Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Rule 3 of Writing Historical Novels -- DO Sweat the Small Stuff

Your historical fiction depends upon your ability to use historical detail. This is a different world for your reader. You have to supply the images and they have to be the right ones for this world.

What is the street like? Does it smell of horse shit? Of smog from the factories and chimneys? What kind of wagons or other conveyances are there? What is the noise? Street vendors crying their wares? Horses? The clatter of armor or harness? Plate armor? Maille? What did the clothes look like? What was the lighting?

Don't recycle information from old, and often totally inaccurate, movies and novels.

If you are going to write about people living in 1200 England, you need to know how people lived there. How is that woman in the home you're writing about making yarn for clothes? She did make her own. Don't assume she used a spinning wheel. They weren't used yet. So how did she do it?

What kind of horses did people ride? Knights didn't ride a destrier down the street, by the way. That would be very much like driving a Sherman tank to the grocery store for a gallon of milk. What was a palfrey? A courser? When were the different horses used? How were they different? You're writing about a sailor in the early twentieth century. What was life like on a British merchant ship? What did they eat? What were the uniforms? Could a sailor work his way up to become a ship's officer? If so, how?

It's easier to track down someone who knows about a distaff and spindle or medieval horses or how one worked their way up from below the deck than it is to track the answer to every question on the internet, especially since the internet is often inaccurate.

Google for non-fiction books on topics you want to learn about. Wikipedia is often a good source of lists of non-fiction books used as sources--a much more useful way to use it than assuming its articles are accurate. Compare comments about different authors to see which seem to be widely considered accurate. Often an email or a call to these authors will yield a world of information. Of course, calls to museums can also be a possibility, but often finding someone there who is an expert on what you need information about is not that easy.

For one novel, I needed to know how long it would take to spin enough yarn to weave cloth to actually make clothing in a 12th century household. This took some tracking down. A forum for hobbyists yielded a list of books. A call to an author eventually gave me the information I needed.

It is the small stuff that gives your novel the feel of authenticity. You have to know a hundred times more about the world you write about than goes in the novel. Believe me, if you don't, the reader can tell.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Freedom's Sword -- Beginning of Chapter Four

Caitrina shook her head. Donnchadh said they had gone north and a little east along the pine forest. He pointed to the North Star, faint in the black velvet sky. She rubbed her arms, covered with goose bumps, as they trudged. Even in April, the night air was chill. But how far east had they come? How far did they have yet to go to reach Avoch Castle?

A trumpet called somewhere behind them and she froze. It came again. She grabbed Donnchadh's arm. He pulled her, running, towards a dark mass of thick brambles down slope that extended over the next rise. She stretched her leg to keep up. They pushed their way into the scratchy branches and sank down. Panting and heart hammering, she squeezed his hand. It grew silent again except for an owl hooting in the darkness.

"They won't see us in here," Donnchadh said, "but they might hear us. It's noisy pushing our way through."

"If we tried to stay in the brambles, it would take a long time, too." She listened. The horns, whatever they had meant, had stopped. "I think we have to take the risk."

They neared the top of the next rise and crouched to listen, keeping a nervous eye out for searchers. The English could come very close before they saw them in the dark. The night was silent so they kept going, pushing their way through the dense thicket, arms and legs stinging with welts from the thorns.

Caitrina stopped. A lighter area opened ahead in the moonlight--the road. She pointed, and Donnchadh motioned for them to lie down. Caitrina pointed again at a dense clump of gorse, thick enough to hide her. "Stay here," she whispered.

He grabbed for her hand but she was already creeping forward. From flat on the ground, she could see very little, just the dark night and the ground in front of her. After a few damp, tiring yards of crawling, she glanced back to see how far she'd come. Donnchadh's eyes gleamed in the moonlight. She went on.

She was sure she was near the road when she heard the beat of horses coming at a fast walk. She trembled, wanting to jump up and run. But if she did, of a certainty, they would see her. Don't move. Don't move. Donnchadh's eyes had shined in the dark, so she forced herself to stare at the layers of leaves on the ground. The horses came from her left. They were so close they almost seemed to ride right over her; the ground shook.

Her whole body shuddered with terror, but they kept going. Once the pounding hoof beats had passed, she dared a quick glance. They disappeared before she could count the dark shapes--at least ten or twelve of them. The hoof beats died away. She took a deep breath and crept into the spicy-smelling clump of gorse. She parted the spiky leaves and even in the moonlight, the road was scarred with hoof marks. Why were they riding east? Away from Edirdovar Castle? It wasn't enough to attack Avoch, surely. Were they looking for her?

She strained through to see along the road as far as she could without getting out in the open. Nothing. She jumped at a touch on her arm and gave a faint squeak.

"They're ahead of us now," she whispered and her stomach rumbled loudly.

Donnchadh gave her a weak grin. "Glad it didn't do that before."

Together, they crept away from the road and made their way through the firs. She had gotten blisters on the bottoms of both of her feet so she took off her shoes. The dirt and damp needles made a soft cushion underfoot. She needed to piss, but didn't want to tell Donnchadh. She couldn't make water while he watched. Finally, though she couldn't hold it any more and her belly ached from it, so he turned his back while she squatted.

The horizon was hidden by the fir trees, but slowly the sky turned from gray to blue. Caitrina stumbled over a root she hadn't seen and grabbed a trunk, the bark rough under her hand. "I don't think I can walk much more."

"We'll look for a place when it gets light. No way we'll make it to Avoch today, I don't think."

Caitrina nodded and kept her eyes on her feet trying not to stumble, putting one bare foot in front of another. Her stomach ached with emptiness. It had been a long time since the berries. Once she stumbled over a rock and landed hard on her knees.

Donnchadh gave her a hand to boost her erect. "Not much longer. We'll rest during the day and go on when it gets dark." They found a tumbled cairn grown over with brambles. He made a tunnel into it and pulled the bushes close so they were hidden. Caitrina was sure she wouldn’t sleep but the last thing she remembered was cradling her head in her arms and then Donnchadh gave her shoulder a shake.

The light was already waning in the clear spring sky and the world was turning gray. The brambles ended at the edge of a fir wood. Donnchadh grumbled that it would be hard to find their way under branches that hid the stars, but there wasn't a choice so they kept to the fragrant firs and climbed up a long brae. He led them down the other side and up the next gentle rise.

Caitrina sniffed. "I smell wood smoke."

Donnchadh pointed towards flickering light off to the right. Her stomach was so empty she felt sick and Donnchadh looked longingly towards the light.

"Maybe it's a croft," he said. "I don't have no siller to buy anything. Do you?"

"No." She worried at her lip with her teeth. "They could tell us how far to Avoch though and if they've seen riders. And maybe they'd spare an oat bannock if we ask."

Donnchadh frowned and shook his head. "But what if the riders stopped there?"

"I hadn't thought of that." She twisted her fingers together. "We better be careful."

