Hyacinth Name a Character Contest

UPDATE 10/22 – Voting closed. To see details on the winning entry click here.

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UPDATE 10/18 – Finalists Posted. Check them out here and please vote for your favorite!

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ORIGINAL POST
Trying out something a little on the fun side…

THE CONTEST:
One of my readers gets to come up with the name and physical description of a new character in the Svatura series who will be introduced in Book #2 – Hyacinth. This is a character who will run through the rest of the series.

PRIZES:
The winner will receive…

– A $25 Gift Certificate for Amazon.com
– A FREE autographed print copy of BLUE VIOLET
– A FREE digital copy of HYACINTH prior to release
– A thank you in my acknowledgements section of Hyacinth

Winner may also be featured on this website and other Abigail Owen and Svatura Series advertisements around the web.

THE RULES/YOUR SUBMISSION:
1. Read the below description of the character and submit your proposed name (may include first, last, previous, and/or nicknames). Also include a proposed physical description that you think goes with the name and the character.
2. Submit your entry one of 3 ways:

You may submit multiple entries.

3. All entries must be submitted by October 15th, 2012 at 11:59pm
4. I’ll select my top 5 and post them on Facebook Oct 16th to let my readers vote on the winner
5. Winner will be announced October 20th by 10:00pm.

Character (spoiler alerts): A male Vyusher in his 20s – a good one (at least to start). The son of one of the High Council members. A rival love interest for one of my main female characters. Personality will be very charming and outgoing. Very likable. Superpower will be the ability to turn himself invisible.

Good luck and I can’t wait to see what you come up with!!!

***Disclaimer: By entering this contest you retain no rights to the character or books.

Developing My Characters

My first reviews for Blue Violet have been coming in lately, and so far feedback frequently centers around my characters. Here are a few excerpts from reviews:

“The characters are flawed enough not to be irritating, particularly Ellie, who is an ideal heroine – strong, stubborn and loving.”
– Kirsty http://kvlovesbooks.blogspot.co.uk/

“I grew really attached to all the characters, and I love all of them.”
– Cara http://readingpassion03.blogspot.com/

“What IS different – and most refreshing – about BLUE VIOLET is Ellie Aubrey. Where TWILIGHT’s Bella is weak, clumsy, and insecure, Ellie is strong, confident, and courageous. Bella is the perennial damsel in distress, but Ellie is a heroine, leading her people, teaching them, and risking everything to save them from destruction. I admire Ellie. She is exactly the kind of young woman that can inspire teen readers to be self-confident and brave.”
– Kathy, Amazon Top 500 Reviewer http://www.amazon.com/review/R125EY5J68GCT8/ref=cm_cr_pr_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B009084KV8&linkCode=&nodeID=&tag=

I’ve had several readers ask me if a character is modeled off of a specific person, or even off of myself. My answer is yes… and no. No one character is entirely me or entirely someone I know. But there are bits and pieces scattered throughout.

I will admit that a bit of myself can be found in every single character in some way or other. Sometimes it’s very much me. For example, I am naturally introverted. So when I write Adelaide I put that aspect of myself into her. Any time I mention a character liking Star Wars, reading, running, skydiving, or chocolate… that is 100% me coming through. Sometimes a character displays a characteristic that I wish I had. Ellie, for example, has an innate sense of self confidence. I frequently have to fake mine.

Many of my characters have small parts of people I know in them. For example, Ellie is strong because she has an optimistic and open personality. Both of my two closest friends from high school and college have this quality, and it’s something I’ve always admired in them. Griffin has a very deliberate and sometimes cautious personality, which is a little bit my husband, and a lot my son. Another trait I find endearing.

I’ve heard that some authors will map out their character entirely before writing a book. They’ll answer a series of questions that helps them to determine every aspect of that character – background, history, personality, looks, etc.  I don’t tend to do this. However, I will keep track of little details – nervous habits, funny preferences for foods or movies, anything I’ve mentioned along those lines so that I keep those things unique to the character. Sometimes, if I’m struggling with a character, I will do a little question and answer time just to get my imagination going. But most of the time they develop fairly organically.

When I read I tend to prefer scenes that are heavy with character development and character interaction. Consequently, these also tend to be my favorite scenes to write. I guess that’s coming through. I’ve been so thrilled to received feedback that people love my characters. I hope to continue to write compelling characters in my next books!

