Writing

Want to be a Serious Writer? Be prepared… it’s Expensive, But There are Some Tricks to Save Money

I have been honing and practicing my writing skills for nearly a decade. Along the way, I’ve had to spend money on editing, cover design, and marketing services. It cost a lot. I am not kidding.

I also fell into the trap of using “self-publishing” services, which were actually vanity presses. They offer publishing packages from hundreds to even thousands of dollars. And those books sell few to no copies. I would avoid those at all costs. And not just because of the pricing, but because of how they treat authors, take their money, and result in poor sales of their books. Try to use legitimate services where you just upload your materials, such as Amazon KDP or Draft2Digital. Both are free to publish on.

But it’s more than just that. I will return to the publishing and marketing topics after I discuss editing and cover design.

Editing can be pretty expensive. Some editors will even charge thousands of dollars for their services, especially if they’ve worked with big-name, bestselling authors. So, unless you already have the money, I would suggest avoiding those. There are editing services that charge moderate amounts. There are also beta readers, who are usually quite affordable. Many don’t price their services over $100. It may be worth using them for content editing.

Also, a lot of editors will be willing to split the payment plans. That might be useful if you don’t want to spend too much money at once. Another approach is not to get every single draft of your manuscript edited. I don’t just mean the sloppy first draft, but any draft you may feel needs more work… from you.

Everyone’s writing process differs, so the editing necessities will vary, too. If you’re new to writing, it may be challenging to improve your writing abilities without customized feedback. You can read books on the writing craft and more, but they could only take you very far. My suggestion would be to spend less on any unnecessary items outside of your writing time. Or take a side job and save your earnings for book production service.

Which brings me to the next part: cover design. Unless you have a great reputation in graphic design or illustration, it’s best to hire someone. But like editing, some may split the payment segments. Keep in mind your book’s genre and what cover design would be appropriate and attract more people. Regardless of that saying, everybody judges books by their covers.

Now back to marketing. If you self-publish on Amazon, you can price your book as low as 99 cents. If you do the select program, you can run a free promotion for up to 5 days. However, if you do KDP select, your eBook can’t be available anywhere else digitally, like your website or blog. You can also ask Amazon to make your eBooks perma-free by publishing them on sites like Barnes & Noble or Kobo, and making them free. This is an option if you publish through Draft2digital. Amazon may or may not price-match your book to other retailers. If you write a series, Amazon might be more likely to allow you to make the first installment free.

There are a lot of eBook promotion sites that will share free and 99-cent eBooks. And they usually cost less than $100. Maybe even $50.

So, there you have it. While being a writer won’t prevent you from spending a lot of money, you can still use these techniques to pay less.

cooking

Very Delicious Oreo Pudding

I’ve wanted to make an Oreo dessert for a while. In fact, my first idea was to make a no-bake Oreo mousse pie. The recipe sounded promising. However, something about the steps in that formula made me too lazy to start. So, I kept postponing until I decided on something simpler. That is what you see in the picture above: Oreo pudding.

There were a bunch of exciting recipes in the Google results. But I desired something quicker. I chose the option where the preparation time was 30 minutes. I made a cream cheese frosting with more cream cheese than butter, which the instructions called for, anyway. Then I made the vanilla pudding from a mix, followed by the whipped cream. I then crushed thee Oreos in a bag. At some point, I removed the cream filling from the inside since it was kind of interfering with the smashing of the cookies. After that, I mixed the cream cheese icing with the pudding and placed it in a pan. I then covered it with the crushed Oreos, and repeated the process until I topped it with the whipped cream and sprinkled the remaining cookie crumbs on top.

After chilling it for a half hour, I took it out and ate some. It tasted good, but not as delicious as the next day. I guess it needed more time to be in the refrigerator.

One thing I used less of was sugar. Not that it was a choice, but because I was low on the powdered kind. Therefore, I had to made do with what I owned. Despite that, it still came out great. The Oreos already contained lots of sweetness to begin with. What also matters is that I came back for more. That is a sign of success.