They kept going in the dimming light that turned into twilight. Where the trees thinned, they slipped from bush to bush. Every few steps they stopped to listen. The light ahead was bright when she heard a horse snort and a man's voice. The smoky smell got stronger.

Donnchadh put his mouth against her ear. "You wait here."

She wanted to protest against being left but was afraid to with the English so near, so she sat down next to some thick brambles as he crept on his belly. Her stomach ached with hunger, but it couldn't be that far to Avoch. The once she had been there, it hadn't been a long a ride by road. She clasped her arms around her bent knees, shivering a little in the cooling night air. They could get there without food, she was sure, even walking. Then Donnchadh was creeping toward her. He shook his head and his lips were pressed so tight they were pale.

"What is it?"

"The riders that passed--they're there." His voice was choked sounding. "They've--they've killed the crofter--his family. The bodies..." He heaved and bent as he coughed up a string of bile. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and she waited, heart pounding. "They're just lying there in the dirt. Like--like old rags or--" His voice broke, and he stopped, choking back a sob. She had a sudden vision of Edirdovar Castle--her sister and mother and all the people she knew...

She pressed her hand to her mouth as Donnchadh sucked in gusty breaths through clinched teeth. He looked up, cheeks wet. "They didn't have a chance."

Why Battles Are Like Sex

All right, maybe not exactly. But I write about them the same way. I got a funny look from someone the other day when I said that, so I'm going to explain the similarities.

First -- non-sex related unless you have different tastes than me, but who knows *grin* -- and this applies to sword fights or just describing warriors and knights in general, don't get tied up in what I once saw an editor call "weapon porn". I am a heck of a lot more interested in what the armour and weapons are called than 99% of my readers. I know the name, weight and capabilities of every piece. So should you, but don't necessarily list it. They really just want to see what it does, not hear its name. But do get the capabilities of the weapons right, please. Please. Swords did not weight 30 pounds, and it was not a matter of the heavier the better. Most weigh less than 3 pounds. 6 pounds is about tops for a functional sword that is not for ceremonial use only.

Swords cut. They do not crush.

Know all that to make the scene authentic but don't burble it all out and bore your poor reader to death--or on to another novel.

(Possibly that is more like a sex scene than I thought. Don't list all the body parts either!)

Now on to the sex part:

1. The senses do not stop working during battle or during sex. Battle is noisy and smelly. Things touch; things taste. The coppery taste of blood in your mouth. The tickle or sting of sweat trickling down your sides. The shit from dead horses and men. The senses put the reader there in either type of scene. Don't leave them out.

3. Battle and sex are both drippy. There are a lot of fluids. Blood in the mouth, on your hands, in your face. Sweat dripping. Horses lather and bleed. Mud squelches under your feet. Important stuff. I'll leave the sex dripping to you. *grin*

4. Don't announce orgasms OR winning the battle. In a battle, no one holds up a sign and shouts, "it's all over". Battles take a long time, sometimes all day, and even when you've won, the fighting rarely stops with that. There are enemies to be hunted down or an escape to be made. Or you're a prisoner wondering who of your friends survived. From your spot in the battle, you may not even know whether you've won or lost. There's a good chance you won't just like you don't necessarily know... *chuckles*

5. It is ALL in the feelings. Exactly where you put the feet or how the sword was swung doesn't mean a thing any more than how "Part A goes into Slot B". What matters are the emotions and reactions. There can be all kinds of feeling in battle. Cool calculation as you figure out how the enemy will react to what you do. Or you might be totally lost in the moment, seeing nothing but the next swing of the sword and the next victim ridden down. It may be fear and terror. It may be elation. But it is the feelings that count! If you don't know that about sex... well, I don't know what to tell you.

6. You had better feel it yourself. You notice I describe it as though it is happening to you. If your sex scenes don't arouse you, they probably have a problem. If you don't feel your own battle scenes, then you probably need to get more inside your character.

So that's why I think they're the same. Kind of. But I do try to be alive and unbloodied after sex. My characters can't necessarily say the same after battle, because I try to always have them at risk. And that's another essential point. If there is no risk to your characters, is there really any point in writing the scene? Just another thing to think about.

My own novel, Freedom's Sword, is based on the life of Scotland's hero, Andrew de Moray. You can find it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Rule 2 of Historical Fiction: Don't Pass Judgment on Your Characters

We live in a different age than most of our characters. Judging or condemning someone because of their gender, their sexual orientation, their religion, or their color is wrong in our time.

Our characters lived in a different time. Don't judge them for that and do not force them to think the way we do.

13th Century women or even most 19th century women were not feminists. They were not allowed to do what we do; they did not expect to be able to; they did not have to power to do so. Young women did not defy their parents to chose their own spouse. That doesn't mean they weren't strong people. They were as often strong as modern women, and they often did brave things--within the context of their own time. Agnes of Dunbar held her husband's castle of Dunbar against a huge English army--but she did not inherit her father's estate or title and did not expect to.

We have to allow these women to live within the standards of their own time, and if we force them to act like modern women we lose what they were.

Medieval Europeans with very, very few exceptions were Catholic. If you're not, that's fine. But your characters were if you write about that time, and you have to respect that. When one of my characters witnessed horrific acts, it was suggested that I have him question the existence of God. But this is how a modern person might react, not a medieval one.

They were not accepting of people who were Jewish or Islamic. (The people who were Islamic weren't accepting of Christians either, to avoid demonizing one side or the other) Why pretend it was otherwise? Showing the age as it was does not mean we share those beliefs. You have to be able to see the story from your character's perspective, even if you sometimes don't like that perspective.

They didn't always show mercy in war. Sometimes prisoners were executed. If you try to gloss over this, it doesn't add to the story. It takes away from it.

We should be brave enough to write them as they were rather than as they would be today. It spoils the verisimilitude of our novels and makes them anachronistic. In fact, it may date your book. Novels that did that in the 19th century now look dated. They wouldn't if the author had presented the characters and the period as they really were.

My own novel, Freedom's Sword, is based on the life of a true character, Scotland's Andrew de Moray. You can find the it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Rule One of Writing Historical Fiction

I'm going to do a short series on my own rules for writing historical fiction. Now these are my rules. I obviously can't and won't try to force them on anyone else. In at least one case, I wish I could.

The one that absolutely infuriates me when it is violated is the first one. If you want to get me to despise you (and yes, I mean you, Mel Gibson), violate this one:

Don't Lie About Real People

If your historical fiction is based on real people, be responsible to the originals and the people who care about them. There are usually gaps in the historical record, often large gaps. Fill those in. Make up reasons why they did things. Make up emotions which they may have had. Make up conversations and encounters they may have had.

All those are fair game. You can even fudge a bit by saying Washington got to the capitol two days before he did for his inauguration. I'll say, it's fiction; you're within bounds. But do not change major events or accuse them of despicable acts they did not commit.