How To Publish a Print Version of A Book

Once I had published my debut novel, Blue Violet, on Kindle, I thought that the bulk of the publishing work was behind me. However, I underestimated two things: the number of people who still prefer print and how long it would take me to get the print version published.

I always planned on publishing a print version of the book. But I wasted precious time making some mistakes along the way. For other first-time self publishing writers out there, as well as for my own memory-refresher when I publish the next book, here are some key points about publishing the print version of the book.

I published the print version through CreateSpace.com which is an “On Demand” printing service affiliated with Amazon. On Demand means that no one carries inventory. They print as each individual order is placed.  The cost of that is built into the cost of the book itself.

Here are the main areas that took more time than I anticipated or where I made mistakes…

1. Formatting the Text
After you spend all that time formatting the text for the Kindle version of your book, you get to do it again. This time you have to account for things like the margins where the spine of the book falls.  Luckily, the site provides a template for you to use, and they also provide guidelines. The tricky part is that if you make any edits to your book after you’ve formatted you now get to either make those changes to both versions. Or re-format for print yet again. Hopefully you don’t have any changes to make after you format for print.

2. Book Cover
CreateSpace has a great Cover Designer tool. It has a bunch of different layouts that you can then adjust how you want. I already had a cover design that I wanted to use. It took me a full round of printed proof with a generic cover before I figured out that some of the options would work for my already created cover. I used the “Spruce” layout which allowed me to use my custom cover image on the front and then had formatting to choose from for the spine and back cover. Keep in mind that the dimensions for the cover image for print are different than the Kindle cover dimensions. So you’ll need to create a separate version of that image. But it worked great once I figured it all out!

3. Proof
The tool has an online proofing tool which let’s you know if there are major errors or issues with the book layout that you need to fix. Once you are done (or think you are) with all your formatting it takes the CreateSpace folks about a day (a little less most times) to approve the book before you can review the official proof. If you have to make any changes after that it’s easy to make changes to your previous submission, bu they have to review and approve all over again.

I highly suggest you get a printed proof to check out as well. You’ll catch things you might not have. For instance I forgot to update my table of contents page #s for the print version and so it didn’t match the actual page #s. I had to fix that before publishing. It takes about a week to get the printed proof and costs a few bucks.

4. Time to Publish on Amazon
It wasn’t really obvious to me that I had finished all the steps. There’s not a “Publish” button that you click. There’s a great checklist of “To Dos” and once you do approve the final proof and turn all the checks in the list green, you’re done. But it then takes a few days before the link to the book works. It can take 5 to 7 business days before you can search for the book on Amazon and find it. And it can take up to four weeks or so before all of the various features on the Amazon page work. For example, the Look Inside feature. And the system should automatically link the Kindle and Print versions for you, but that may take time.

The link for a print version once it’s working is http://www.amazon.com/dp/XXXXXXXXXX (the 10 digit ISBN #)

A couple of other things to be aware of… The tool assigns an ISBN for you as part of the service. You get to pick your distribution channels (Amazon and CreateSpace are free, some additional channels are for a fee). You set your own pricing by region and it’s very clear what the minimum is and what your royalties will be per book.

Also… you can apparently have CreateSpace create the Kindle version of the book for you. Since I did this in backwards order I’m not sure how well that feature works, but it’s an option to be aware of.

After all of that… for the print book lovers out there… the print version of Blue Violet is now available! You can find it at http://www.amazon.com/dp/1479161942!!!

Guest Blogging: Character Interview with Ellie Aubrey

I wrote my first guest blog piece this last week and it is now posted! For those of you who don’t know, a guest blog is when another blogger asks you to write something for their blog. I’m finding that this is very common on book blogs.

Theresa Cole – owner of Fade Into Fantasy – was nice enough to invite me to be a guest blogger on her site. My contact with Theresa started with a request for her to review Blue Violet. She very kindly let me know that she was interested but it would be some time as – and I’m finding this is true of most book bloggers – she was swamped with books to read and review.

She then asked if I would be interested in a guest blog. She was also very helpful in letting me know that the guest blog posts that seemed to garner the most interest from her readers were some type of character interview. This concept got my wheels spinning.

I had a TON of fun writing this guest blog piece! It is written just like a celebrity interview often seen in magazines. The point of view is the author of the article – in this case me. It starts by describing the setting and meeting of the celebrity and then jumps into the Q&A.  The only tricky part was coming up with dialogue that gave readers enough of a clue to hopefully draw their interest to read the book, and yet not include any major spoilers.

