Category Archives: writing

Writing a proposal for your novel

junior-devI’ve been writing Darklight for six years now. At first, it was things like Deep Point of View (POV), cutting out adverbs, and other bits of writing craft. Then I yanked out things like explaining too much, removing every expression, every phrase, every word that we redundant. I’ve never faced writing a proposal for my title.

Well now that I’m shooting to reach either an agent or a publisher, I must change gears and put my full attention on writing a proposal.

darklight-query-letters-piling-upThere are two key things to pursue:

  1. Don’t stop
  2. Read submission guidelines carefully.

As for the first, just go and read Steven King’s On Writing if you want to see what struggles he endured to get published.

As for the second, it’s important to know that each agent/publisher are looking for slightly different things.

So I started writing multiple query letters, each one a little different. Some people want a two-page synopsis, some want four pages. Others want a chapter-by-chapter, 1-2 sentence synopsis. And then the worst: comparable titles. You can see in the snapshot I have LOTS of query letters. I never throw anything away. And further down are my two different synopses (which, BTW, took considerable effort!)

But buried in many submission guidelines is more evil, most nefarious, most bedeviling requirement of all: Comparable titles

Stop what you’re doing and go find 3-5 titles that are kind of similar to your own handiwork in some aspect, aren’t too old that they’re worthless, illustrate that you’re book would sell well like those, and yet doesn’t trample on your own originality. (Try to read that last sentence out loud, without taking a break!)

CedricSo I have an eight page proposal written up for a nice, clean SFF publisher I feel I have a decent shot with. I have nicely listed the details of my platform, past/future published works, and the two-page synopsis I wrote a few months ago. Yet I feel blocked on coming up with three titles that I deem comparable.

I’ll figure it out. I always do. But the whole process, from beginning to end, is never easy. It’s never simple. I saw the following in a CreateSpace forum and was sad.

“Yes, I don’t like the marketing end of it at all. I just want to write and let someone else get it out there. Guess I won’t get that unless I get picked up by a publisher.” –CreateSpace forum user

It’s sad knowing this won’t work. The only people that actually get real marketing budget are, as is commonly known, only given to the authors that don’t need it. Nope, those of us that want to get into writing have to do ALL of this legwork ourselves, and it begins with doing our own research of comparables. The first signs of understanding our market, because at the end of the day, publishers are in business to make money, not publish our pet projects.

Good luck and happy writing!

Ch. 7, “Microservices with @SpringBoot” of #LearningSpringBoot 2nd Ed. sent into @PacktPub

Whew!

learning-spring-boot-2nd-edition-ch-7I just finished hammering out twenty eight pages of manuscript for Learning Spring Boot 2nd Edition. This has been the most exhausting. Probably because it has the most moving parts. Taking the previous chapter’s sample social media app (Spring-a-Gram, my billion dollar startup idea) and turning into a Eureka-powered, Hystrix-dashboard-monitored, and Config Server-enabled set of microservices isn’t hard per se.

But it takes a bit of wording to explain everything. If you’ve never seen all these components working in concert, it may appear to be a bit much to take in. And that is where writing is hard. The idea is that you should be able to read the chapter, and get it.

You should read the chapter, and say, “Ooh! Ooh! I want to do that!” And scamper off to your laptop, eager to implement it. You shouldn’t stop with your jaw open, going, “Whoah. That is hard, dude.” That would be a failure on the part of me the writer.

So I hope that I’ve taken it step-by-step, one logical use at a time, and migrated our monothlic image uploading service into a friendly microservice that makes me people hunger for Spring Boot more than ever.

Compiling with @ScrivenerApp – How to make your manuscript look GOOD!

Like many of my friends, I like a simple, step-by-step guide when learning something new. So I’ve decided to capture how to use Scrivener, the greatest writer’s tool invented since the ballpoint pen, and show you how to crank out something impressive.

