Status Report

With Thanksgiving (and a lot of chores), I didn’t quite finish everything I intended for the blog post I had planned for this week (the “Merrimack Event”‘s back-of-the-book blurb). In its place, I figured I would do a status report for all the things I’ve told you I was going to be doing.

First of all, I’ve applied to be a guest at a few conventions. I haven’t heard back from any of them, yet, but I haven’t been rejected yet, either. I’m hopeful.

In Forgery Divided is still with the editor and cover artist. I haven’t recieved any information from my cover artist recently, but my editor says he’s through most of it, but there were a couple “problem areas” he’s devoting more attention to. I’m as tired of these delays as I’m sure my readers are, but I can’t put it out without a cover or any editing.

Over the last week, I’ve started approaching some more potential cover artists to get estimates for “The Merrimack Event.” Haven’t heard back from any of them, yet, but that’s no surprise in this timeframe. I’ve identified four editors to try and vet, but I have yet to approach any of them.

The Back-of-the-Book Blurb for “The Merrimack Event” should be posted next week, but I’ve got new ideas going from there. I’ve been cleaning out my office desk as I prepare to move my new computer from it’s temporary set-up to its permanent home. Found some fun things I could take pictures of (maybe. I hate taking pictures of any kind) and talk about here on the blog, including badges for well over a dozen conventions I’ve attended in the past — all from 2009 or earlier. And I’ve started a fun little research project I may discuss here, as well, even though it’s research for a story I probably won’t be writing for years.

A belated Happy Thanksgiving. And I’m giving you guys even more thanks for reading this blog. (I might be even more thankful if a few of you commented now and then when I was asking you guys for comments, but I’ll take what I can get).

Plans Going Out the Window…

Plans with this blog keep going out the window. I had a blog written and ready to go out last week, but decided to bump it to address an issue that had cropped up. This week, I’ve found that what I had planned for last week was rendered irrelevant (I’m not going to go into how), so again I’m improvising at the last minute.

I suppose I really should talk about “The Merrimack Event” some. “In Forgery Divided” has been the subject of several blogs these past few weeks, and my plan has been to release these two books at roughly the same time, so I should be giving the other book equal time, here.

The thing is, my plans in that regard are going out the window.  “In Forgery Divided” is much closer to release than “The Merrimack Event” (though there is still time for the later to catch up), so releasing them both at the same time is looking less and less likely.

It’s my fault, in a sense (though in my defense, I’ve had a lot of distractions crop up since sending “In Treachery Forged” out to the editor).  “The Merrimack Event” has fallen pretty far behind — I already have an editor and cover artist commissioned for “In Treachery Forged,” and both have sent me updates indicating they are part-way done, but I have yet to even identify anyone for doing those jobs for “The Merrimack Event.” To some extent, the hunt for these services was disrupted by my need to buy and build a new computer, but I’m done with that, now (for the most part; I need to replace a cable in order to connect my old second monitor to my new computer, but that’s on the way).

So, how has the search for the services I need to finish “The Merrimack Event” gone? Well, I’ve queried a single cover artist, who wasn’t willing to work in my budget (I was offering him double what I’ve paid any of my past cover artists, but it wasn’t enough for him). I haven’t even looked into editors (well, I did have a list of people to query in my bookmarks, but my bookmarks have been thrown all out of order when they were transferred to the new computer, and I can’t find them all that easily). And I’ve been putting off this hunt for over a year, now.

I’m not sure why I’ve been so reluctant, but that’s about to end. I’m dedicating this week to that editor and cover artist hunt. I’ll also try out a few back-of-the-book blurbs (which may wind up the subject of next week’s blog). And, hopefully, by the end of this week I’ll have finally started “The Merrimack Event” on that final stretch.

Wish me luck.

On Reviews…

I had a blog prepared for today, but I decided to bump it to next week. Instead, something came up this weekend I want to discuss (and no, I’m not referring to the horrific events in Paris right now — that’s not the sort of thing I talk about on this blog): Reviews.

There are two types of reviews.  Well, actually, there’s more than that, but I really only want to talk about two different kinds of reviews:  Editorial reviews and customer (or “reader”) reviews.  Editorial reviews, for the purposes of this blog, are reviews produced by professional reviewers (such as the New York Times Book Review).  These sometimes have to be solicited (you might even need to pay for them, and in this case it isn’t bad practice).  Reader reviews are produced by your customers, and should always be done for free (there are disreputable outfits who will sell you these kinds of reviews; Amazon has started filing lawsuits against these people.  For the record, it is NOT considered bad practice to give a free copy of your book away in exchange for a review of either type).

As a writer, you desperately, desperately want reviews — especially, when dealing with Amazon, reader reviews.  Reviews are your best source of “word-of-mouth” marketing, which is the most effective type of marketing for any writer.  Amazon is also known to provide you with some free marketing (in the form of “also-bought” recommendations, some e-mail promotions, and the like) once you reach a certain number of reviews, and more free marketing still if you can reach that number within the first month of publication.

But you should never respond to those reviews — it is considered unprofessional, in most cases (and yes, this is an unfair situation where one or more reviewers can abuse, sometimes even libel an author.  It is still considered unprofessional to respond).  Even esteemed writers have gotten themselves in trouble by replying to negative reviews.

In fact, it might be worth it to ignore your reviews completely.  Now, this can be hard (I’ve known several authors say “You should never read your reviews.  And if you can figure out how to do this, let me know too, will you?”), but it will probably do you a lot of good.

Some writers think that their reviews will provide them with wonderful insight into what their readers think, tons of constructive criticism, and hopefully even some encouraging words.  Now, the encouraging words is entirely possible, but the rest of it…

Yes, if you have a lot of people bringing up the same problem, you might be able to pinpoint a detail or two that can be fixed.  But… reviewers don’t necessarily agree on what the good and bad points of your writing are.  A few of your most vocal readers could be drawn to your writing through Aspect A, but vehemently dislike Aspect B.  Aspect B might also be the favorite thing that the silent majority of your readers enjoy.

Even professional reviewers won’t agree.  Now, I’m going to use an example from an entirely different artistic medium (in this case, quilting), because it’s partly what inspired this post, but it applies to editorial reviews, too.

My mother entered a quilt into the Houston International Quilt Festival.  This is a judged competition, and is sometimes compared to the Academy Awards for the competitive show quilt world.  The judges in these quilt festivals, in this case a team of three, are quite similar to those professional editorial reviewers in the writing world.  As I interpret the judges comments, and she mentioned on her own blog, the judges for her quilt thought it:

  1.   Was a good use of color.
  2.   Was a bad use of color.
  3.   Looked a lot like an illuminated manuscript, as set by an appropriate border.
  4.   Had a border that overwhelmed and detracted from the central figure.
  5.   Integrated the expected design elements well.
  6.   Integrated the expected design elements poorly.
  7.   Had a pleasing overall appearance.
  8.   Did not have a pleasing overall appearance.

Etc., etc., etc.  You get the idea, right?  These are trained, professional “reviewers” of quilts.  There are far more objective (or at least somewhat objective) elements for these “reviewers” to consider than what most reviewers of writing bother to consider.  And yet they are completely and totally contradictory from one another.

This is also why, as a writer, you don’t always have to agree with everything your editors tell you.  Editors are professionals, but they are not infallible.  You should at least consider everything they say critically.  Usually, what they tell you is something that needs to be fixed.  Sometimes they can point out a problem, but you might want to use a different solution than they provide.  Sometimes, however, your editor might be trying to fix a problem that isn’t there, though, and the solution is worse than your original text.

Editors at least make an effort to be objective in their edits.  Reviewers, however, aren’t reviewing your work to fix your problems like an editor is — they are giving you their entirely subjective view on what they liked and what they didn’t.  And everyone has different opinions about what they like and what they don’t, so it’s not worth it to try and pander to them all.  It’s a bit of a cliché to say it, but you need to write to please yourself.

