Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Author Interview: Lisa Borne Graves

Thanks for sitting down with us today, Lisa. Let’s dive right in: What inspired you to write Quiver?
Quiver happened to be the first novel I ever finished writing, just published much later. In the end of 2006, I had a semester of grad school under my belt, and my brain felt overcooked from writing analyses and dissecting literature with no time left for creative writing—something I had done daily my entire life until then. I wanted a writing prompt, so I picked up a mythology book and reread the tales of lovers. Cupid and Psyche had always been a favorite, so I decided to reimagine the myth, but what I ended up doing was actually reinventing it.
Very interesting! Have you always had a love of mythology? 
I have always loved books and stories of all kinds. I think it was in middle school when I first really learned a lot about mythology and the impact it had on cultures. I was fascinated how ancient civilizations weaved wondrous stories to explain the world around them. I started realizing every modern story is a creative echo of an ancient one. The Greek ones resonated most with me, due to having some Greek family who told me stories about my relatives and fussed over my “Greek eyes” while stuffing me full of baklava and kourabiedes over the holidays.
That’s definitely true, but I can at least say the new versions are pretty fun to read. Let’s switch gears a little: who is your favorite character?
It’s such a difficult question. My favorite to write in Quiver was Aroha. She was deliciously vain and incorrigible and so unlike me. It was such a challenge to write her, but I busted out my acting chops and imagined being her. At times, I cringed or laughed at what I was writing. However, I also have a love for my other three narrators—Lucien for his brains, Archer for his intensity, and Callie for her strength in the face of her entire life changing. I have a feeling my favorite will shift each book.

I’m definitely a fan of Aroha too. Tell us a little about your research process. 
I had been well-read in mythology already, so basically I wrote off my memory, changing what I wished, like some of the more taboo issues in their family tree. After I wrote the first draft, I reviewed my gods and tweaked and added a few things. The largest research process wasn’t the mythology; it was locations. I researched so far as to figure out what street my character would walk down in Nice, France, and the exact library he would need to go to for an archive that carried works from the 16th century. In 2006, this research process was a bit harder than today. Google Maps became a godsend during recent edits. I was able to see seamless pictures of the actual streets of NYC to get a true feel for the setting.

Speaking of the city, what made you decide on modern-day NYC for the retelling of this myth?
It’s a blur as to which trips from the Philly area made me align Greek mythology to NYC, but I remember going to the MET and seeing their Greek statues: Prometheus and Atlas at Rockefeller Center, and later Athena in Athens Square. I’ve always linked great sculptures to the Greeks, and this was the place I saw them most. Add in a nod back to my teenage years stalking celebs at the Plaza and walking through the Upper East Side to imagine being a part of that social circle I had seen in movies, I decided this must be where my tale would begin. But my gods will also be going places. 

We’re looking forward to seeing where they go! What can we expect next from you?
My next novel out is Draca, book 2 of Celestial Spheres which will be out in July. We’ll see new villains and the difficulties it takes in repairing a torn relationship. I’m also working hard on Fever, book 2 of The Immortal Transcripts for February 2021. It’ll take the gods to new heights and challenge them in various ways. I’ll be rotating these series as well as blowing off the dust from some shelved books that need revising, or most likely, I’ll start new things simultaneously as I often do. No matter what, I don’t stop writing, so I’ll have something interesting for readers.

Thanks again for talking with us, Lisa! Don't forget to join us for the launch party on Saturday, February 1st for your chance to win a copy of Lisa's book!

The Immortal Transcripts: Quiver
by Lisa Borne Graves

What would you do if you could live forever? Could you hide it from the one you truly loved, especially if her life depended on it?

Thanks to his dysfunctional Olympian family, Archer Ambrose finds out firsthand how difficult this can be. He never falls in love but bestows it on others—until he meets Callie.

When Callie Syches moves to the Upper East Side to prepare for her father’s impending death, she doesn’t expect to meet the boy of her dreams. She also never believed her father’s harebrained theory about myths, but her uncanny ability to “see” uncovers godly secrets Callie can hardly fathom.

With an immortal family demanding absolute obedience, how far will Archer go to protect his love from the storm the gods will unleash upon them?

In this reinvention of Cupid and Psyche, experience an electrifying series where familial and romantic bonds are at war, and knowledge could mean the end of everything…or a new beginning.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Misused Writing Advice: Kill Your Darlings

Hint: It’s not about your characters.
B. C. Marine, CAO Authors 4 Authors Publishing
Writing is a complex art. There are more writing techniques than there are genres and forms of fiction, and a search for books on how to write will net you thousands of results. It’s a bit overwhelming, especially if you’re new and determined to write “correctly.” So writing advice gets cut down into little quotes and snippets and passed around on social media. The intention is good, but like a game of Telephone, by the time it makes a few rounds, the message is often warped into something the originator never intended. In this ongoing monthly series, we’re going to take a look at popular writing advice and examine what it was meant to be.