I don’t remember what site I got the recipe from, but if you do a web search for “Oreo pudding,” just look for the one that says it’ll take 30 minutes. If you make it, I would recommend chilling it for at least an hour or 2. That way, the ingredients blend better. I hope this helps.

fiction

Interview with Author, Tara Gilboy

As someone who enjoyed her book, “Unwritten,” I am interviewing the author, Tara Gilboy. See the questions and answers below and enjoy!

What do you find the most enjoyable about writing?

I think for me, brainstorming and coming up with new story ideas is always the best part of writing. I love looking at the world as a potential source of story ideas, and I love doing research on them. Of course, after that, the hard work sets in, as I then have to develop the plot and characters in those ideas. But I am always happiest when I am imagining new worlds and possibilities.

What genres do you like to read in now?

I am a very wide reader: I read in pretty much every genre! Right now, since it’s fall and getting to be Halloween time, I have been reading a lot of scary stories, but I also am a huge fan of historical fiction, fantasy, mystery, nonfiction, you name it. I do tend to read a lot of middle grade and young adult books more so than adult novels, partly because that is what I like to write, and partly because I love the way they focus on good, old-fashioned storytelling.

Who is your favorite character in your book?

It is so hard to pick just one! Gracie, my protagonist, is of course my special favorite, but I loved writing Cassandra because she is just so complicated and evil! And Gertrude Winters and I have a lot in common, so I have a special place for her too. And then Walter, of course…. I love them all!

Who is your favorite fictional character in general?

I think if I had to pick just one, I would say Hermione Granger from Harry Potter. When I was a kid, I was always happiest reading, so I think I am drawn to her because she reminds me of myself when I was younger.

Where do you get your ideas?

I wish I knew the answer to this! Ideas come to me all the time. Sometimes I’ll get an idea from something I read or from people I know. If I am searching for ideas, I will often visit a place like a museum or art gallery, because I always leave feeling inspired. The trouble for me is not finding ideas; it is selecting the right idea, the one I am excited enough about that I am willing to commit to it long-term. I often start stories and then put them aside halfway through because I lose interest in them. But I would say that my number one source for ideas is reading. Reading other books by writers I love always inspires me and makes me want to write. 

What other genres would you ever want to write in?

I have always wanted to write historical fiction, and in fact, I have probably started and stopped nearly a dozen historical fiction projects in the last few years alone. I love to read historical fiction and so have always wanted to write it, but somehow I always find myself either stalling or getting bogged down in the research. I feel confident, though, that I will finish one of these historical projects eventually! I also have an idea for a true crime story that I would like to work on, so I have been doing research on writing true crime narratives lately as well.

What was your favorite book as a child?

It is tough to pick just one! I was obsessed with both Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess

What types of scenes do you enjoy writing most?

My favorite kinds of scenes are ones that make me laugh. Sometimes the scene itself isn’t even funny, but I find myself laughing because I am so taken aback by what a character just said or did. I like writing scenes where the characters surprise me and go in a direction I hadn’t expected when I first sat down to write. Those are usually scenes with a lot of emotional intensity.

What did you struggle most with when writing your book?

I think in my first book, Unwritten, I struggled most with making the “rules” of my magical world clear. The concept I had undertaken, writing of a girl who is a character in a story, ended up being a lot more complex (and potentially confusing to readers) than I had anticipated when I started. I was really lucky to have a great workshop group and critique partners who helped me along the way. I also always really struggle with plot and structure. I find that plotting gets easier, though, once I have my character’s main goal or drive figured out. Until I know what my main character wants, I don’t really have a story.

What character can you relate to most?

I think I relate to Gertrude Winters the most, perhaps because we both share a love of writing. And in Rewritten, Gertrude is struggling with a nasty case of writer’s block, something I can definitely relate to!

Are there unique details you pick up on in fiction, either visual or written?

It depends on what and why I am reading. Reading is my absolute favorite thing in the world, and so I try to just let myself sink into the story. I don’t want to always be looking “behind the scenes” at the way a story is constructed. That said, after I’ve read a book I love once or twice, I will often go back to it and look at what specifically makes it work so well. And when I am struggling with something in my own writing, I often look at books or scenes that are similar to mine to see what strategies the author used to handle various issues that came up. For example, when I needed to write a scene about a fire, I read a lot of different books with fire scenes (for example, the fire scene in Jane Eyre, where Jane puts out a fire in Mr. Rochester’s bedroom) to see how other authors had handled it.