You might want to have someone else read those reviews for you, though.  You write to please yourself, but you publish (or enter quilt shows, or sell your artwork, or whatnot) to make money.  If the majority of your readers have a problem with a certain aspect of your writing, give that issue a critical eye.  It might be something you’re determined to do, regardless, but if not it just might be worth it to address that issue in your future writing.

Edit:  Spammers are forcing me to close these comments for a while.  If you would like me to re-open them, please let me know.

Back-of-the-book Blurb POLL! In Forgery Divided

If you don’t follow my Facebook feed, you probably haven’t heard that I’m buying a new computer.  Still not assembled, yet, but it’s replacing the old computer on which I’ve written or completed writing all of my books (published and not), so far.  I’ve still got my laptop, but until I get the new desktop up and running I’m somewhat limited in the things I can do.

This shouldn’t delay any of my books at all, but it might disrupt future blogs a bit.  Depends how much time I need to set up the new system.  This blog, though, was mostly ready to go, so here we go.

I hope at least some of the dozens of visitors I get each day are real people and not spambots, crawlers, and the like (not that my comments sections are any proof of that, and last weeks poll didn’t exactly get many votes; I’d like to see at least a few more readers involved).  If you are a real person, prove it just by voting in this poll.

I’m trying out some write-ups for the “Back of the Book” blurb for “In Forgery Divided.”  I’d like to see which, if either, of these blurbs you prefer.  Now, “blurb” means two things, in a  literary sense — one is the one-line quote you can get from a fellow author, professional reviewer, or celebrity promoting your book (these frequently appear on the front cover, though sometimes you’ll see a compilation of them on the back).  The other meaning is the text on the back of the book that ostensibly tells the reader what the book is about — or rather, it’s the sales pitch for the book by the author.  It usually runs about 100-150 words, split among 1-3 short paragraphs.

Now, all I really NEED you to do is vote, but it would be nice to have the occasional comment on this blog now and then, so if you want to explain your vote, comments are open.  (Note:  I do have to approve your initial post so as to keep the spambots off of here; if you’ve posted and I accidentally deleted your post thinking it was spam, please contact me either through twitter, Facebook, e-mail… heck, a telephone call would do, if you know my phone number, and I’ll try and make sure to re-enable your ability to post comments).

Keep in mind this has to entice people who are unaware of the content of this book, and hopefully even people who are unaware of the content of book one.

BLURB VERSION A (this has been the “temporary” interim version used on the website; however, some seem to think it contains too many spoilers):

Maelgyn may have proven himself to be a High Mage, but he’s only one man.  His wife is captured during a massive battle, his new King turns out to be an imposter, and the Dragons are entering the battle.  Despite all this, Maelgyn has to turn his attention to a rescue mission which pits him up against an even bigger threat:  The Elves.

BLURB VERSION B:

With the defeat of Paljor, Maelgyn proved himself the strongest Mage in the Human world, but there are more powerful things than Mages he has to worry about.  He returns home to find that his old enemies can still hurt him while new enemies threaten to tear his kingdom apart from the inside.  The Law of Swords is supposed to protect them from this sort of internal conflict, but it is actually helping his enemies.  And then there’s the Elves to deal with….

(Note:  Comments are temporarily disabled due to spammers, but the poll remains open.  Please prove that you are human by voting)

[poll id=”4″]

Two Blogs in One: On Conventions (and a response to the news of the week)

One administrative disclaimer before I get started:  In the past week or so, a number of stories have popped up in the press or commentary (or comics) about images being used and\or hotlinked to without the artist’s permission.  The webcomic the Oatmeal (particularly the issue entitled “You’re doing it for the Expo$ure”, though I also saw a story about the Huffington Post deep hotlinking one of their comics without permission) is centered on a couple of these stories.

I do occasionally hotlink to artwork — webcomics or whatnot.  As a policy, however, I try to use those images appropriately.  Either I’ve read and am following the artist’s policy on hotlinking (many webcomics have one), or I find the artwork using a “free for use” search.  Similarly, when publishing, I might use fonts or fleurons that are labeled (or licensed) “free for commercial use.”  Or might read an eBook which is being sold for free on Amazon.  I always believe, in good faith, I have permission to do so… but there is always the risk that something has been mislabeled or stolen and released as someone else’s work.

So, if you ARE an artist of an image I’ve used, and you don’t want me hotlinking and\or embedding said image, PLEASE let me know and I will remove it (or change the accedition, or whatever else you want me to do with it).  I know I don’t want my work used by someone else without permission, and I would never knowingly do so with someone else’s work.

And that takes care of the news of the week.  Now that that’s out of the way….

A couple days ago, in addition to adding more books to my A-Store, I updated my Convention Calender by adding new 2016 (and a couple 2017) dates for twenty-three conventions.  As always, I have to remind people that no, I am not going to all of the conventions listed.  I don’t think it would be possible even if I had infinite funds and resources to try.

I do, however, intend to attend a few of them — I usually attend two or three a year, and 2016 isn’t going to be an exception… but I have yet to make final decisions as to which conventions I’ll attend.  As In Forgery Divided and The Merrimack Event are nearing publication, I’m considering applying as a guest to some local conventions.

It’s going to be a new experience for me.  If it works out, I might wind up writing a blog about it.  I’ll also be “tagging” some of the conventions I have listed to reflect whether I’m attending, attending as a panelist, attending as a guest, or (in the future, if I’m lucky) attending as a guest of honor.

Oh, and I’m testing something for next week’s blog post (which would have been this week’s, or even last week’s, but I couldn’t get the first plug-in that I tried for this to work):  POLLS!

[poll id=”3″]

Revamping my A-Store

I bet most of you don’t even know what an A-Store is, much less that I even had one. Well, I created one a few years ago, hoping to use it purely to help others source out research material.  Originally, that was supposed to help out some friends of mine involved with fanfiction, but it never got off the ground.

That plan fell by the wayside, so I let the A-Store fall into disuse. There might be a surviving link to it here or there, but I haven’t added any products (or removed any no-longer-available products) in years.

Well, it feels like it’s time to try and make use of it, again. This time, instead of just listing what was effectively research material, I’m going to include recommendation lists of books I enjoy (or books by authors I like; if I like the author well enough and like the write-ups I’ve seen, I might recommend their books before I’ve read them) and more “fun” things for you to consider.

That’s all it is going to be — a “book and fun thing” recommendation engine, with sales links to Amazon. I’m not removing the stuff I’d linked to as ‘research material,’ though, so you can still find some of that, too.  The link will soon be active on this site’s navigation bar, above, so keep your eyes peeled!

Note:  Comments for this post have been disabled because of excessive spam attempts.

A (slightly inaccurate) Map for “In Treachery Forged”

First, a progress report:

I have begun searching for a cover artist and editor for “The Merrimack Event, since I can’t have the same people doing that as I have working on “In Forgery Divided” and expect either one to be done any time soon.

Speaking of “In Forgery Divided,” my cover artist has sent me some concept sketches and my editor is… still only about a quarter of the way through the book.  Sigh.  I’m also investigating some marketing opportunities for all of my books, but I hope I don’t go as overboard as in this article. (I know explaining a joke can ruin the humor, but thanks to Poe’s Law and some writers who might actually go close to that far, I think I should warn you that the linked-to article is satire).

Now, on to the actual point of this blog as referenced in the title…

Now, I know I can be a little boring, but you might find this article interesting.  It’s on JRR Tolkien’s maps and sketches for the Lord of the Rings.

A lot of sword and sorcery\high\epic\whatever-you-call-it fantasy novels are accompanied by maps that show the world the story takes place in. Tolkien’s world is famous for its maps; I have one of them poster-sized mounted on my library wall, in fact.

Well, “In Treachery Forged” isn’t all that different — it, too, has a map. But this map hasn’t been included in the books, and probably won’t, for a variety of reasons.

To start with, it’s in color.  When switched over to greyscale, some of the boundaries marked on it aren’t distinct enough.  Also, some of the handwriting is hard to read, at least when reduced in size for a paperback\eReader device.  Finally, the map was made long before the book was completed, and there are a few errors in it, most of them very minor.

But it’s around… and, since the second book in that series is currently in the “editing and design” phase, I figured I could post it here, mention what the flaws were, and see if anyone thinks I should get it fixed up for the book.  (Please, actually COMMENT if you are interested.  No, really — comment.  It isn’t that hard)  I’m posting it full size, which might be slow to load on some systems, so click on the “read more” link to see it.

Continue reading A (slightly inaccurate) Map for “In Treachery Forged”

Administrative Update

Because of MASSIVE comment spam (over 100 spam posts in one hour) targeting a single one of my blog entries, I have temporarily disabled the post “In Anticipation of Upcoming New Releases.”  You all would have seen none of these comments because I have to approve your first comments (basically, I have to verify you aren’t a spammer; I don’t censor comments beyond that), but they show up in my dashboard all the same.

UPDATE:  After 24 hours, I have restored the post as a test.  We’ll see if the spam attack has ended, or if it happens again.

UPDATE 2:  It worked for a little while, but it’s been a target of spammers and even an apparent DDOS attack in recent days, so I’m taking the post down again.

Trying Out An Author Bio

INTRODUCTION

So far, in my writing career, I haven’t added an author bio anywhere.  They used to be found mostly on one of the inside flaps of the dust jacket for your hardback books, which would make them a pretty low priority when you aren’t publishing any hardback books (especially none with dust jackets), but they do have other uses.  For example, they’re often included in the guest section of Convention websites and programs.  With two books (In Forgery Divided and The Merrimack Event) just waiting on edits and cover art (my cover artist, just a couple weeks ago, announced his engagement.  I don’t know whether\how this might effect my cover art, but I haven’t heard from him since), I’d been considering applying to a be a guest at some local conventions… which means it’s probably high time I come up with an author bio for myself.  The problem is I couldn’t think of anything interesting to put in it.

But then I saw this article, and thought “You know, I bet I could come up with something like this… but everything in it would be (sort of) true!” So… here’s my attempt (and the explanation below).

AUTHOR BIO (FIRST DRAFT)

David A. Tatum was born in Ithaca, NY, the son of a fashion designer and a book-collecting librarian who later became a spy.  By the time he was four years old, he’d mastered how to spell the word “cat,” which made inevitable his decision to become an author.

Moving to Washington DC in order to keep his parents company, he started training in kenpo by the age of seven.  Sadly, after failing to achieve his blackbelt after twenty years of training, he gave up hopes of a career in martial arts and resumed his love of writing.

By the time he was in high school, he joined a national organization — later becoming a chapter president — with the goal of using it to identify a route into the center of the Earth.  Unfortunately, the Suffolk, Virginia caves he explored to find this route failed to provide this route.

When his father died he inherited a large library there was no space for in his home and a life-threatening dental condition.  He spent the next year and a half dealing with both.

When he found that a degree in history offered him no local job opportunities better than your average fast food joint, he decided on a career that typically earns even less money:  Professional writing.

Now he’s trying to juggle writing and publishing far too many series of books at once in a variety of genre, predominantly fantasy and science fiction.

Find his books at FennecFoxPress.com.

EXPLANATIONS

I was, in fact, born in Ithaca, NY.  My father really was a book-collecting librarian and my mother really was really a fashion designer.  After he retired from a career as an Academic librarian at such institutions as Cornell University, George Mason University, Goddard Space Flight Center, and a few other locations, he went to work for the Central Intelligence Agency as… a librarian.  Imagine that.  Okay, probably an exaggeration to call him a spy, but that’s sort of the point of this, isn’t it?

We moved to DC when I was five… maybe six years old (I don’t remember exactly).  In the summer after I turned seven, I went to a four week kenpo summer school class.  I also signed up for tae kwon do in my high school years, and studied karate (as a college elective) and hiep tinh mon later on.  While I like to say I “studied martial arts off and on for twenty years,” I probably had about three years of serious study, and another several years of self-study, but it was spread across four schools and twenty years of time.

And no, I never got a black belt, and never seriously dreamed of a career in martial arts.  And if you saw me, today, you’d think the idea of me doing martial arts was laughable.

The “national organization” I joined was an Explorer Post.  I think they’re now called something else, which may include some changes in effect, but what they were then were young adult co-ed versions of the Boy Scouts (which, at least in my group’s case, were very un-Boy Scout; the movie nights, at the very least, were proof of that).  I served one term as President of my unit (Explorer Post 250).  During my time with the Explorer Post, I participated in several camping trips, half a dozen of which were also spelunking trips through some privately owned caves near Suffolk, Virginia.  Any effort to actually find a route to the center of the Earth went unvoiced.

When my father died, I did inherit a large library — some 15,000 books strong.  There was no way to keep the entire collection intact, so I spent several months paring it down into something more manageable.  A few boxes full, most of which were valuable small-press books from the post-impressionistic and early beatnik (from pre-Ginsburg to pre-Warhol) American literati scene, went to join previously donated books in the George Marvin Tatum Collection at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville (in the special collections department).  A few hundred were auctioned off.  The bulk of what we got rid of — maybe five to nine thousand books (depending on whose estimate you believe) — were sold to a bookstore.

For those of you who may wind up having to get rid of a library full of books in the future, I’ll note that we earned far more from the tax benefits of the small donation than we earned from the few hundred books we sold in auction, and far more in the auctioned books than we did from the large bookstore purchase.  I’d also say, pricing them based on online retail prices at the time, we earned a larger percentage of value in the same order — almost 100% of the value from the donations, about 75% of the value from the auction, and maybe 0.3% from the bulk sale to the bookstore.  If I’d had a few more months to dispose of the collection, I probably could have done much, much better.

As far as the life-threatening dental condition is concerned, that may sound like a joke, but it wasn’t exaggerated at all.  While suffering from the flu one day, I suffered a dizzy spell and collapsed to the tile floor in my bathroom.  I don’t really remember how it happened, exactly, but I bashed my jaw in the process and broke several teeth.  Before I could see a dentist to get any work done, my entire lower jaw (and most of the upper jaw) became infected.  Treatment (which involved three bridges, caps on all my teeth, six tooth extractions — three of which were wisdom teeth — and two dozen root canals) left me ill for most of a year (did I mention that novocaine — or whatever painkiller the dentist favored — left me ill for days afterwards?).  The dentist told me that the reason my teeth were so vulnerable was a congenital (inherited) defect in the enamel of my teeth — a flaw my father and grandfather both were known to suffer from (and one which may have contributed to their deaths, if the link between poor dental health and heart disease is accurate).

It should be noted that, according to many surveys (including such authorities as the Author’s Guild), the average author earns far less annually than a full-time minimum wage job.  These surveys aren’t exactly trustworthy, however.  Either they focus primarily on part-time writers who may traditionally publish only one book every other year, or they are self-selecting by people in only one segment of the market (such as “High Literature” or “Poetry”), or they include ALL authors (including those who don’t actually publish anything), or they are self-selecting among a community that is atypical, or — as with the Authors Guild survey, they are all-of-the-above.

While I had been scribbling stories and the like for years — mostly fanfiction — it was only after recovering from my “life-threatening dental condition” that I started seriously pursuing a career as an author.  And while it took quite a while after that before my first book was launched, I don’t regret my decision one bit.  The only thing I do regret was not moving to self-publishing sooner; I spent far too many years in slush piles waiting for answers that never came.  As a consequence of waiting so long to get published, I wound up starting too many series; rather than work on sequels to the books under submission, I decided I would start something new.  I wrote quite a few things, not all of which is publishable.

What I did, eventually, decide was worth keeping were the first books of three series:  In Treachery Forged (Book I of The Law of Swords; Book 2 will be out soonish), The Kitsune Stratagem (published but, due to sales, I’ll probably hold off on the sequels for a bit), and The Merrimack Event (Book I of the Shieldclads series; sales figures will determine how quickly I get around to sequels).   I know a lot of authors who would say three series were too many to juggle at once.

CONCLUSION

This is just a draft; I may include some things more or cut some things out.  Let me know what you think, because there’s still plenty of time to change things.