• cover

    COMING NEXT WEEK: Issue 3 of The Common Oddities Speculative Fiction Sideshow

    Issue 3 will be available next week. Here’s a sneak peek of the cover!

  • runner2.psd

    Cover Reveal

    We’ve been quietly working behind the scenes on our Midway imprint’s second release. Today I’m excited to reveal our cover! Running Backward is a hometown Indiana novel about a married, almost-thirty marketing professional who inadvertently invites her high school boyfriend into her home to stay for the week. It will appeal to romance readers and [...]

  • Issue 3 of The Sideshow COMING SOON!

    The Fall 2014 issue of The Common Oddities Sideshow is COMING SOON! We have an entertaining blend of short stories and poetry lined up, provided by a very talented group of writers. Here’s a sneak peek at our contributors, with hyperlinks to their online homes so you can get to know them better. Lou Antonelli [...]

  • Indie Book Marketing Step Three—Early Readers

    Even as I write this post, I freely admit my own indie book marketing sometimes falls short and misses the mark (kicking myself for low sales this past month as we speak). Marketing techniques change all the time, and the best way to keep abreast of changes is to watch what successful indie or even [...]

  • “My Writing Process” Sock Hop. I mean, Blog Hop.

    A couple weeks ago, I was tagged by Mirtika to join in the blog hop that’s been going around. The one where writers write about how they write. So that is what I shall do. Questions and answers are below. (Those are not my socks. I do not own those socks. I would not wear [...]

Issue 3 will be available next week. Here’s a sneak peek of the cover!


in Common Oddities Speculative Fiction Sideshow


Cover Reveal

We’ve been quietly working behind the scenes on our Midway imprint’s second release. Today I’m excited to reveal our cover!

Running Backward is a hometown Indiana novel about a married, almost-thirty marketing professional who inadvertently invites her high school boyfriend into her home to stay for the week. It will appeal to romance readers and fans of women’s fiction, and of course, I think men should give it a try too. :)

Publication date will be late November/early December. In the meantime, I need some early readers to help me spread the word. If you are interested in a free pre-release copy of the book in exchange for Goodreads and Amazon reviews, please leave your name in the comments section.

Feedback on the cover is appreciated as well.

As always, thank you for your interest in Provision Books!


in New Releases

{ 1 comment }

Issue 3 of The Sideshow COMING SOON!

The Fall 2014 issue of The Common Oddities Sideshow is COMING SOON! We have an entertaining blend of short stories and poetry lined up, provided by a very talented group of writers. Here’s a sneak peek at our contributors, with hyperlinks to their online homes so you can get to know them better.

Lou Antonelli

Lawrence Buentello

Andy Decker

Jill Domschot

Melissa McDaniel


M.V. Mongomery

Stoney Setzer

Ed Shacklee

Special Thanks

Thank you to everyone who submitted their work for consideration. The overall quality of submissions was high this time around and seems to be increasing with every issue, making my job as an editor more difficult. I heartily welcome the challenge. Bring it on! :)


in Common Oddities Speculative Fiction Sideshow


Indie Book Marketing Step Three—Early Readers

Heather Day Gilbert
Even as I write this post, I freely admit my own indie book marketing sometimes falls short and misses the mark (kicking myself for low sales this past month as we speak). Marketing techniques change all the time, and the best way to keep abreast of changes is to watch what successful indie or even traditionally published authors (or rather, their publicity firms) are doing.

A willingness to change your strategies is the key to staying afloat in the ever-shifting world of self-publishing.

But today I want to talk about a marketing step that, for me, is non-negotiable. Early Readers.

Early readers are a group of people who will read your ARC (Advanced Reader Copy, as it were—the nearly-finished final draft of your book). Early readers are not the same as your critique partner, proofreader, or beta reader group.

