Tagblogging

Life, the Universe, and Babies

Oh man, so much has happened since I last posted! I’m not even sure where to begin. As I’m sure you’ve all probably figured out, I had my baby at the end of April. It was a boy! 7 pounds, 8 ounces of squishy baby goodness.

He’s seven weeks old now and starting to come out of his “potato” phase. But up until this point we were on a steep learning curve because it turns out the little guy is allergic to a protein in milk. So this means he was rashy, itchy, colicky, and due to all that didn’t sleep well. Of course, that meant we didn’t either. His first week or so of life he was a fairly content, easy baby. [I seem to have a trend of getting good sleepers that sleep six hours at a stretch right off the bat.] But soon he became this inconsolable mess that barely slept. Once we figured things out and got him on the right formula [Read: the most expensive one on the market!] he’s been a different baby. He sleeps through the night again! He is happy and content! He doesn’t scream like his existence is torture! The downside is that it took five weeks to diagnose and I was so sleep deprived that my body now thinks two hours is a fantastic amount of sleep to be getting. I need to retrain it to not think that because despite what it thinks, two hours is not nearly enough sleep to make rational decisions or be creative on.

As for me, the end of my pregnancy was miserable, but his birth was uneventful–quick, even! However, I ended up back in the hospital for three days–I got postpartum pre-eclampsia again. So this means we are done having babies because almost dying a second time was really not on my list of things to do. Ugh. Then within my first week of being discharged we all got sick.  I ended up with the flu [despite getting a flu shot!] and pneumonia. Somehow I was able to keep from passing it to the baby, who just had a cold. If you’ve never dealt with a sick newborn, count your blessings. It’s miserable.

Now that my health and the baby’s well-being have been sorted out I’m able to finally get back to working on volume 3 of Atlantis: TVC. [Which I stupidly thought I would have done before I delivered. Very naive of me…] My issue with not getting it done is that so much more is going on than I had originally thought: scenes that I thought would be a few pages at most are ending up being entire chapters; scenes that I was excited for and looking forward to writing turned into plotting nightmares… so the word count is going much higher than I had initially planned. In fact, I’ve had to restructure the original end of the book [by moving some scenes and plot elements to volume 4] to help control the length. I’m already over my 55,000 word minimum and I’m only two-thirds of the way done! Since returning to writing, I’ve completed two chapters. It may not seem like much, but you have no idea how stuck I was on a certain scene. A critical exchange needed to happen between two characters and I didn’t want to screw it up. I like it the way it is now, but that’s not to say it won’t change during edits. [So much stuff changes during edits…]

On a final note, if you follow me on social media, then you already know that while I was on hiatus someone did a video review of volume 1! I always get nervous when there is a review done of my work; however she had nothing but good things to say–so that was a relief! Writing is such a personal thing, and despite the fact that when people review your work they’re reviewing your work and not you as a person, you still feel like you’ve failed somewhere when someone doesn’t like what you’ve done.

I’m gonna pull a Hermione here though and state for the record that it’s pronounced “Ah-chi-nay”. But the reviewer had a wonderful accent, so all is forgiven. :p

P.S: I love hearing from readers! If you’ve done a review of one my books, or have made a piece of fanart or anything like that, please drop me a line and I will check it out. [I might even showcase it on this blog!]

Review of Atlantis: TVC — Volume 1

Something unexpected has happened!

If you’ve been on the fence about picking up Volume 1 of my light novel series, Atlantis: The Visionary Continent, then maybe the review J.K. Penn wrote will be the push you need to grab a copy! Check out his write-up here.

He also reviews a few other light novels [Both traditionally and self-published] on his blog, and even has a light novel of his own. [Which you should check out as well!]

What a pleasant early Christmas present! rainbow

The Heart of Your Story

When I was in high school, I took a semester of Theater as an elective. I forget why I did it originally–I suspect I may have been strong-armed into it by an acquaintance–but I’ve never regretted it.

To my surprise, I did well enough that I ended up in two plays. I still have no idea how that happened.

All my English classes taught the bare minimum: spelling, basic mechanics, and the rules of the language. Only one teacher ever went into anything beyond that, and they went the way of personal interpretation. All of them ignored structure–which would have been helpful, since I remember more than a handful of occasions where we were required to write an original short story as an assignment. Instead, I learned about it in Theater, of all places.