If you have no clue what Scrivener is, their own videos should whet your appetite. Assuming you are up and running, let’s dive in!scrivener-compile-button

  1. Assuming you are inside your wonderful book (in my case, Darklight), hit the Compile button.
  2. You’ll be thrown into something filled with more options than a scrivener-paperback-novelblue plate diner. I kind of like the look-and-feel Scrivener can give you for print ready things, so where it says “Format As”, select Paperback Novel.
  3. scrivener-contentOn the left hand side are a series of options. Let’s start by picking Content, and then ensuring you have selected Manuscript from the binder.
  4. On Print Settings, make sure Publishing is selected.
  5. Separators is kind of neat. Ever notice those like “* * *” between scenes in a book? This is where you get to set them. “Text” is what is known as a scene break and “Folder” is a chapter break, so you can pick options like “Page Break” as a folder separator, and some custom separator like “* * *” to put between scenes. If you’re not sure what each what one means, there’s a short sentence describing it perfectly.
  6. Formatting. This part can get really confusing. This is where you can decide what chunks of stuff are shown. There are different levels. When you pick a given thing (Level 1+, Level 1, etc.) it will highlight the piece of the binder where this applies. It lists “Title”, “Meta”, “Synopsis”, “Notes” and “Text”. Essentially, you can print/not print these various aspects. Ever read a book that opens every chapter with an encyclopedia entry? (Think DUNE or THE FOUNDATION) You can enter this text the chapter level and flip it on here. None of that? No problem. Clicking on “Title” for each level and “Text” for the Level 1. Nothing short of tinkering to find
  7. Formatting >> Options…. Pick “Remove first paragraph indents” “At the start of each new document”, and you’ll get that professional style of the first paragraph of every scene not being indented.
  8. Formatting >> Section Layout. Title Prefix and Suffix is where Scrivener will automatically plug in “Chapter 1”, “Chapter 2”, etc. No need to manually number your chapters. First Page is where you can do things like “make the first three words of a new section upper case (small caps even!). You can also make each chapter or scene start on a recto or verso page. (I can never remember which is which, so if you want this, just try it).
  9. Title Adjustments. Got a Prologue or Epilogue that needs to NOT be numbered like other chapters? Click on the little gear icon, and check those chapters to exclude them from being counted.
  10. Layout. I’ve read some books that only put the “* * *” when the scene break happens at a page wrap, where you can’t spot an extra line. This is the place to do that.
  11. Transformations. Probably don’t need this unless you are down converting your material into some format that doesn’t allow things like italics, underlining, or other stuff. (I once submitted a query that only allowed pure text. Would have been perfect.)
  12. Replacements. I don’t use this.
  13. Statistics. Nothing to do here.
  14. Tables. I have none in my works, so no comment here.
  15. Footnotes. I haven’t written that required such a feature. If you use it, let me know!
  16. Page Settings. This one is critical. There are several things to tailor your output so I’ll break them down into section.
  17. scrivener-page-setupPage Settings >> Page Setup. When creating a camera ready PDF for CreateSpace or whomever, you need to pick the trim size. It’s a fancy expression for page size. This where you can specify things like 6″x9″, 5″x8″, etc. It delegates this out to your native system, so Windows and Mac users may have a different experience.
  18. scrivener-marginsPage Settings >> Margins. After picking your trim size (which seems to translate into metric on my own system), you can then pick the margins. This is where Scrivener really shines. When you picked Paperback Novel earlier, it converted left/right margins to alternate such that the spine of the book has a little more margin than the outer parts. This picture shows 1″ top and bottom as well as 1″ outer and 0.5″ inner. This is where you can grab your favorite paperback and measure their margins, making your work look like it.
  19. scrivener-headers-and-footersPage Settings >> Header and Footer/First Pscrivener-facing-pagesages/Facing Pages. This is the content at the top and bottom of every page. I really like left pages being left formatted, and right pages, right formatted. The following shows me putting the title and page number of my manuscript on the left, and my name/page on facing pages. This really makes your camera ready document shine like real books. Finally, you can pick a different font and size for headers and footers at the bottom.
  20. Quick Font Override. Skip.
  21. With all these settings, you just need to pick the output. Always, always, ALWAYS Compile for PDF. PDF files make the world go around. Everyone can see them. Everyone accepts them. It’s a quick and easy proof.
  22. Click Export and wait for it to turn the crank.

So let’s take a little peek at my own novel, DARKLIGHT, and see it’s output.

darklight-prologueFor starters, the prologue came out beautifully. I excluded it back on Title Adjustments, and see how it’s not numbered?

Hmm. I can see that the first sentence, though unindented (as expected), does NOT have the first n words capitalized. Need to go back to Formatting >> Section Layout and tweak that.

darklight-chapter-1Chapter One looks good. The text I have in Scrivener appears as the subheading for the chapter (see screenshot below of my binder, with Prologue and He’ Coming). Of course, I need to get first n words capitalized.

Now let’s checkout the headers as well as the margin of the spine.

Okay, the margins looks okay. They are bigger at the spine than the edges, but I think that’s still a bit much for a paperback. darklight-headers

And yikes, I got the headers backwards! Oh well, live and learn, right? Need to go back to Page Settings >> Headers and Footers.

scrivener-new-sceneSo, after fiddling with margins, opening scenes, and headers, things look a little better.

And look! The headers look MUCH better.

scrivener-new-headers

Looks like enough to go fiddle with and fine tune. Hope that gets you going and compiling your Scrivener manuscript.

Happy writing!

 

 

Book Review: CHANGER by @mattgemmell

I just finished a REALLY neat book by Matt Gemmell, CHANGER, and I thought I’d capture my reaction in the form of a book review.

Being a fan of both SFF as well as military/action thrillers like the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child and the Jack Ryan books by Tom Clancy, this one really tickled my fancy.

An European military task force is summoned to respond to a growing threat. A threat that hooks you in from the get-go. I started and couldn’t put it down.

Having read Schrödinger’s Kittens and The Search For Reality a few dozen times, this story really clicked for me. HINT: That book has to do with non-locality and multiple outcomes. That’s ALL I’m going to say.

So if any of that sounds interesting, then you can read the Prologue and the first three chapters for free.

Cons

As an author myself, I noticed a few things that could have been improved. For one thing, the scenes had a bit too much head hopping. I prefer for a given scene to stay with one character. And sometimes the adverbs were a bit much. If some of them had been traded in for a little more show-don’t-tell, it would have been beyond perfect.

Pros

As stated in The Irresistible Novel, the things I’m mentioning are preferences. My friend calls them MOOs (My Opinion Only). The most critical thing you can have in your story isn’t writing craft. It’s actual story that draws the reader in. CHANGER has exactly that.

Cover art

As I’ve already said, don’t skimp on the cover. Matt certainly did not. The front and back is a feast for the eyes. For fun, I’ve thrown in the full cover so you can read the back cover copy. Delicious, huh?

changer-backcover

A good book cover provides incredible value

There’s an old saying: never judge a book by it’s cover. While applicable in the metaphorical sense, when it comes to actually publishing a real book, people do judge books FAST based on the cover. Having a good book cover is a must.

When deciding on a book, what do you do? If you have stepped foot inside a physical bookstore and found a section you’re interested in, you probably browse. Waltzing across the isles, I’ll guess you stop based on some snazzy title. Pull out the book, glimpse at the cover, and read the copy on the back. Whether or not you open the book and look at a single page is governed by two things: the cover and the description on the back.

Indie publishing demands a well designed cover

Listening to Steve Womack last week talk about the huge changes in the publishing industry, becoming an indie author is a popular move. But one thing you MUST do is invest some decent money in a top notch cover.
Ever publish a book through someone else? You may have learned through brutal means that you are NOT in control of the cover. Whoever is betting money on selling your story will often leave you out of the entire process. Instead, your publisher’s marketing team makes such choices.

Finding a good graphic artist

If you self publish, you are in control. Spending $100-$200 on a good graphic artist to produce a cover is money well spent. Assuming you have a decent story, you should be able to make that back.