Do you ever notice elements in fiction that others don’t?

I think so, but then again, many of my students and friends notice things in fiction that I don’t too. I tend to look a lot at plot and structure when I am reading, and I have some wonderful friends who are always reminding me of the beauty of language and lyrical prose. I think we all look at slightly different things as readers and writers, and so we always learn from each other.

What is your writing pet peeve?

My biggest writing pet peeve is writers who show off at the expense of the story. It is something I used to struggle with when I first started writing, and I had to train myself not to do it. The plot and characters come first and foremost: writers can’t be afraid to cut paragraphs and scenes, even if they love the language, if they don’t contribute to the overall story. Also for some odd reason I dislike the word “myriad.” I’m not sure why, but it’s always been a pet peeve of mine.

Thank you so much for having me!

Writing

Why I Don’t Title Chapters in My Novels

Contrary to what others have said, novels don’t need chapter titles. Okay, that may sound amateurish and you may be looking at me like I have five heads. But I did a Google search and the answer was that novels do not have have titles for their chapters.

That being said, it’s still a good idea, especially if you’re writing chapter books for younger kids. I write middle grade books, which is for mostly 8 – 11-year-olds. And now here is the answer to why I don’t title my chapters: too much effort.

Coming up with titles for anything, whether it’s a book, chapter, blog post, and so on, can be difficult. I struggled with brainstorming strong titles for my two published novels. Book 1 of my series has had two different titles while book 2 has had 4. Book 1’s original title was “From Frights to Flaws”, and many said it was weak or made no sense. So, after republishing the story as a new edition, I considered changing the title as the sales were still not satisfying. I came up with “The Frights of Fiji”, which received more popularity in a poll than “From Frights to Flaws.” 


Book 2’s original title was “Wizardry Goes Wild.” Like book 1, I republished it, but three times since when I published a second edition of it as “The Uncontrollable Curse”, despite the changes I had made, the reviews were unsatisfying. So, I made major edits to it and then republished it as a third edition titled, “The Unruly Curse.” Once again, sales weren’t good, in spite of the better reviews. That was when I finalized on the current title, “A Curse of Mayhem.”

Basically, I feel it’s too much work to give my book chapters titles. If you’re writing fiction, chapter titles are optional, unless you work with a commercial publisher and they make you title your chapters. However, I think chapter titles are necessary if you are writing non-fiction, whether you submit to a traditional publisher or you choose to self-publish. If you title your chapters, remember to be creative and don’t be afraid to ask for help, even privately.

art

Collaborative Art Project: Medallions with Abstract Designs

In order to get through the pandemic without highly stressing out over it, my friend, “Veronica” (not her real name) and I are collaborating on different art projects. The first one we worked on were medallions with abstract designs. This was inspired by an assignment I did in college. In an art class (I was a fine arts major), we had to do a large series of small drawings. So, my professor suggested medallions for me.

When the pandemic happened and I was (and still am, big time) tired of not being in control of my life, my mom sent me an article, where it said that helping another and vise versa can improve your feelings. After thinking about ideas, this is what I came up with: collaborative art projects.

Because I was an art major in college, I had to learn a lot of vocabulary related to it, as well as how to critique forms of creative works. That is what I applied to when helping Veronica.

I drew a few abstract designs inside circles, and then finalized on this one to color.

The markers were old, so they were kind of faded. However, it also allowed me some room for dimension with the various (and unintentional) tints and tones. I also picked colors that I felt would go well with one another.

The same happened with Veronica. She also colored in the shapes that she felt went together well. The shapes reminded her of different objects, too. So, she picked hues based on what the elements looked like to her.

Another thing she did that I also used to do a lot was turn the paper when drawing and coloring. She said that she learned the technique in school. Below is her medallion.

She colored one section all maroon, which is when I taught her the idea of filling in each shape between the lines a different color. I also informed her about something the same professor told me about one of my projects later in my college career. If it were copied into a black and white replica, it would be all the same tone. I used it as a compliment on how Veronica paired the hues.