We learned the Three-Act Structure, which consists of the following set up:

Act I

  • Introduction — The Main Character is introduced to the audience.
  • Exposition — We learn more about the MC and their relationships.
  • Catalyst — This is the event that motivates the MC and moves the story forward. The resolution of this event becomes the Goal.

Act II

  • Rising Action — The MC is taking actions that intend to move him/her closer to the Goal.
  • Turning Point — The MC finds a way to reach the Goal. This may be preceded by a backslide.

Act III

  • Climax — The outcome of this event determines if the MC reaches their Goal.
  • Falling Action — The Goal has [or has not] been met, and the MC is dealing with the aftermath.
  • Close — A last look at the MC and how the events of the story affected and/or changed them.

This is the classic structure of storytelling, and is the backbone of many tales. This was later replaced by the Five-Act Structure, which is illustrated here as Freytag’s Pyramid:

Though I didn't know it was called that until a few years ago.
Though I didn’t know it had a name until a few years ago. [Source: Wikimedia Commons]

It’s much easier to understand when it is shown to you like this.

  • Exposition — Introduction to Main Character, setting, and backstory.
  • Rising Action — Events that propel the MC toward the climax.
  • Climax — The major event of the story that reverses the MC’s fortune. [Bad -> Good or Good -> Bad]
  • Falling Action — The conflict arising from the events of the climax is confronted and dealt with.
  • Denouement — The end. All previous conflicts have been resolved, and the MC has undergone a metamorphosis.

The elements of those five parts will also have their own shape. They will vary from writer to writer, but there are common ones that tend to crop up. Let’s go over a few of them!

Flat

For the most part, you don’t want this. They are boring, tedious areas where nothing happens to develop characters or advance the plot. Think about a book you’ve read where you find yourself skimming the page, hoping to get to the next scene break. That’s Flat. New writers tend to go flat in the beginning of the story, thinking they have to detail everything about the setting and main character all at once, which overwhelms the reader. If a story is flat for too long, readers will give up on it before you have a chance to get to the plot.

But… Flat doesn’t have to be negative. You can use it to your advantage–especially to heighten suspense, or the impact of an unexpected turn in the story. The key is to keep it brief, but just long enough to make the reader start to wonder where you are going. That’s when you can lead into a Sudden Spike, and turn tedium into a form of tension.

Sudden Spike

When you have tension followed by a major event, followed by downtime, that is the Sudden Spike. Think of a scene where two people who clearly don’t like each other are exchanging dialog. This is the build up of tension. One character will say the wrong [or right] thing, and a fight erupts! This is the spike. After the encounter is over, there is a period of downtime which can be anything from one character having been thoroughly defeated and fleeing the situation, to the two characters realizing that fighting is pointless and deciding to resolve their differences in another way. The event doesn’t have to be physical; it can be anything that causes stress to the Main Character.

Mesa

These occur where the story takes a turn for the worse for the Main Character. You have a rise where things seem to be going well, or maybe the scene begins on a high note. This becomes something the reader expects to continue, which is the flat part at the top of the rise. Then suddenly, something catastrophic happens and the MC plummets from where they had been–losing a dream job, failing to prevent something precious from being taken from them, or being defeated by the villain–all events that become the straight drop of the mesa. At the bottom, you have a flat part where the MC has to come to terms with what has happened before they move forward.

Rise-Fall-Rise

This is one of my personal favorites, because when it is done right it packs a hefty emotional punch. It could also be called “Exchange” because during these one thing is lost in order to gain another. You start during an action scene, and as it comes to its climax the bottom drops out and something bad happens. In order to qualify as a true Rise-Fall-Rise, something good has to come from the bad thing. This could be anything from a precious memento being destroyed in order to save the world, to defeating the villain but having a character die in the process. These moments typically occur at the peak of rising action, or at the end of the climax. It does not count if the reader only thinks the Main Character will lose something, but in the end they don’t lose anything and still gain the benefit. That is a Threatened Rise-Fall-Rise, and while some writers feel it is easier on the reader it comes off as cheap–unless written extremely well.

A great example of a well-executed Threatened Rise-Fall-Rise is the “I Open at the Close” scene in the Harry Potter books; while a classic example of a true Rise-Fall-Rise is during the climax of the first season of the TV series Stranger Things, in the scene with Eleven and the Demogorgon.

Decline

While you traditionally see this during denouement–with the Main Character resolving conflict and tying up loose ends–it can also turn up during Rising Action. This may seem counter-intuitive, but there are stories where this is necessary. If you have a tale of redemption, you need a decline of events to show the Main Character hitting their low point before the catalyst makes them change their ways. If a character needs to lose everything before they heed the call-to-action–then you use a Decline–chaining bad events together until the character has nowhere to go but up.

Keep in mind that
Keep in mind that “low point” is entirely relative to the character themselves…

A good way to see how your story moves is to map out the flow of each scene, then string them together to see the pulse of your story. Overall, you should see something similar to the Five-Act Structure, but you will also see all the little things in between. If your story has multiple storylines running at once, then map out each one individually. You will gain fascinating insights, such as discovering that even if two characters share a scene it may be charted differently between them. [Which you will see below.]

I refer to it as a pulse because it should look like the readout on an EKG–with peaks and valleys–proof that your story is alive. As an example, I mapped out two intersecting story pulses from volume #2 of my Atlantis: TVC series:

The whole book takes place over the span of a day, so the peaks and valleys are more exaggerated than what you’ll see in a story that plays out over a longer period of time. The two characters shown here–Achine [Main Character] and Gialasa–are together for the entire book, except when they are separated at the end. As you can see, each girl’s arc is different, despite them going through the same events at the same time.

Achine’s pulse has several Mesas, and the one right at the climax also doubles as a Rise-Fall-Rise. In sharp contrast, Gialasa’s begins from a higher point [part of carry over from volume #1] and continues as a Decline, marked by two small Sudden Spikes that only continue the downward trend. As you can see, this character is having a difficult time. The bottom of Achine’s Rise-Fall-Rise is Gia’s lowest point, and the two arcs begin to rise together just after the climax. During denouement, she ends up in a better position than Achine, and it shows in the ending height of their respective pulses.

What’s interesting to note is that as I stated earlier, the girls are both in the same bad situation throughout the book, but their pulses are vastly different. Achine’s determined personality makes her proactive, which creates sharper rises and steeper falls in her pulse as she tries to improve their situation. Gialasa has a anxious, meek nature, and this causes the steady decline of her arc’s pulse as fear renders her unable to function for the majority of the story. It only rises towards the end, when she is finally forced to act.

If you find your story is receiving negative feedback about pacing, or if you feel it is missing something that you can’t put your finger on, try taking its pulse. Seeing your story in a different way may highlight parts where you can improve.

For me, seeing my own characters’ pulses side-by-side shows the difference an active character and a passive character can have on the same story. If Gia were the main character she wouldn’t be able to advance the narrative in a meaningful way on her own, and it would make for a frustrating read! But because she is a supporting character–and she has precedence for behaving the way she does–she becomes an important foil for Achine during the course of the story. Gialasa’s weakness is part of what motivates her to act.

However, you can’t tell subtle things like that from pulse comparisons. So while they are great for seeing the rhythm of a story or arc, you can’t gauge whether it is good based on its pulse alone. But when used together with feedback from a trusted source [editors, beta readers, etc.], it becomes a valuable tool for fine-tuning your story.

Kill Your Darlings

Nope. I’m not going to trot out the same tired advice to trim word count by slashing plot and/or removing characters. I’m going to talk about literarily killing your characters. [Ha! Puns.]

Since my long-running series is fantasy-based, this will all be from the perspective of a fantasy setting. However, that shouldn’t stop you from applying what you learn here to a realistic world. [Provided it’s not a simple case of the magic-user used magic and the victim totally died, because that’s difficult to pull off when magic doesn’t exist in your world. You’re smart–you’ll know how to glean what you need from this.]

We could go on for hours about swords, instant-death spells, and arson; but those are pretty straightforward ways to kill or incapacitate someone. We’re going to go into the realm of cloak, dagger, and intrigue. That’s right–poison.

Poison is the perfect medium! Need a long, drawn out death? Poison. Need something that kills near-instantly? Also poison. Need something difficult to detect, or that mimics natural causes? Poison can do that. Need a reason to send your characters on a quest where they set aside their differences and come together in order to find an antidote? Poison’s got your number.

And as an added bonus, not only can it do all those things, but it’s discreetly administered. Aside from becoming liquid insurance for an assassin’s blade, it can take the form of an ingredient in a sumptuous meal or delicious tea. It could even be released into the air via deadly but wonderfully-perfumed incense. Poison can be everywhere. Not only that, but most poison is derived from natural sources.

That’s right! There is so much out there that can kill someone without you needing to make anything up. If you want to lean hard into the fantasy setting, you could devise any number of fantastic plants or venom that could be made into a plot point. But if you’re like me and want a touch of realism in your stories, you just need to look at things that are common in our world.