To clarify, critique partners, proofreaders, and beta readers receive a less-finished draft of your novel and give substantive advice on flow, character arc, etc. Their input enables you to make the final edits in your storyline. I recommend no more than five beta readers, who also regularly read in your genre. Otherwise, you get too many opinions on your novel and lose focus as to your vision for the story. I often think of it as “too many cooks stirring the broth.” Beta readers are the ones you can ask questions, if you feel so inclined (I don’t usually do this, as I think the questions can be leading and make readers see things they wouldn’t have noticed otherwise).

I recommend several steps before getting your books out to early readers, who are basically the final string in your pre-publication lineup. Early readers can be comprised of authors who might want to endorse your novel, readers who have expressed interest in reading/reviewing your upcoming release, etc.

1) I try to make sure I have completed cover art ahead of time, so early readers can get a good feel of what the book will look like. This is optional, of course. But I do look at this early reader version of my book as an “ARC” (Advanced Reader Copy), such as what traditional publishing houses send out. For non-author readers, I think having that cover shows this will indeed be a “real” book someday (authors are used to looking at books as Word docs).

2) Convert your novel to e-reader versions accessible to most. I use Calibre, which is free, and convert my Word doc to .pdf, mobi, and epub, so readers can have their choice to upload. (Mobi is for Kindle, Epub for Nook, and pdf can be viewed on computer and elsewhere). Other authors might use Scrivener for this. It is relatively simple, but PLEASE proofread that file before you send it out.

Case in point: I sent out a mobi file that was missing all the chapter endings, due to an incorrect conversion process. This looked really bad for my early readers as they assumed the chapters were REALLY hanging endings! I had to re-send that file and felt embarrassed about that. Just double-check before attaching files to readers!

3) The more early readers, the better. As I said above, early readers don’t offer substantive advice on the novel, and I don’t ask them for it. They are welcome to tell me anything that jumps out at them (generally typos!). I recommend a pool of at least 30 early readers, if possible, and this is why: they will not all respond. They will not all review. Which brings me to this…

3) Set a date for when you need endorsements/reviews. I like to get my early reader copies out two months ahead of time. Readers actually like knowing what kind of time schedule they are on. Also, let readers know via email (I use MailChimp for bulk emails like this) when your book is live on Goodreads/Amazon and able to be reviewed.

You can upload your book to Goodreads as soon as your cover art/blurb is ready. That way, your early reader reviews can trickle in, pre-release. They can’t post reviews to Amazon until your book is published.

Please note: As I said above, not all your early readers will read quickly and get back to you. Not all will review or endorse. I know…that first week or so, you’re sitting by the computer, waiting for those glowing thoughts on your book. Try not to! And try not to take it personally if you never hear back from many of those reviewers. I would say out of a pool of 40 early readers, you may hear back from 20-25. Some will fall through the cracks, because a) they didn’t like your novel, and they don’t know how to tell you this, b) they won’t read it till months post-release because they just don’t have time, or c) they totally forget.

Don’t ask anyone personally if they have read it yet. I’ve done this and it puts a major strain on your relationship and pressure on that reader. If you must follow up, do it by a group email, just reminding them of your release date, or let them know that reviews can go up now, etc. Just a nudge—not a personal one—is what I’d recommend!

4) As the author endorsements trickle in, be sure to collect those in a file that is easily accessible. When you have all you need, you can upload them into your final doc for your softcover or e-book. And once you load your book on Amazon, those endorsements can be loaded into the “editorial review” section there.

5) Make sure you update early readers when your book goes live, with any links, tweets, etc. You can also create influencer-oriented groups for them on Facebook if you want, to foster that sense of community and backing for your book. Early readers are basically your “street team” of people who will actively promote your book upon release, if they enjoyed it.

Why are early readers such a crucial step, you might ask? I think it’s such a leg-up when authors can have reviews ready to roll the minute their book releases. Early reviews on Goodreads and Amazon (which often stay in place as the first reviews!) are THOUGHTFUL, because those readers were hand-picked due to interest in your book. You might not get all five-stars, but don’t stress that. What you want are thorough reviews that show people have read your book and thought about it.