Do not say that Robert Bruce was a coward who only fought the Battle of Bannockburn because he was fiddling around with a piece of cloth. He had for f****** sake had THREE brothers hanged, drawn and quartered by the English, had fought the English for eight years and had planned for that battle. Don't say that the Bruces betrayed Wallace any more than you would say that Washington was a traitor who conspired with the British. And saying that William Wallace was the father of a child born seven years after his death makes you look -- stupid.

This is only one example, admittedly one that particularly irritates me because so many people bought the lies in "that movie", but it shows why you should NOT do it. You will make people angry--who aren't going to buy your your next book if you do. Whether it is William Wallace, George Washington, Robert Bruce, Mary Queen of Scots, or Abraham Lincoln, there are people who care when you twist the facts. Be careful in handling real people in your fiction.

There are certain historians who say you shouldn't do it at all. They're delusional in my opinion. Real people, including national heroes, have always been the stuff of storytelling. That's not going to change. And I'm not saying to treat them as perfect. That would be boring and as much of a lie. If they did something people consider wrong, tell that, too. If they could reasonably have done something wrong--something that isn't contradicted by known facts--you can consider making it up, but I still say take care. (And I mean reasonably, not a seven year pregnancy!)

I am just saying that don't assume that no one will care if you ravage their reputations. Keep your own conscience clean by not slandering them.

My own novel, Freedom's Sword, is based on the life of a true character, Scotland's Andrew de Moray. I worked hard at writing a good story around the facts of his life. You can find the novel at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Review of Freedom's Sword

From bookPumper:

Year 1296. Young Andrew de Moray, newly knighted by the Scottish King, is thrilled to go to his first battle. He is not afraid as he stands by his father’s side, observing the long lines of the English army...

Please read the entire bookPumper review here: Fine Historical Fiction

Yes, I admit it. I'm excited and thrilled.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

#SampleSunday -- Freedom's Sword


Caitrina de Berkely snapped off her thread and examined the seam she had finished sewing. There was no doubt. The seam was crooked.

She frowned in disgust at the gray underskirt and glanced across the sunlit bower at her sister. Isobail's needlework was always perfect. Everyone told their mother so. Even their father, who had no use for such things, had said, "Her embroidery is as dainty as she is."

Caitrina peeked at her mother, afraid that she might have noticed that she had stopped working, but her mother was paying Caitrina no attention at all. Her mother was counting a stack of white linen coifs and veils they had readied for Caitrina's departure for the convent, a crease between her fair eyebrows as she refolded them. She said Caitrina should be grateful they were giving her to the church and that she must be properly clothed for the novitiate. Her dower had already been paid.

Caitrina bent over the garment she held and chewed her lip. She could pick out the seam and salvage the skirt. It would take time, and her mother would notice. Sighing, she laid down her needle and watched her sister take a careful stitch in her embroidery.

Perhaps if she was careful she could slip out of the room. At least, she could have a last afternoon of freedom. Tears filled Caitrina's eyes, but she blinked them back. It wasn't fair that she was being sent to be a nun. She would never run along the beach, launch an arrow at a rabbit, or gallop a horse across the hills again. Never gather berries with her friends from the castleton and never have her own home where no one would judge her lacking.

She stood up and started quietly for the door.

"Where are you going, sister?" Isobail said in a voice as soft as one of the rose petals that scented the bower.

"I want to have one last glance of the firth before I go. Would deny me that? I'll never see it again."

Isobail colored, but even that she did daintily just as she did everything. She had even gotten their mother's golden coloring instead of red hair like their father. Her skin was soft and white as freshly skimmed cream instead of dotted with freckles.

Their mother raised her eyes. "You have no need to see the firth today. You will see it on your way."

Caitrina wanted to scream. It was just like Isobail speak up and let their mother know she was escaping.

"Let me see. Your clothes must be prepared for the morrow." Her mother stood and picked up the underskirt. "Caitrina, this must be unpicked and re-sewn. It will not do at all."

The corners of Isobail's mouth turned up in the tiniest smirk. It was all too much. Caitrina spun and bolted for the door.

Her mother said in a grimly soft voice, "Caitrina, come back here. Don't you dare take another step."

She stopped in the doorway and turned back. "What will you do to me? Lock me up?" She took brief satisfaction from the shock on their faces. "You're sending me away, remember?" With that, she whirled and made her escape, running down the stairs.

What had she done that was so bad? How could her father have agreed to send her away before he left to lead their men to fight the English? Isobail was fifteen, a year older. Perhaps by the time Caitrina was born there was no love left over for her. Or perhaps it was that she wasn't the heir they wanted. It wasn't fair. Isobail could dance, and sing, and play the harp. Even worse, she was beautiful like their mother. Their nurse had called Caitrina carrot-top while she doted on Isobail. Caitrina could ride a horse better and the sight of blood never made her cry. But who cared about such things in a lass?

She dashed past the guardroom at the postern gate before her mother could have them stop her, but there were few guards about now. Their father had taken most with him when he went to fight the invaders. Now she'd not see them return, not greet her lord father or feel his strong arms in a hug. She'd thought that he loved her. Tears were running down her face as she dashed down the hill, plunging her way through the prickly gorse.

One spiky leaf snagged her skirt so she stopped to loosen it, watching up the castle to see if they sent anyone after her. No one was in sight except a single guard walking atop the red sandstone wall. She took a deep breath and angrily wiped the tears away with the heel of her hand. She wouldn't waste her last day of freedom weeping.

They weren't pursuing her, but her mother would probably have them look in the village. There were better things to do than to stay there anyway. First, she had to find Donnchadh. He would be as eager to escape his father's mill, as she was to escape the castle.

She arrived, hot and breathless, at the round stone millhouse that jutted above the edge of the firth. Inside, below the floor, the wheel screeched as the tide turned it, blending with the swish of the frothy waves below.

Donnchadh propped up the wall, a faded plaid of green and yellow checks pleated over one shoulder and his saffron tunic hanging to his knees. He gave her a curious look. "I thought they had you locked up in the castle until you leave."

Caitrina wrinkled her nose. "I escaped. For a last day of freedom."

He grinned, showing the homey gap between his front teeth. "Come on, then. Let's go." He looked up the hill before he turned his gaze back to her. "What do you want to do?"

"It's been so warm, I'll wager some of the blackberries are ripe already. Let's go picking. We can eat our fill and then go climbing for eggs." She bent and pulled the back of her skirt through her legs to kilt it in front. She spun in circles, head back. The sun was warm on her face and the air mingled the scent of salt sea with the spice of gorse and heather. She stopped, a little dizzy, and grinned. "Come on. I'll race you."

She dashed along the beach and up a stony path to the top of the rise. Donnchadh let her have a head start. He always did, but she soon she heard the thud of his footsteps.

In a few minutes, they were deep in the blackberry brambles that grew eight feet high. They were covered with ripening berries and the two shooed away squawking birds. Donnchadh yelped when a thorn scraped a bloody line on his arm. She made a face at him. Her leg already bore a long scratch. She stuffed her mouth with a handful of juicy berries and grinned, so he did the same. A drop of purple juice dripped onto his chin.

