2766So here’s the first draft of a cover for my upcoming historical novel Smoldering Betrayal. This particular draft is missing a couple elements – author name and that it is book 1 in the Black Fire Trilogy.

While I thought it was a good start, a lot of people, including me, had issues with how the men looked. They are coal miners, but they almost seem to appear as if they are wearing clown make-up.

I searched out some new pictures. I wanted to have a coal miner on the cover since the book is set in a coal mining town, but I also wanted to have someone who looked like a mine superintendent and a woman who could represent one of the female leads in the story.

SB Cover

I sent the options I found off to my cover designer. Then I sat down with her a few days later after she had picked out the people she thought would work. We spent about an hour placing the people on the cover, looking at fonts, and adding the missing elements.

She added a bit more after our meeting, and then fine-tuned the cover to come up with this version.

I think she hit the right look. It shows that the book is about coal mining, and for those in the know, the town in the background is the actual town where the story is set. Three different types of people hint at the characters in the book and the drama between them.

I think it’s leaps and bounds beyond the first version.

Just like your book’s text, don’t be worried that your book cover needs to go through multiple revisions to get right.

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dictation_recorders-mainIf you’re like me, looking at the blank page can be intimidating at times. Where are the words and ideas going to come from to fill it?

Once I start writing, inertia takes over and I can usually keep going. It’s just that getting my fingers moving across my keyboard is harder than running a marathon.

I have found a way to make it easier to get started. Dictation.

I originally tried using a voice-to-text program on my phone. I would go out for a walk and dictate scenes and notes into my phone. The program would translate it into an e-mail that I would send to my home computer where I could cut and paste it into a document.

The problem was that the program didn’t pick up some of my words and mistranslated others. Sometimes, I would have to break my flow to make sure the program was keeping up with what I was saying. It would take me a while sometimes to figure out what I have been trying to say.

So, I cut out the middle man. I started recording my notes and scenes with a recording app. Then I would listen to the recordings and type it into a document. This took a little bit longer than direct translation, but I have few transcribing problems. I have also found that by writing this way, I have added to my original recording as I have been typing the recording up.

To me, this indicates that using the recording is working. It’s priming my creative pump so that I can keep writing on my own.

Using dictation has increased my productivity, which has made me a happy writer!

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ingramspark-lightning-source-logoThe beauty of print-on-demand technology is that you can print the number of books you need so you don’t have to carry a lot of inventory. I have found that orders can be delivered quicker than if I place an order with a regular book publisher. I also like that if I find a mistake in my books, I can make changes and have the corrected version available for sale within a day.

IngramSpark has recently introduced an option that allows authors to personalize their books. The service allows you to add an additional page at the front of the book that is printed in only one book.

IngramSpark says this allows authors write a special one-time dedication for, perhaps, a giveaway winner or a friend’s birthday. You could use the page to add a letter to a book club or create a special commemorative edition.

All these are good ideas. The service costs $1 per book, though. That’s a big dent on the bottom line cost. You can do the same thing yourself, but it would wind up costing you more than $1. This is because although you wouldn’t have to page $1 for the change, the shipping cost for a single book would be more than $1. If you use the personalization service, the special book could be included in a larger order with reduced shipping.

This isn’t something that I see myself using, but others might. I like that it demonstrates just how flexible print-on-demand technology is.

What do you think about it? Is it a worthwhile service?

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37564145_1968752306492798_5403782325450309632_nI participated in a book signing this weekend that brought out hundreds of fans who wanted to get a signed book or a picture with the author. Unfortunately, they didn’t come to see me. Most of them came to see mega-bestselling author Nora Roberts. Also popular were New York Times bestselling authors Barbara Delinsky, Linda Howard, Julia London, and Kate Meader.

The location was in Robert’s bookstore, Turn the Page, in Boonsboro, Maryland. It is a nice local bookstore that fills two storefronts. Usually there is plenty of space to move around, but on this day, it was filled with so many people that you could barely move. I got caught on the opposite end of the store from where I needed to be, and it was easier to go outside and come in the back door.37633979_1968854289815933_3224202833523900416_n

I’m not complaining. I benefitted from the crowd and sold plenty of books myself. It also gave me a picture of what I wanted to shoot for. I want to fill bookstores with fans who enjoy my stories so much that they are willing to come out and wait for hours to spend a minute with me to get a picture and autograph.

It helped clarify that picture in my mind, so now I just need to keep writing until I reach that point.


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I’m usually pretty efficient and prolific, but in the past week, I have to admit, my heart hasn’t been in my work. If I worked in a typical business setting or newspaper, I might be able to feed off the energy of my co-workers or, failing that, take a few personal days.

I am a full-time freelancer, though, so if I don’t do the work it doesn’t get done.

That’s one of the big drawbacks of working for myself. I became a freelancer to write, which I love, but it involves doing a lot of the support work with making a living from writing. I use that to my advantage when I feeling dragged out like I do now. I work on one project for a while and then move onto another one and another one. It helps keep me moving, even if I’m moving slower than I typically do.

As far as days off go, I generally have to plan ahead for those, which requires me to actually get ahead of my work. That way I’m feeling now, that’s not likely to happen.

So I plod away waiting for Sunday to arrive when I can usually relax and recharge for the week.

If you are considering becoming a full-time writer, be warned. You need to be able to work when you’re tired and sometimes sick because it is all up to you when you are self-employed.

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UntitledDo you ever read a book and despair? It’s not because the book is sad. It is because it is written so well that you find yourself thinking, “I won’t ever be able to write that well?”

It happens to me from time to time. On the one hand, I love finding books like that because they stick with me. On the other hand, the comparison with my own writing leaves me feeling perpetually deflated.

I think that is one reason that I like going out to do talks or hand sell at festivals. I get to meet readers. Many of them come back to my tent year after year to see what my new publications are. Others stop by to talk about one of my books that they read.

That is manna for me. It keeps me from throwing up my hands and giving up because I won’t ever write like Brandon Sanderson, Erik Larson, or Ernest Hemingway.

Also, while fine writing sticks in my head, I try to keep from comparing my writing to it. For one thing, it would be comparing an author at the top of his or her game with someone (me) who is still getting better.9f2a936d3ba79285caad2a928ffd477705b98828-thumb

I would rather compare my writing with books that were published 10 and 20 years ago (Yes, my first novel was published in 1996, and I’ve been writing professionally since 1988.) I can see the progress I have made when I do that, and I imagine that my current writing will be that much better in another 10 or 20 years.

It’s not about the destination. It’s the journey, and my journey continues and will continue I imagine until I die.

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thDuring last week’s meeting of the Gettysburg Writers Brigade, we looked at some of the favorite writer’s websites of our members. These are sites that have lots of useful information for writers. We took a look at each of the sites and what they offer.

I’ve listed the sites below so you can take a look at them yourself and save them to visit frequently.

  • Writer’s Digest – The website for the nation’s leading writing magazine.
  • The Creative Penn – Joanna Penn’s website has lots of usable information, particularly for indie publishers.
  • David Gaughran – David Gaughran’s website has good information for indie authors.
  • Brandon Sanderson – NYT Bestseller Brandon Sanderson’s website has a great podcast and a lot of behind-the-scenes looks at a writer’s life and his process.
  • Alliance of Independent Authors – This organization’s site is filled with news that indie authors can use.
  • diyMFA – Another website chockful of useful writing information.
  • Daily Writing Tips – Learn something new about writing every day.
  • Writers Beware – Avoid the scam artists out there before they take crush your dreams and take your money.
  • Romance Writers Association Online Classes – Don’t let the name fool you. There are plenty of courses offered that have nothing to do with romance.
  • Publishers Marketplace – Get the news on what agents are selling, the publishers that are buying them, and what the publishers are paying.
  • Writer Unboxed – A great site with information to raise your writing to the next level.

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wayside2 (1).JPGI’ve done a lot of interesting things as a writer. Some have been fun like competing in a demolition derby. Some have appealed to the nerd in me like leafing through a 500-year-old illuminated manuscript. Some have made me part of history like being one of the first reporters on the scene of the Shanksville crash on 9/11.

Today, I’m taking part in something that makes me proud. A memorial wayside erected in Gettysburg to honor Marine Captain George W. Hamilton, a highly-decorated World War I Marine officer, and Gunnery Sergeant George R. Martin, is being dedicated today.

Additionally, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has issued a proclamation declaring June 26, 2018, as Captain George W. Hamilton and Gunnery Sergeant George R. Martin Remembrance Day “in grateful recognition of their military service.”

Marine Captain Hamilton, of World War I fame, survived the bloody Battle of Belleau Wood in 1918 (also known as the “Germans’ Gettysburg”), with honors, only to perish in a dive bomber crash on the Gettysburg Battlefield during Marine maneuvers held in 1922, along with Gunnery Sergeant Martin, a veteran of the Santo Domingo campaign.

On June 26, 1922, Captain Hamilton was piloting a de Havilland dive bomber over Gettysburg battlefield, with Martin, at the head of the column of 5,500 Marines arriving for training maneuvers and Civil War reenactments, when their airplane crashed while attempting to land on the Culp Farm, killing both aviators.

The deaths of the aviators were declared as line-of-duty deaths, resulting in their being the last such deaths to have occurred on the historic battlefield since the 1863 battle itself.

wayside1.jpgThe effort to create the memorial came about after I wrote The Last to Fall: The 1922 March, Battles, & Deaths of U.S. Marines at Gettysburg, (co-authored with Richard D. L. Fulton). The book is the only one on the topic, and it made local Marines and citizens aware of this forgotten event.

Years ago, a couple articles I had written led to a name being added to the National Officers Down Memorial. I was proud that day, but in that case, the memorial already existed. The Marine wayside would not have existed if not for the book Rick and I wrote. Now, the two Marines killed on the battlefield in 1922 will finally have their recognition.

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2766So here’s a draft of a cover for my upcoming historical novel Smoldering Betrayal. This particular draft is missing a couple elements – author name and that it is book 1 in the Black Fire Trilogy.

Given that, what are your initial thoughts? There’s a couple changes that I want to do, but I’m looking for feedback. The story is about a Pinkerton detective who returns to his hometown in 1922 after being gone for five years. His mission is to spy on his former friends and neighbors and report to the Consolidation Coal Company about any union activity in the town.

So does the cover portray that?

This was a story that sat on my shelf for years because something wasn’t working. Back in January, I had an insight that broke the logjam and started writing like crazy. Now, I’m editing it and starting to prepare the cover.

Thanks for your help!

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18077251_10155179628818290_9156547952808988124_oLast month, I participated in the Kensington Day of the Book, my first outdoor festival of the season. It can be an iffy time for an outdoor festival, but the weather was perfect this year. I always enjoy book festivals because not only do I get to meet people who like to read books, I get to meet other authors.

I’m always interested to see what other authors are producing. I expect mainstream published books to look great, but I feel a bit sorry for the author if they only have one or two titles to sell. Knowing how little mainstream publishers pay in royalties and how much the booth space costs, I know those authors need to sell a lot of books to break even.

For this festival, my guess is that they had to sell between 25-30 books to break even. I only had to sell four books to cover my booth costs. I also had a lot more titles to offer. With this combination, I can make back my booth costs with one sale, and I did.

I’m more curious to see what the indie authors are doing, especially if they have multiple titles. This means they have been writing for some time, and hopefully, have learned some useful things about publishing and marketing. These are the authors who I try to talk to. I want to pick their brains for things that I might try.

It’s always interesting what I learn. Some authors don’t believe in doing e-book giveaways. Others have seen its benefit in boosting sales. Some authors only work in a single series while others write stand-alone books or in a variety of genres. Some publish hardbacks, and others only publish softcovers.

If I see a great cover on a book, I question the author about who designed it, and I get contact information.

I ask about other shows the authors attend and things they have done to promote their books.

I have been a published novelist since 1996 and an indie author since 2001, and I am still learning new things about the process. I hope that I always continue to do so.

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