The more reviews, the merrier. Many ad sites (such as Bookbub) require a certain number of reviews before posting your book. I have seen traditional publishing houses drop the ball here, and I feel like it’s one way indie authors can rally support and garner buzz even before publication. Having a core group of readers who’ve read and liked your book, who are willing to give shout-outs for it, is so valuable.

One last thought: early readers might change from book to book. My Viking historical early readers were not all the same as my contemporary mystery early readers. Some were, because they expressed interest in both. But some were new readers who enjoy mystery genre more than historical.

I know it seems somewhat counter-intuitive to give your novel away to interested readers, especially if it’s your debut novel. Wouldn’t it be better if those interested readers BOUGHT your book? But I’ve found that with a debut, you can hardly give away too many copies. You are basically an unknown: a wild card. You want as many readers willing to promote you as possible to OTHER readers, in circles you can’t even reach. Word of mouth is valuable, and having a large pool of early readers enables that word of mouth/buzz to start up.

Next time, we will talk more about building buzz.

in Marketing


“My Writing Process” Sock Hop. I mean, Blog Hop.

ugly_socksA couple weeks ago, I was tagged by Mirtika to join in the blog hop that’s been going around. The one where writers write about how they write.

So that is what I shall do. Questions and answers are below. (Those are not my socks. I do not own those socks. I would not wear them to a dance. I would not wear them with pants. They could not, would not stand a chance.)

Who are you?

Is this a trick question?

What are you working on?

A mild headache.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

It’s awesomer.

Why do you write what you do?

It probably has something to do with my diagnosis.

How does your writing process work?

I write in short snippets.

Are there any writers out there who haven’t joined this blog hop? If you haven’t, then TAG!!! Lemme know, and I will link to you in this post.

photo credit: Liralen Li via photopin cc

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Rules for the Gig

One of the tragic consequences of social media on my brain is that I can only think in sound bites and each short thought is succinct from the other. Well, succinct is an understatement because sometimes I just stop mid—


What I wanted to talk about today was how I am making my own rules. (Should I tell you how long it took me to write that poorly constructed sentence? No, I should not. I blanked out at least twice during it though.)

I mean. Here’s the thing. Last week I wrote a slight rant about how I’m tired of the self-pub/indie pub gig…yada yada. If you want to read it, click this.

So today I’m going to talk about my writing rules. And here they are. In sound bites.

  1. Stop spending so much time on social media.
  2. Eat healthy foods and eat them on time. (i.e., before your stomach growls and your eyes cross.)
  3. Oops. This should be number one: READ THE BIBLE. I don’t care if you have 100 novels to beta read, if you only have 10 minutes to read in a day, READ THE BIBLE. RTBS (Read the Bible Stupid.)
  4. Exercise.
  5. Does anyone else notice I’m on Step 5 and I haven’t even mentioned putting pen to paper?
  6. SLEEP.
  7. Spend time with family.
  8. Stop texting, Tweeting, Facebooking, IM’ing, Googling during family time.
  9. Be happy.
  10. Write when and if you feel like it.

Some may call my writing rules a recipe for disaster, or at the very least, professional failure, but I will prove some people wrong. I will.

Just wait. (A while.)

p.s. An update on the forthcoming issue of The Common Oddities Speculative Sideshow is coming soon, including a rundown of the contributors. It’s gonna be a good one!

in Writing


Building a Bridge To Truth

gloomyBridgeAfter writing a post at my blog about postmodern influences affecting literature–giving it a sense of angstiness, due to the relativity of truth–I ran across across a Psychology Today article asking the question: Is angst behind all great creativity?.

The article delves into the stereotype of mental illness in artists, and I’m not going to get hung up on that, as I’ve already written about that subject. It’s a depressing subject, to be honest. But I would like to answer the question of whether angst is behind all great creativity.

First of all, angst is defined as extreme anxiety or dread over the meaning of human existence. It’s a feeling that has undoubtedly plagued mankind for time immemorial. In a Christian worldview, this might be defined as man’s separated status from God that is corrected through Christ for those who choose to follow him. In modern times, as we’ve slipped deeply into the malaise of refusing to accept the notion of universal truth, we’ve naturally become more separated from God and, hence, more angst-ridden. This will affect artists, certainly, but it will also affect and influence anybody, from academics to scientists.