When she heard a signal horn bugle, she stopped to listen.

"What is that?" Donnchadh asked, frowning.

"I'm not going back, whatever it is, but it's not from the castle." She took her lip between her teeth. "We're not expecting my father to return with his men for weeks yet. It might be news. They were going to fight."

"It could be." He parted the dense blackberry leaves to peer through the brambles. They were west of the castle, a good way beyond the southwest corner of the outer wall. They could see only a short stretch of the road leading out of the gate.

"I think it's too soon for news," Caitrina said. "What do you see?"

"Not much. But... Do you hear that?"

She didn't so much hear it as feel it, a rumble in the ground up through her feet from the road to the west. When she parted the brambles beside him, she could see nothing, because of the pinewoods that bordered the road, but as she stepped into the open, she could see sentries dashing into place on the castle wall.

The sound was horses, large horses. A trumpet sounded from somewhere on the road.

"That's not my father's horn. Nor Lord Avoch's. I know the sound from when they marched away."

A deep-toned horn called from the castle. A horseman came in sight around the angle of wall, riding fast out from the gate. His armor glittered. He wore the green cloak of their master-at-arms. "It's Sir Ailean," she said.

"Maybe you should go back."

"Whatever it is... it's odd." Out of the trees came a column of men-at-arms behind a hundred or so horsemen. She gasped. "Look!"

"Whose banner is that? Do you know it?"

She jumped back into the brambles and peeked through the dense branches. "Just a second. The wind's wrong. White field—-something on it in red. The horsemen are all knights. But there are a lot of infantry." Row after row of single-edged blades on the end of tall polearms waved like a field of corn in the wind.

"None of our men were carrying those when they left," said Donnchadh.

"It is pikes. I can see the blades flashing in the sun." She swallowed. A huge rock had grown in the middle of her chest. "Holy Mary... I think that's the banner of England. The cross of St. George."

The master-at-arms rode to meet a fat man in shining half-armor who spurred his huge black destrier ahead of the column.

"Let's see..." For a few moments, Caitrina fell silent as she watched.

Nothing moved. The only sound was a faint clatter of armor. The fat man gestured. Sir Ailean shook his head emphatically and turned to ride back the way he came.

"I wonder what..."

The master-at-arms slumped over in his saddle. Slowly, he slid sideways and crashed to the ground. A crossbow bolt thrust up from his back.


Freedom's Sword is available on Amazon, Barnes & Nobles and Smashwords. A larger sample is available for download. Please give it a try!

The Scoop on Amazon Tagging

If you have a book for sale on Amazon or other vendor sites, you know that getting it up there is merely the first hurdle. Once your book is listed how do people find it? Even if it’s the greatest novel since Moby Dick or has the potential sales of Gone with the Wind, potential readers still have to see it first.

Tagging is one way that Amazon has ensured that will happen. It is also one form of promotion for authors which is relatively invisible, simple and free.

Now tagging isn't just for authors. Readers can and should use them as well. If you read a novel and want to let other readers know they would enjoy it because it's an adventure or science fiction story or has Robert Bruce in it, you can add adventure or science fiction or Robert Bruce as a tag.

When another reader searches on that term, Amazon uses the tags to give them results. Amazon has thousands of books they bring up when someone searches on phrase. The frequency with which a book has been tagged with that phrase is an important determiner in where a novel is on Amazon's list when the results come up.

So how does tagging work? First, you must have an Amazon account with which you have made an Amazon purchase; otherwise, no one else can see your tags. Then you can tag a book with up to 15 tags.

Here authors can exert at least some control. Pick out about ten tags that you think will be used by readers who would want to read your novel. For my historical novel, Freedom's Sword, I used terms like "historical novel", "Scotland", "Scottish independence" and "knights". Readers will add tags which they feel are appropriate. Someone added the tag "medieval" which was a good addition and will help people who like medieval fiction find it.

I strongly advise against using tags that have nothing to do with your novel even if you think they're popular. It just annoys readers and they may decide to "vote down" the relevant tags. They may also add negative tags, so care is a good idea.

To add tags, you can hit "tt" and it gives you a tagging pop-up window where you can type in tags. If you want to simply agree with existing tags, you can click on the button next to the tags.

By the way, there is a text line "Agree with these tags?" Clicking it does not agree with the existing tags!

If you look at a novel and think the tags are not appropriate to it you can "vote down" the inappropriate. That is when you click "Agree with these tags?" That gives you a list of the tags and if you hover your cursor over the number of clicks that tag has received, you can vote against it. If enough "down votes" are received, the tag is removed.

The explanation sounds complicated, but it's really a simple process. It helps both authors and readers. We should all take advantage of it.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Dreaded Novel Description

Jennifer Hudock, author of Goblin Market, is going to guest post about one of the most dreaded necessities of being an indie author. Writing the Novel Description. Jenny did a great description for her own novel so I think she has a lot to say about that. Thanks for being my guest, Jenny.

Jenny sez:

The dreaded novel description. It can make or break your novel. Not only does it give potential readers enough information about your book to entice them to click sample or buy, if you wrote it yourself it gives them some insight into your writing style. For those of us self-publishing, chances are you had no choice but to write your own description.

When I originally started on the path toward publication with The Goblin Market, I submitted through a small press publisher first. The submission process required a short elevator pitch in which the editors could learn everything they needed to know about my novel before reading the first 15 pages. If that pitch fell flat, they probably wouldn't even want to read that first 15 pages at all, so I struggled while putting it together.

I wound up self-publishing before I even heard back from the small press publisher, and when putting together the information about The Goblin Market on Amazon, Smashwords and B&N, I grabbed that elevator pitch and0 started to dissect it.

Could it be used in my product description? Was it too formulaic and dense? Would it be enough to draw interested readers to check out the sample?

There was only one way to find out: get some feedback. I passed my elevator pitch around to a few trusted friends and readers, and the overall response was positive. After a few tweaks and alterations, I added it, and there it was.

Since I published the novel, I've gotten some feedback and have since considered doing a few more minor tweaks, but I know that just like a novel sometimes we have to let go and let our readers decide. I think a good way to judge is to see how your sales go.

If after publishing and promoting for a few weeks, you aren't seeing a few sales trickle in, give it time, but don't be afraid to ask around. Cross-compare your own description to other popular novels in your genre and see how it stands up. Are the details juicy enough to pique curiosity without revealing too much story? Do you have misspellings? Are you missing a comma or a word somewhere? I know that might sound like I'm being a little mean, but we do it all the time and because we read and reread and reread, we miss them until someone else spots it.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Your novel description, along with your cover art, are the first impression a reader will get of your book. If those two key items are enticing enough for them to click and sample, or even buy, it's going to make promotional efforts so much easier on your end.

