Childhood Release in Four Days

Wow. I’m amazed, relieved, and in a way saddened that Childhood is coming out in four days. I decided this blog post was going to be free form writing, or, in other words, writing without thinking, or a stream of consciousness, with no editing. There’s a reason for that which will hopefully become apparent.

I should be happy about this date. After all, while Childhood is only a novelette (about 11,000 words but honestly I forgot the exact count), it is still a professionally produced product. Besides the writing, which I’d like to say is professional as I have a few novels and other works under my belt, the editing was top notch (thanks, Darling Axe) and the cover conveys the simplicity of childhood with the hint of issues in the future (the rip in the sky, a nice add from Diane Turpin Designs).

I’m going to go on a tangent for a second about the editing. Michelle from The Darling Axe was excellent, and not just from an editing standpoint. I felt like that after working with her I’d taken a couple of graduate courses in fiction writing. She challenged me to do better. I’m a type-A personality, and I can’t deny a good challenge. Her influence will be reflected in all of my future works, regardless of whether I ever work with her again (but I hope to).

georgeI’m anxious. A dozen or so readers will be reviewing Childhood and posting their thoughts starting February 11th as part of the Celebrate Lit blog tour. I participated in a similar tour for my last novel, Leaving Darkness, and none of the reviews were negative, but not all were five stars either (I think it averaged out to four out of five, which isn’t bad, especially for a self-published work by a relatively unknown author). What if they hate it? Geez, I’m starting to sound like Marty McFly’s dad. It’ll be good, no matter what they say.

Sad. I’m sad because I had hoped to have Fatherhood completed by now. Childhood is the prequel to Fatherhood, a full-length (~80,000 words) novel about abortion from the father’s point of view. Yes, a heavy subject. I pounded out 50,000 words for the NaNoWriMo November challenge (yay me), then stalled. I “lost that loving feeling” for writing temporarily. That’s not a bad thing. Writing is my retirement career, and I’m laying the foundation for it now. My daytime job as principal for a small but successful information security consulting firm takes precedence. I’m only 52; more than a few years from retiring.

“Slow down, you crazy child, you’re so ambitious for a juvenile” – words from Billy Joel (43 years ago – wow) that I heeded. Fatherhood would come in its time when it’s right. and it’s time is God’s time, because my writing is God-inspired. After Leaving Darkness, which I was called to write based on my experiences with a Christian support group, I prayed about what I would write next. The call came about three months later.

Abortion? Really? I thought depression was a heavy topic. My first reaction? No.

Saying no to God is never a good idea.

I’ve had a personal experience with abortion but that neither is an impetus nor a major influence in the story. That personal experience somewhat influenced my first novel, Forgiveness. For Fatherhood, as I seem to do with all of my main characters, I create, then immerse myself in their lives. I almost become them, not the other way.

Writing is a journey. If I have learned anything with my limited experience with Fatherhood, it is to not sacrifice the joy of the journey for the pressure of creating something in an artificial time frame. It will come when it’s ready. A time for everything. My time for returning to Fatherhood is probably a month or two out. Now it’s all about Childhood. Here’s hoping for favorable reviews, but one-star reviews won’t deter me at all. In fact, being the type-A I am, it would spur me to lick my wounds, then do better.

Image from Back to the Future, 1985

A Novel Second Chance

I pulled Temptations of the Innocent today.

What that means is I have cancelled the sale of my second novel. My first, Forgiveness, was well received, enough to encourage me to write the follow up, actually a prequel. Forgiveness, in various forms, took more than twenty years from the initial keystrokes on my college 486 computer in 1993 to self-publishing the novel in 2014. Temptations took less than two years.Front Cover Build 7

In retrospect, three years later, Temptations is riddled with faults. I can attribute the missteps to  lack of experience. The missteps include:

  • A misinformed title. Not only does it not convey the link to Forgiveness, it, in retrospect, almost sounds creepy. The “innocent” part of the title deals with the purity of child souls whose lives ended at a young age but are given a second chance at life. Hence they are innocent as adults and prone to temptation. Did you get that from the title, or something else? Yes, I thought so.
  • A crappy cover. Temptations tells a complex story of a fallen then redeemed priest, a fallen and not redeemed bishop, evil in human form, the inability to deflect temptation when ill-prepared for the battle, a Soviet infiltration of the Catholic Church…and more.  I wanted the cover (image above) to convey some of those elements. I’m not a graphic designer, and the self-designed cover shows that. I remember thinking that I’m tired of designing the cover; I’m done, and I need to just finish the project. Awful decision.
  • Head-hopping. In reading the first three scenes of the novel, I introduce some subtle yet significant to me point-of-view violations, a sure sign of an amateur author.
  • Lack of professional editing. Both Forgiveness and Temptation were pure solo projects. I leveraged AutoCrit for copy editing, but I never involved a development editor. I learned my lesson when creating my third novel, Leaving Darkness, as the process of working with a development editor was well worth the cost.
  • Complexity. This is a complex story. I may have been able to tell it better.

