you, I’m listening to your conversation.
However, I’m not always home. I write a travel blog (Dashing Bold Adventure), so I write all over the world. Wherever I am, I make it work. In the old days I would find an internet cafe and pay for 30 minutes on their computer. That's when I developed speed! It would always take a few minutes to figure out the keyboard. Not every keyboard is a QWERTY. 
The Spanish speaking countries have the ñ on their board. Then to add to the fun the keys are often so worn out, you can’t read them :)
When we're abroad for months at a time, I find some spot that works for me... The terrace on the hotel roof in Puerto Escondido, the open bar at Columbus Isle/Club Med, an adorable cafe in Florence, the covered porch of our bungalow overlooking Lake Atitlan, a coffee shop in Guanajauto MX, etc… What I write varies depending on the amount of time I’m going to be in one place. I don’t do well with my novels if we’re on the move a lot.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

How do you start a book?

Lynn Takacs asked this question, via Facebook, regarding a photo of me holding up three of my paperbacks, “How did you start out on each one?”
Well Lynn, that’s a bigger question than it appears. Naturally, I’ve been writing stuff for most of my life, but my first book was Counterpart. Of course each book has its mental launching point. That being said each one is unique.
For Counterpart, I actually had a super intense dream. Maybe another person would call it a nightmare… you decide. I was at the mall. I’d gone to pick up a friend who worked in a jewelry store. It was one of those posh, quiet stores with the whooshing glass doors. While I waited for to get off work a man came in a demanded a “Box.” The owner said no and got shot. Chaos ensued with my friend screaming bloody murder. I bravely crawled over to the owner (amazing how brave we can be in dreams!). He thrust the box into my hands and told me to run. So I did. I dashed across the parking lot amidst a shower of bullets, scrambled over a fence, hurtled obstacles, could hear the chase, and somehow I ended up in a ramshackle rundown neighborhood. Spotting an abandoned house, I dashed through the broken front door and ran up the steps to the top floor—the attic. I can still remember how I could hear the blood pounding in my ears in that dream. Suddenly a little old woman’s voice broke the silence as she simply said, “Hello.” It scared me so bad, I woke up. I got up and went into my office and wrote it all down. That’s the first chapter of Counterpart, more-or-less. It took years for me to finish that book because I was working full time as a physical therapist.
The next book, El Tiburon, was a combination of things. First I ran into a constant question… How’s Sport and Sean doing? Are they having any new adventures? I hadn’t anticipated the popularity of these characters, especially Sport (she’s a feisty, tiny physician—athletic and hypoglycemic—she became a favorite). The second impetus was a visit to Guatemala. This was the first time I’d heard of the Guajeros (the inhabitants living at the garbage dump in Guatemala City). I’m a studier of people, obviously, and I began researching their plight. I became enamored with their bravery. At the same time I fell in love with the ancient city of Antigua. We stayed a month. So this all describes the background, but the starting point was sitting down to the laptop and typing. I had no idea what the story was going to be about… actually didn’t know what the story was about most of the time. I’ve had many readers ask how I create so much suspense? LOL… It’s because I’m in suspense as the author!
In The Crossfire of Revenge was Joe’s idea. He actually wrote the first chapter. I altered it considerably, but in essence it’s his chapter, actually half the chapter. He had great ideas and input for this story about a youth group going on a short-term mission trip. He’s been on several as a chaperone, and he’s been to Colombia a couple of times with a men’s group. I combined his knowledge of Colombia with my knowledge of the jungle in Costa Rica to create the scenes. This story is a coming of age story for the eight teenagers. It starts with an attempted kidnapping of the youth pastor and four of the kids. Then the group escapes into the jungle with the aid of the local church. Sean and Sport McGee are the chaperones. Naturally no one but Sport knows Sean is a CIA agent. With this book I had to research jungle survival, and thanks to Jesse Smith at River City Christian I learned how a large church would typically handle this kind of catastrophe.
Please ask questions using any means you feel like using. I will post your question here.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Do I need an ISBN?

Periodically I get questions from people on social media. I try to answer them immediately. Recently I realized these are good questions and as I get repeatedly asked the same question, I'm guessing they are relevant. So, if you're interested in this crazy world of writing, stay tuned.

Musti asked via Instagram;
“Quick question: I am about to finish my manuscript and wanted to self publish it through Amazon. Do I register somewhere the title? Do I need an ISBN? And how do I get one? Merci.”

Let’s start with the first sentence. Congratulations on your manuscript being almost completed. You’re wise to ask these questions now. I will answer your questions in a brutally honest way because I want a large audience of readers to benefit from it. If I’m reading this correctly, you haven’t actually finished the manuscript (though it’s possible you mean you’re just putting the finishing touches on it). If that’s the case, then you’re a long ways from done. In this new world of indie publishing, the bar is set much higher for the author. We no longer have a publisher to hold our hands, edit and polish our work, or to tell us it won’t sell… no marketability. The manuscript has to be excellent only because that’s what you want. You can publish garbage. That worked ten years ago, but now the readers have caught on. They pay attention to reviews. Now we have to take a good long look at our books first. (I plan to answer the question of ‘How do I get my book ready on my own’ at a later date.)

Do I register somewhere the title?

Art of any sort is protected and doesn’t need to be registered. That includes fiction. However, that being said, I would register your manuscript if it’s a manual, guide, or advice/self help work. The only reason I say that is the titles need to be unique with that type of work. Lots of people can come up with the same guidebook or manual.
Fiction is not the same. Plus you have your computer date imprint on the file. If somebody says, “Hey, that’s the book I wrote!” you have proof on your computer. I periodically email myself the file to establish the date, ownership, and to preserve it in the cloud. Of course I also keep my work on an external hard drive in my safe. All of these have dates that point to you being the owner.

Do I need an ISBN?

Yep! Each and every book out there must have an ISBN, otherwise the powers-that-be wouldn’t be able to track them and their sales, etc.. Actually according to Smashwords, each format should have its own ISBN—e-book, paperback, and audiobook. However, Amazon doesn’t agree. They don’t mind if you use your ISBN from Smashwords… I know because I accidentally did it. I wrote to them in a panic, and they wrote back saying it didn’t matter to them.

And how do I get one?

There are places to purchase an ISBN, but why would you do that? Amazon and Smashwords provide you with a free one. Those two are pretty much the entire market. Amazon sells to all Kindle readers and Amazon customers. Smashwords sells to every reading-device everywhere, including Kindle and distributes to all the large e-book sites like Apple. As you go through the steps to upload your book to KDP Amazon, or to Smashwords, the instructions will ask you if you want their free ISBN. Don’t worry, you won’t miss it. The site won’t move forward until one is provided.

Good luck and keep the questions coming via FB, Instagram, this blog, or Goodreads. I'll post the answers here, but I'll try to answer them specific to your situation privately.