There is something different about artists, though. Isn’t there? Why are they compelled to create in a way that others aren’t? At the end of the Psychology Today article, the author highlights what’s missing from one artist’s technically masterful but unsuccessful drawings: soul rather than angst. But that’s a strange conceit. All humans have souls. Is an artist a person who can successfully depict the human soul in written or visual imagery? I would say, yes–the author of the article is onto something. I would also add that for art to be successful, it must truthfully depict the human soul.

How does an artist do that?

For a start, an artist must be honest about the state of humanity. It’s impossible to accurately depict the human soul if you can’t be honest about the way humans operate. That leads me right back to the beginning question. Is angst behind all great creativity? No, and I’ll explain why. Questioning our existence is normal. Depicting humans who question their existence is truthful. Yet operating off of dread because we can’t ever know what is true and not true doesn’t make for truthful art. There is no greatness to it because it can offer no conclusions. It is, at best, a reflection of fallen humanity and a harsh and unforgiving world.

To further muddy the waters, I’ll concede that an artist may be initially inspired by dread. They feel dread, which inspires them to understand the state of humanity to quell the anxiety, which can lead to honest depictions of humanity. Without ever landing on a universal notion of truth, however, the outcome is going to be hit or miss. For that reason, I would argue that the artistic drive is something that springs from a deeper place, one that already recognizes truth. The problem is with bridging the gap between what we know consciously and what we know subconsciously. To me, that is what the artistic drive is all about–building that bridge to what we already know is true.

Too often, dread prevents us from building that bridge because we may not like what we find on the other side. So, no. All great art isn’t inspired by angst. Ultimately, it’s inspired by truth.

photo credit: James Loesch via photopin cc

in Writing


Eau de cabbage


An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup. –H. L. Mencken

I’m not an idealist. Wait, I take that back. All writers are idealists of a sort. Writers live in ideals–the ideals of the perfect writing life, for example. We idealize such notions as time and health and great ideas. We idealize our own stories. But in the real world, I’m not an idealist. And sometimes I wonder if this lack of idealism walks hand in hand with an essential lack of creativity. Imagination is idealistic. It doesn’t dwell in the land of current reality, but what could be reality if we as creative individuals put our minds to solving problems. Believing that the world could be a better place is the essence of idealism.

To be honest, I don’t agree with Mencken’s soup analogy, as there is more than simple idealism going on. If a chef were to add the essence of rosewater to his soup, he might give it a sweet edge that enhances it. That is what creative people do. They play with ingredients, mixing a little of this or that to give their work spice or fragrance. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t begin with a foundation of soup. If rose petals become the primary ingredient instead of vegetables, then it’s no longer distinguishable as soup. It’s rosewater. Hot rosewater. And hot rosewater should be bathed in and not consumed as a dinner course.

So a writer, as a creative idealist, might very well add rose petals to his soup to see how the flavor comes out. I was carried away on this line of thinking after considering whether it’s a good idea to mix genres. Writers do it all the time, but what is the end result to all this mixing? In the science fiction and fantasy world, the result is often a weird gloppy mess that resembles a Dr. Seuss meal. Perhaps the characters are in space, initially tagging the story as science fiction, but the sylphs and magical incantations have muddied the broth to such a degree that the story no longer resembles science fiction. It’s fantasy at that point with a few science ingredients, rather than the other way around.

Some of these notions, these splits are arbitrary. Keeping to my food analogy, we think of vegetable soup as being composed of, well, vegetables. A strict scientific definition informs us that most of the “vegetables” are actually fruit because they bear seeds. At the same time, rose petals, by a strictly botanical definition, are a vegetable. In the realm of taste, though, there are foods that are strictly vegetables and some that are strictly fruit, and then there is an overlap, where the two circles on the Venn diagram meet. While you might accuse me of overextending my metaphor at this point, I am.