Don’t do this the wrong way. If you think snagging a handful of images from Google Images and pasting them together will do the trick, forget about it. First of all, you are probably running into gobs of copyright violations. I’ve created decks using such means, but actual commercial work requires properly vetted sources of art.

A good graphic artist can also take stock images and blend them together, making professional grade edits (like altering hair color, facial hair, etc.) and has better access to fonts. The graphic artist also has a keen thing you don’t: artistic experience. When putting together a title’s cover, your artist will have a better feel for what fonts work, how to position the elements, and can put in the small touches you have never thought of.

If you find a good graphic artist, my suggestion is to continue going back for future projects. Your artist will grow to know you, and your titles can take on a certain signature. And of course, there’s the implicit vote of confidence if you like that artist’s work.

Keep on writing!

Looking for magic in all the right places

Having three kids, all six and under, I get pelted with all kinds of kid’s shows. Today, my youngest was having his milk while sitting in his seat, watching Sofia the First. I was working on the sofa, but somehow digested the whole episode.

CedricWhat caught my fancy was how my fantasy-writing nature digested all of the magical rules this episode put forth. The often bumbling royal sorcerer (Mr. Cedric) was forced to save the magic school from some pranksters, but was stuck in a spell that bound him and his hands to a chair. He couldn’t wave his wand and hence cast no spell.

Observing this hard magical rule of their universe, made me start mentally flipping through other magical systems, and seeing if I could spot their rules, and decide whether or not I liked them. Feels like a way to objectively look at my own magic systems and see if there are any big gaps to address.

harry-potter-wandThe first thing that came to mind is Harry Potter. I read the first book and have seen all the movies. (I promise I’ll circle back and read the other books at some time). Harry Potter appears to be a wand-only environment as well. One of the first spells you see (in the movies anyway) is Expelliarmus, the one that knocks your opponent’s wand out of their hand. More advanced casters actually manage to catch the wand.

I know what you’re thinking. What about potions and scrolls? Okay, those also exist. But it appears that in these systems, you can NOT do a spell all by your lonesome. You need a medium to help you.

doctor-strange-02-03Which brings me to my third example. Doctor Strange. As a big time collector from long ago, I am quite familiar with their system of magic. And it is QUITE different. Instead of being wand-only, they have different levels of magic. They tap magical energy from themselves, the surrounding universe, and the most powerful ones, from other dimensional entities. I have really enjoyed the conflicts and challenges this system posed. In one issue, all the “good” entities cash in, demanding Doctor Strange come to serve in exchange for having let him use their energy.

If you are going to write fantasy and have magic, you must put time and thought into it. If it’s a cornerstone of your novel (and they often are), five minutes of thought won’t cut it. But don’t view it as laborious and tortuous. Instead, the more time you invest, the better it will arise and bear fruit. I find much excitement when members of my critique group pelt me with questions.

Book Report: Area 51 by Bob Mayer

As indicated before, I started reading break away or debut novels by prominent authors last year. And here I am to deliver another book report!

Area 51 – Bob Mayer

Bob Mayer was one of the speakers at last year’s Clarksville Writer’s Conference. He was hilarious, gung ho, maybe a tad bombastic (retire Green Beret), and best selling author that had no hesitation to brag he makes about $1000/day with his trove of published novels.

Like or hate his personality, he has succeeded so I wanted to read one of his first works. It turns out, this novel was released under the pen name “Robert Doherty” through classic channels. He has since gotten the IP rights for all these past novels reverted back to him, a business move worthy of respect, and moved on to e-books.

Back to the story. It really is pretty neat. The writing is crisp, the dialog cool. I kept turning page after page, wanting to know what happens. I also had an inbuilt curiosity as to what this author would do. I have seen TV shows set in Area 51 like Seven Days, Stargate: SG-1 (based near Area 51 and steeped in similar military conspiracy), and other movies.