I never promoted Temptations and rarely displayed it at book events. I was never happy these past three years with the finished product, and pondered pulling it for at least a year before doing so this afternoon (though it will take time to be reflected on Amazon, etc.).

But I’m not abandoning the story. I have begun the process of review and re-edit, focusing on point-of-view, complexity, and probably softening some dialogue. I plan to change the cover and the title. Within a few months, I will relaunch the tale with a new title, likely Before Forgiveness unless I change my mind.

The lesson? Don’t rush creativity, don’t be afraid to face errors, and don’t throw away what likely is a great work that just needs a bit more polishing.

Now, what to do with the remaining paper copies of  Temptation in my basement? Several decades from now, after I’ve passed, someone will find them in an abandoned storage locker. It will be the literary find of the decade, rarely seen early work from one of the most influential authors of the first half of the 21st century. To whomever finds this windfall, please use your newfound financial gain to help others.

 

 

My NaNoWriMo Experience

For those unfamiliar with the term, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, a “fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing” according to the NaNoWriMo website. I had heard of it before but had ignored primarily because whenever November had come around in years past was when I was in a writing lull. Capture

This year, I opted to participate for a few reasons. First, I was reminded of it from an email from IngramSpark, a service I’ve used to self-publish several of my works. IngramSpark had a promo to waive title setup fees by using a NaNoWriMo promo code, even if the work wasn’t produced during NaNoWriMo. I happened to have finished all of the pre-production for my novelette Childhood, so the timing was great. But the reminder also caused me to check out the NaNoWriMo site.

Second, I was gearing up to write Fatherhood, the full-length follow up to Childhood (which serves as a reader magnet to introduce the characters). Why not see if I could write 50,000 in a month?

A couple of caveats: I’m not endorsing the NaNoWriMo site – I used it to track my progress, nothing more, nothing less. I do plan to learn more of their mission but, honestly, writing 50,000 words in a month doesn’t leave much time for any other discretion time activities.

Also, I technically did not start at zero words. I had completed about 8,500 while I was working on Childhood this spring. However, because of changes to Childhood during the development editing process, I needed to rework those first six chapters, plus my outline. That’s reflected in the graph above; once I finished that (nine days in), I started to track.

As you can see, I made it, but not without a few significant pushes. I took a couple of days off from work around week three to write, completing over 5,000 each day. That helped to put me at a manageable but still difficult 2,800 or so per day pace to finish, which I stayed on consistently until the end. The last day was a Saturday, so I knew I could spend more time writing, and therefore took a break Friday. I knew at that time I’d make it.

A few lessons learned:

  • Having an outline was critical to success. I was determined not to write fluff. While this is obviously the first draft and will require much editing and revisions, the plot stayed on point because of the outline.
  • It became easier to write more. I got into a groove, a regular cadence of crafting a scene (typically 600-900 words), taking a break, then repeating until the goal was met.

This has also primed me to finish the novel draft this year. My previous novels have landed right around 80,000 words. With 30,000 to go, I launched another challenge for myself beginning December 2nd (I took the first off) – 1,000 words per day. Thus far, writing 1,000 per day has been relatively easy. I just completed one scene of 723 words and will complete the rest (part of the next scene) shortly after posting this.

Bottom line, for me NaNoWriMo helped kickstart my project. If all goes well, I will have completed an 80,000-word novel in two months, though in reality, it took ten months to prepare, including writing the novelette.

Childhood Release Date

I’m happy to announce that Childhood will be released by SCP February 10, 2020. The next day kicks off a 14-day blog and review tour with CelebrateLit.

scott-webb-167099-unsplashKatie lived a lonely childhood, her after school time filled with responsibilities to her father and special needs brother. Her chores prevented her from experiencing the carefree life her peers, including Joey, her neighbor and secret crush, lived. She began running to impress Joey, then discovered track as a possible way out of the small town of Nortonville, Tennessee. But as the promise of a college scholarship drew her closer to the escape she had dreamed about since childhood, she wondered why she didn’t feel better. What was missing?

