JM Williams

A home for all things fantasy and sci-fi.

3 Tips for More Productive Writing

Jan
15

The past year and a half has given me a few insights about writing productivity that’s I’d like to share.

1) Wake up early and keep a regular schedule.

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I’ve had a lot of free time to write after quitting my full time job in 2016 (not having full-time employment has proved to not be the boon it’s cracked up to be). I work full days at different jobs from time to time, but many days I am just off for the whole day. I have found that waking up at a regular time, as if if it is a regular work day, sets me up for success later on. For me, this is around 7am. I think it has to do with creating the right mindset, expecting a day of work rather than a day of rest.

2) Put on pants.

I imagine this is much the same as the previous tip, setting the mood for work. It may be tempting to stay in sweats or PJs if you are going to be home all day, but putting on regular clothes tells your psyche that it’s time to get to busy. For me, that’s pants.

3) Note your ideas when they come, not when you think you have time.

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Even though I been blessed with a lot of time to write, I don’t always have time when I need it. In a similar way, I often get ideas at the absolute worst time–in bed, in the bath, in the car, etc. I’ve found that it is critical to take note of the idea once I have the slightest chance. If I am parked for a moment, waiting to pick someone up, I jot a note in my phone or record a voice note. If in bed, I often wake up to take a note then go back to sleep. If in the bath, I just mull it over until I get out. It has been shown that writing something down helps you remember.

Now, I have a couple dozen ideas in my notes and if I every find myself without something to write, I just have to look there. Also, reviewing my story notes from time to time often welcomes a spontaneous muse and helps me bring the story to fruition. This is precisely what happened with the most recent short story I wrote, which I submitted to the previous quarter of Writers of the Future.

In the end,

it’s about generating and maintaining the right state of mind. Any writer knows that if you don’t have the right mind, you can’t write well, even if you force it. And even if you wake up early and get dressed for success, it does not guarantee that the day’s writing will go off without a hitch. But it is an easy way to set the groundwork for a good day.

Hope these tips help! Good luck with your writing.

~JM

I will be sending out my next newsletter, in honor of the new year, which will include an exclusive video of myself, talking Iric and future projects, as well as the usual publication highlight and writing tips. If you’d like to see all that, and be part of the “cool” crowd, you can sign up to join the RABBLE on the right side of the page!

 

My Experience with Book Covers and Artists

Jan
05

I recently had my third cover made. It was a couple months ago and was for my self-published flash collection The Adventures of Iric (which is available for purchase). That was my third time working with cover artist, as I do no feel capable of making marketable covers myself, each time being a totally different experience. The three experiences differed in many ways, from the amount of control I had as the author, to the level of contact I had with the artist themselves.

I feel I have learned a lot about getting covers made through these three experiences and wanted to share that information with all of you.

Let me begin with a short summary of the cover services you can find out there. There are generally two types of covers: stock art covers, and original art covers. Stock art refers to the pictures that are sold for use on sites like ShutterStock.com. Original art means an artist is (digitally) painting something totally new for you. Original art covers will likely set you back at least $500 as you are not only paying for design, you are paying for image creation. Artists generally get paid by time, so drawing something entirely new, then designing a cover, will take much more time than just arranging stock art. Also, you are paying for sole rights to new content, whereas stock art is available for purchase and use by many people.

Since my three experiences were all with stock art covers, I will limit my discussion to that side of the business.

On the stock art side of the cover market, there are more divergences. One such difference is the quality of the stock art used. Some artists only use free stock art sites like Pixabay. There will generally be a marked difference in quality between covers that use free stock art, and those that pay for stock images. This is because the best stock images are on paid sites like ShutterStock, and those sites also have a significantly larger library of images.

Another difference is whether the cover is premade or custom designed. Premade covers are ones that artists have already created. They simply put your name and book title on it. I am generally against premade covers since it is hard to find one that is a proper fit for the book. But it’s not impossible, and some artists do them very well.

These factors are going to affect the cost of your cover. A stock art cover can cost anywhere from $10-$500 depending on the artist, the stock art type, and the level of customization. You’re going to pay more for an artist that pays for stock art. You are going to pay more for a custom design, as it takes more time to complete. Typically, a good, original concept, paid stock art cover is going to cost you $100-200. But as I learned, you can find ways to save a bit if you’re willing to do some extra work.

Now let me talk about my three experiences with making covers.