My favorite example is rhododendron ponticum. It’s a beautiful, ornamental shrub common to many parts of the globe. In fact, it’s called Common Rhododendron. Look at this thing. So innocuous.

It’s beautiful for something that will cause nausea, vomiting, breathing difficulty, and heart failure if you consume any part of it. But the best thing about it is that honey made from its pollen is so toxic, even the bees that make and consume it are poisoned. In fact, jars of this honey strategically placed in a village took down almost an entire army of Roman soldiers in 401 BC. Though, to be fair, they were left in 67 BC to take down a different invading army. As a plot device, readers and writers alike would call that deus ex machina BS. [But it’s history!]

The lovely thing is that honey is so innocent. In fantasy it’s often used as a sweetener in place of sugar, and even in our world it is common to drizzle it on pancakes, over oatmeal, in yogurt, or spread it on toast. No one would suspect a thing.

Delicious agony…

And that’s only one of the things that you can use. There are agents out there that come straight from the ground itself that can kill. Want to venture into the land of slightly-absurd-but-still effective poisons? Look no further than diamond dust.

Luxurious agony!

Yes, seriously. Though it’s not a poison on its own, when ingested the shards will embed themselves in the organs of the victim, causing infection–which leads to sepsis–and death. It’s a slow process, taking several months to work. It is an older method of assassination used most frequently during the Renaissance. It wouldn’t work in a modern setting due to the advanced medical technology we have nowadays.

The poison a character chooses can say a lot about them. What is more fantastic and decadent than a monarch using diamonds to take out the ruler of a kingdom they are at war with?

Another benefit of poisons: they don’t have to kill. In fact, sometimes there is more to be gained in incapacitating someone. Have a scheming advisor that wants power? Killing the king would make the throne go to the next in line. But what if the king becomes too ill to rule? The advisor might become regent until the king recovers… [Spoiler alert: Unless a protagonist steps in, the king will remain “ill” indefinitely.]

You can use poison to enhance tension as well. Finding an antidote can take time your heroes don’t have, and making or procuring it can be difficult on top of that. This is a good way to divide a large group, bring characters together, or send them off to another part of your world. Want a cure to be even harder to obtain? Combine your poisons. Not good enough? Mix real world toxins with ones you invent. The only limit is your imagination and how dead or incapacitated you want your characters to be.

Armed with this knowledge you can now go out there and not just poison your darlings, but do it catastrophically!

P.S: Here is a handy list of poisonous plants to get you started. Have fun!

 

 

You May Have Noticed…

…a strange silence that isn’t quite like me. I usually try to put a post up every three weeks or so, but as I said on Twitter back in September, life has delivered me some pretty impressive hiatus-forcing moments these past three months.

But like any good story, some of them were positive things! At the beginning of August I started medication for my HS, and it works. The difference was like night and day–even with the first set of shots! I cannot begin to tell you what it feels like to go from being in constant, excruciating pain to feeling something like a normal human. In fact, the medicine even helped to improve other things I had long term issues with, like my chronic back pain from a car accident almost 10 years ago. [Herniated L5/S1. Boo.]

But then it helped with an issue I never in a million years thought it would help with: my unexplained infertility. I became pregnant after the first set of shots.

Now as you know, we already have a daughter. We have no idea how we had her. Seriously–we were undergoing all kinds of exams, tests, and procedures when I became pregnant with her. It took three years to get her, and that was after we started with interventions and had several miscarriages. We still have no idea what combinations of treatment worked. [We were about to move onto IUI/IVF.] After she was born we tried for a second kid almost right away, afraid that we would miss our chance due to how long it took to end up with our first.

If you’re good at math, daughter is four now, so we were even more unsuccessful this time than the last. In fact, by the time we received a diagnosis for my HS we had put our plan of a second kid on the back burner until after we figured out how to stop my immune system from trying to kill me.

This new baby is unexpected, but desperately wanted. I’ve never even imagined having a “surprise” pregnancy because of how difficult it was to conceive our first! We are over-the-moon excited about this, though I have not had an easy time so far. [Unexplained bleeding, lots of emergency ultrasounds, etc.] I’ve been a basket-case because I’m always scared that the Universe will swoop in and destroy our happiness. [I have some anxiety issues, yes…]

I’m almost in the second trimester now, and once that hits, I hope to get back to writing. I’ve been poking at it, but between feeling sick, tired, and nervous, I’ve been preoccupied and unable to focus on it. My goal is to get Atlantis: TVC volume #3 finished before next March so that I can take time off to spend with the new baby. [And maybe write some short stories. Who knows?] There is a lot of stuff we have to think about now too, like whether or not we should move to a larger place. [Do I even want to move while pregnant? Ugh. No.]