Check it out! http://fadeintofantasy.com/character-interview-ellie-aubrey-heroine-of-blue-violet-by-abigail-owen/

Keeping the Plots Straight

As I work on book #2 of the Svatura series – Hyacinth – I am discovering how tricky it is to keep all the plots straight. Every series of books that I’ve considered to be great has usually incorporated multiple plot lines. There’s always the main plot line. But then there are several subplot lines that are introduced at various points throughout the books and then followed through until all the plot lines wrap up beautifully together in the final book. When it’s done well it can often be my favorite aspect of the series. As a writer it is a goal of mine to do this well.

Obviously I can’t reveal all my plot lines here and now – that would be telling. I can tell you that I have worked out most of the subplots from a high level. There’s a few ideas I’m still noodling on – plays on some really interesting folklore I ran across that fits perfectly into my concept. The details of these subplots will come out as I write – a more organic process for me. But I’ve got the ideas!

Here’s what’s tricky… Recording these subplots in a way that makes it easy (or maybe efficient is a better word) for me to make sure all my ideas mesh and flow well and determine when in the series is the best time to hint at, allude to, fully introduce, follow in detail, and then close out each plot line.

In addition, it’ll take me a while to write the books. I want to make sure that I incorporate all my ideas to the best of my ability. So once again, recording the key points in a way that allows me to track the plots easily is imperative. Especially since the details shift and change as I learn more about the characters, plots, etc. as I write them out.

I’m a spreadsheet addict. It comes from my Clark Kent day job of business analysis where I live in spreadsheets all day long. At the moment I’m using this simple tool to break each plot line down by pivotal points and where in which book that point happens. But I’m not satisfied. It’s still not keeping up with the ideas in my head which are currently pouring out of me. It’s also difficult to see how any plots cross and interact and how they impact certain characters.

I’m thinking of doing some kind of board on a wall in my office with bubbles of text and colored string to connect it all together. But then I’d take so much time making and remaking it I wouldn’t be writing. So I guess that’s not practical. (But man wouldn’t it look awesome?) Maybe there’s a software (free preferably) out there that would help do something similar for me. I’ll poke around.

Fellow authors – any suggestions? How do you keep up with this in your head? Any tools you use?

Writing the Second Book in a Series: Hyacinth

I started this blog well after I’d written my first draft of Blue Violet and had done several rounds of editing on my own. Consequently, my blogging for the process around that book was mostly on the professional editing, publishing, and now marketing phases. I didn’t get to blog about the process of writing the book itself. Now I find myself smack dab in the middle of of writing the second book in the Svatura series – Hyacinth. And I am excited to get a chance to document this process from the beginning.

I’m not sure how it works for other authors. I’m guessing it’s different for each individual. Some may outline excessively and some use a more organic process. For me it’s sort of a combination of both. I usually start writing with a very general idea in my head – main characters, main adversaries, high level plot points. I might even outline it a bit. It’s the getting my characters from point A to point B that is the organic piece.

I’ve posted before that with Blue Violet I would write a scene until I got stuck. Then I’d highlight yellow where I needed to go back and fill in or connect later, and move to a new scene. I would move between scenes and get ideas on how certain characters might interact, or how a background point might influence them. I’d then go back to previously written scenes to add more around these new points and have those new ideas flow through. For Hyacinth… yup… this process still works for me. (Phew! It wasn’t just a one off!)

Here’s where I’m hitting a rough spot with Hyacinth… it’s the second book in a series (likely of four). Not a shocker I know. You would think that if anything the second book would be easier. The characters and the plot are already introduced… already on their way. Jump started for me. But it also introduces two potential pitfalls I didn’t have to deal with as much in the first book…

First pitfall is continuity.  As I was writing Blue Violet if I came up with a really cool concept that didn’t jive with a previously written section of the book, I’d just go back and change the previously written section.  Can’t do that now. Blue Violet is out there. I can’t go back and change it and readers will totally call me on anything that doesn’t gel. So in some ways it’s forcing me to get even more creative. (Or sometimes even to save that new cool concept for a different book down the road – I have a lot more in me, I promise! I have some seriously awesome ideas around dragons, and also something around the Book of Ruth from the Bible – but incognito. You’ll see…)

Second pitfall is a seriously good plot line that will last three more books. Blue Violet was the intro – get the ball rolling.  I have an idea of where the major plot line is going for the next three. I’m pretty sure that the overarching idea I have is new enough, unique enough to carry it through and appeal to readers in a big way. But it still needs tweaking. And as I write Hyacinth I have that in the back of my mind the entire time. I’m I setting it up enough? Am I saving enough for the next books without sacrificing the quality of this one? Am I making sure this goes in a direction that feeds the higher plot line?

