Why do I like clean stories?

thoughts control actions
When I’m looking for a new book to read, I usually steer clear of graphic, violent, cruel novels. Blog readers may see that preference trickle into the blog posts we write as well. It’s not an accident, but a conscious choice so I thought I would explain why.

I believe that most action starts as an idea. In another words, what you think about can influence how your life turns out. That’s why I start my day by writing what I’m thankful for and what I want to do with the day. It helps me remember what my priorities are. Then when I have to make a decision about watching TV or edit a book chapter, it’s really easy to choose the editing.

I don’t want cruel, inhumane thoughts poking my brain as I try to fall asleep at night, so I try not to put them in my head. (I even avoid a lot of news because it is mostly negative.) Plus, I think it’s possible to tell an engaging story without graphic elements. Stories are about people and the changes they undergo. When done right, they’re an emotional journey and the details of the plot almost become inconsequential to how they change.

Our 100th Post

100th blog post party hat

Tasha and I just hit our 100th blog post, which feels very noteworthy. We thought it would be a good time to take a step back to examine what we’re doing.

Last year we wrote about starting an indie publishing company, starting a family, updates about our books and the things that inspires us. As we look forward, we want to start posting more short stories, poems, interactive activities and short fiction. Since we publish books, why not publish short works free on our blog?

But this blog isn’t just about us: it’s also for you! Please send us an email… leave a comment… let us know what you’d like to hear about. We’re always happy to have suggestions. Thanks!

Writing: Are you on the roller coaster?

What is your story's point of view?

Over Christmas break I was fortunate enough to have some beta readers take a look at my new space comedy in the vein of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. After discussing the plot with one of them, I got some of the best writing advice I had heard in a while:

My opening scene was this thrilling roller coaster with twists and turns everywhere. But the narrator was sitting on a park bench and describing the roller coaster. What the reader actually wants is to be on ride — strapped into the seat, being jerked from side to side and feeling their heart go up into their throat. You’ve got to be on the roller coaster.

When you’re writing or telling a story, what point of view are you using? Are you on the roller coaster or a picnic table a safe distance away? Are you safely eating your sandwich below or hearing the squeak of the wheel peeling down the track?

I want to print a book: How to get started

printing press review

If you want to print your own book, how should you get started? I think the best place to start is by picking a printer.  If you don’t know what sizes your printer can print, how can you format your book?

Before my wife and I started our indie publishing company, we researched Print-On-Demand bookmakers.  Print on Demand is a cool technology that allows your book to be printed each time it is ordered instead of doing a giant run of 1,000 books and hoping you can sell them. Since neither of us wanted to give up our closet space to store a thousand books, we knew we wanted to use Print on Demand.

If you’re looking to print a handful of books for friends and family, you could investigate Lulu, but we crossed that off of our list because we wanted to sell our books at Amazon and other major retailers. Despite its good reviews, we couldn’t print books at Lulu cheap enough to be competitive. That left CreateSpace and Lightning Source as our two Print on Demand options.

The quality and price of CreateSpace and Lightning Source are relatively similar, but there are some important differences:

CreateSpace is easier to setup and use.  If you can type in Word, you can print a book with CreateSpace. It’s easy to get an account (don’t need much more than an email address), understand pricing (cool royalty calculators) and update your book (just upload a new PDF document).  By contrast, Lightning Source has a long multi-step application, complicated pricing grids and a more cumbersome update process.

Lightning Source prints hardcovers.  CreateSpace does not.  But neither company publishes landscape books (books that are wider than they are tall).

Lightning Source has a better book store distribution network (if it’s important for you to get your book in a store), but CreateSpace hooks up instantly with Amazon (which allows you to sell directly to consumers).  We’ve had much better luck selling our books directly to people instead of pitching it to bookstores — but that’s probably because we know more consumers than book store managers.

CreateSpace has free ISBNs, which is good if you’re getting started and don’t want to buy an ISBN number. (They cost $125 for one book or $250 for ten books!).

We use CreateSpace and Lightning Source since they both have their pluses, but if you are doing your first book, I would recommend CreateSpace. There are so many things that go into a book (writing, editing, illustrations, covers, marketing, distributing) that simplifying your printing as much as possible is important while you get your feet on the ground!

To master a skill, be a baby

baby practing hand holding

I have dabbled in most of the arts (studied ceramics in college, acted professionally for a hundred shows, started out as a music major, created educational movies and published two books) and it’s easy to get discouraged. There are many more artists than high paid jobs for artists. But I think artists forget that success doesn’t come over night — instead practice makes perfect.

I’m reminded of this everyday when I watch my son. This week alone, he has grabbed my finger, let go, moved his hand away and grabbed my finger again at least 200 times. He is constantly practicing new skills. Over and over again. When he masters one thing (holding on to a toy) he starts mastering the next (passing it to his other hand).

As an adult, it’s easy to forget how much you have learned and how long it took to master. You think that every new skill should be as easy as walking, biking or drinking from a cup. But all new skills — regardless of your age — take time to perfect. So don’t give up until you’ve given your art the time it needs to flourish.

The Best Part of Writing is the First Draft

vintage manuscript

My favorite part in the writing cycle is finishing the first draft because it is my first peak at the story’s potential.  I always start with an outline, but so much of the book comes together during the first draft.  I’m constantly surprised by all the new connections I find when I’m in the process of actually writing.

There’s an old debate about whether you should be a plotter (you already know everything that will happen before you start writing) or a pantser (flying by the seat of your pants).  I’m happiest as a plotting pantser.  I need to know where the story is going, but I’m usually delighted to learn about the main character’s hair color or mother-in-law during the first draft.

Finishing the first draft is when I can step back and see how everything looks — enjoy the beauty of the vista…. before putting my hiking shoes back on for that arduous second draft.

Seeing Your Proof Copies for the First Time

Stack of New Books

Before I had a kid, I wanted to compare seeing the proof copies of your book to seeing a child for the first time — but nothing can compare to the joy of holding a new life. That being said, holding a new book is still pretty cool.

But the joy of seeing your book printed is more like sending your kid off to college. You have done everything you can to prepare them for the real world (writing, editing, cover design, copyrighting, legal paperwork, beta readers, etc) — now it’s time to see what they’re made of…. and hope they’ll stop costing you so much money soon!

Ideas need to steep

Ideas, like a good cup of tea, need time to steep.

Most of my books start as a concept that amuse me in some way… but before I start outlining the plot, I always let the concept sit in the back of my mind until it seems ready. I can’t explain how or why, but it grows roots into other ideas and before I know it, the whole story is waiting in my brain for me to write.

If I’m struggling on a particular scene, it’s usually best for me to take a nap, meditate or relax instead of trying to force the writing… the break from actively working on an idea allows it blossom.

How do you take your ideas? (with cream and sugar?) Are you more creative after a break?