Sunday, July 31, 2011

I bought

I took a small step at owning my online author image today by buying I feel like quite the narcissist for it, but you gotta do what you gotta do, right? Go to my website . . .

For the moment the URL is associated with this blog, A Few Hours at a Time, but I suspect, one way or another, that will change once I publish "Off The Grid" (or whatever it will be my debut novel will be called). I'll use it to promo the book and blog about my continuing journey to becoming published.

In other news, I finalized yet another version of my query letter today and tinkered with a cover design. These two things are a certainly at odds. I write a query letter to get an agent and I do the cover design work if I self-pub. In the end I probably won't "need" both, but who knows at this point.

In playing with the cover, I realized I can't design it on my own. Even though I'm pretty proficient at Illustrator and InDesign, I was totally lost as to where to start. I've had enough insecurities about writing this thing that I should leave the cover design to a professional. More to come on that.

I seem to be leaning toward self-ePublishing even though I'm going to try go the traditional route first. I'm re-convincing myself that everyday. Everywhere I look online I see more authors saying self-pub is the right way to go. I'll learn more at the PNWA conference next week. It's nice to have choices at least.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

I attended the Borders funeral today – and got a new dog

My local Borders tombstone.

Closure shows clear impact of e-readers and self-publishing online

Today was the beginning of a new era for me on two fronts – one probably more meaningful than the other. We got a new dog, which I have firmly stated is my wife’s dog since she was the one at the pet store who said, “we’ll take her.” Our Golden Retriever, Kona, needed a playmate and apparently we needed a more hectic household, so it’s all good. The little pup is a Golden Retriever-Pitt Bull mix named Kennedy. I’ve already started calling her Kenny and the First Lady (like Jackie-O). 

So the dog is the first new era. The second is really the end of an era too. We stopped at the Borders Books liquidation sale, which should more appropriately be called a funeral. The death of the printed word – or at least a long coma. It was one sad place, like a garage sale where people really weren’t that interested.

Signs of the times. 
Since my first novel is completed and I’m currently trying to figure out the best way to get it in the hands of people who will pay me to read it, I’m fascinated by the closure of Borders. I’m not the first to recognize that e-readers are the new mainstream reading platform. I’ve had my Kindle DX for two three years. I bought it when they cost more than $500, so I was pretty committed from the start. But today as I browsed the shelves of Borders, I didn’t want to buy any of the books. Sure, my favorite authors were stacked there, but the printed copies weren’t a draw, even at a bankruptcy discount.

The books seemed so one-dimensional compared to my e-reading options. I read my books on the Kindle, my iPhone, iPad and even on the Mac if I wanted. It’s versatile and keeps pace with my lifestyle. So the question I keep asking myself is about publishing my own novel. Should I be concerned about getting my book in print, or should I just get it to Amazon and Smashwords (which gets you on the Sony Reader, Nook and iBooks).

It seems like a cop-out before I’ve even tried. Getting an agent and then getting a publisher for the book is hard and my chances are slim due to the shear volume of other authors who want to get on shelves. Wouldn’t it just be easier to self-publish? Profits go to me more directly, faster and at a better cut. Seems like a no-brainer, but for some reason I want to try the traditional path. I want to sign with an agent and I want a publisher, but I’m also realistic about my prospects. 

I’m not Stephen King or Ken Follett so at the moment my book would just be “some dude’s book” on the shelf. Maybe, just maybe my no-name book could get picked up by someone in the store. Maybe.

My faith is shaken in the old bookstore system. I used to like shopping for books. It was like a vacation from reality. I could spend an hour going up and down the rows and picking up prospective novels  and eventually buying a few.

Meet the First Lady - Kennedy, our new puppy.
Now bookstores seem like a hassle with dorky sales associates looking for shoplifters around every corner.

I shop at Amazon and send myself samples of the books I want to try. I read them on my own time, wherever I want, not only when I can get a hour free from the kids to troll the aisles of Barnes and Noble.

Don’t I want my readers to have the print option too? I do, but there’s something about the “old way of traditional publishing” that I can’t let go of, not yet. If I can get a publishing deal (fat chance), I'll be able to e-publish too, so I can meet both needs. But the traditional route is a lot harder, but maybe more lucrative. Maybe.

I’m very interested to attend the Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference next month in Bellevue, where I’m sure self-publishing and e-readers is going to be a big discussion item. But for today at least I’m ready to try the slush pile and get my work in front of agents. Hopefully someone bites.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

How Dan_at_Avista gets away with writing fiction about a utility

Without giving away a great deal about my book, which is unpublished and therefore subject to change, I feel the need to address one key element about me and the subject of my novel.

If you’re reading this blog you probably know me as the guy who works at Avista Utilities. Sometimes I’m on the news, but more often I’m found as a company representative in online channels – the Avista Blog, Twitter (@Dan_at_Avista) and of course commenting on our stories. That’s always fun.

My book is about the electric industry, not necessarily the industry we know today, but a fictional one that includes wireless power as a key component. In the novel, wireless power isn’t a science-experiment; it’s a tried and true practice that has great implications on our country. There are also some abuses of power by the guys in charge.

Since I’ve been working in the energy industry for about four years now, I’ve been able to spot trends and imagine a few wild “what if” scenarios about it. My novel is a “what if” about the distribution of energy in the United States. And no, it’s not as boring as it sounds. I see you yawning over there. My characters live with wireless power as a reality. It’s an element of the setting that allows the story to exist. I think the story stands on its own, but the wireless power element is a critical factor.

Since I’m a company spokesperson, you might wonder why (or how) I could write a book that isn’t completely flattering of the utility industry. And to that I say - it’s fiction people, just like wireless power. Get over it. The real world and the fiction world are different.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Time to query agents about my novel

I feel pretty good about where I’m at with the manuscript. I’ve reviewed the notes and suggestions of two beta readers who have very different writing styles and tastes. Luckily the notes compared very well, which to me meant that the flaws were obvious to anyone. I’ve reworked several sections and bridged others. I’ve got a beta reader meeting set up for Sunday so I’ll see if things match up there or not. My fourth beta reader – well, she’s awesome, just not done yet. It happens, but I look forward to her comments.

I’ve written what I think is a pretty good query letter. Query letters are the “message in a bottle” hopeful authors send agents seeking representation (and riches). It’s easy for me to say its good because I haven’t sent it out yet and received dozens of rejections. Ask me how I feel about it in a few months.

Ironically I have an appointment to meet with an agent next month at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Conference in Bellevue. The agent (who I won’t name here for her and probably my own sake) doesn’t want the standard query letters with a mini-synopsis and the like. So, I wrote a unique one for her, which I think is probably the right thing to do with any agent. They have different tastes and you need give them what they want.

I’m view the query as a cover letter for a job. I always wrote my cover letters with some specific sentences or paragraphs that had to be personalized for that company and its job requirements. It required research and a little guess work. But each letter contained the same general information. Thankfully I’m gainfully employed and haven’t had to do cover letters in a while, at least for my 40 hour a week job.

Writing is an art, but novels are a job too. I’d certainly like this to be a career, but one step at a time. Let me get the first query out first!

I’d really like to write more on the blog about the book, how I wrote it and why, but I’m holding back for now until I get a bit more comfortable in the publishing process. I can’t wait to share it.