There is science. And there is fantasy (and chick lit and mystery and so many other distinct genres). And there is a this place in the middle where they meet because so much of life is still mystery to us. The Venn diagram has managed to get my mind out of the soup pot. Going back, I’m shuddering at the idea of adding even a little cabbage to rosewater–eau de cabbage? If you’re going to start with a foundation–and you should!–please add appropriate creative ingredients to the mix. Otherwise, your work is going to smell, and so much for my attempt at appreciating idealism.

photo credit: Lawrence OP via photopin cc

in Writing


Indie Book Marketing—Step Two (Title, Cover Art, and Blurb)

Heather Day GilbertI know the early steps of this series seem pretty rudimentary: our first step was having a finished, edited book. Our step today involves all the trappings of said book: title, cover art, and blurb. And yet each step is crucial. To build buzz, you are going to need a finalized title, finalized cover art, and a finalized blurb.

As for choosing titles, some authors like titling things and some don’t. I’m in the camp that enjoys it, until it comes to series titles or personal taglines (we won’t even go there…I use my author name versus a tagline because I genre-hop).

The main two things to remember about titles are:

1) If you’re writing a series, you want a title you can work with when developing future titles. In other words, they’ll all need to be along the same vein. For example, I considered Gingerbread House for one of my mystery titles. If I’d gone with that, the entire series would have needed to reflect that fairy-tale theme.

This is where your early readers, blog readers, or your Facebook author page followers can truly help you. If I get stumped on a title, after brainstorming with several talented titling peeps, I will come up with 2-3 options and then throw those out for my reader public to vote on. Almost every time, the majority will veer toward one over the other, and I know THAT will be the most marketable title. This is where indies have a major edge. We can go directly to our readers and see what strikes their fancy (read: what they will buy!).

2) You want something catchy, yet different. But don’t stress taking a title that’s already out there. Now, even if I named my book Twilight (yeah, not a clever move), my series title (not to mention cover art and content) would set the book apart. So plagiarism isn’t an issue. However, you probably want something that doesn’t have 100 same-title books on Amazon so yours is quickly visible in searches.

Some longer titles can work, but they have to be memorable. It’s easy to remember The Fault in our Stars, but not so easy to remember The Day Mrs. Jamble Walked an Elephant and Found a Zebra.

Once you’ve settled on a title, you’ve gone a long way toward determining cover art. I could go on at length about the importance of cover art, but I’ll nail this down to three main points:

1) Make your cover something that would draw your eye if you were browsing on Amazon or in a bookstore. I say this because many of us write what we would like to read, so it makes sense that our covers need to knock our own socks off (be brutally honest with yourself here). Also, if you have a professional-looking cover, it can open doors that would otherwise be closed.

2) If you are planning a series, take into consideration that you will probably want the series covers to coordinate on some level. For instance, if you get a stock art model, you will need to use that same model if it’s the same main character throughout the series, OR you will have to get clever about how much of that model we see. If you buy a pre-made cover, make sure the overall setup isn’t hard to replicate for the structure of book two.

3) Make sure your cover reflects your genre. We all know cowboy romance covers have a different look than sci fi covers. Go to the top sellers in your genre and check their covers…do they convey a flirty, romantic feel (lighter colours, cursive lettering)? Or a darker, more ominous feel? People on the cover or submarines/planes/etc? Get that vibe going and look for cover art pics that will make it clear what genre you’re writing in.

There is so much information on how to make sure your cover art is effective, but I want to recommend Joel Friedlander’s The Book Designer blog for this. He showcases and reviews indie book covers every month so you can see what works and what doesn’t.

Finally, you want to come up with a kickin’ blurb for your book. I actually use the same Amazon blurb (description) for my back cover copy. It’s just easier that way.

There’s actually a great post on The Book Designer about this topic here. I agree that the blurb needs to stay on the short side. Readers lose interest quickly. You want to let people know who the main character(s) is and something about the driving plot, while still hooking them in to read more. The biggest problem for authors is our tendency to give away too much information.