There was a bit of investigative journalism gone wrong combined with other historical legends. I must admit that part (won’t give it away!) really whet my appetite.

Bob Mayer indeed knows how to write. He knows how to make you turn the pages. I think I spent 3-4 days tops reading this book. I’ll confess it didn’t match my hunger in reading the debut Jack Reacher novel KILLING FLOOR. But then again, I’m finding it hard to spot the next novel that will compete on that level.

I’ll shoot with you straight on this: it wasn’t as hard to move to another novel by another author when I finished as it was for certain other novels. There were other series novels I read last year that made it hard to stop and move on instead of continuing the series. This one wasn’t the same. Will I ever go back and read more of Bob Mayer’s books?

Maybe/maybe no. I have read some of his other non-fiction books on writing craft, so in a sense, the man has already scored additional sales. It takes a top notch story with top notch characters and top notch writing to score that with me, and Jack Reacher has made me picky. Don’t take it a nock.

If you like SciFi and military conspiracies, you’ll find this book most entertaining.

Happy reading!

Book Report: The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton

Over the past year, I have been on a bit of a reading binge. I got this idea at the 2015 Clarksville Writer’s Conference to read the debut novel of top notch authors. Instead of reading a series or stack of novels by one author, I’ve been jumping from author to author, looking for a cross section of writing styles, views on things, and varied tastes.

This is my first of many book reports, so without further ado….

The Andromeda Strain – Michael Crichton

There was a movie by the same name released in 1971. As a kid, I had seen it a dozen times. Okay, maybe not that much, but anytime I spotted it, I had to stop what I was doing and watch it. It’s so cool, despite its dated look. When I learned, years later, that this was the break away novel (not debut) of the famous Harvard doctor Michael Crichton, it blew me away. I finally bit the bullet and read it last year.

A team of scientists battle a strange disease that threatens all of mankind. But instead of being loaded with cliches, the scientists battle it with real science. And they have real, believable issues that hamper their pursuit of a cure.

One scientist spots a key symptom early on that would result in a solution, but a strange, unexplainable incident causes him to forget this epiphany. Having seen the movie, I knew what happened. I won’t spoil it for you and tell you what it is, but suffice it to say that I have suffered the same in the past, and this connected with me on a personal level.

Michael Crichton has a strong basis in biological science with his medical education. He clearly shows preferences for the hard sciences as did Isaac Asimov. He takes things into the realm of “this may not exist today, but I believe it could in the future.”

The novel isn’t as dated as the movie. The scenes with the military sound realistic. I can visualize the parts in the labs where experiments are conducted. I may not be on top of medical research, so perhaps some of the stuff mentioned is ancient. But it gripped me. And it doesn’t slow down and bore you with research, but instead makes things exciting.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that little was changed from novel to movie. The novel has an all male set of characters whereby they changed a key doctor to a woman in the movie, for the better. Kate Reid delivers a superior performance as a sassy, knows-what-she-knows microbiologist. But the core story and the big wrinkles are all there. Makes me want to go and watch the movie, again.

The whole thing is cutely wrapped up as a government memo you are reading implying this event DID happen. I always enjoy little bits like that, and I hope you do as well.

Happy reading until my next book report!

.@ScrivenerApp – The Ultimate #NoSQL Database

Over the past year, I have dove head first into use Scrivener for my writing efforts. The thing is amazing!

Scrivener is a writer’s tool, built by writers for writers. It costs about $30+. I couldn’t put my finger on what was so cool about it until I read this.

tl;dr – Scrivener puts your story/case/project into a database, Microsoft Word puts what you’re doing into a typesetter. Typesetters optimize for printout, databases optimize for reading/writing/updating information.

NoSQL Database

NoSQL data stores have gained big popularity over the past ten years. Why? Their charm is being schema-less.

schema-less – data not required to adhere to a certain structure

For years, people have adhered to SQL, the codified and accepted standard for grouping data to a strong structure. SQL comes loaded with lots of promises, which it indeed delivers. What is that?