Even with all these questions chasing around in my head, I can tell you already, only 90 pages into the first draft, Hyacinth is even better than Blue Violet. And I happen to think that Blue Violet is pretty darn good.

The Secret (Awesome) World of Indie Authors

As I continue the journey of self publishing my first book – Blue Violet – I have discovered an entire micro-community that I now find myself a part of – the world of indie authors.

Other than the few indie books I stumbled on as a reader, I had no idea how wide and deep this community would stretch. Social media – in the form of Twitter, book blogs, author blogs, Facebook, and other sites like GoodReads and Book Blogs – has connected us all in a way that was never before possible. And there are – as far as I can tell – thousands of us.

You would think that with so many of us out there trying to get our books to sell, that it would be a highly competitive environment. But instead, this is one of the most supportive and helpful groups of total strangers that I have ever run across.

Want to know why? I believe it’s because this is a group of people who share a very basic common interest – reading. Each of us is thrilled to find new books and new favorite authors out there. And in the pursuit of that goal, we’re each willing to lend a hand to one another.

Yes, many of the tweets, emails, and blog messages I get are generic “feelers” and even sometimes “spam” to just try to get traction. But I write that off as understandable given how much time one could sink into just maintaining a presence online.

However, I have been gratified by many positive experiences with people genuinely interested in connecting with fellow authors and readers. Here’s just a handful of examples of people going above and beyond for me…

  • Wendy – My awesome editor – who is a kickass author herself – not only helped me hugely with the book, but has also been a wealth of help with things like the book description, managing my book on Amazon, and answering other random questions. If you’re looking for a stellar editor, you can contact Wendy through Indie Book Reviewers (also a very helpful group of folks).
  • Jade Kerrion – Jade found me on the Book Bloggers site. She actually checked out my blog and then asked me specific questions about it. This led to her pointing me to specific articles on her website which have been hugely helpful in providing answers. Needless to say I now follow Jade’s blog as well as have purchased her book which I can’t wait to read. You can follow Jade and/or check out her book at her blog.
  • Timothy Davis – I follow authors regularly on Twitter, and have been followed myself. Typically people send a generic “Thanks for following” message, sometimes with a “more info here” link.  Tim takes it a giant step forward by not only following back, but then posting a tweet to his followers to check out your latest book. What an awesome example to set! More about Tim at his Amazon Author site.
  • An Amazon reviewer who I won’t name for privacy purposes sent me not only one of the nicest rejections I’ve had in response to my request to review my book, but followed up with tips on reviewers who might be interested as well as sites to make sure my book was visible on – like GoodReads. Way beyond what anyone should feel obligated to do when rejecting a review request.

Thank you to the indie author/reader/reviewer/blogger community for the warm welcome and all the help. Keep it coming. I’m grateful for every little bit I can get!

Reaching More Readers: Book Review Blogs

Following up on my first post on this topic, I’d like to take a moment to focus on method #2 for ways to try to reach more readers: Submit Your Book to Book Review Blogs. I have to admit that I have been sucked into the world of book blogs.

Through the Writer’s Cafe, a group I belong to on LinkedIn, I discovered Book Blogs, a site where authors, reviewers, and bloggers can all mix and mingle.  I will admit to being very overwhelmed by this site initially. Within half a day of my joining I had about 15 welcome messages from other members, and I continue to receive about four or five new messages a day. That said, one week in, I am finding this site to be worth the effort.

As a newbie I like the premise. Much like Twitter, there seems to be a “follow back” methodology to this site which makes it feel very comfortable when it comes to interacting with people you don’t know.

As a reader I’m LOVING the blogs that I’ve decided to follow. It’s opened up an entire new universe of books to me that I may otherwise not have found. I already have a backlog of about 10 new books purchased and just waiting to be read!

As an author joining this site has simplified the process of finding book reviewers to submit requests to. Each reviewer has different ways they prefer to have review requests come to them, and most make it very clear and easy to do.

As a blogger the follow-back methodology is helping me to gather more followers for this blog. In theory, more followers should lead to book reviews and eventually to more readers.