Childhood is the novelette prequel to Fatherhood, a full-length novel about abortion from the father’s point of view. Fatherhood is targeted for release in 2021.

Photo scott-webb-167099-unsplash.jpg from Unsplash

From a Certain Point of View

In Return of the Jedi, Luke confronts Obi-Wan about not revealing Darth Vader as his father. Obi-Wan responds with what I can only call thin logic that he didn’t lie when he told Luke that Vader killed Anakin, that it was the truth – from a certain point of view.

scott-eckersley-irtWpLLwRX4-unsplashPoint of view, or POV, in a manuscript describes from what character the scene is experienced. The reader is “in the head” of the POV character – what the character sees, the reader sees. Changing POV within a scene, or even a chapter, can confuse the reader by removing the perspective anchor. Referred to as “head-hopping,” maintaining what I refer to as “POV discipline” is a basic skill novelists need to master.

However, the perspective is a part of the equation. While working with an editor on the manuscript for Childhood, a novelette to introduce the main characters and situations of my upcoming novel Fatherhood, two recent revelations have revealed that perhaps I’m not as skilled in POV as I thought, and that POV can be a powerful yet subtle story-telling device.

The first example was a simple dialogue tag – “Dad said.” I, apparently mistakenly, have always avoided using Dad and Mom and other similar dialogue tags because they’re not names, defaulting to “her father” and so on. My editor made the change to Dad. I am fortunate to be working with an excellent editor. There has to be a correct reason for the change, and it tied to POV. In this scene the character POV is the daughter of the man who spoke. “Dad” is the daughter’s name for her father, therefore is appropriate (and conveys a feeling of family). “Her father” is rather stuffy. Point taken.

The second example is more subtle. My editor replaced “egg innards” with “slimy egg.” That bothered me at first, as I liked the description “egg innards.” Enter POV again though. The story is told through a young girl’s eyes, not a 52-year old man’s. While I may lob “egg innards” in casual conversation, she, as a twelve-year-old, probably not.

Can you see the connection? Going beyond POV discipline and using POV to inject aspects about the POV’s character is a powerful tool I honestly had never considered before. Editing is often tedious work, but this revelation has energized the process for me. I feel that a certain “tunnel vision” point of view has been lifted.

Photo by Scott Eckersley on Unsplash

Second Chance Publishing Launches

Second Chance Publishing Logo 2I’m excited to announce the official (meaning paperwork accepted) launch of my second business, Second Chance Publishing, or SCP. SCP is the imprint I created in 2013 for my self-publishing writing hobby. As I’ve grown in talent and seriousness towards writing, I realized it made sense to treat this endeavor as a business. My two-year experience with vCISO Services, LLC taught me much that I am now applying to SCP. While the primary function is as before, an imprint for my self-published works, I am considering branching out to help other aspiring indie authors. I have learned so much about everything that it takes to produce a novel, and realize I have only scratched the surface, but I have much to share. I’m not sure where God is leading me with this, only that, when called, the best response is to say yes.

My latest work, Childhood, is a prequel to my work in progress (or WIP as we refer to such in author-land), Fatherhood. Fatherhood (anticipated publication late 2020), a novel about abortion from the father’s point of view, is not an easy novel to write. In some ways, to me, it makes the process of creating Leaving Darkness (a novel about escaping depression) look like a walk in the park (yes, a cliche, but I’m writing a post, not a novel, so I deem cliches okay here). Childhood, a novelette about 10,000 words in length that introduces the main characters in Fatherhood, is in the late production stages (line edit, cover finalizing). I see it as my most mature work to date.

The business website is secondchancebook.org (if you’re reading the blog, you’re already here). I published the first video on the YouTube channel today – a radio interview from the spring of 2019 so it’s really only audio with a picture – at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a1gzSy2v8ms. I will add more videos, just as I’ve enjoyed doing for vCISO Services, as time permits and inspiration hits.

Life is about living – that’s the beginning. It’s also about being proper stewards of the gifts given to us (Matthew 25:14–30). Drawing from a recent sermon, when my time under the sun is done, I hope to hear “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And that’s really the reason (beyond that I enjoy it) why I am pursuing this writing journey. I would be honored and humbled if you’d follow my progress – social media links below. I’d also appreciate prayers for guidance on where I need to take this. Thank you!