The Cheerful Massacre

This phrase has been passed around by writers for over a century. Writers today gleefully tweet about all the darlings they’ve killed. If you don’t know the context, it makes sense. There can be something cathartic in killing off characters, giving them a heartfelt deathbed speech, drawing out an antagonist’s anguish, or pulling the rug out from under readers with an unexpected offing. I’ve recently been working on a death scene myself, and although I wouldn’t call it fun, it definitely evoked strong feelings. I get it, I do.
So you might be surprised to hear that if you’re happy about killing your darlings, what you’re doing has nothing to do with the original advice.
But I Loved Them!
No matter how precious a character is to you, their death is not killing a darling. In fact, if you spend a long time lingering over their heroic sacrifice and drawn-out funeral, that could be a darling itself.
Then what is a darling?
Behold My Beautiful Genius
Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings. – Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, On the Art of Writing, 1916
Your darlings are the turn of phrase that you just know is so clever, the scene that was deeply inspired, the poem you had to tuck into your fantasy for flavor, the chapter spent with your favorite side character. They’re the self-indulgement moments that don’t contribute enough to your story to justify their existence. In terms of characters, killing a darling doesn’t mean putting their death on the page; it means something much harsher: erasing them from the manuscript.
It Hurts Too Much
Good. If it doesn’t feel like a gut punch to cut something from your manuscript, it wasn’t really a darling. That’s why you’re usually the worst person to find your darlings. It wouldn’t occur to you to cut them, because they’re precious to you. This is where alpha and beta readers, critique partners, and editors come in. They can’t point out the parts you’re blind to that just don’t work.
There’s one darling of mine that I’ll never forget having to kill. The scene was a sunrise walk around a picturesque lake, and after some sass, my main characters repaired an emotional rift between them. My alpha reader told me right away that the scene didn’t work. I was heartbroken. The dialogue was so fun, and the descriptions so lovingly crafted that I had to salvage it! But it couldn’t be saved, because it actively damaged my plot. The characters weren’t ready for that point in their relationship yet. As much as it hurt to cut it, my story was stronger without it.
Rob Your Darlings’ Graves
Sir Quiller-Couch wrote his writing advice over a century ago. At the time, they didn’t have the handy inventions of computers, word-processors, and back-up cloud storage. With a few keystrokes, you can cut that darling passage and paste it into a new document. A graveyard document can be handy later. Profiles for beloved characters can be saved for other stories.
That scene I had to cut? I picked its bones like a vulture, pulling out bits here and there to feed other parts of my manuscript. Not everything can be recycled—most can’t, really—but knowing they’re not truly gone makes those darlings a little easier to kill.

The Exceptions

Not every darling has to be killed purely for the crime of being loved. Doing that would rob your work of its soul. It’s okay to take some pride in your work as long as it doesn’t conflict with strengthening your story.
You also don’t want to excise parts that are truly essential. Be honest with yourself. Will cutting the darling in question fundamentally change your story or introduce a plothole? For example, removing a tearful reunion at the end of a love story could turn it from a romance to women’s fiction or romantic tragedy. Or a character may bring much-needed levity to a story that would otherwise wallow in its own melodrama.
How About a Muzzle?
Sometimes, instead of killing a darling, you can muzzle it. Say that need comic relief character is too comical in comparison to the rest of the manuscript and causing emotional whiplash, but erasing them would leave the work too bleak. You might just need to ground them a little more. It can sometimes feel close to killing them if you change enough about them, but it’s a slightly easier change.

Next Time

Have you ever heard writing advice that seemed odd? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook! Keep an eye out for next month’s Misused Writing Advice: Show, Don’t Tell.
And join us next week for an interview with author Lisa Borne Graves for her upcoming paranormal romance The Immortal Transcripts: Quiver.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Why Review?

Helping Authors Get Their Books Out There
Rebecca Mikkelson, CBD Authors 4 Authors Publishing
Getting the word out about books is hard, but it’s even harder when authors don’t have reviews. No matter what it’s for, we always check the reviews in multiple places to make sure we’re getting the right product for us, and when it comes to our entertainment, we’re extra picky. 
Why should I review?
Well...why wouldn’t you review? Everything we purchase or try is based on reviews—and that doesn’t just mean reviews on Amazon. We try foods based on friends “reviewing” and saying they tried something new and really liked it. Looking for a new lawnmower? You look at reviews to see if the price—which I recently found out is way more than anticipated—is going to be worth the amount of time you’re going to keep and use the machine. Do you need a vet? Best find one that is clean and cares about Fluffy just as much as you do.
It goes on and on and on. Reviews are the lifeblood of any business, but for authors, it’s even more important because the amount of reviews—not necessarily the quality—signals to Amazon to start showing it in more places. Awesome, right?
What benefit does it have?
First and foremost, this helps authors get their names out there. The more reviews a book has, not only does Amazon help it out as mentioned above, but the more people are likely to stop to see what the book is about. If you had your choice between a book that has one-hundred reviews as opposed to one that has only three or four, you’re going to gravitate toward the higher reviewed one first consciously or unconsciously. 
This means that no matter how talented an author is, if they don’t have the reviews, they’re going to be passed over. Authors who self publish and authors who work with micro-presses and independent presses aren’t going to be able to compete with the Big-5 publishers that are putting out formulaic work.
A second, and huge, benefit is the more reviews that an author has, the easier it will be for them to get one of the coveted BookBub featured deals on their website and email list. If you haven’t heard of BookBub and you like to read, I would highly encourage you to sign up for their mailing list in genres that you love to read; you can find books at discounted prices or free to read. Any author who gets into one of these slots finds will find their sales drastically improving, and it can even translate into higher sales for a series already out, or an upcoming series because the author has landed a featured spot. 
Much like you see your friends and family say on Facebook and Twitter—and whatever other social media platform you young folk are using these days— “Support small businesses!” Well...authors are small businesses in and of themselves, especially independent ones. Help support them with reviews and buying their books. Sometimes it means the difference between giving up on their dreams or realizing people want to hear what they have to say. 
Can I only review if I have something good to say?
The short answer: No.
All reviews are welcomed, and anyone who requests only good reviews is violating Amazon’s terms of service. No review can be coerced by reward or quality, such as, “If you leave a review on my book, I’ll give it to you for free!” You might feel a small amount of panic at that one, but this is different than ARC (Advance Review Copy) readers because they will get the book whether they leave a review or not, and in no way is anyone to ask for only good reviews. 
Another pitfall that authors—and even publishers—fall into is saying, “If you liked my book, leave a review!” That’s coercion for quality. It’s such an easy thing to fall into, and it feels so natural to ask if you liked something, leave a review.
So all of this is a very long way to say: please support authors and leave a review, good or bad. 

Join us next week as we start a new monthly series about misused writing advice.

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Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Reading for Audiobooks

Let’s look at how you can change your book into an audiobook!
By Renee Frey, COO Authors 4 Authors Publishing
As the sole extrovert (we are a group of writers, what did you think most of us would be?) I often get to do the more “outgoing” things with the publishing company. Things like talking to people, and recording and editing myself reading for audiobooks. 
Audiobooks are here to stay. Audible, Scribd, Overdrive, and other subscription services have made audiobooks accessible and easy. Just think, about twelve years ago you would have had to buy a massive binder of CDs to listen to Robert Jordan’s Eye of the World as an audiobook (I know, I borrowed it from the library). Now you can play it from your phone, then launch it at your work computer without missing a word. 
For our self-published colleagues out there, or for other non-traditionally published authors who retain the rights to produce an audiobook, you have lots of options! But what option is best? How should you proceed?

How Is An Audiobook Made?

As with print or ebooks, audiobooks go through distributors. You’ll see a lot of the same choices you already see for self-publishing: producers like Amazon Creative Exchange (ACX) where you can distribute solely through Amazon, ACX and other companies that partner with you to create the audiobook in exchange for a portion of the royalties, or companies like Findaway Voices and Author’s Republic that are distribution only, but allow you to distribute wide. 
So basically you record the audio, edit and master it, upload it to the distributor, and voila! Audiobook!
Sounds too good to be true? Yes and no. 
This sounds easy, but generating the audio is the hard part. There are tons of blogs out there about what equipment is best, what programs are best, comparing services, and lots of other things. I don’t want to go over that—but I DO want to tell you what I typically use for when we make our audiobooks. 
I also want to highlight the easy and affordable things you can do to make this process easier and more affordable for you. 

Step 1: Recording Audio

Okay, you’ve written your book. Congratulations!
Have you looked at the price of getting professional voice work done? 
I mean, it makes sense. You’re paying for EVERYTHING (they edit and master the audio too). But most self-pubbed or indie authors I’ve met aren’t exactly rolling in money. ACX does have a profit-sharing option. But why lose out on profits if you can do some of the work yourself?
Option 1: Get an amateur to record
If you’re close to a high school with a decent drama department or a college with a decent performing arts program, look into hiring an amateur to do the recording. An experienced actor (even if that experience is amateur experience) will have a lot of fun doing the recording, and won’t be shy about really going out there with their voice. If the thought of hearing your own voice for tens of hours fills you with dread, I highly suggest this option. While you may still need to pay, the cost would be MUCH less than hiring a professional studio. 
Along that note, if you have connections with a professional actor, these guys are almost ALWAYS looking for more work. And with the wonder of the Internet, it’s relatively easy to send them a copy of your book for them to mark up, and for them to send you audio files. 
For both of these, you’ll have to do work at the onset to make sure your project is ready. You’ll need a contract for how much you’ll pay, how many re-records you can request, pronunciation guides (looking at you, fantasy and sci-fi writers with your crazy made-up words) and the timeline for the project.
Word to the wise: Be prepared to give these artists a good length of time to do this. This isn’t their primary job, and life will happen. 
Option 2: Record Yourself
If you have acting or theatrical or voice background and don’t wince when you hear a recording of your voice, take a stab at recording the book on your own! As I already said, there are TONS of blogs about what equipment to get and what programs to use. I’d rather focus on what you may already have or what is FREE, and what you can do to improve the recording. 
First, your phone can record you. If you have a smartphone, you can record an audiobook. However, since that mic isn’t the best, you’ll really need to make your recording space do the work that the mic can’t.
  • Find a small, QUIET space. This may sound weird, but a clothes closet is your best friend for this. The clothes help absorb sound, like echos, and if you can hang a curtain or towel across the door and plug up the crack at the bottom of the door, you can really improve your recording space. Pay attention, and stop if you hear an unexpected noise (dog barking, ambulance, etc). Trust me, it’s MUCH easier to re-record what was interrupted now than to try and remove that sound later. 
  • Be as far away from other electronics as possible. If you are using a laptop and USB mic, don’t bring your phone in. If you’re using your phone, put it on airplane mode. Silence or turn off anything in your house that may make a noise. Yes, that includes Alexa. 
  • TEST TEST TEST! This is probably the hardest part about using a phone. It’s always easier to adjust levels before recording. Adjusting afterward is difficult, and may even require expensive software you don’t have. Check to make sure you sound clear, not too loud or too soft, and that you aren’t popping the mic. If you don’t have professional diction training, BUY A POP FILTER. They cost like $5, and make the difference between acceptable and unusable audio. Once you find a good setting, LEAVE IT. That means if you’re using a phone, leave the phone in a place where you aren’t touching it. 
This seems obvious to me, but aside from preparing your space, prepare yourself. Bring a bottle of water, tissues, anything you may need. Remove jewelry, especially dangling earrings (ask me how I know this…). And most importantly, mark up your script. Use colors, underlines, markings, whatever you need to know when to breathe, when to change voices or inflection or volume, or anything else. 

Step 2: Editing and Mastering Audio

Once you have your recordings, you need to edit them. Most distributors require audio to pass a quality check to distribute your audiobook. That means removing extraneous sounds, including breath and mouth sounds, tightening up pauses, and fixing any issues with the recordings. 
Since our focus is affordability, I’m going to just say it: get Audacity. Audacity is a FREE open-source sound editing program. There are also tons of free ad-ons, and while it isn’t as powerful as paid software, it does what you need for audiobooks. 
When I edit, here is what I typically do:
  • Noise Reduction: So when you record (or instruct your actor to do this when they record), leave about 3 seconds of “dead” space at the beginning of each separate track. Use this portion for your noise reduction. It will filter out the ambient white noise in your recording space. 
  • Remove breaths. In Audacity this is SO easy. Highlight the breath sound, then press ctrl+l to change it to silence. Breath done!
  • Tighten up timing by deleting portions of really long pauses. If you recorded yourself, remove your mistakes, sighs, throat clearings, etc. 
If you have sound editing experience, or really want to learn a lot and take this to the next level, you can add dimension to your “recording room” using offsets, enhance the recorded voice with the equalizer, or other things. These are more advanced mastering techniques, and while they will make your audio sound great, they aren’t absolutely necessary. 
Export your audio as required by your distributor, then upload it!

A Few Final Notes

Audiobooks are one of the fastest-growing segments in the publishing industry. You should get your book out there. To help, a few things to note:
Fewer recording sessions is better. Your voice changes from day to day, and you can hear it! Obviously don’t read yourself hoarse, but doing fewer longer sessions is better. Not always possible, I know, but there it is. 
Consider working together with other authors. Editing your own voice might seem intimidating, but editing someone else’s may not be. It also gets another set of ears on the sound, which like having critiquers and beta readers is a good thing. 

Join us next week when we talk about the importance of reviews.

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