If you define the structure of your data upfront, and observe other related practices (like 3rd Normal Form, i.e. 3NF; ACID, …), your data store will…

  • have maximum efficiency in storage by not duplicating data
  • have maximum efficiency in maintenance by not accidentally updating data in one place but forgetting to update in another place
  • get ALL the results when you query the database
  • ensure ALL inputs are committed to the database or none

These sound great, until you reach the era we have entered. People have discovered that all the guarantees of schema-driven data have costs. And costs that are proportional to your volume of data can catch up and cripple you.

We have discovered that not ALL data needs this amount of guarantee. Different data stores optimize in other ways, solving different problems. And thus was born the schema-less data store revolution.

Scrivener as a NoSQL data store

scrivener-binder

left – binder of folders with leaves; right – one leaf

How does Scrivener work? Out-of-the-box, it has a hierarchical nature. You can create folders within folders with folders. Each folder can have metadata about the folder itself, and it can contain leaves as well.

Click on a folder and you can view/edit all its leaves at once. Click on a leaf, view and edit a single leaf.

Folders and leaves can be converted from one to the other. The only difference is that folders are also containers, able to hold more folders/leaves.

The content can be text (our primary medium as writers) or other types (PDF, images, videos, …), meaning folders don’t have to just contain your story. Use it to capture your research, character notes, whatever!

Breaking out of the box

scrivener-charactersWhen you first install Scrivener, it comes with a pre-written manuscript and a tutorial. You walk through it, learning how to use the tool. It’s really quite clever and brought me up to speed, fast!

But at some point, you need to break out of conventions and learn how to use the tool. I first did so when I needed to sift through an extensive critique from my editor.

In the span of a 2-hour phone call, I had written down two pages of notes in a LibreOffice document last year. Some points, high level; some points, specific to a single sentence. I imported that document into Scrivener and took it apart, using another structure.

scrivener-researchI split up the collection of notes into individual leaves, all contained in a single folder. This way, as I addressed each comment, I could flag it as complete inside scrivener (I used checkbox icon to indicate this).

I put the scene-specific notes in a sub-sub-folder. To tackle the fact my editor had a different version of my manuscript, I dug that copy out of email and put in there as well. Using that, I tracked down every page specific comment and found its current scene.

Scrivener lets you put links between scenes (kind of like a MongoDB DBRef).

In a nutshell, I laid out my own structure, and then bent it as needed. Instead of bumping into it, like one often does with schema-based data stores, Scrivener accommodated my needs.

Spring Data Scrivener?

As a member of the Spring Data team, I’m truly amazed at how this release train of projects has leaped over the balkanized landscape of query languages. Use them when needed, but offloading typical queries to a framework is great!

I may have to keep my eye on the potential for writing apps that can query Scrivener manuscripts. It would lean on exactly what people are putting in their projects.

Until then, I hope you poke your nose into Scrivener and see how it’s perhaps the most user friendly NoSQL data store put out there to solve a very popular problem.

Darklight critique by best selling author @JerryBJenkins

The thing you can never do without is getting solid, concrete feedback from a bestselling author. You can see my Darklight critique by Jerry Jenkins below.

I have the webinar keyed up to where he digs into my story and pulls no punches. The points he makes are amazing.

The blind leading the blind

If you meet up with a handful of wannabe authors, the odds of getting solid feedback aren’t stellar. Your chances begin to rise when you meet with published authors. Those that have been through the wringer of editors, publishers, and proof readers may have more usable stuff to chew on. Find an author with 21 best sellers, and you’re no longer hear “your story is wonderful, dear,” from your spouse or your mother.

Okay, enough glee on my own story. I really recommend you go back and watch the whole thing from the beginning. There is one other 1-pager that gets picked apart like mine. The points he makes are great.

  • Avoid on-the-nose writing (telling us about stuff we all know).
  • Focus on nouns and verbs to keep it snappy and tight.
  • Don’t explain everything to us. Give the reader credit, a.k.a. give the audience 2+2. Let them figure out 4.