Why I chose to Self Publish

Secrets of the Moon Fox is a self published book. I don’t think I’ll surprise anyone by saying that. So, why did I self publish instead of publishing through a publisher? Is the story worth less because of that? What are the advantages of each?

Let’s start with the worth. There is still a bit of a stigma for self publishing, that only those that can’t be published traditionally do such a thing. And places that do that are frequently called ‘vanity presses’. That stigma is shrinking as more and more excellent books, fully the equal of traditionally published books are self published.

A good story is a good story regardless of who puts it out. I have read fanfiction that was better than the story it was based on. But, like fanfiction, self publishing is so easy to do that anyone can put out something, regardless of skill, ability, or quality. Presumably traditional publishing has had at least an editor go through it and correct spelling and grammatical errors. I experimented with self publishing some years ago and released a book before it was ready, and it shows. No, I won’t tell you what it is, but it is still available. I haven’t gotten around to taking it down. This time I made certain to hire an editor, something that is highly recommended for any professional who chooses to self publish.

A commercial publishing company is concerned with being able to make a profit. They don’t like to take chances on unknowns. Be that a story that doesn’t quite fit their divisions, a subject that might be a little too controversial or an author they have never heard of. They are however particularly interested in self published books that develop large audiences. For example, Eragon, or The Martian. Both were self published books first. Though it is worth noting that those stories are known so well because they are exceptions to the rule.

What are the advantages to traditional publishing? Well, your book is more accessible. Secrets of the Moon Fox will not be available in your local bookstore or library anytime soon. CreateSpace is a print on demand company. They only print a book when someone orders it. They don’t supply to bookstores, because bookstores don’t want to buy them because they can’t give them back if they don’t sell.  It’s a process called remaindering. No one denies that a book published through a traditional press is truly published, so there isn’t any of the possible stigma. The larger presses offer an advance on royalties that the writer gets immediately (though if a book doesn’t out-earn its’ advance, the publisher will be much less likely to sign on a second). They will send out copies for review and do a little advertising for you as they certainly want you to succeed.

What are the disadvantages? Time. If Secrets of the Moon Fox were accepted by a traditional publisher tomorrow, it could be somewhere between a year and a half and three years to end up on book shelves. Minimum would be eight months to a year if they had incentive to hurry, like believing the book topical. Control. As an unknown writer, I have very little leverage to negotiate with, meaning the publishing house could want to make changes in the story, and has final say on the title and the cover art. If I had a good agent, I might get a say, but the publisher generally has control. Speaking of an agent, most of the larger publishing houses won’t even look at your manuscript without an agent. I am not denigrating the role of agents, they are very important. One writer at Marscon put it this way. “The right agent is worth their weight in gold. The wrong agent is their weight in gold around your neck while in the ocean.” An agent also has to be paid. Ten to fifteen percent is current standard. So ten to fifteen percent of what you make would go to your agent. And what you make is a much smaller percentage per book sold than you can make through self publishing.

So, with self publishing you mostly flip those. You are on your own. If you want something done, you either do it yourself or you hire someone to do it for you. I hired an editor and probably should have hired a cover designer. When I had time to do so, I didn’t have money and when I had money, I didn’t have time. So I actually used a photograph I had taken. I am on my own to promote this book (which actually isn’t much different than if it was traditionally published). I did have to put out money to do this, as opposed to traditional publishing. Not to CreateSpace, but to buy ISBNs, to hire a proofreader, etc. But I didn’t have to wait years, and considering I started this story over ten years ago, I think it has waited long enough. I was able to pick the exact date I wanted the story to come out. I picked September 9th for a reason. Actually, my original plan was for July 12th, but life was far to chaotic at the time. My next book is due to come out November 1st because the sequel states that the school the series is about was founded then. Which is itself an Easter egg, because November 1st is my birthday.

Fun Contest: July 12, September 9, and the date the sequel is currently planned, January 5, all have something in common. I will send a free personalized autographed copy of Secrets of the Moon Fox to the first person who can tell me what that is. It is plot relevant but you don’t have to have read the book to figure it out. I also planted an Easter egg in the book about that date. I will send a free personalized autographed copy of either this or my next book to the first person who tell me that one. Winner’s choice. Yes, that one you do have to read the book for.

This is getting really long, so I think I’ll end this post here. Please remember to check out my website here. Secrets of the Moon Fox can be purchased here or in print or kindle on Amazon here.