The first was the cover for Call of the Guardian:

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This cover was paid for by the publisher, Fiction Vortex. I did not have much input in the process, other than suggesting I wanted a protagonist stand-in and a dragon on it, and a lot of fire. Boom! This is what I got. It felt a bit like playing the lottery, but I was not too disappointed. I was told by the Boss Man that if I wanted to get this artist to do something for a personal project of mine, it would likely be around $200.

The next cover was for The Nightingale (releasing in April!):

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This cover was also paid for by the publisher, Fantasia Divinty. Unlike with my first experience, this time I had more input on the design. However, I did not have direct contact with the artist; the publisher stepped in as a intermediary. There was a lot of back and forth through those channels. I suggested an initial concept, the artist sent something back, I suggested changes, and so forth.

At first it was a bit of a struggle, as I did not care for what the artist was suggesting. In particular, I didn’t care for the character models the artist was choosing. So I started digging around on stock photo sites offering suggestions. This was perhaps the biggest lesson I learned about making covers, which I will discuss in detail below.

To my surprise, though, my suggestions were rejected. It took some time for it to become clear that the artist was only using free stock art, and I was suggesting pictures from paid sites. Moreover, I eventually learned that the artist used only one specific site for their stock photos. But once this bit of information came to light, the process became much easier. I searched the site in question, and though I did not like the choices there as much as on the paid sites, I did find a few that might work. This took me several hours of digging, but I viewed this time as an investment towards having a good cover. Finally, we settled on the character model shown above.

I do not know how much the publisher paid for this cover.

These two experiences suggested to me that the most important thing for an author to do, when getting a cover made, is to be directly involved. Be involved as much as possible. I carried this insight with me when I began working with an artist for The Adventures of Iric.

I found the artist, E. Rachael Hardcastle on a Facebook group. She responded to my query about cover letters by sending me a sample and a quote. I was satisfied with what I saw, so we started working.

It took about a week to finish the cover. Much of this was due to our geographic separation and online correspondence. I gave her an idea of what I might be looking for, and she responded by tempering some of my expectations. But I knew right from the start how I wanted to work it. I asked her upfront what stock photo site she used. Then I started looking for things to use on the cover.

I sent her suggestions of art and design ideas, she either shot them down as not good or even doable, or worked the idea and sent back a concept. At first, I felt like things weren’t progressing, but she kept trying. She suggested photos to me, and I looked for more.

After a lot of back and forth, I stumbled on a paid site that gave out five free images by signing up. I don’t recall what site it was. I entered my credit card info, selected my five free images, then canceled the account. What I found delighted me. This was the image that I discovered:

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My first reaction was, “This looks just like Iric!” Having been somewhat disappointed with how the characters in the two previous covers reflected those in the books (and being told that this doesn’t really matter, as the cover is more of a concept than a honest view), I was delighted to have an image that reflected what I saw in the character. It was also proper for fantasy.

I sent the image to Rachael and she also had a strong reaction. She did her bit of tweaking and artsy magic, and delivered me this:

Justin Cover small

In addition to adding the text, obviously, she also added a blue tint, shadows on the character’s face, darkened the hair, and many other things I would have never thought to do. It was mostly luck that the one image filled the page; usually the cover will be a composite of several images, as with the others shown above. But the end result was still a bit of a shock.

In the end, she spent hours on the project with me. She was ready to deliver a custom cover, on her own, had I not been so involved. She sent me at least four concepts before we settled on the one above. For that service I paid around $30.

Now I am guessing the lowness of that price is partially due to the effort I put in to help design the cover. When I asked her whether she appreciated my help, she told me “I think having the authors input helped. It’s their cover and they’ll all have a vision of what they want. Finding ideal images and keeping in touch with their own ideas makes my job easier and means I can design something suitable.”

That seems to me to be the hidden truth of cover creation. I could have simply rejected the concepts and asked her to do more, without any further input. But the easier you can make the artist’s job, the more willing they are going to be to go the extra mile. Also, they might charge you less if they have to work less, just like how premade covers are cheaper than custom ones.

So the advice I have for you, as I have learned over this past year, is to be involved with your cover design. Find the stock art that fits what you want and then let the artist turn it into something that will sell.

I certainly think I will be using E. Rachael Hardcastle’s services again if I self-publish another collection. But that is something to think about later. I have too many projects, and real work, to do right now.

I hope this helps you when you are deciding about covers and artists.

~JM

An Ambitious Work

Dec
22

I hope that my comments yesterday on Stephen King’s IT did not come off as hyper-critical. I know I tend to rant when the passion gets in me.

I could have easily continued rambling on about what is wrong with the book (one thing that really bugs me is the over-reliance on pop culture references, which I find to be a very lazy sort of writing…but I’ll have to save that for a future post).

In all honesty, I am enjoying the book. It is a story I have always enjoyed, since I first saw the TV miniseries in 1990. I enjoy this book much in the same way I have enjoyed the last two Star Wars films–having fun on the ride, but acknowledging the many bumps along the way.

Many critics, including VOX, have described the book as “one of King’s most ambitious works.” Is it?

 

It is all too common to associate ambition with length. The phrase “ambitious work” is often directly tied to, or at least associated with, the work’s length. This is the case with the VOX article, where the length of the book is given in the same sentence where it is described as ambitious.

But is length all that matters when considering a work ambitious?

My answer is no. In fact, I would argue the most ambitious novel you could write today would be 40,000 words. That’s the standard length given for the cutoff between novel and novella. I mean exactly 40,000 words, not one word more or less. To put things in perspective, IT is 444,414 words, more than ten times the length I am suggesting. And the book needs to be a complete, deep, and fulfilling novel in its own right.

Anyone can tick off all the boxes on the novel-writing checklist with enough pages. The test of a really good writer is doing more with less, efficiency and brevity. All the more difficult it is to hit an exact word count without either filler or holes.

But as I mentioned in the last post, we have a tendency to equate length with quality. Longer works are “ambitious” while shorter works are generic. It really bothers me how many speculative fiction publishers have minimum word count requirements of 75,000 words or more when the cutoff for a novel is 40. They often state outright “we will not even look at anything below this.” Why not? You cannot know what you will find unless you look.

The first fantasy book I wrote, In the Valley of Magic, clocked in at 66,000 words. This was after several revisions that added to the length. But the work itself, structurally, is really unlike anything else out right now that I have seen or heard of. That’s why I started with that project, thinking that a unique and novel approach to the fantasy novel (pun intended) would be an easy sell. It’s disheartening to see that it has been rejected several times without consideration just because it didn’t meet some arbitrary length requirement.

On a side note, Fiction Vortex, who is publishing my fantasy series Call of the Guardian, will be picking In the Valley of Magic up later in 2018, after they get their app (Fictionite) and core stories rolling. Good thing about this is that their contracts are dope. Bad part is the waiting, after already waiting an eternity (okay, only since March, but it feels like forever).

All this is because science fiction and fantasy readers have been led to believe that length is quality. Well, sorry it be the bearer of bad news, but length is more often indicative of weak, lazy, bloated writing. You get length when you refuse to cut what needs to be cut, when you do not take care with every word choice. And of course, there is that sentiment that with a longer work you are getting more product for your money. But in the arts, that is not necessarily the case.

This is why I enjoy writing flash and microfiction. These forms force you to consider the efficiency of your words. They train you to be a better writer.

IT is too long for it’s own good, having many sections and even full chapters that should have been cut in the editing process. I don’t find that ambitious at all.

All that being said, I still enjoy the story and find Pennywise to be a disturbing and compelling manifestation of evil. Speaking of which, I’d better get back to it. I’m almost to the “apocalyptic rock fight.”

Here’s an important question, since if you are following this blog you probably read some sci-fi and fantasy: Would you be turned off of a fantasy book if it was “too short”? Would you open it to look at the writing, or just pass on sight alone?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments

~J.M.

To Self-Publish or Not?

Aug
12

I have spoken (or rather written) much on my views of self-publishing. I have always felt it was very difficult to break-in to the industry through self-publishing, despite the merits of your manuscript. Thus, I have continuously pushed to get my work published traditionally, despite the difficulties and lengthy time-frame I’ve had to endure.

An article in the Guardian cites statistics that only support my thoughts on the subject. Bear in mind that this article came out several years ago, but I imagine that things have only gotten worse as more amateur authors add their books to the already overstuffed lists of self-published books.

According to the ARTICLE, half of all self-published writers earn less than $500 a year. This includes traditionally published authors that dabble in self-publishing and other writers who have a district advantage over your typical self-published author. Science Fiction and Fantasy authors (like me!) earn markedly less than romance, and only a fraction of the average earnings of $10,000. That, too, is an income that is not livable. Worse, that average is skewed significantly by the extremely rare blockbuster million dollar earners.

My major take away from the article was the following passage:

Even traditionally published authors are now dabbling in self-publishing, and the survey found this was to good effect: they earned 2.5 times more when self-publishing than did rejected authors or authors who went straight to self-publishing. This suggests, said Cornford and Lewis, that “traditional publishers are decent arbiters of quality” and that “the reading public finds, in these authors’ work, the same high standard (or marketable writing, at least) that led publishers to choose them in the first place”.