J. R. sez: Thanks, Jenny. Excellent advice.

Addendum To make it easier to find Jenny and her excellent novel:

Jennifer Hudock is an author, podcaster and freelance editor from Pennsylvania. Her first full-length novel, The Goblin Market, is currently available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. For more information about Jennifer Hudock, including updates on upcoming fiction, visit her official website: The Inner Bean.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

My Amazon Hates Me Giveaway

To be honest, I doubt that it's anything personal. I doubt that Amazon has ever even noticed me, but, frankly, that's no comfort.

To make a long story long, a week ago I uploaded my novel, Freedom's Sword, to KDP to be published for Kindle on Amazon. For of you who don't know, that's how an indie author such as myself gets our novels published on Amazon for the Kindle. It's usually a pretty simple process once you have a novel written, polished and edited, have a cover for it, have it formatted in HTML. Well, maybe not so simple to do, but uploading is normally the easy part. You hit "I own Worldwide Rights" and set a price. Forty-eight hours or so later you have a novel for sale on all of the Amazon sites worldwide. Most of the time...

But when things go wrong, it's not pretty.

I now have a novel for sale in the UK. I have a novel for sale in Canada. Try to buy in in the US? You are told it is nor available here. A week and a number of emails to Amazon Customer Service later, it's still not fixed. They will. One of these days. Probably later this week. Maybe.

So in the meantime it's for sale for the regular price of $2.99 on Smashwords. Well, I decided that I should have an "Amazon Hates Me" Giveaway. I mean I've done all this promotion and now I feel helpless and, frankly, put-upon. So this will make me feel better.

Please go to Freedom's Sword and use Coupon # JN34T. It's good for One Week!

And please enjoy. That is what would make me really feel better!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Quest for Welsh Independence

Today, I'm happy to have a guest post by Sarah Woodbury, author of historical fiction and fantasy novels. She's posting on the quest for Welsh independence.

Welcome, Sarah:

When the Romans conquered Britain, the people they defeated were the Britons, the ancestors of the Welsh, a Celtic people who themselves had come to the island hundreds of years before. After the Romans marched away in 410 AD, the Saxon invaders overwhelmed the British in successive waves, pushing them west and resulting in a Saxon England and British Wales. When the next conquerors—the Normans—came in 1066 AD, they conquered England but they didn’t manage to conquer Wales. Not yet.

For the next two hundred years, power in Wales ebbed and flowed, split among Welsh kings and princes, Marcher barons (Norman lords who carved out mini-kingdoms for themselves on the border between England and Wales), and the English kings.

Through it all, the Welsh maintained their right to independence—to be governed by their own laws and their own kings.

The ending came on December 11th, 1282, when Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last Prince of Wales, was killed on a snowy hillside, the end of a thirty year conflict with Edward I, King of England. Less than a year later, his brother, Dafydd ap Gruffydd, was hung, drawn, and quartered and dragged through he streets of Shrewsbury, the first man of standing to die that particular death—practice for the murder of Scot patriot William Wallace in similar fashion twenty years later (along with hundreds of other Scots, including three brothers of Robert the Bruce).

In further retribution, Edward took all the signs of the Welsh principality—the true cross, the scepter, the crown—for himself. And he made sure that his son, Edward II, was born at Caernarfon Castle (in 1284), so that Edward could name him the Prince of Wales. The heir to throne of England has been called the Prince of Wales ever since.

It has been 728 years since 1282. Is that too long a time to remember? A 2007 BBC poll reported that 20% of the people of Wales backed independence, while 70% did not; this is in comparison to Scotland, where 32% of the population supported independence from England.

This brutal history prompted me to write, Footsteps in Time and its sequel, Prince of Time, which follow the adventures of two teenagers who travel back in time to the thirteenth century and save Llywelyn ap Gruffydd’s life. In my books, the Welsh people maintain their independence and never succumb to Edward I, nor fall under the heel of the English boot.

For more information, please go to My web page and blog on Dark Age and Medieval Wales
To find My novels at Amazon ...at Barnes and Noble ...and Smashwords. The novels are also available at Sony, Apple, and Diesel.

Sez J. R.: Thanks, Sarah.

Let me mention that a few days ago the Welsh did vote for greater powers for their devolved government which is separate from that of Westminster. Just as in Scotland, there is a constant and growing demand for independence in Wales.

Freedom's Sword -- Chapter Two

For Sample Sunday, I'm posting the start of Chapter Two of my new novel, Freedom's Sword, available for Kindle now on Smashwords and still being processed for sale on Amazon.


Wisps drifted in the vale below and the world turned from gray to azure to green in the morning light. A warm breeze brushed Andrew's face like a lass's kiss. He wondered how he could think of a lass at a time like this. High above, it blew scuttling clouds. Troops behind him shouted angry exclamations mixed with curses. He bent from the saddle to look down the rocky slope dotted with outcrops and yellow-bloomed gorse. A thin trickle of the Spotts Burn ran through the middle of the wide vale dotted with scattered trees, a trickle seeping along the rocky way.

His father's men held the left flank. Sergeants rode beside the men-at-arms shouting orders to form into lines. The slope up was rocky with loose scree and men struggled with their sliding, skittering mounts.

Sir Waltir mac Donchie glared toward the center, half a mile away, where John Comyn's troops were in a writhing mass of disorder. Their own troops were eager for glory, shouting as they ranged themselves into lines. "I've done what I can, my lord," he said, "but they're still green as a spring meadow."

On the opposite ridge, beyond the Spotts Burn, the English were halted. Above them, a gold and black banner flew beside the red cross of St. George.

His lord father nudged his horse a step forward. As they watched, the English army formed in each direction in a triple line so long they spread out of sight. An English trumpet sounded. It was answered by another and another.

"What think you?" his father asked Sir Waltir, raising his voice over the cacophony.

"I'm not sure why Warrenne is delaying. He is not the best commander the English king has. He may still be deciding when to attack."

Andrew jumped from his saddle and led his destrier closer, its blue enameled armor clanking, to squint into the morning's glare. Pennants with devices he couldn't make out in the distance fluttered, white, green, blue, and red, above the gleaming tips of lances. The distance gave the army they faced an odd silence except for the sounding of their trumpets. God save us, look at all of them. That there are so many knights in all the world.

With a clatter of rocks flying from under his horse's hooves, John Comyn joined them. He balanced a hand on the helm in front of his saddle. "We're too many for them. They will retire."

Andrew wanted to ask: without a fight? But it wasn't his place. A flurry of tinny flourishes sounded. Once more, there was movement on the opposite side as more English chivalry moved into position, but still they held their place.

"My lord earl, if I have leave to speak..." Sir Waltir said.

Comyn looked down his thin nose but waved permission.

"De Warrenne won't dare return to his master without a fight. He will not retire without blooding his sword."

Comyn's lip curled. "Know him well, do you?"

"I fought him in Guyenne for the French king, my lord. King Edward Plantagenet is no master to have his commands ignored."

The Comyn thrust his chin toward the arrayed army. "I believe my own eyes. They don't look eager for battle."

A horseman trotted up and gave a brief bow. "My Lord of Atholl has his men on the right flank and says he awaits your decision for the charge."

"Aye," John Comyn said. "Take him word. Charge on my trumpets' sound."

In the center of the opposite line, John de Warrenne rode out, magnificent in silver armor upon a chestnut destrier, his standard-bearers flanking him, banners moving lazily in the warm air. He raised an arm. A distant horn sounded two long thin notes. In the long line, destriers stamping and tossing their heads, knights wheeled their mounts. They began a sliding descent.

Andrew gaped. They were moving away, diagonally to the Scots, toward the east. They were not charging. Behind, more turned and followed. Slowly, like a frozen river unjamming on a sunny day, the glittering host moved.

"I knew it!" Comyn spun his horse in a close circle towards where his own men were still flailing about, horses forcing their way up and lances askew as they tried to avoid running into each other. "We'll attack while they retire. Sound the charge!" He stood in his stirrups, waving a signal.

His trumpeters answered with a long blare.

"Again," he shouted, waving an arm over his head. "At them before they escape."

Brian handed Lord Avoch his helm. He jammed it on and took his lance as well, couching it. Andrew jumped into his saddle and grabbed his shield from his back. Guarding his father was his only job. His heart thudded so hard it rang in his ears.

"God have mercy upon us," his father said before he turned to Sir Waltir. "Sound the charge."

Haaaarooooooo Their trumpets sounded. His father gave Andrew a long look. "Stay close." He stood in his stirrups. "Moray! Moray! For Scotland and King John!" He bent over his horse's neck and kicked it to a canter.

Andrew set his horse into motion and plunged down the slope, shield raised, knee to knee with his father. The drumbeat of galloping horses shook the ground. "De Moray!" he shouted. On its hocks, his horse slid down the slope, rocks and pebbles flying. Their men took up the war cry. They shouted and screamed. Beside him, Brian hunched over his lance with a ululating bellow. His ears rang with the cries. Scotland! Scotland! Scotland!

The English continued their retiral. The shouts and hoofbeats of Comyn's troops seemed to go further away. Andrew glanced over his shoulder. The whole line of Comyn chivalry was split off, climbing the steep slope to hit the English from the rear. When he looked back, the glittering line of English knights whom they pursued had slowed to a walk.

A distant trumpet blew twice. Another. A new line of English horse thundered into sight at the top of the ridge. The hoofbeats were a rumble of drums. The line thundered down on them.

The fleeing line of English knights pulled up, jerked reins, horses reared, pawed the air. They wheeled. The sun caught the points of their lances like a thousand flames.

The trap snapped shut.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Coming soon: Freedom's Sword--A Novel of Scotland

I was going to wait until this was available on Amazon to post about it, but I'm so excited about the cover that TJ Lindroos did for me that I can't wait. This novel has involved a huge amount of research and editing. I wanted it to do justice to a subject I take very seriously, Andrew de Moray and his role in the Scottish War of Independence.

I am still working on the blurb. Blurbs are difficult, important and, to be honest, I'm not very good at them. Here is the current version, but it is still up for edit.

1296 Scotland: Newly knighted by the King of the Scots, Andrew de Moray fights to defend his country against the invading forces of King Edward Longshanks of England. After a bloody defeat in battle, he is dragged in chains to an English dungeon.

With Andrew missing and Scotland in smoking ruins, Caitrina de Berkley evades the rampaging English army fleeing into nearby hills.

Soon Andrew makes a desperate escape to save the country he loves. But with Scotland under the heel of a brutal conqueror, can he possibly survive, much less prevail?

Monday, March 7, 2011

An Epigram and The Corries

For this new novel (you might want to see the first chapter in my previous post) I want to include as an epigram the first few lines of a song that many Scots consider their national anthem, Flower of Scotland. Naturally, I contacted the copyright holder, The Corries, in order to ask permission. The author, the great Roy Williamson, died tragically early of cancer. I have exchanged emails with Ronny Browne's son. Mr. Browne is the other member of this Scottish folk music duo.

For some reason someone has been hijacking emails between the US and Scotland. (That's a joke. They've just been going mysteriously astray) so I haven't quite managed to receive an answer on this topic. I hope Mr. Browne gives his permission, but only time will tell.

I might mention that I am a very long-time fan of The Corries so I thought I'd post a link to one of their songs on Youtube and hope Ronny Browne doesn't mind. I will also post a link to the website for The Corries where you can purchase most of their music. It is some of the best folk-style music ever done, in my opinion.

Here are The Corries singing Robbie Burn's Ae Fond Kiss. This happens to be my favorite version of this classic Burns piece. You can find information on The Corries and their music HERE.

There are always complications in finishing a novel. This is one of them.

All right. One more because I can't resist sharing. The Corries singing Leezie Lindsay.

Hope you enjoy and go buy some of their music.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Sample Sunday -- Chapter One of Freedom's Sword


April 1296

"Just beyond the peak, my lord." The outrider's voice was dulled by weariness. Under a clear afternoon sky, the man pointed up a beech-covered knoll.

Andrew de Moray could already make out the rumble of a moving army. He reined in his charger and jumped from the saddle. When he took off his helm to tuck under his arm, sweat dripped from his blond hair. He tossed his head to flick it out of his eyes. His father motioned for the knights in their party, a score in all, to wait as he dismounted. A faint spring wind blew. Over their heads flapped the de Moray banner, six-pointed stars on a field of blue.

With his father, he climbed the knoll and from within the dappled shade of a beech at the crest, he frowned down on the English host. A dark river of mounted men flowed through the middle of the glen below. On and on they flowed, too far for detail, but moving inexorably, columns of heavy horse, light flashing from steel like ripples of waves. There were brief breaks in the procession but only between divisions, and yet another followed.

His father's master-at-arms, newly hired from the war in France, had been instructing him on how best to count the numbers of a foe. "Twenty divisions, my lord," Andrew said. A chill went through him. It was excitement. Of course. A thrill for his first battle. He braced his shaking hand against a rough tree trunk. "Two hundred to a division, I think, so four thousand, all mounted." He looked at his father whose blond hair, streaked with gray, blew around his face in the sweet breeze.

His lord father squinted into the distance. "More than that. Not all have cleared the bend." He pointed towards a black-and-gold checkered banner. "That looks to me like John de Warrenne is leading them. All mounted, as you say, lances with swords and battleaxes for close work."

"Where do you think the English king is then?" Fighting that dreadful old man who had slaughtered all the people in the city of Berwick would be a proud thing for any Scot, surely, and nothing to fear.

"Who knows? But he isn't here and for that we'd best be grateful." The lord of Avoch shook his head. "I make it to be five thousand." Wagons straggled into sight behind the army.

"We can defeat them though. We have four thousand--almost as many." Though a few of the Scots were chivalry on barded destriers, most were men-at-arms on light, unarmored mounts, a fact that he chewed on as he watched the tide of English might flow through the glen before him.