Website – https://secondchancebook.org
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/gregschafferauthor/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/newtnoise
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/gregschafferauthor/
YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCNv3gpqA7OAJ-DQ3Mpf4DGg

How I Increased My Mailing List by 800 in 80 Days

Navigating the publishing world is not easy. The deeper I dive into the marketing area, the more I realize I don’t know.

On Twitter some authors, indie and trad alike, often engage in follow-backs to increase their following to hopefully impress agents and publishers, but if you ask the pros, they will most often discount the Twitter follow number if it is roughly 1:1 proportionate (equal followers and following). That’s because Twitter follow backs most often are not following because of content but rather numbers. It’s a hollow strategy that unfortunately many seem to spend much time on.

However, constant advice from writers and agents alike is to have a strong mailing list. This demonstrates marketability by showing a following of readers interested in your work. This is important because strong reader following equates to potential book sales. But how to gain interested subscribers? Book shows and author signings may net a handful if you’re lucky.

Here’s the key – you have to provide value first in exchange for a follower. How can they follow you if they are not familiar with your work? And how do they become familiar with your work if they don’t follow you?

An effective solution I have found is book promotions, specifically through BookFunnel. For those unfamiliar with Bookfunnel, it is essentially a book distribution service. Whether it be sending out beta copies, providing a reader magnet, or offering free copies of a novel, Bookfunnel is an efficient and secure method to manage your free electronic distributions. It’s not free; the basic plan begins at $20 per year, but it’s the mid-level plan at $100 per year that offers the ability to collect email addresses.

You can place a link on your website offering a free download that will collect the reader’s address, but that requires constant traffic to your site. You can of course promote on social media, but I didn’t see much chance of success going that route. What did produce results beyond what I’d hoped was a Bookfunnel promo.

Promos are hosted by an author and usually focus on a specific genre. The more that join the promo, the better chance of exposure. It’s a multiplier; instead of posting that you have one work for free, depending on the promo participation you can post on social media a link to dozens of free ebooks. Every participant is encouraged (sometimes by offering perks such as a premium place on the landing page based on number of shares) to share their unique link to the community page.Capture

I signed up for my first one in April, a twelve-day window that I hoped might result in twenty or so addresses. I ended up with over two-hundred. This prompted me to participate in two more promos in May and June. My total subscriber list approached 900 at the end of June, from a starting point of zero in April. The image to the right is from one of my giveaways (still active at https://dl.bookfunnel.com/kc5ix83t35 ) that I provided for two of the three promos.

There are caveats, of course, the first that you have to have something to give away. All of the promos I’ve seen require a published full-length work. If you have yet to publish, this venue isn’t for you at the time. Also, if you are fortunate to have a catalog to draw from and offer a different work per promo, you will get duplicate subscribers.

You will also lose subscribers when you send your first email to the new signups. From my limited experience I expect around a 10% attrition rate, but your mileage may vary. Note that may trigger an alert from your mailing list service (you need to use one to satisfy spam laws) that your unsubscribe rate exceeds industry standards. At least I did get a note from MailChimp. So long as you can prove that your subscribers provided consent (a feature of the Boofunnel process) you should be fine (though I have yet to have to provide this).

To summarize, from three promos running less than 80 days total (though two ran concurrently), I gathered 882 signatures, of which I anticipate 88 unsubscribes on “first contact,” leaving roughly 800 followers. Plus, that’s 800 readers that now have one (or more) copies of your work to enjoy. True, this method produces no direct income from sales, but when you’re an author looking to build that important email following, perhaps the compensation is greater than sales.

 

Development Editing – Do It

I have two current Works In Progress – a novel, Fatherhood, and its prequel novelette, ChildhoodChildhood is positioned as a reader magnet, a short story offered for free to (hopefully) spark interest in the novel.

kourosh-qaffari-1144508-unsplashA novelette is shorter than a novella, which is shorter than a novel – averages of around 10,000 words, 35,000 words, and 80,000 words, respectively. Don’t let its diminutive stature fool you, though. A novelette requires the same attention to plot development and detail as a novel.

I’ve gone through the critique process for Childhood. For those unfamiliar, this involves peers (usually authors) reviewing the draft (usually first, second, and/or third) of a work before the author sends it to a professional editor for further work. By critiquing others’ work, authors become better writers. It’s a wonderful relationship that produces positive results, but is not complete. Critiques at this level only go as far as your peer group’s expertise and time.

The next step in producing a work of fiction is development (dev) editing. A professional editor will examine plot, timing, pacing, chapter structure, and other manuscript qualities to point out what does not work. This is not a cheering section; an author needs the dev editor to be brutally honest.