This is the major reason I will keep pushing for traditional publishing, because readers will be more willing to risk a read of an author with a traditional reputation over one without. But traditional publishing can take many forms. It is more than just getting your novel in print. Another angle I pursue is short stories. I still haven’t had a story placed in a pro-rate mag, but once I do, that will be a boon to any self-publishing plans I might make. I would urge anyone who writes short stories or flash fiction on their blog to try to get something published in a literary journal, magazine, or ezine.

Another important point about self-publishing is that success requires significant investment on the part of the author. This comes typically in three forms: editing, covers, and marketing. Speaking for myself, I won’t even bother with a book if the cover looks amateurish. There are simply too many options to risk my time (or money, depending on the case). Good covers are critical to getting views and sales, and good covers will cost you several hundred dollars.

Here’s what the ARTICLE has to say about it:

Authors…would be well advised to spend time and money on making a title look professional, the survey found: self-publishers who received help (paid or unpaid) with story editing, copy editing and proofreading made 13% more than the average; help with cover design upped earnings by a further 34%.

That’s almost a 50% increase in earnings by having your book tooled by professionals.

My plan still is to do my best to get a traditional publishing deal for my book. Should that ultimately fail, I will shift to self-publishing. But my work has already been worked over by an editor several times, and I fully intend to invest in a good cover and marketing.

Hopefully that will result in success.

Anyways, you can find the article at the following link: <a href=”https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/may/24/self-published-author-earnings” target=”blank”>Stop the press: half of self-published authors earn less than $500</a>

As always, good luck with your writing. I hope this doesn’t discourage anyone, but rather motivates you to value your writing more and invest in it. Your work deserves it!

~J.M.

 

 

 

SHARE: 5 Things Being a Journalist Taught Me About Writing Fiction

Jun
10

People come into writing from different places, and every author’s unique experience reveals something about the writing process. Martinez offers several good tips here, but numbers three and four really stand out for me.

Good dialogue can help keep a story interesting. You can maintain momentum by delivering background and exposition in dialogue, rather than in data-dumps. But I don’t think readers will necessarily notice good dialogue. On the contrary, bad dialogue stands out. It draws the reader out of the illusion.

One thing you can do to improve your dialogue is just listen to how people speak around you. Some writing gurus will tell you to avoid “ahs” and “ums” in your dialogue, but I disagree. Filler words are a real component of natural speech, so why avoid them? Unless you intend your dialogue to sound artificial.

Martinez also mentions word choice and efficiency. This is a very important skill for fiction writers to develop. Efficient prose will make your story read much better. It will improve your flow. Part of the problem fantasy authors face now is that agents and publishers expect, even demand, overly high words counts for novels which results in long, dry exposition and filler.

Well, that’s my spiel. Head over to the original article and check out all the tips this journalist-turned-author has to offer.


Former journalist and current thriller writer Michael Martinez shares five things that journalism taught him about writing fiction—including paying attention to details, researching, and economy of words.

Source: 5 Things Being a Journalist Taught Me About Writing Fiction | WritersDigest.com

Tools: Plume Creator

Sep
29

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I started this blog while in the middle of writing my first book. The tool I was using to write that book was the awesome, open-source Plume Creator.

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This program offers a simple way to organize your writing. You can organize by books, acts, chapter and scenes (of course you can rename these as you wish, my first book consists of 3 parts, with several chapters each, with 3 scenes in each chapter). I find writing by scene is a very effective way of getting content down.

Then you can add the text of each scene into the main section of the program. It will even autosave for you every 20 seconds, which is great. I keep my save file in my Dropbox, which adds a double edge of security.

In addition to the basic organization features, the program has several other tools. There is a section for storing information on characters, items and places. Also, there is a notes tab where you can put notes on all the scenes and sections. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it has a writing timer and distraction-free fullscreen mode. The latter turns your whole screen black and covers your desktop menu bars so you are free to write until the muse leaves you. I often find myself writing for a hour or longer once I turn this on.

Of course a program like this, made by an indie developer and distributed for free, is not going to be as complex as some other pay-for programs available. Even so, I find that this program offers me all the basic tools I need to organize my book. I personally don’t need things like a story construction wizard; I just need a place to store my characters and something to keep me focused on the writing. Plume Creator does that very well. I highly encourage giving it a try.

Source: http://www.plume-creator.eu/