The message you can take home is that you can help someone close to you with anything that you’re strong in and that the other person may benefit from. Hopefully, this will work for my friend and I, as well as pretty much everybody.

Writing

Behold…Some Useful Tips for Worldbuilding in Writing

Image from Pixabay

Do you currently write or want to write speculative fiction stories? Yes to either? Then let’s get rolling.

But before that, if you don’t know what speculative fiction is, it’s science-fiction, fantasy, and horror. For you, horror fans out there, unfortunately, I am not fond of it. Therefore, I don’t know much about creating horror fiction. However, these worldbuilding tips I am about to provide can apply to all speculative fiction genres. So, without further ado, here are some helpful tips for worldbuilding.

1: Be original as much as possible, but also incorporate believability

The second part of that tip is, perhaps, the most important. If you write any genre of fiction, everything should be believable. Of course, you can still have unrealistic elements, like magic, if you’re writing fantasy. But even then, there has to be limits on what things can and can’t do. And your characters should handle the situations the way real people would.

As for originality, it should sound like it comes from you. It’s still okay to use existing elements, like aliens, elves, and so on, depending on your story and intentions. However, a good number of people are tired of certain types of characters, archetypes, and tropes. That is when they’re considered cliches. When I developed the fantastical elements in my books, I actually made up pretty much all the enchanted creatures. The only types I used that were already existing were wizards and a skeleton. Obviously, all the characters are my own creations. But I think you should get the idea at this point.

2: Have limits on unrealistic elements

If you’re writing fantasy, for example, have limits on what wizardry can and cannot do. If you can’t fit them all or even any in a section of your work, then say, at the very least, that there are limits. Otherwise, readers will make their own assumptions about the magic laws in your story, including that there are few to no limits. This actually happened to me with a couple of editors. One thought the only limits in my book’s world were the ones I mentioned. Another thought that there were none at all and obsessed over it during several pages of when I introduced magic laws into my first book, just because the possibilities happened to be relevant. But that is not true at all. I even told that editor that there were lots of limits. They just were not relevant at that point. Then they said that I didn’t need to mention the limits up front, and they thanked me.

It is pretty annoying for readers to make their own assumptions over things not specified, especially since they don’t own the stories. In fact, I think it’s kind of dishonest. I don’t think they should do that at all. Sadly, people do things they shouldn’t do, and very often. But no one’s perfect. So, when you develop your speculative fiction world, remember to state that there are limits.

3: Be creative

As a writer, you should have a creative mindset. Yes, there will be times when you experience writer’s block. But when you don’t, you can use as much as your imagination as possible as long as you consider the above tips. Also, think about your own passions and if you can incorporate them into your work.

For example, I love fantasy, but I also love modern technology and life. So, I combined both elements in my books, where wizards use enchanted technology. Of course, I make it believable and give it limits.

So, there you have it. If you’re a novice or beginner in these genres or writing, give yourself some time. These tips will take years for you to execute well. But you will get there as long as you practice as frequently as possible.

If you’ve been writing great content for years, then you might already know these. But it wouldn’t hurt to expand your horizon.

cooking

Lemon Meringue Pie: Delicious!

I’ve first discovered this pie when reading “Amelia Bedelia” as a young child. However, the pie never appealed to me…until recently. I saw a post about it on my Facebook page. That triggered me to want to make it.

It’s kind of involved and not too easy. You have to temper egg yolks into a preserve-like mixture and not end up making scrambled eggs by mistake. That made me kind of nervous, but I succeeded with the tempering.

You also have to blind-bake the crust. What that means is you make the pie dough, put parchment paper on it, and pie weights on it. That will bake some of the crust, but not the whole thing, especially the bottom. It makes the pie crust just right, not too soggy or hard. This is essential with lemon meringue pie.

The process took a while, and to the point where I didn’t experience hunger while cooking it. In spite of never making or eating it before, it came out delicious! In fact, it became addictive. I would eat a few slices a day. I also got excited to tell others about it, including my friends.

One thing you should take seriously, though, is letting it chill several hours. I mean that. Otherwise, the lemon part will be liquid-like, and a bit messy, as in the picture above. I sliced it too soon. If you keep it refrigerated overnight, it’s even better. The pie will look like a pie.

I believe I got the recipe from “Sally’s Baking Addiction”. You can Google something such as, “Lemon meringue pie Sally’s Baking Addiction” and try it. Patience and care are important, though. Take your time with the steps, and hopefully, you’ll enjoy it.

Writing

My Reaction to an Article About Setting Stories Now and What I Think You Can Do About it

Ugh! This pandemic is killing me and us all. I want to get back to full straightforward life ASAP! Okay, I don’t blog about things like this.

However, I did come across an article on BookBaby about “the elephant in the room.” The article talked about setting your story now in 2020, despite the pandemic.

It gave an example from an old story, but twisted on it where a character had to practice social distancing and stay 6 feet apart from others. The post said that there are a lot of complications with setting your story this year. Your characters would have to follow pandemic guidelines, but that could interfere with your plot. The author also said that you shouldn’t have the characters live completely typical lives, such as dining out or partying.

The person advised against setting the stories in the future since no one knows what will happen. I agree with that one. But he or she also said that you shouldn’t set it in the past since it would be unsatisfactory. However, I don’t agree with that one, especially if you only backdate by one or two years. If contemporary settings matter so much, I would still consider 2019 and even 2018 to be pretty contemporary. I think setting your stories then should be totally fine. After all, if your characters need to live normal, typical lives, then setting it one or two years before now should be understandable and even important. That is when setting a story in a certain year plays a crucial part. But I think writers should get to set their stories whenever they want. I wrote another post about that, though.

So, unless your story is centered around Covid-19, or is set in a made-up world (i.e. a make-believe planet in science-fiction or a different magical land or world in fantasy), I think it is best to set it in 2019 or 2018. Or, you could wait until the pandemic is fully over, which should be by next year, or even sooner. This could work if you need to do a lot of research or plan more.

I read the comments on that article, and a lot of people said that books should take you into another world and shouldn’t necessarily be centered around current issues. That probably would work if your story is set in the US and is between January and March.

If your story is set in a made-up world, go ahead and set it now or in the future and keep Covid-19 out of it. Otherwise, set it one or two (or more) years earlier or wait till the sense of pre-pandemic normalcy starts to return.

cooking

Rainbow Cupcakes, Rainbow Cupcakes, I Loved You

Ooh, pretty colors. Lots of people admire bright prismatic hues, especially in desserts. I am no different. That above is a multi-colored cupcake I baked from scratch.

How did I do it? I used a vanilla chiffon cake recipe, divided the batters into different bowls, dyed them various colors, piled them up in the muffin cups, and then placed them in the oven. I added green frosting to some (not pictured) and consumed those. They were delicious!

That was…just for a few days. Unfortunately, they warmed in the container and went bad. So, I had to throw them away. Bummer! And that recipe had succeeded with me before.

Excellent vanilla cake recipes from scratch are hard to find. Not kidding. In the past, I’ve often preferred boxed cake mixes when it came to the vanilla flavor. However, I have a friend with a peanut allergy and she’s been to many of my parties. Since there aren’t a lot of nut-free bakeries in my area (there are only a few, and several minutes away from my house), when the friend with the nut allergy comes, I have to make the cakes from scratch. They’ve come out good before at every party I’ve had.

Anyway, regardless of the previous success with that recipe, if I choose to make vanilla cake or cupcakes again, I will likely find another formula to follow.

Writing

Unpopular Writing Opinion: Why I Wish Readers Would Accept Any Time Setting in Stories, Regardless of Publication Date

When I say any time setting, I mean any time setting. I firmly believe that authors should get to set their stories whenever they want and readers should accept and deal with the time setting. I don’t agree with the ridiculous rules that authors should only set their books in contemporary settings or historical settings, but nothing in between.

It all started out when I wanted to update my book, “The Frights of Fiji,” then titled, “From Frights to Flaws,” and I sent it to an editor. Throughout the manuscript, the editor kept complaining about the years mentioned and the fact that the story was set in 2010, even though it was first published in 2013. They seemed to tell me to update the setting to 2018 since many middle grade readers then were babies or really little. I was very offended and told them I highly disliked someone telling me when I could or could not set my stories. Then the editor felt me and said that they supported my idea of setting my story whenever I wished and that they wouldn’t tell writers when they could or couldn’t set their stories. That year-change was merely a suggestion. Yet, they also pointed out how kids today wouldn’t be able to relate to pushing buttons on phones. Um…hello? They’re going to be reading books way more primitive than that. Definitely for school. They’ll read books where candles were used since electricity didn’t exist, horse-drawn wagons were the main means of transportation because there were no cars. They’re even going to read stories where pants didn’t exist and men wore robes and togas, like in ancient times, B.C.E.

Also, must I mention that it was not until the 7th “Harry Potter” book was published that I discovered that the characters were much older than I thought. I had grown up thinking “Harry Potter” was set in the 2000’s thanks to some hints from the movies, which I watched before the books. But when “The Deathly Hallows” was published, I discovered that the events of the series happened in the 90’s, from when before I was born up until I was 4 years old, excluding the epilogue. Yes, it was a shock and disappointment at first. But I eventually got past it and accepted it, especially since the first 3 books were published in the 90’s. And no, it wasn’t because J.K. Rowling was a very big-name author.

Even on a website, someone pointed out why “Harry Potter” was set in the 90’s, and said that it could’ve been set earlier, but no one would relate to it as easily. Once again, kids have to read books like that for school. And I’m sure there’s a reason why English curriculums often require stories set too early for students to relate to. It’s probably to learn the differences. Do you think a lot of school kids now or even 30 years ago could relate to characters, like Tom Sawyer or Romeo Montague? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy it, even if they have to read it. When I was in school, there were very few books set around times we students could relate to. One I remember was “Rabbit Hole”, which I read in 12th grade. There was a scene with a video cassette, which suggested that the story couldn’t be set later than the 90’s or early 2000’s. While it felt a little awkward, it didn’t keep me from enjoying the story. Plus, it was required, so I couldn’t stop. I still liked the story, as it was.

Another time, after I republished “The Frights of Fiji” in 2018, I sent my sequel to be edited, as well. Once again, the editor removed the year I stated in it, 2010, and said it would make the story outdated. Bull poo. I even told them why I stated the year it was set. The editor said that authors can set their books whenever they liked, however, it should only be stated if important, otherwise it’s distracting. Garbage! The first book had already been published and the year, 2010, was already written as its time setting. So, I had to say the year book 2 was set.

When I started a post about this on a writing forum, while a few took my side, others did the opposite. They saw the idea of a book being set in 2010 and published in recent years as a bug and being awkward. When I said that changing the year would mess up dates and events, they saw that as nonsense. They picked it up differently than I intended, though. In book 1, my MC’s 13th birthday plays an important role. It also has to fall on a Saturday, and in 2010, her birthday, April 17th, fell on a Saturday. Had I changed the year, I would have had to either change her birthday, or make it a different day. But between 2013 and 2018, hundreds of people have already read the book’s first edition, so it would have looked bad to change the year setting.

Another person on that forum said that unless a story is centered around a certain historical event, like 9/11, it should not be set post-2000. Bird poo. And some other writers agree. They said that it would be hard to market a book set many years in the past without a reason. One writer said that a book published today that is set in 2006 without a reason looks bad. Another said that authors shouldn’t date their stories. They should be contemporary all the time and that readers should get to fill in the year themselves. Bull poo again.  

Why can’t readers see older settings from this century as a chance to learn more about those years? Seriously, what’s wrong with learning about things like flip phones, DVD rental stores, and other “outdated” ways of life? It really shouldn’t hurt. Readers should see books like that chances to be educational in terms of learning the differences of life then versus now. A book set in 2006 and being published around now should be acceptable in mainstream publishing. There’s nothing wrong with learning anything. Of course, that is as long as it’s not harmful. After all, we do or did have to learn history in school. And that is to learn not just how life was different than, but also the mistakes or bad decisions people made so that we don’t do those ourselves.

To me, fiction is only outdated if it’s offensive, such as the use of racial slurs or the damsel-in-distress trope. Basically, anything that would be insensitive to people today shouldn’t be used in writing. But years? Big deal. Authors should get to date their stories, set it in whatever years they wish, and readers should be more open to that. I wish that’s how it would be.