A few days ago I received my dev editor’s input for Childhood. In her email, she stressed I take a few days to process the comments before responding. I had no choice; I was at a conference and could not address the feedback until a few days later. But I did review the summary comments and let her know I appreciated the feedback and would be delayed with my response. She appreciated that, because, as she wrote, she wants to know that she’s provided the best service possible.

And she did. Pages of excellent comments pointing out opportunities for improvement. If I hadn’t gone through the process before, I may have been put off by the volume of feedback. But here’s the one important point to remember when receiving dev editor feedback: they want you to succeed.  Once you believe that, the criticisms become positive opportunities for learning.

Such was my experience with my dev editor for my previous novel, Leaving Darkness. I had always been sort of “loose” with point of view (POV), but that feedback taught me how important it is for the reader to produce a work with “POV discipline” (my term, if you want to use it, I get royalties!). Seriously, I became a better writer because of that feedback, and my trade will only improve with the input for Childhood.

I offer this as 1) a glimpse into the novel creation process for the non-author and 2) encouragement for the author. If you’re writing fiction, go beyond your crit group and contract with a dev editor. Consider it tuition towards an advanced degree in writing.

Photo by Kourosh Qaffari on Unsplash

Franklin Book Fair This Weekend

This weekend at the Williamson County Public Library in Franklin, Tennessee is the first Franklin Book Fair. Actually, to be fair, there Mid TN Authors Circlewas a smaller one several years ago, but we hope this larger event will become an annual tradition.

The book fair is a collaborative effort between the Middle Tennessee Author’s Circle and the library. The authors circle consists of several hundred members (that’s me sporting shades at an event in 2018). Over forty authors, myself included, will be there over the two days.

Each hour features a different panel staffed with local authors on specific genres and aspects of writing including self-publishing. I will be leading and participating in the Christian Fiction panel at 3 PM Central on Saturday.

There is no cost to attend. This is an excellent event to support local authors in the Nashville area. Come join us, learn some great stuff, and maybe even buy a book or two , or three! Check out the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/events/2469215829769672/ for more information.

Photo: Middle Tennessee Authors Circle

Three Attributes Every Writer Needs

One thing I have learned is that every writer seems to have advice but there is no one-size-fits-all set of rules or guidance. Still, I believe there are three core attributes every writer must possess to be successful: authenticity, tenacity, and business acumen.

Authenticity
Whether fiction or non-fiction, I believe a reader can sense the genuineness of an article or book. The passion poured into the creation of the words transfers through the reader’s eyes to their heart and mind. Conversely, lack of authenticity, in my opinion, results in a substandard product.bernard-hermant-621390-unsplash

This isn’t much different from the common “write about what you know,” advice, except knowledge doesn’t equate to passion. I suppose this makes no difference when writing a textbook or Wikipedia article. But when the reader feels the author believes in their work it compels them to read more. I don’t think you can fake that.

Tenacity
Writing is easy. Writing well is difficult. I have painfully experienced, particularly with self-published works, examples published before sufficient polishing. It takes time to learn the trade. What is the oft-quoted rule of thumb, ten-thousand hours to become a master of anything? With my years of writing experience, I am unsure just how close I am to that mark.

There’s more. A huge mistake new authors (myself included) make is assuming once published the work is done. No, readers will not magically flock to your book. Writers speak of their platform, essentially their (mainly digital) reputation and exposure. It takes time and determination to build that. I’ll let you know when I get there.

Business Acumen
Writing is a business, even if it’s a hobby, and writers need to approach it as such. That begins with keeping detailed financial records, to track your expenditures and income and to generate information for tax filing if so fortunate (if you have to file income taxes based on your writing, you’re making money).

Then there’s marketing, dreaded more than rejection letters. You not only need determination to market, but you also have to market correctly. That can require trial and error and learning from mistakes, which in turn requires some business analytical skills to interpret marketing action results. Twitter ad analytics is a great example.

I’ve been writing for many years now, off and on (recent years more on) since I was in high school in the 1980s (this post’s stock photo is reminiscent of the old Smith-Corona typewriter I used back then). It’s only been about a year when I became serious about my craft beyond a fun hobby, which required the attributes above.

Incidentally, all three attributes above apply to entrepreneurship as well. I launched a small consulting firm two years ago and would not have achieved the success I enjoy today if not for authenticity, tenacity, and business acumen. In fact, extending that successful model to my writing life was an easy decision.

What about you? Do you agree with these? Any others?

Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash