I believe the time is right for an update on my soon to be published urban fantasy novel Golden Opportunity. The scheduled release date is currently September 2, 2016 unless I get antsy and decide to release ahead of schedule. I’m notoriously impatient about some things … this is probably one of them. I will be having a cover reveal party on various social media accounts as soon as I receive the cover. That should be during the first week of August with any luck. Stay tuned for more information and possible a link to a prequel to Golden Opportunity.
I believed in one of my dreams … once. Then reality happened and I had to let it go. I grew up, went to work, got married, got divorced, and then got sick and could no longer work in a normal job. So there I was, forty-four years old and bored I decided to go back to school and get a degree in psychology (I’m finally a senior … yay!), but I was still adrift. Then an old dream reared it’s dusty head from the back of my brain. “You used to think you could write. What happened to all your stories?” The more I thought about it, the more I realized if I wanted to live my dream I was going to have to treat it like it deserved the dedication I gave to past employers, and the dedication that I give to school. Writing needed to be my job.
So if I wanted writing to be my job what did I need to do?
- I needed an idea that was fully formed and ready to be written. That sounds a lot easier than it was. I keep a notebook next to me at all times, and a file on my computer that I fill with strange ideas when they pop into my head throughout the day. Are all of these going to be novels? No. Are they good enough to be novels? Absolutely not! What they are is a starting point giving me the beginning of an idea I will try to develop into a full story with characters people enjoy. Stories I enjoy writing.
- I’d need to research the story idea. Again this sounds silly, it’s a story I developed in my head, so how much research can be involved. I typically say there’s a metric butt load of research goes into everything I write and I don’t believe it’s an exaggeration. My novel is set in my home state of Oregon. Heck, it’s loosely based on the town I live in, but it doesn’t mean I don’t need to research. Not only did I research locations, I researched the types of creatures I was going to use in my book, weapons, and mythology. If it went into the story, I researched it. Even the stuff I should have known because I lived there.
- I’d need a fully developed plot. This little step I found out the hard way. I tried to be a pantser and free write my story, but I go off on tangents and my characters didn’t cooperate. Thus story boards, outlines, and detailed character profiles became a HUGE necessity for me.
- I’d need to develop a schedule for writing and stick to it. Yes, I write to a schedule. I set deadlines, word goals, and time goals for writing. I’ve found it makes me more productive and my writing is better for it.
- I needed to learn about those who write the same genre that I wanted to write, what works, and what doesn’t. This is the second most important step for me. I am an avid reader, but there are things in some novels that don’t work for me and some things I adore. I didn’t want to copy what my fellow authors were writing, I wanted my novels to be unique. However, there are things I wanted to pay attention to. I write urban fantasy so the questions I started with are what creatures are people using, or over using? What is consistent in the genre? What could I do to make my novel unique?
- Most important of all, I needed to take classes and learn from other authors. I take classes all the time. Some are free; some cost money at varying price points. All of them have taught me things that I use now. While there is one that I consider to be head and shoulders above the rest, at least as far as helping me improve my craft. It might not be the class that works for you. I believe we should all seek to improve ourselves and our skills as authors.
- Finally, I needed to enjoy my chosen path. I needed to enjoy the process of writing. I needed to feel excited every time I sat down to torture my favorite characters, and I did torture them. I had to feel a jolt of happiness when the story finished, not because I was done, but because I had another story ready to go behind it that I was looking forward to.
You will notice that I didn’t put something about needing to make a livable wage. While I feel this is my ultimate goal, right now I write because I have stories to tell. Lots and lots of stories to tell and I have yet to publish anything except a few blog posts. Golden Opportunity will come out on September 2, 2016 with any luck and then I will have more information to share about what works, and what doesn’t, for the self-published author.
V. L. Cooke
I just thought I’d let people know I will be available for alpha and beta readings starting in July. I will only able to take one each week in July due to Camp NaNoWriMo being held that month. Since I have nothing booked, I have four spots open. In August, and beyond, I will bump the available slots to two a week except during November where I will go back to only having one spot each week open. Also, during the weeks of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years I would prefer to take only one.
If you have any questions feel free to use the contact form and send me an email. I’ll schedule on a first come, first serve basis for the available spots. If you’re unsure about how I read please see my post Beta Reading 101. It will give you some insight into my process.
Now for some extra details about me:
- I prefer to read fiction, if you have non-fiction, or a memoir, that needs reading please email me so I can ask you a few questions before I accept or decline.
- There are three genres that I will not read, mostly because I do not feel I can give them the quality readings they deserve. Those genres are science fiction, horror, and erotica. If you’re not sure what genre your book is, send me a summary and the first chapter and I’ll see if I can read it and give a fair critique.
- I prefer documents that allow me to add comments to a manuscript. I have read documents that are PDF, DOCX, DOC, and Google Docs and have been able to add comments to all of those formats. I’ve also read in ePUB format, but I won’t be able to let you know specifically on the document where I find issues. You’ll have to rely on my report for that.
- If something happens and causes your report to be delayed, I will contact you immediately via your preferred method of contact. I’m open to email, text message, Facebook messenger, smoke signals, and carrier pigeon. I don’t Skype, mostly because I don’t like people to see me in pajamas and nasty goat-woman hair.
- I’m not an editor, but if I find spelling issues and minor grammar issues I will tell you about them. If you need an editor, I know that Candace is amazing and looking to build her client base. Her prices are very reasonable, especially compared to some of the other editors you can find online (try searching via Google, it will scare you). I really wish I’d used her for Golden Opportunity, but I didn’t want to take advantage of a friendship. However, she will be editing ALL my work starting with Golden Seas.
- All readings are FREE. I do not charge for readings and will never charge another author to help them create the best work possible. I do appreciate heartfelt thanks and the occasional gushing compliment, but mostly because I like knowing my clients are happy and satisfied with the work I’ve done, and I’m a little vain.
- I will sign a NDA if you need one. For those who are not sure what NDA means, it’s a non-disclosure agreement. Yes, I have signed them in the past, and I am willing to sign them in the future. I understand how scary it is to give our babies to a stranger. We worry they will steal our work and claim it as their own. This is why I have no problem signing an NDA or other document to give an author an extra level of security.
- My opinions are mine alone and you might disagree. I understand you might disagree with my insights and critique. I usually tell an author to take my critique with a grain of salt. You should have more than one beta reader, five or more would be best. If other readers agree, or mention something I have said, then I would seriously consider changing whatever the problem is. Don’t rip your book apart strictly based on one opinion … please!
- If you’d like me to read after another round of revisions, I will. I think this is pretty self-explanatory.
- I do not keep copies of your work. Once I’ve sent the manuscript and my worksheet to you I delete every copy of your manuscript from my computer, cloud, and email accounts. I do keep the worksheet for reference purposes. Keeping a copy helps me keep track of the number of readings I do, and lets me track the authors so I can buy their books when published. Yes, I do buy the books that I’ve alpha/beta read. I think it’s the least I can do to show how much I appreciate the trust an author has given me.
I look forward to working with my next round of authors, if anyone needs a reader fill out the Project Needing a Reader form and I will get back to you ASAP.
V. L. Cooke
Back in February I was playing around on Facebook and one of those targeted ads showed up in my news feed. We’ve all seen them; the ads might look like they match up with something we may have read online, seen in one of the groups we belong to, or maybe it matched something we accidentally clicked on. If you’re like me, you usually ignore them. This is the story of the one I didn’t ignore, and how completely overhauled my life, and my writing process.
The ad was for The Plotting Workshop ran by author Shaunta Grimes. A course that teaches a person to develop a plot, and have it ready to write, all in eight weeks. The best news of all … it was free! I’m not usually one to push people towards something like specific classes for writing because I believe each writer is unique and there are “no one size fits all” classes for everyone. I still believe it, but this class changed my writing and set me on the path to completing the rough draft of my first novel by June of this year.
That’s right fellow writers, I completed a novel from start to finish in four months. Okay not really start to finish, I still had to revise, rewrite, edit, hire an editor, and get beta readers, but the hard part, the plotting and the initial writing we all sweat over was done in FOUR MONTHS! This is not the first class I’ve taken. I’ve taken creative writing classes in college and I’ve taken free online classes which weren’t worth the time it took to open an email. I’ve paid for abysmal pyramid scheme classes designed to leave you always needing one more class to find the hidden secret they only share with the select few authors. Those who have unlimited funds and their special decoder rings. I don’t believe I’m alone in this. If I were, there wouldn’t be a thousands of these classes online at various price points.
Let me explain a little about the brain child of Shaunta Grimes. Shaunta is the author of the Young Adult Science Fiction Novels Viral Nation and Rebel Nation. She’s also a firm believer in teaching everyone who wants to write, how to write from the ground up. No, she isn’t going to teach you the basic mechanics of language and grammar, but she is going to teach you about character development, plotting, pacing, and more. To start Shaunta offers a five-day course (also free) on How to Develop and Test a Story Idea (H2DSI). It’s a great step for getting the initial basic idea out of your head and on paper (or in a computer). Then she offers the eight-week Plotting Workshop. This step uses a textbook, Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers [3rd Edition]. It teaches how to develop characters and write a three act, eight sequence with sixty to ninety scenes plot from beginning to end.
I think it’s only fair to warn you the eight-week course is actually the beginning of Shaunta’s year-long course.The course is designed to take you through the entire process of writing a book from beginning to end in twelve months. I’m going to say it again for emphasis … AN ENTIRE NOVEL IN TWELVE MONTHS! From plotting to editing, and ready to query all within a year. It is not free. In fact, it costs $750 dollars (or $62.50 per month if you’d prefer) for the year. Yes, I know it’s a lot of money for most struggling authors. Between the cost of the class, the three books you will use as textbooks, and various supplies it’s over $800 by the time it’s all done. However, if you can’t afford it, it’s okay. There are other ways to make this work for you. She has a Facebook group, Ninja Writers, and everyone can join. The other people in this group are amazing. Actually, most are amazing, but there’s this one old broad, she is annoying as H – E – double hockey sticks. She’ll welcome you and probably annoy you with her lame attempts to answer questions if you have any. Have you ever heard someone say “there’s no such thing as a dumb question”? They lied. This woman asks the STUPIDEST questions known to man. I should know … I’m her.
Shaunta also offers writing prompts every week via her website. Plus, she has a binder club which is also free and part of the Ninja Writers Academy. She tries to post each Saturday, but life sometimes gets in the way for her; like it does for all of us. She is active in all her groups, and tries to hold office hours every week. If you’re serious about improving your story development skills, be sure to check out her website and become one of the Ninja Writers, you might make some great friends. Heck, you might even manage to get your novel ready for publication, and let’s be honest, that is the ultimate goal.
V. L. Cooke
We’ve all heard it. Someone finds out we write and they say “I could write a novel”, or “I have the best idea, want to hear it?” How do you respond to those people? On the one hand, I’m a complete smart alec and prone to snark, but on the other hand, my mother raised me to believe that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything. If I lived by my mother’s rules, I think my head would explode and that would be a nasty mess for someone to clean up, so what I usually do is smile, nod my head, and try to sound interested when they go into great, gory detail about their story idea. It usually goes a little something like this:
- “Really? An alien abducts a Justin Bieber look alike, falls in love with him, and helps him save the planet from total annihilation? That is an inventive idea.”
- “No, I don’t think I could do justice to a story about a vegan vampire dominant and his submissive fairy lover. Why not? I’m an extreme carnivore and don’t think I could accurately represent the vegan vampire lifestyle.”
- “What? Would I be willing to collaborate on a modern retelling of Titanic but from the perspective of Jack’s abandoned male lover? I don’t think I am the right author for that, I doubt that I could give Raul the perspective and character development he would need. I would worry that it would be an offensive caricature of him and Cuban homosexual males everywhere.”
- “Sorry, I don’t feel comfortable writing with a co-author. Although, I think your idea for a werewolf CEO and his were-leopard lover who is a baker and have to fight ninjas to stay together is amazing. My problem is that I am a massive control freak and I would be difficult to work with.”
I love that everyone is interested in my work and I adore people who want to write a novel. I will do everything I can to support their creative endeavors. I’ve found that if I encourage them to keep their ideas for themselves and mention a few things that have worked for me, books, classes, etc. then I don’t have to feel like I’m kicking them in the face and destroying their dreams. Who knows maybe vegan vampire romance novels will be the next big thing.
Here is my go to list of advice that I share with people who want to be an author.
- Learn your craft – Yes, we all took English in school and for a lot of us it’s our native language, but that doesn’t mean we write it well. Check with your local community colleges they offer some amazing creative writing courses for beginners. What? You already have an MFA in Creative Writing? Wow, I kind of hate you a little right now. On to number 2.
- Just because you have an MFA don’t think you’re special – Continued learning is key for authors. We all have areas that are weak. I know that I’m an extreme teller (as opposed to showing in descriptions) and have weak dialogue issues. What’s yours?
- Meet other writers – This one was very challenging for me. I’m painfully shy, live with an autoimmune disorder, and live in the armpit of the universe. There are no writing groups where I live. I found that there are ways to connect via the interwebs. That’s right ladies and gentlemen find some groups online. Facebook has hundreds, I could probably list a thousand different websites designed for writers, but I’m not going to do that here. I will post some sites that I consider absolutely critical at the bottom of this post.
- Learn to take criticism and rejection well – This one is critical for anyone who has the dream of writing. If you can’t take criticism you’re screwed, and not in the good way. As a writer, we need beta readers, editors, agents, etc. to read our work. If we don’t improve, we’re going to end up in the round file. An outcome which won’t help us achieve our dreams. I don’t mean you should be spineless. You need to understand the criticism and know when changing something will wreck what you have sweated over.
- Books, books, and more books – Go buy books! Lots of them! Some about the craft of writing and some by the most prolific and consistent authors in your chosen genre(s). A good author is also a good reader. Consider this part of research. You need to learn what works, what doesn’t, and read reviews. Reviews of other authors’ work will help you see where they nailed it and where they failed. What? You’re broke? Sweetie, that’s why they invented the library, instead of buying go check them out.
- Try to complete NaNoWriMo at least once in your life – This was one of the most critical things I ever did as an author. Last November I forced myself to complete NaNoWriMo. What I wrote was fifty thousand words of the most God-awful dreck imaginable. It was pathetic. It still gives me nightmares. Every time I turn my computer on I have to see that awful file sitting on my desktop. Why don’t I delete it? Because I learned more by that one horrifically bad writing experience than I had learned in the previous thirty years! We learn more from our mistakes than our successes. I was able to learn enough from that nightmare to complete seventy-five thousand words in April for Camp NaNoWriMo and I will publish it in August … I consider that success!
- Take online classes – While this may seem like part of number 1, they are actually very different things. My personal favorite is “A Novel Idea” facilitated by YA author Shaunta Grimes. I cannot say enough good things about this program. She offers it twice a year and it costs $62.50 a month ($750 for the year). If that’s too rich for your blood, don’t worry I’ve got your back. Not only does she offer two free workshops several times a year, she also has an amazing website that offers the ninja writers academy for free every Saturday. Go! Join! Now! Be amazing and learn something while you’re at it. Join her Facebook groups as well, you’ll see me there, as the real me. Oh wait, pretend I didn’t say that. If Shaunta’s classes aren’t your style (I hope they are because I’m working on a whole post about them) look for others. There’s a million (exaggeration, I know) out there, one is bound to be the perfect fit for you.
- Make the time to write! – This is another of Shaunta’s big ideas. She calls it 10 x 100. She believes that small goals are key to creating new habits. Ten minutes of writing every day (no excuses) for one hundred days and you’ve created a habit that will last a lifetime. Pfft, ten minutes is nothing right? I didn’t start with ten minutes, most of us don’t, I started with an hour and now I’m up to five hours EVERY DAY! No matter how much I hurt, how awful I feel, or how much other drama I have to deal with, I write every day for FIVE WHOLE HOURS! Yes, I’m spoiled and I know it.
- Join conferences – Okay this one is the thing I haven’t managed to do yet (did I mention I have an autoimmune disorder that requires me to keep my body temperature in a very narrow range?). I am hoping that next year I will be able to go to my first conference and I would love to see as many of you there as possible. I’ve been told it’s a great way to network and make friends who actually understand how difficult writing can be. Plus, you might meet and be able to pitch an idea to an amazing agent and become a big time author!
- Have fun! – That’s right writers! Authors need to have fun once in a while. Characters fight us, research is a drag, plots develop holes, such is the life of a writer. If you don’t learn to let it go (unintentional Frozen reference), you’ll burn out and then no one will be able to read your magnum opus. That would be bad … very bad.
I hope you enjoy the ten things that I think every newbie author should know. As promised the list of books and websites that I think all authors should have/bookmark are below. Some are free, some cost money, but they are all amazing!
V. L. Cooke
Ninja Writers/A Novel Idea – This is the website of Shaunta Grimes, I cannot recommend this enough. I promise I’m going to have a whole post about this amazing woman in the next couple of weeks.
NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and Camp NaNoWriMo – November is National Novel Writing Month and twice a year in April and July the same organization runs camps. In November, everyone has the same goal of 50,000 words. In April and July, you get to set your own goal.
Scribophile – Online writing group with information on writing, authors, critiques, etc. Basic membership is free you can upgrade to premium if you desire. Also, they are one of the big sponsors for NaNoWriMo and offer discounts to participants and winners during those months.
Writers Helping Writers – Also has a free membership, but you can go premium and get a discount on classes that they offer. They do pitch events and other events regularly and their blog is awesome!
Fiction Writer’s Group – This is a Facebook group. It has almost 10,000 members and the majority of them are self-published. There is a great group of traditionally published authors who share information regularly. There are strict rules for members so if you join make sure to read them so that you don’t inadvertently violate the rules.
Writer’s Critique Circle – This is a small group of authors who share critiques. It happens to be my baby and I love it. We’re quiet, but when you need questions answered or a critique there’s always someone willing to help.
Self-Editing For Fiction Writers – Every author should own this book. It talks about the biggest pitfalls that we all seem to have in our writing.
The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler – Shaunta recommends this book to all her students and I completely agree. It has helped me learn about different types of characters and how they relate to my protagonist.
On Writing by Stephen King – Every author should read this book. Stephen King’s insights are amazing.
Pro Writing Aid – You can cut and paste pieces of your work into their website and receive a detailed analysis of your writing. If that sounds like too much work you can buy it for a yearly fee and have it added to your word processing program like Word.
Edit Minion – Similar to Pro Writing Aid this is only available online and offers some of the same features.
Scrivener – This is my writing program of choice, although I freely admit I keep copies of my work both in Word and in Google Docs. I use a Windows based PC and this is one of the few programs for authors that includes Windows. Most are based on the Mac OS. This one works for it too.
It’s almost that time of year again … that’s right ladies and gentlemen Camp NaNoWriMo July 2016 is just around the corner (Yes, I know it’s two weeks away)! For those who don’t know me well, I’m a huge believer in the work that NaNoWriMo does to promote creativity and writing throughout the year to people of all ages. This will be my third NaNo event in the last year, and I’m going for the triple crown in wins.
Last time I wrote 75,000 words of Golden Opportunity and this time I’m hoping to write 75,000 words of book two in the Custodian of the Golden Assembly series, Golden Seas. Also like last time, I am including the link for donations to the parent organization of NaNoWriMo, this is the only time I will post the link because I hate when people jam feeds with requests for money. My goal is $300 to match the money I have already donated. I have posted a few rewards and if you’re interested that would be awesome. If you’re not interested, I’m okay with that too. I truly believe that everyone should try to complete NaNo at least one time in their life to have a better understanding of how difficult writing can be.
On a completely unrelated note, I’ve been considering starting a forum or Facebook group to connect writers with beta readers or swap partners and to help new betas and authors understand how the process works. I’d love some input from you guys to see if you think it’s worth it or a total waste of time. Send me a comment and let me know what you think.