"I've seen enough." His father turned, cloak whirling over his blue tabard with a triangle of stars across the chest, to hurry down the slope. "We'll need to find a position to block them from reaching Castle Dunbar. I'm thinking Spottsmuir..."

A wet wind smelling of pine and fir and moss saw Andrew and his father's tail of knights back to their camp and the awaiting king. Pale mist twisted around the trees as they rode towards the welcoming fires strewn in a wide swath across a long valley. The thousands of fires made a second wavering haze within the entwining fog. Andrew's father had kept a morose silence all the way back and ignored his questioning looks. A stone knocked loose by the hoof of Andrew's horse rattled its way down the slope, and his father started in his saddle as though coming back from far thoughts.

They descended, their silence broken by the clop of horses' hooves and the clank of their armor. Outlined by the westering sun, a peregrine falcon swooped down upon a fleeing lark.

The Scottish camp sprawled for miles. They rode past hundreds of tents and cook fires where dusk turned the banners an anonymous gray. Midges swarmed around them and he scratched a stinging bite on his neck. The scent of meat roasting mixed with the smell of smoke, so tempting his mouth watered.

They passed a pavilion where John Comyn, the Earl of Buchan, had set up his camp. From there, voices rose in a bawdy song and loud laughter. Andrew was willing to wager none of the laughter was from the Comyn. The king seemed not to move or speak without the Comyn's solemn say-so.

Next to the king's white pavilion, the great gold-and-crimson lion banner of the king of the Scots waved overhead from a towering staff. The Comyn, a tall man with brown hair and beard heavily salted with white and a long, elegant face, paced under it. His had been an angry voice in that fierce dispute over who was the new king after King Alexander of Scotland died with no son. Andrew's father still cursed the day they'd thought to ask Edward of England to judge between the contenders for the throne of Scotland.

"The outriders spoke true," his father said. Andrew pushed the flap of the pavilion aside for the two men and followed them in. The king's servants had softened the ground with rushes mixed with rosemary to sweeten the dusty air.

King John de Baliol, tall and broad shouldered with brown hair that curled to his shoulders, sat with a greyhound at his feet. His red tunic and hose went ill against his sun-darkened skin. The king nodded to each of the two lords as they entered and smiled at Andrew.

Andrew's father gave a deep bow, but John Comyn's was brusque. "They found the English," he said.

The king raised a silver cup to his lips and drank before he spoke. "How many?"

His father's face was bland. "Five thousand chivalry under Warrenne's banner. They're a two day's march from Dunbar at best."

"God be praised." The king smiled his mild smile. "That gives our army time to move into position."

"I saw no sign of English outriders, but surely de Warrenne must know we'll try to cut them off."

John Comyn frowned even more deeply. "Whether they do or no, Castle Dunbar is the key to Scotland. They must have it and we must stop them."

Andrew's father cleared his throat. "We can cut them off at the water of the Spottsmuir. The burn will force them to that route."

"True enough," Comyn said. "I yet have time to lead our army into position. And I will do so."

Andrew's mouth popped open and he shut it with a snap.

His father stared at the earl. "You, my Lord? What of the king?"

King John raised a hand. "I discussed this matter earlier with Lord Buchan. We agreed. He will lead the main part of the army whilst I ride hard with a smaller force for Stirling Castle."

Deep brackets formed around his father's mouth. "My liege, the army will be disheartened..."

"Nonsense." Comyn's thin nostrils flared. "I will lead the battle and my men will follow me gladly. It had best be the same with yours."

His father's face flushed and the muscles of his jaw worked. "My men will obey, my Lord, as will I. But..."

"I had no doubt, Lord Avoch," the king said. "I expected no less, and you shall be in command after my lord Earls of Buchan and Atholl. To do you honor as such, at first light before I leave, I shall knight your son." He turned his smile upon Andrew. "You'll be a fine knight and serve us well."

Andrew gulped in a breath as his spirit took flight. "Sire..." His heart pounded. "My sword is yours, always."

The king looked to Andrew's father. "The men will see my confidence in all of my commanders, including your good self, and know it's my confidence in you that allows me to leave."

His lord father bowed his obedience, but his hands were tensed into fists as he shoved his way out of the king's pavilion. Andrew was conscious of Lord Buchan's eyes on his back as he followed his father's angry stride towards their own camp.

Night had settled, turning all the banners to black. Sparks flew from campfires like wandering stars. Lord Avoch's master-at-arms, Sir Waltir mac Donchie, awaited them before his father's tent. His scarred face creased into a frown when he heard the king would leave. He was a sturdy man of forty years, muscled and hard. Arms crossed over his chest, he surveyed their men. "We should speak to them, my lord, so his leaving is no surprise."

As they went to make rounds, Andrew sat on a tree stump at the crackling campfire and tossed in a chunk of wood. The flames leaped. He propped his elbows on his knees and took a deep breath. He'd make no vigil before an altar as most knights did. The tournament to celebrate his dubbing would be battle.

Battle... He was not afraid. They would surely win.

The camp buzzed with the murmur of men's voices and the scrape of whetstones sharpening steel. Horses at distant picket lines nickered in the murk of evening. Andrew warmed his hands over the heat of the flames and told himself the chill was from the air. A clap on his shoulder made him jump.

Brian punched his shoulder harder. "Want company?" He straddled a log and sat down.

Thin as a whip with lanky brown hair, Robbie Boyd ambled towards them from where a hundred men gathered around Sir Waltir. As Robbie walked past, he gave Brian a shove.

Brian returned the punch and Robbie dodged. "Andrew here won't be the bairn of the castle after tomorrow," Brian said.

"He's grown into being a man, right enough." Robbie looked down with a twitching mouth. "Too bad you'll never grow into those flapping bat wings you have for ears."

"My ears may flap but at least my tongue doesn't."

"Get you gone." With a blow from his shoulder, Robbie tumbled Brian onto the ground and took his place on the log. "Bring over the wineskin."

A snort of amusement came bursting out from Andrew's nose, as Brian jumped up and ran, whooping, to return with wineskin. When Robbie grabbed at it, Brian gave it a squeeze. A thin stream of red squirted Andrew in the face.

Robbie jumped up. "Hoi! Don't waste good wine."

Brian danced away, laughing, but Andrew lunged and grabbed the wineskin. He tilted his head and squeezed a stream into his mouth. God be good, it was sweet. Brian and Robbie would be with him in the battle, and that would be sweet as well.

Battle was what knights were meant for, what he'd spent his life training for. Brian grabbed back the wine. They shared a grin. When the two stumbled away, holding each other up, to wrap themselves in their cloaks, Andrew sat alone until long fingers of dawn lightened the sky and the camp turned morning silver. He realized with a start that around him everyone was in an uproar to be off. Knights shouted for squires. Horses were being saddled and led into lines, as tents were broken. The valley was a fury of noise and motion.

When his father put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed, Andrew looked up.

"It's time, lad."

Andrew took a shaky breath and stood. Today he would become a knight. Trying to look serious, biting his lip to hide his grin, he followed his father through the field, squelching through trampled mud and steaming horseshit. They wended through serried lines of mounted men-at-arms that stretched across the valley, horses shaking their mane and stamping to be off. He recognized Brian's voice, "Moray!"

At the front sat a long line of knights, mounted on massive destriers clad in gleaming armor. Andrew wondered if they could hear the thump of his heart, it seemed so loud, beating so hard it might escape his chest.

King John de Baliol stood alone before the tall staff that held his banner, as golden as the sunrise. He was dressed for riding in black silk hose and tunic. A gold and ruby brooch in the shape of a rampant lion held his cloak.

"I have brought you my son, Your Grace." His father held out the hilt of a sword with one hand and its belt in the other.

Beneath his fine brows, the king studied Andrew with eyes like a summer sky. His mouth curved in a smile impossible not to return. Just two days before, Andrew had watched the king bring down two stags with his own bow. He found himself remembering what his father had whispered: He would make a fine huntsman. But the man has no steel in him. He bends before the storm. His father must surely be wrong. This was the king.

Andrew swallowed the stone lodged in his throat and ran a sweaty hand down the blue tabard covering his mail. He dropped to both knees at the king's feet.

King John lifted the sword and gave Andrew a firm tap on first one shoulder and then the other. "I dub you knight. Be you good and faithful and never traffic with traitors until your life's end."

The knights behind him made a din, hammering on their shields. Brian and Robbie whooped, "Moray! Moray!" The rest of their men joined in until the glen rang with it.

Andrew rose, head swimming. He couldn't feel the ground under his feet. Another cheer went up as the king fastened the sword belt around his waist. Hilt over his forearm, the king proffered the sword; Andrew's hand shook as he took it. His father pounded his back, and then dropped to a knee to fasten on his golden spurs. Even John Comyn of Buchan slapped his arm with a laugh. His head was as dizzy as if he were drunk on red wine.

The king looked around at the cheering men and smiled. When the noise died, he nodded.

Andrew knelt and reached up to place his hands between those of his king. His throat was tight; he had to force his breath, but he made the words of the oath strong.

"I, Andrew de Moray, become your man in life and in death, faithful and loyal to you against all men who live, move or die. I declare you to be my king and liege lord--so may God help me and all the Saints."

Friday, March 4, 2011

Reviews--why they are important

Someone asked why in a comment to a previous post. This is such a vital discussion rather than respond to the comment, I wanted to make it an entire post.

There are different types of reviews, of course. There are professional ones in PW and Library Journal. There are (mostly amateur) reviews on blogs. There are Amazon, B&N and Smashwords reviews, theoretically done by regular readers. There is some overlap of course.

I'm going to ignore the first. They're simply out of our control. But the second two, especially for indie published authors and their readers are vitally important.

Now I am going to speak as a reader. Keep in mind that most authors start out as and to a large extent remain exactly that. I'm a reader. Every year there is more content out there for me to choose. Now the second GRR Martin's Dances with Dragons is out I'll pick it up. The same with Elizabeth Moon's new novel. I won't bother with reviews.

But that is two novels. I usually read between 50 and 100 novels a year. How am I going to decide on what to read? Family recommendations? Sometimes, but my family doesn't necessarily like the same genres I do.

So instead I'll go to blog sites like indiereader.com or DailyCheapReads.com and read the reviews. They will probably point me toward a few novels I'm interested in. But once I'm on Amazon, you can bet I will take a look not only at the five-star reviews. I will also read a few of the one and two-star reviews. I'll read the blurb. Then I'll pick out some of those novels to read.

So the reviews are essential to my decision of what to read out of the many thousands of novels which are published every year. I depend on other people sharing their experience with me.

As a writer, well... you simply reverse the thinking, I suppose. I want readers who like the sorts of thing I write to find their way to my stories and enjoy them. How will they do that with all the "noise" in publishing? By other people saying, "Hey, I enjoyed this." Or if you didn't enjoy it, tell people why. What you hated actually might be something they're looking for or else you'll save them a bad experience.

But on either side, many of us depend on readers to take the time and extra effort to share their reaction to novels. I admit it's a lot to ask, but the reviews don't have to be elaborate. Just a simple statement of what you liked or didn't. I liked the characters. The plot was too slow. *ahem* Vampires shouldn't sparkle! If you make a mistake or two in the grammar, don't worry about it. Authors are supposed to be the experts on that, not readers. Perfect grammar is nice but not a requirement.

So I strongly encourage people to take a few minutes after they read a novel they purchased on Amazon or B&N to post a review. Help us all out!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What Makes A Good Ebook Cover?

I've been trying to figure out what to say on this subject. I am about as far from an expert as you can get, but they are tremendously important. You have probably at most a few seconds to tempt someone on Amazon, Smashwords or B&N to take a closer look. All that will do this is your title and cover.

What makes a good ebook cover? I think first you have to realize, and this took a while for me, that an ebook cover needs very different elements than a DTB cover at least in large part because people mainly see it in thumbnail size. This means that small details and small or elaborate fonts get lost, often completely. I started out trying to judge my covers by successful DTB covers before I realized what a bad idea that is.

I recently saw someone complaining that no one knew that his mystery was a mystery. He was told that his cover didn't look like a mystery with it's semi-nude woman on the cover. His response was, but it says it is a mystery. The second problem (other than the semi-nude) was that you couldn't read the small font that said mystery.

Remember, in a book store someone may pick up a book and examine the cover not to mention that a mystery is in the mystery section. This doesn't happen that much online. The potential reader may magnify it, but that is highly unlikely if it doesn't catch their attention in the first place.

If you make your cover look like it is from a different genre, then why would someone looking for a mystery bother to look at it? They won't.

My dragon-looking creature on my Wings of Evil cover is a bit of a cliché for fantasy covers, but anyone who looks at it darn well knows it's a fantasy. I hope the interesting artwork (I hope it is) and the bright colors help get past the fact that dragons on covers have been done to the point of cliché-dom. People haven't gotten tired of handsome hunks and beautiful women on the covers of romances yet, so I think I may be right there.

Am I sure of it? To tell you the truth, no, but generally it has received a good reception and positive comments.

Fonts are another problem. You have to be able to read it in thumbnail which means it has to be large for both the title and the author name. Fancy fonts seem to lose most of their detail and even look a bit amateurish in thumbnail size. That doesn't mean you have to stick to TNR. What is too fancy and what is just a touch of flair is open to debate, but at least you need to be sure that it can be read easily when it's small.

That doesn't touch on good design elements. I'm not going to discuss that because it is just plain open to too much debate. What I consider good design and what someone else does may well differ wildly. But it needs in some way to be interesting. Now is that vague, or what?

Please comment. What do you think makes a good ebook cover?