 

 

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Secrets of the Moon Fox Now Available

So, my story is up, and ready to be purchased. Sort of. Apparently it takes more time than anticipated for it to be available in all channels. It can be purchased here right now, and should be available on Amazon in a few days. For ebook readers, it will be available on Kindle within the next twenty-four to seventy-two hours. I’ll post a link. It is currently exclusive to kindle as far as ebooks go, but that will change eventually. More updates and links as available, there should be a normal blog post Monday.

I’m Back!

Back from camping. We didn’t get eaten by bears! Yay! We didn’t even see any bears. Or much of anything else. Very little wildlife, and even fewer people. The entire time we were there, I didn’t talk to anyone but my sister. Still, we had fun.

Website is up, but still a work in progress. For some reason, it looks completely different on my computer than on my Mom’s tablet. If you have any viewing difficulties, please, please, please tell me. I’m still learning. I am at hjharding.com

Thank you!

Update

So, I wrote a post in the middle or end of June. Not one I was particularly proud of, but a post. But due to getting locked out of my account and life getting extremely busy. I never posted it. Sorry about that.

Here’s what I’ve done in the past two months. Moved into our new house; painted my bedroom and helped paint several other rooms; tried and failed to find places for all my books (who needs a bed anyway); tried and succeeded to be accepted as a guest at next year’s Marscon (YAY!); had extremely bad luck with cars (hit/ran into a car while walking, minor injuries; accidentally rear-ended a car, no injuries, no damage to their car, significant damage to mine; been rear-ended myself, no injuries, negligible damage to my car, no idea about theirs; and blown out a tire, now replaced); planned a camping trip (leave today); started to build a website (still in progress); and arranged to publish my novel, Secrets of the Moon Fox.

Yes, Secrets of the Moon Fox comes out this Friday in print and ebook. Audiobook format should be available soon. I am extremely excited. First chapter can be read here. No, this blog will not become a ‘buy my book’ advertisement center. I do hope though that you will pardon me some excitement.

This is the post that I originally wrote back at the end of June. It does contain description of mildly violent and traumatic events. Hopefully not to the point that it will trigger anyone but I felt the warning should be given. I have not edited it to change the reflection of time so the Tuesday referred to was in June, and this post was written about a day or two after the death of Anton Yelchin. Haven’t done the interview yet either, so you can still send questions. Provided nothing goes tragically wrong during the camping trip, I will post again Wednesday or Thursday with a link to my new website and more information about my novel.

Turning your experiences into Writing gold.

I ran into a car last Tuesday. Literally. I was crossing the street, not at the crosswalk because the sidewalk was under construction. I passed a truck that was stopped at a stoplight, but the truck coming the other way and I didn’t see each other in time. I remember trying to stop, even putting my arms out to stop myself. That was probably a mistake, because my arms landed on the car that was still going faster than I was and in a different direction. I careened into the side, hit the street and rolled. Through it all, I can still remember my incredulous thought of ‘I actually got hit with a car!’ as if these things just didn’t happen.

I was fine. Got up right away and started looking for my shoes, both of which had been knocked off. One was at my foot, while the other was a couple feet away. A couple scrapes, some bruises. I’m sore, but I’ll heal.

I’m not telling this story for sympathy, or in some misguided attempt to compare or compete with the recent tragedy of Anton Yelchin (RIP). I’m fine and the accident was probably mostly my fault. I’m telling this story because it is a recent experience that can and likely will shape me as a writer. Being mugged at gunpoint a few years ago did. So did the forty-two hour train ride that I took when I was ten. Not to mention the years of living in Russia.

My experiences both are and are not unique. Many other people have been through one or more of the experiences I have. Maybe there are a rare few that have been through all of those. You have my sympathies. But even still, it won’t be the same. My sister took the same train ride I did, and was in Russia when I was, and even longer. She’s even had her own experiences of being hit by a car (no injuries) and being held up her first night at work (she thought it was a drill). But what we went through and what we remember are different because we are different. Because of our temperaments, ages, and other experiences, what we went through was unique to us.

They can also aid in writing. What I have been through, what I remember, allows me to portray certain things in a way that feels authentic, because I remember what I felt and thought when something happened to me. When I was mugged, I found myself unable to look away from the gun. So on at least two occasions when I was writing about a character who was untrained in fighting being threatened with a weapon, they couldn’t look away either. I’ve had characters take trains in Europe that are nigh on identical to the ones I rode in.

Oh, you don’t have any exciting experiences to recount? I’ll bet you do. Maybe something you don’t even realize is unusual to someone else because it’s common for you. Or maybe you should consider your less exciting memories. When I was about nine, Mom set up this little play tent in the back yard of our house in Philly and let my sister and I camp out there. I remember waking up in the early morning and finding slugs had crawled on the mesh door. Not an important memory. Doubtful it’s one that has had any major impact on my life, but it is a memory. It wouldn’t make a plot, but if I ever do a story about people camping, I can throw in something similar for color. Or mention just how loud leaf bugs are when they hit a tent. (Different camping trip).

To make the best use of your memories, exciting and small, I would recommend journaling. It’s amazing what you forget that you are sure is indelibly etched in your brain. I have found notes of stories that I have forgotten writing, and been surprised about how different the story has become. I’ve read old journal entries and been surprised that I had forgotten things that seemed so important at the time. Write it down, tell someone, do what it takes to remember the little details because those details will be what adds wealth and depth to your stories.

Share a memory? Large or small, the choice is yours.

Note: I have an agreement for the interview mentioned in the last blog post, but it has not yet taken place. So you still have a chance to ask a question. Either here or email me at hjhardingbooks@gmail.com.

Worldbuilding 101: Languages Part Two

 

Hello again! We did manage to move out of the old place, and today was the inspection of the house we have been hoping to buy. Unfortunately, it looks like it’s going to need more work than we anticipated, and we already knew it was a fixer-upper. So, wish us luck and wisdom as we continue.

But, I’m betting very few people are here to listen to my house woes. You are here to learn more about languages and worldbuilding. Specifically, making up words or even a whole language for your works.

There is nothing wrong with making up words or phrases from a fictional language, and it can even add a lot to a story. But when you make up a word or phrase, there are a few things to keep in mind. How is the word pronounced? Can the reader tell? In English, many letters can make two or more sounds. Easy ways to solve this are to have a pronunciation guide in front or to mention in the narration that so and so pronounced it like… But they have issues too.  Readers may skip a guide, I know I had read the Pendragon Cycle (Stephen Lawhead) three or five times before I bothered to read the pronunciation guide, and had been mis-pronouncing several main characters names the whole time. You also don’t want to be constantly commenting on how a character speaks, it gets annoying.

Okay, so the reader is mispronouncing names or words, who cares? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. Maybe it matters and maybe not. But at least consider, is there a way the word could be pronounced that you really don’t want? Possibly like a swear word, a potential sexual term, or something insulting to a certain segment of the population? Or maybe you do that want that. That’s your business, but at least make sure if it does, that’s because you meant it, not by accident.

It is also important to do your best to check that whatever word or phrase you make up doesn’t already have a meaning you aren’t aware of. That’s hard to check, but important. Probably most people will forgive you if your word for bread turns out to also be an obscure Polish swear word, but it can be embarrassing. And with the internet as large as it is, people will find out. You never know what somebody’s an expert in until you make a mistake in front of them.

One other consideration is when to make up a new word for something. No matter how clever it is, not everything in your world needs a clever new name. No calling rabbits, smeerps. * If a perfectly good word exists for what you wish to describe, especially a word your readers will understand, why not use it? Remember, communication and clarity.

Also, do consider that it is not uncommon for readers to start tuning out when things get hard to understand. I tend to let my eyes wander when I run into too many unfamiliar words in a small area.

About making up a language wholesale, my advice would generally be don’t bother. There is a lot of work that goes into developing a language, and it seldom comes out well. Not to mention, most of your readers will not be interested enough to learn a new language to read a story. There are exceptions, languages that took off, such as Elvish and Klingon, but Tolkien was a linguistics professor and Klingon was developed by a group of people, not one lone person.

So, you’ve decided to ignore me, and want to develop a language anyway. Fine, fine. You’ll learn. But I do have some advice about that too.

Start with grammar. I know, I know, the vocab is more interesting. Of course it is. I was an English Major and I still have trouble with parts of grammar. But it is vital. Grammar is your framework. It is the cord that makes up your string of pearls, with the vocabulary as the pearls themselves. Without that cord, you have a mess of loose beads. Your grammar can (and should be) simple. Ways of expressing what happened (or will happen) to who and when. Or didn’t happen and won’t. You don’t need twenty-four different ways to say ‘my’(Russian) or rules that have a million exceptions. For guidance, I would look into other conlangs (constructed languages) like Elvish, Klingon, and Esperanto.

Figure out the base of your language. What kinds of sounds predominate? English is a bad example here because we’ve stolen from pretty much every language we’ve ever encountered to form this great mishmash we speak. But if you listen to someone speak Spanish or French and then speak Russian or German, you will notice some dramatic differences. Is your language mostly full of hard consonants and percussive sounds (‘D’ ‘T’ hard ‘K’), or is your language more likely to have soft, flowing sounds with a preponderance of vowels, ‘L’s and ‘S’s? Are words commonly long or short? There is no wrong answer here, and if your country is close enough to be influenced by another country or countries, maybe their language is a great mishmash too.

Again, if you throw too much that is unfamiliar, odds are good that the reader will get bored and start tuning it out. I know I always did when the classics threw in French text without translation, because I didn’t (and still don’t) know even enough French to order a hamburger. Not to mention, the more you make up, the longer it takes to make sure that the words you just made up aren’t already real words.

In all fairness, it can be done, and done well. Watership Down. Lord of the Rings. Klingon. Maybe you’ll be next.

I am currently attempting to arrange an interview with a group that is constructing a language in the web game Flight Rising. Any questions you want me to ask? Leave a comment or email me at hjhardingbooks@gmail.com

* I have linked to TV Tropes in the past, and undoubtedly will again in the future, but I feel I should note that it is not always entirely work safe. Mostly because of language. Use your own discretion.

Worldbuilding 101: Language, Part One

I apologize for being so late for this blog. April was crazy and May has been worse. April I was busy with work and felt under the weather, and then May came along to remind me what ‘busy’ really means. We have to move by the end of the month, something we didn’t know at the beginning of the month. The good news is that we have almost finished buying a house that if all goes well, we can hopefully start to move into as early as June fifteenth. The bad news is we have to be out of here by the end of the month. Yeah, lots of fun. There’s five people in my family, and we’re all packrats to some extent or others. I personally own more books than I suspect my high school library owned when I attended. Yeah, we’re busy. I haven’t had time to write anything since April. If anyone is curious, I did manage to complete my word count for Camp NaNoWriMo, even if the story is far from over, and I kind of cheated. Yes, I know. But it was a crazy time. Since it might be a while until things calm again, I am currently putting my blog on a ‘every two weeks’ schedule for a bit. Hopefully it will be easier to keep up that way.

I had about three quarters of this blog post written, and managed to lose that when my computer shut down without warning. Sorry.

So, about languages. I’m going to split up my original plan. Next time we’ll talk about inventing languages and words. This week, we’ll talk about a different part of using language to worldbuild.

Language is a form of communication. The goal is to express an idea from one person to another. If the reader cannot understand what you are trying to tell them, you have failed. Clarity is vital.

But language also evolves. Slang, in jokes, and idioms arise in groups, whether that group is as small as a family or group of friends, or as large as an industry. Then you have jargon, technical terms, regionalisms, etc. The way you talk is not the way I talk. The way you talk at home may be different from the way you talk to friends or the way you talk at work.

Okay, so what does that have to do with writing, especially worldbuilding? Everything! New concepts may require new words to describe them. Or at least new ways to use those words. Not to mention that language adds a layer of realism.

If your characters are from Medieval England or Thirtieth century Alpha Centauri, they shouldn’t sound the same as Twenty-first century Americans. Or each other. Neither do the characters from Medieval England need to sound like Shakespeare or the Thirtieth century characters need to sound like Flash Gordon. Slang is not a modern invention, and I do not doubt it will last as long as languages do.

Do your Mars astronauts refer to their ‘Standard Issued Terrain Footwear’, or do they refer to their boots? Or even their Sitfs? Actually, that’s a character study in and of itself. Or for your fantasy world, do your wizards have slang terms for the spells they can cast? Explosive spells could be referred to as ‘boomers’, plant spells could be ‘greenies’, summoning the Sly Ferret spirit could be ‘furmegeddon.’

What about oaths? Mild or even major swearing may not have any connection to swear words we use today. One of my stories, I had all crude language revolve around uncleanliness; dirt, mud, filth, etc.  One of the characters in that world is so prim that she refuses to use those words even in their proper context, referring instead to uncleanliness or becoming moist (sweat). Another doesn’t hesitate to use those terms frequently. Other characters are in between.

In other stories, I’ve made up mild expletives for different races. I’ve had vampires swear using, ‘Rotten Fangs’, while my Shadow fairy generally uses terms referring to light, heat, or day, such as, ‘Blazing day.’ My river dragons talked about being ‘dry of brain’ when someone seemed stupid.

Admittedly, part of the reason I’ve made these up is because I personally don’t swear, but there were times I needed my characters to do so. But also, I believe it adds to your story.

Attending Ravencon, one of the speakers talked about how a character and the story was enriched by his studying a book of Chinese insults. Another interesting way to explore a culture. What is considered a compliment? What is an insult? What is a compliment coming from one person, but an insult coming from another?

What have you done to add flavor? Next time, Languages part Two.