I look forward to seeing you all there, be sure to drop me a line and say hi. I love meeting new people and would really enjoy knowing that I have a little cheering section of my own. My name on the Camp NaNoWriMo forums is beansidhe1968 and I really hope to see you all there.
V. L. Cooke
One of the things that I have been reading about lately is the sheer number of fans who seem to think our work should be free. Yes, I don’t have this problem because I have no books out … yet. In September my first self-published book will go live. Rather than feel excited about it, I’ve read fans griping about the cost, and authors griping about thieves who get their work from free on torrent and other piracy sites. One author calculated how much she lost in royalties from one site where her book had been downloaded over sixteen thousand times.
I admit this made me curious, what is the actual cost of publishing through Amazon and Createspace? So I sat down and did some math. I’m sure other authors may disagree with the numbers, but this is what I believe is an accurate representation of the time and cost of bringing my first novel to fruition.
- Research – Every author will tell you this is where to begin and I absolutely agree. Yes, I wrote an urban fantasy novel, but I still needed to learn about myths, folklore, and what is considered acceptable for my genre. Total time spent @ 350 hours.
- Story Development – For me this was figuring out what story I wanted to tell and how I wanted to do it. This is not plotting, this is the world-building, reality-bending, mind-numbing creation phase that can make or break you as an author. I got lucky, my story showed me where it needed to go fairly quickly. But I still spent @ 125 hours pulling it all together.
- Plotting/Outlining – Again, I got lucky everything came together quickly and I managed to put the plot together from beginning to tentative end over 8 weeks. I still spent about five hours a day, seven days a week working on it. All of it when my family was asleep because that was when I could focus. @ 280 hours.
- Writing the first draft – My family supported my decision to join Camp NaNoWriMo and they helped me created the time and space necessary to write the first 75,000 words during Camp. I spent a little more time on this than the plotting stage, but I was able to write quickly. My novel ended up at 93,000 words and I spent @ 350 hours doing it.
- Revisions and Rewrites – This part is harder to figure. I actually walked away from my novel for two weeks to come back at it fresh. I proceeded to rip it apart and rebuild it only when my family was asleep. Four revisions, five beta readers, my sister, and niece read it gutted it and all over the course of several months. @500 hours but since not all of that was my time I will only claim one quarter of the time. @125 hours.
- Editing – I paid for editing services and I got lucky. I was given a great deal with multiple revisions. $1500.
- Cover design – Again, I paid out of pocket for this and got an amazing deal from an amazing designer. $270.
- Other Professional Services – This can include formatting, social media banners, giveaways, etc. I haven’t had these expenses yet so I cannot report about the costs.
Now let’s do the math:
Total hours spent by me on Golden Opportunity = 880 hours
Oregon’s minimum wage = $9.25
880 x $9.25 = $8,140 + $1,500 + $270 = $9,910
That’s right ladies and gentlemen, if I actually expect to be paid for my time I’m almost ten thousand dollars in the hole before I ever sell a single book.
Now, for argument’s sake let’s assume that I only sell my book as an eBook for $2.99 per download. Amazon will allow me to have a 35% royalty on said eBook which means I will receive approximately $1.05 per mythological book I sell. Let’s say I don’t think I’m worthy of minimum wage and that I would only like to make back what I’ve spent out of my pocket on my novel, that totals $1,770. So a little more math tells me that $1,770/$1.05 = 1,687. Now, I need to sell 1,687 copies of my book to BREAK EVEN and not make any actual wages.
I’m so glad that fans think we authors are all making bucket loads of money on our version of make-believe. I’m also glad that everyone thinks we “just make stories up” and don’t deserve real wages. For the record I, like most of my fellow authors, don’t write to make millions, but if I can make enough money to pay back the money I’ve already spent. That will allow me to spend it on the next book I write then I will be ecstatic.
Yes, I know I didn’t add in the cost of classes, conventions, marketing, reviewer copies, and a million other things. Partially because those are variable, and partially because I don’t want to break down and cry like a baby. One last thing, I hope to see everyone who has the dream of being published achieve it … and …