As a working mom with 2 toddlers who is also getting an MBA degree and writing my next book I will admit that I continue to feel overwhelmed by the sheer numbers in this community (and this is just one of several similar communities I’ve found). I am feeling my way through requesting reviews, responding to messages, and figuring out other concepts like guest blogging and blog tours. However, as with every new tool I’ve tried during this self-publishing journey, I expect things to slow down and settle into a pattern I can sustain.

So far I am finding this site to be a good resource and networking opportunity. The effectiveness of this method for getting book reviews and reaching more readers is yet to be determined. Stay tuned!

Reaching More Readers: Getting Started

Now that my debut novel, Blue Violet, is released, my primary goal for this book has shifted from writing/publishing to attracting readers. Based on blogs I’ve read, and my own personal feelings, most writers will tell you that their main objective is to reach readers (and give them a positive reading experience). The side-benefit of that goal is making enough money to sustain the habit. Whether that means just covering the expenses of editing and publishing, or making a living off of the income is different for each of us.

Reaching readers means a certain amount of self-marketing. I had started this process pre-publication with my author pages: facebook, twitter, pinterest, google +, linkedin, blog (see previous blog posts). I will admit to being incredibly overwhelmed with just those media options when I first started. But my use of them has fallen into a rhythm that I’m happy with, and I now feel much more confident using these social media tools. In addition, after the learning curve flattened out a bit I’m no longer spending inordinate amounts of time managing them.

However, now that my book is released I am discovering many new worlds of self-promotion I have yet to explore. And I am right back to feeling incredibly overwhelmed…

In researching various statistics concerning self-published authors, several stood out to me. In the case of reaching more readers I found a very interesting stat in the book “Not a Gold Rush” by Taleist. Based on a survey of self-published authors, they reported that getting reviews can be a key method of reaching readers. The various activities in the survey included the following:

1. Give away review copies
2. Submit to book review blogs
3. Submit to mainstream press
4. Seek popular reviewers on amazon
5. Ask readers for reviews (through email lists, etc.)
6. Pay for reviews

I won’t give the stats away – buy their book if you’re interested, it’s very good information – but based on their survey results, trying these methods seems worth the effort.

Method #5 is a bit of no-brainer – posting the release of my book all over my author sites (and personal sites) and emailing family and friends was going to happen anyway because I’m so excited about this accomplishment. So I’d say that step is complete.

But methods #s 1-4…. hmmmm…. how to even get started?

As I work my way through the mysteries and pathways of these methods, I’ll post a more detailed blog on each topic. I would LOVE to get feedback from other authors and bloggers who’ve already traveled this road. Please, I beg you, point me in effective directions. As an author, I would much rather spend my time writing the next book, versus spinning my wheels on ineffective self-marketing!

1st Book Published… Now What?

In case you can’t tell from my various posts, let me tell you that I am beyond thrilled to have my first book – Blue Violet – finally published. I wrote the first draft almost three years ago, and to have it available for readers, rather than just talking about how I want to publish a book, is almost surreal.

It has been especially fun to have various family and friends email me that they’ve bought my book and started reading it. I’ve been tickled by several observations such as what shows up in search results with my book, familiar places and incidents I built into the story, and how on earth did I finish this while raising a family/working full time/getting my MBA. I am particularly excited to get feedback from readers as they finish the book! And patience is not a strong suit, so feel free to read fast my friends!

Believe it or not, the work doesn’t stop once the book is published. I can’t just sit back and hope that people find it. Now is time for me to take an active role in getting the word out and trying to move it up the search results list.  The way I do that is through extensive, varied, and vigorous self-marketing.

Over the last few days I’ve created an author page on Amazon and made sure that all of my various author sites are updated with the link to the book. I continue to post regularly on my various author sites. I might try the Facebook ads. And I am researching how to get the book listed on sites like GoodReads. There are tons of different things I can try. I’m only seeing the tip of the iceberg at this point.

A key – longer-term – part of my strategy is to get more books written and published. New readers are more likely to give me a try if I have multiple books – especially if there’s a series. The good news is I now have a method to my madness, I plan (hope) to get more books out at a faster pace. I am already working on book #2 of the series – Hyacinth – and am currently aiming to have it out sometime in early 2013.  I’ll be honest that I was a little worried I’d run out of topics for this blog after Blue Violet was published, but marketing one book while writing another should keep my topics list sufficiently full.