This is yet another instance where your followers or early readers can help you. They can tell you if your sample blurb bores them to tears or if you’ve given too much away. I did this in an early version of my mystery blurb, and was surprised that readers wanted to know less about what was going to happen in the book, as opposed to more. Again, I think it’s that hook aspect. You need to hook readers with your cover, blurb, and first chapter sample (usually it’s a combination of all three elements, although occasionally one or two of those elements will still convince them to buy).

Ruth Harris wrote another great post here about blurb writing, titled 8 Tips for Writing that Killer Blurb. I like the idea of embracing some white space. If you need to break a longer paragraph up, please do. Uber-long paragraphs will discourage people from reading through your entire blurb.

Okay! This post ran longer than I thought, but I’m hoping you’ve found some helpful tips for that second step in marketing. You’re now on track to start building buzz…you have an edited book to work with, as well as a catchy title, eye-catching cover, and killer blurb.

Next time we’ll talk in-depth about a step I can’t stress enough: early readers.

in Marketing


Framing a Story in Fantastical Fiction

theprincessbrideMy kids picked up a summer cold. I’m sure there are gloomier events that can occur in life, but on a gloominess scale between 1 and 10, the summer cold is probably about a 7. Therefore, I popped in The Princess Bride to alleviate the gray mood. What’s better than sword fights and daring rescue narratives at clearing the air?

Being that I’ve already seen the movie dozens of times since it first came out in the 80s, I found it impossible to sit with my kids and lose myself in the story. Instead, I found myself examining it. It’s a popular movie–a cult classic, even–and there’s a reason for that. It’s got everything: action, adventure, high stakes, comedy, loony characters, likeable but not perfect protagonists, and last but not least, true love.

But when I consider why The Princess Bride works, I can’t leave out its framing story in my examination. The external story elements of “everything” take place in the interior story rather than exterior one, which sounds like a paradox at first glance. That’s the way frame stories work, though. They set up a thematic outer structure for the action of the inner story (or stories) to hang on. In other words, the theme informs the story, rather than the other way around.

Frame stories are hardly new in the art of storytelling. They are, in fact, an ancient form of storytelling. From Canterbury Tales to Wuthering Heights to Worlds End (from Gaiman’s The Sandman series), frame stories have come to be accepted as a valid literary form. Some writers, past and present, are so enamored with frame stories that they complicate them by creating a matryoshka-like structure of stories within stories within stories. In Frankenstein, Walton’s letters give frame to Dr. Frankenstein’s stories, which give frame to the creature’s stories, which in turn relate the story of a family the creature lived with.

If you’re confused by now, I don’t blame you. In one short blog post, I’ve set out to create an entire historical framework for this interior story I’m telling you about The Princess Bride (which I also framed with the story of my sick kids).

Rob Reiner, who directed The Princess Bride, had this to say about the frame story*:

The most important thing for me in the script is the story of the little boy who is reluctant to see his grandfather and is brought closer to him by the end of the film as a result of having had this story read to him. I love the story of the princess bride, but had it not had this other element, I don’t think I would have been as interested in it.

But why did the outer story make the other more interesting, and how did it inform the movie theme? There is much I could say about theme, such as the older generation teaching the younger about what true love means; it becomes something less frothy and more real when the grandfather is sitting by the sick child’s bed telling him about love in story form. There truly is something worth fighting for, something outside video games, which we see the boy playing as the film opens.

For a story like The Princess Bride, though, there is something even more fundamental going on. The interior story is fantastic. It’s unbelievable. The characters contend with death and live. They live because they have something to live for. In that sense, the story frame acts as a grounding element to a sentimental story we might otherwise roll our eyes at in disbelief. Through the grandfather’s narration, we’re better able to accept that the characters just happen to find four white horses in the stables for the four protagonists to ride off on. It sounds right in the grandfather’s voice.

And that happens to be the end. The movie is over, as this post should have been 150 words ago. The gloom has definitely lifted, as the kids are now laughing and making up their own stories and characters.

*quote pulled from the Special Edition DVD booklet

in Writing