Birthday Shenanigans and Release Buzz

I know, I know. I probably should have mentioned all the birthday shenanigans over the last week but … Hey, I was busy doing fun things.

Like visiting Craters of the Moon and going to the movies and eating steak and having pie. (I maintain that pie is better than cake.)

But in the middle of all of that, I also have been reminding people about Persona’s May 1st release date. 

Persona took me over a decade to write.

That’s right, over a decade. I started writing it when I was 19-20 years old and then life happened and I stopped writing and while this could have been considered a “trunk novel” … I just couldn’t let it go.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of a “trunk novel” I’ll go ahead and explain. You see, there are many professionals out there who say you need to write a couple of novels to get the feel of storytelling and learn the mechanics of the writing craft. These beloved little first creations are known as “trunk novels” because they are supposed to be buried inside a trunk and never see the light of publication.

The general consensus seems to be 5 trunk novels, with the 6th novel you write coming close to publication quality. And once those five are written, you bury them and/or burn said trunk, thereby assuring that your terrible first-tries never tempt you into touching them again.

Persona, whose title underwent many changes over the last decade, would have been my 2nd attempt at novel writing.

Now, I’m not vain enough to say that the early drafts of this book were any good. In fact, they were awful. So very, very awful. And if I were going solely on the plot concept, this book would have been burnt with the other trunk novels.

But … Megan was too compelling a character for me.

She is an independent, strong character without moving into the cliches of the woman-warrior. In fact, she doesn’t fight … not physically, anyway.

Her choices are what make her strong.

So, back in 2013, I decided to pick her up again. While I kept the novel based in WWII, 98% of the plot was altered. I kept only Megan and a handful of characters from the first work, which I imagine means I burnt the trunk novel after all.

I’m not sure what I did here could be considered a “rewrite” given how much of the story changed. Still, her beginnings were in my youth and I remember those first attempts with a great deal of fondness.

Writing Persona taught me quite a lot about being an author. I learned to cut things I held dear and to dig deeper into the minds of my characters – even the ones I never gave a true voice in the work.

I am proud of Persona, both because I love the story and because it is a clear map of my improvement as an author. I hope many other people can be inspired by Megan’s journey to understand herself and the world around her.

 

AJMaguire-PersonaCoverArt-ChrisHoward_rev28_ART_ONLYNothing is more important than who you choose to be, and for Megan Shepherd that choice has never been more important or more terrifying. In the middle of WWII, her ship is sunk in the Atlantic and all of her hopes and dreams for a new life translating papers for the JTLS in Britain sink with it. When she’s picked up by Germans she discovers that her understanding of the language is the only thing keeping her alive.

While under the scrutiny of the local SS, Megan’s plot to escape the country is derailed when escaped POW Sam Layton lands on her doorstep.  As the Allied Advance begins to box in the Third Reich, Megan and Sam make a mad dash for the Swiss border. But the truth never stays buried for long and those Megan has tricked are out for vengeance.

The Countdown

I am now exactly three months away from Persona’s publication date.

What does this mean for me?

AJMaguire-PersonaCoverArt-ChrisHoward_rev28_ART_ONLYWell, it means a lot of work, actually. I have a list of things that need to be done like … hunt for virtual space (AKA – look for people online who wouldn’t mind me commandeering their blog/site for a day) and prepping advertising spots and getting reminder letters ready for all the wonderful people who agreed to advance review the book and … so much more.

SO. Much. More.

Side Note: Thank you so much to all of my advanced readers. I’ve heard from most of you already and I really, really appreciate the time it takes to sit down and read a book these days. You’re all awesomesauce on toast and I uber love you.

What happened to the Kindle Scout Campaign?

As predicted, this was not the right fit for me. Kindle Scout is made for people who really don’t mind shouting over and over and over again that their book is up and needs votes. I am not that sort of person.

Granted, if I were that sort of person it is entirely possible that I would sell a lot more books. The tactic seems to work very well for a lot of people. For my part, I cannot justify being that much of a pest. And if I spend all my time promoting, I get no writing done. (I am a single parent. My time is limited.)

Having re-read the manuscript hunting for any last-minute errors and the like, I have to say that Persona is a favorite of mine. While I may have bemoaned all the research I had to do writing a historical fiction, it is still one of my favorite stories. Megan is a gentle hero, which I believe to be one of the more common and less noticed heroes in the world today.

In any case … the countdown has begun! Three months and two days and this novel will finally be out for sale. It’s been a long but very satisfying road to see it get to this point and I’m excited for the next step.

 

 

Let’s Talk About Brand

So there’s this thing in the writing business where people say writers need to have a “brand” to rely on. Something to shove at a reader so that the reader knows what to expect whenever they pick up a book written by that author.

James Patterson readers know that the plot is going to move fast and it’s going to twist in ways you don’t expect. I remember from his class that he said he wanted people to know when they picked up a book of his that “the pages would turn themselves.”

And considering how many books of his frequent the bestsellers lists I think we all can attest that he’s definitely made his name a brand.

Brandon Sanderson also has a brand name to him. When I pick up a Sanderson novel I expect unique magic, intricate plots, and deep fantasy that can transport me.

When I read Diana Gabaldon I expect rich characters and enlightening history and a more visceral reading experience than I can get anywhere else.

Now then … as an author I have to ask myself exactly what “brand” I might be presenting. I find this highly annoying because, as much as I can recognize the trademarks of other authors, I’m really clueless as to my own. And from what I’ve heard from other authors, they feel the same way.

On my website I have “Writing Mayhem” as the tagline.

Why?

Well … because I love the word “mayhem” and wanted to use it. And because my life as an author feels full of mayhem. I write everything from Science Fiction to Historical Fiction. My Fantasies range from Epic to Steam Punk.

My muse just can’t seem to commit to any one genre, which makes “branding” me quite difficult.

I could try finding that one common denominator between all the books and banking on that … Which would be the characters. In all my books to date, the focus is always on the individual character on the page and the struggles they face.

But again … how do you “brand” that?

A.J. Maguire – Character Tormentor … A.J. Maguire – “The characters will grab you by the throat and demand you free them.”

… Yeah … No thanks.

In all seriousness, and after many years of trial and error, I’ve come to understand that “brand” is a conscious decision.

I have two releases scheduled for this year; the novelette “Torven” and the historical fiction Persona.

One is a fairy tale.

One is a “who am I” story based in WWII.

What “brand” do I hope to attach to them both?

I want readers to trust that if they pick up one of these books they’re going to get a good story.

How do you brand that?

Well, I’m still not sure. But when I find out, you’ll be the first to know.

 

Writing and Business and the In-Between

As of this evening my novelette “Torven” has a completed rough draft. Given its very small length (16006 words) I have been toying around with the idea of giving it away for free or really, really cheap (after it’s gone through a rigorous editing) which has led me to the normal marketing spiel/debate.

I’ve been here before. Often.

In fact, I’d like to say I’ve dipped my toes into murky depths of marketing since Sedition was first published five years ago. (Five years? Really? Sheesh.)

I have not, however, really committed to a marketing plan. Up until this point my focus was on my craft, wanting to just write the next story and grow as an author, and while none of those goals have changed (and never will, because that’s the whole point of taking ownership of your craft) … I can say that I am going to step intrepidly out into the realm of marketing.

I started, quite comically, with a giveaway of Tapped today on Amazon. The giveaway lasted all of an hour, which … really showed me how bad I am at math. (5 books + every 5th entrant wins = about an hour’s worth of giveaway time. Just in case anyone else needs this information.)

But I learned a great deal about what I want to do in the future. I’ve set up a pretty little timetable to follow for marketing – when I want to do what promotions and at what sites – and even color-coded it … because I’m a geek like that.

I am also in the process of revamping my website … with help because I’m really not great at it.

As to writing itself …

With “Torven” done I can go back to Dead Weight, the sequel to Tapped. I’ll be revamping the outline based on the things I learned in James Patterson’s Master Class (still an awesome thing and if you write, you should check it out.)

Basically, I’ll be going over the outline once a week through the month of April. Start to finish. Tightening the plot. Adding elements of the suspense genre into my science fiction … basically implementing everything Mr. Patterson set out to teach me in 22 lessons.

I’m excited.

It’ll be fun.

And I’ll record all the mayhem here because I can … and maybe it’ll help someone else down the road.

 

Self-Publishing Journal Entry #6

Dear Diary,

As expected I made every mistake there is to make while self-publishing a novel. After its “Hydra leak” on the 1st of January I went through the Kindle version and found no less than 25 translation, formatting, or just-plain-dunce errors that had to be fixed.

Orange Beast

Orange Beast

The Orange Beast is still laughing at me for that.

However, I do feel better about this because if I hadn’t been so hopped up on cold medication I would have found those errors in the week prior to its official release anyway. This just means that those unfortunates who purchased the leaked novel are going to have a one-of-a-kind “whoopsie” version that no longer exists.

I’ll laugh about it in a couple of years, I’m sure.

In any case, the novel was fixed before its official release. (To include the spacing issue that had the printed version sitting at over 500 pages. That would be one of the just-plain-dunce errors.)

What have I learned from this whole self-publishing adventure?

1) Editors are worth their weight in gold. 

No, seriously. They are. Those 25 errors were mostly formatting and translation problems that happened while I was bouncing between Scrivener and Word.

2) Never work while on cold medication. 

‘Nuff said.

3) Marketing is pretty much the same on your own as with a small press. 

Yeah, there’s really very little difference here. As much as I love my publishers and the validation they gave me for even accepting my work to begin with, a book doesn’t just fly off the virtual shelves on its own.

That said, I’m still not doing much marketing-wise. I’ll submit Tapped to various review sites and all that, but Scornedotherwise I’m not going to stress this point. I made this decision way back when Sedition was first published and while it makes no “business sense” I’m sticking to it.

I want to be a better storyteller. I want to tell stories that move people, even if it’s only a select number of people. I feel totally awesome about the readership I already have. (Hey, Readers! I uber loves you all!)

4) This is fun.

In spite of my fights with Scrivener and my frustration with Word and staring at documents for hours on end while trying to make the formatting right, I had a lot of fun doing this. Don’t ask me why. I think only writers can really understand it.

To sum up, I will probably do this with more than just the Tapped series.

Yes, I understand the stigma that comes with self-published authors but I’m going to lean back on the real tradition here; the tradition of storytellers wandering from place to place, giving their entertainment away for lodging or food. Celebrities for a night or a day, or a holiday week, and then they faded into the background directly after their job was done.

They didn’t have publishers back then, just word of mouth and a distinct love for what they did.

Official Release – Tapped

I’m starting off the New Year with a bang!

ScornedOr … well … a mistaken “bang” on the 1st because in my NyQuil induced haze I accidentally “leaked” the novel online but we’re moving past that now. This is my first self-published novel and I’m equal parts terrified and pleased by it.

Tapped is a space-traveling adventure that follows the Barlow family as they unwittingly begin an underground railroad for refugees in Consulate space. It’s a story about what makes a family. It’s a story about the consequences of standing up for your convictions and a brothers-in-arms story all wrapped up together.

The original concept for this novel was that I wanted a mother-son story. We have a lot of mother-daughter, father-son novels out there but I haven’t seen as many dealing with the relationship between a mother and her son. And since I happen to be the mother of one incredible little boy it was important to me that the Greeks not get the final word here.

(No, really. The Greeks had the whole Oedipus thing that was really gross and weird. Just … yuck.)

In any case, I’m throwing confetti and will enjoy some wine and a comfortable evening celebrating my first self-published release. It has been an adventure learning how to format and prepare a book for publication and, to be honest, kind of fun.

Tapped Blurb:

Jorry thought winning a galactic war would be enough to buy a peaceful life. She was wrong. Running from the government she fought so hard for, she carves a simple life out for herself and her family. When her family is dragged into a black market deal Jorry finds herself directly in the sights of those she’s been hiding from and must decide how far she’s willing to go to protect the people she loves.

Publishing Debates

In January of 2011 my first book was published by Wings ePress, a small independent publishing house run by some very kind people. They put out a nice, professional book and I was over the moon about it. I liked the size, font, color, formatting, and everything.

I was new to the whole publishing scene and didn’t really know the difference between Traditional and Independents/Small Presses/Whatever. I just knew my book was out there and people were liking it.

Four years later and I am officially a self-published author.

I know the stigma related to self-publishing. I’ve read article upon article upon article about Indie authors versus Traditional authors and the coveted-but-somehow-hated Big 5 and I’ve come to a major decision.

I’m tired of reading about this.

I’m tired of everyone saying that their way to the publishing business is the right way, that the old regime is coming to an end, that self-published novels are nowhere near the quality that traditional novels are, that the Big 5 have the monopoly on shelf-space in the major bookstores, or that people don’t really visit those bookstores anymore …

The list goes on.

And because I have decided that I am tired of reading these debates (the most recent one being how self-publishing is no longer a viable means to “hybrid author status”) I will politely pass them by.

Knowing these things will not make me a better writer. Partaking of the debate might obliquely influence my sales, but it will not make my storytelling any better than it is today. And honestly, I don’t have the time or the energy for anything that does not add to my “writer’s toolbox” and help me master my craft.

Harsh?

Maybe.

And I’m not saying all this as a condemnation to those who are actively engaged in the debate. If focusing on things in that light is what helps them put pen to paper at the end of the day then more power to them.

I’m saying it doesn’t help me. It makes me indecisive. It makes me second-guess the risks I might otherwise take in my fiction. And fiction without risks is dull.

Tapped is risky.

I know it is.

It’s the underground railroad in space. There are religious refugees and political issues and a mess ofScorned family secrets to wade through and if I had listened to certain blog sites and articles about what not to write or what to avoid I would never have finished the book.

So this is me drawing a line in the sand.

Maybe my books won’t sell as much as a traditional author. That’s fine. I’ll read their work and see if I can improve my own craft because in the end, that’s the only thing that really matters.