At any rate, I thank you all for your patience during this time! I have had a few people message me privately wondering if something happened to me. I’m not dead, I promise! Just getting to a point where I feel better, and focused enough to start writing again. rainbow

Life Imitating Art

Have you heard about YInMn pigment in the news recently? It was discovered back in 2009, but a company is going to start producing a paint based on it so it’s recently become a hot story. Look at it–it’s beautiful, isn’t it?

Well, the Atlantians think so too, because it’s the royal color there. It’s on tapestries, banners, tabards–even the shingles on the roof of Castle Atlantis are painted in this color! [Which is funny because the pigment can be used to help with energy efficiency, especially when used on roofing.]

Based on the science behind it, it’s feasible that Atlantian alchemists could have come up with the same pigment. I wasn’t thinking of that when I was worldbuilding though. It just happens to be a nice coincidence. It also happens to be topical to volume 3, as that is where we get a closer look at alchemy in Atlantis. Prior to this volume, any references to alchemy have been rooted in medicine–potions, elixirs, topical remedies–that kind of thing. Soon, we get to see alchemy used in a functional sense, and as a weapon. This is especially fun [for me] because I get to write about an item I’ve thought about for years, and now it’s finally being used in the story!

Despite being at a point in my story I’m excited for, I’m finding it a bit difficult to write due to my illness, so I’m not writing as much as I would like. I keep hoping this particular flare will pass, and I won’t feel like a dirty sock lying in a gutter because it’s difficult to write when all you want to do is drag yourself toward the nearest soft object and lay there quietly. This unfortunately never happens because: three year-old. If I take my eye off her for a second, I am fishing a whole roll of toilet paper slurry out of the sink, or removing toys from the garbage disposal because she sits there and throws them at that side of the sink like she’s shooting hoops. I didn’t get a child that sits quietly and colors, or plays with toys–that’s for sure! [She gets that from her dad; I was the sit quietly child and he was… not, ha ha!] So most of my free energy is spent watching/interacting with her. By the time my husband gets home and I’ve cooked dinner, then washed the dishes, I feel like this clock:

Don’t get me wrong–I adore her. I just wish this disease didn’t rob me of so much energy. Sometimes my husband brings home take out, which is expensive but worth the sanity it provides me. Because I didn’t have to cook/do dishes tonight, I was able to catch up on laundry and write this post. How awful is that? I never imagined I’d be at a point in my life where I’d have to choose between cooking and doing laundry because I’d be too exhausted physically and mentally to do both in the same day.

I compromise by trying to be active on social media when I don’t feel up to writing. This way I at least feel like I’m doing something productive while waiting to feel better. So if this blog is quiet for too long, you can catch up with me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. I don’t bite–I swear!

The Masks We Wear Online

Yep, this again. Another post about social media.

I have three main social media pages I try to keep updated: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter–mostly in that order. I have found considerable positive traction on Instagram [of all places!] and I am gaining a little ground on Twitter now, which I honestly didn’t expect. It goes to show that if you throw yourself at something long enough, eventually something will stick. Though now all I have in my head after typing that is a mental image of me beating the hell out of Twitter like it’s an old console TV on its last legs.

I’ve considered a YouTube channel for a few months now, but that also involves the artistic side of my light novels so it gets backburnered easily. [And we all know what the comments section is like over there…]


Roughly, yes.

Social media has been my bugbear for a while now, but you already know this. I’m a private person by nature, and it’s been difficult for me to come out of my shell while lacking that magic confidence anonymity lends people. As Oscar Wilde said, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth”. Despite this being stated a century before the internet would even become a thing, it seems to be more true now than when it was originally coined. Human nature doesn’t change much, and with the exception of a few outliers, we all want to be liked and accepted. It gives people a sense of value to feel like others appreciate them and their ideas.

Creators put the intimate workings of their mind on display for people to pick apart and dissect–whether it be music, writing, or artwork. Social media makes two things easy: putting your ideas in front of millions of people the world over all at once, and allowing them to judge it–and you–from behind the safety of their own mask.


Sometimes multiple masks at once…

I don’t like taking off my mask. It’s not that I am secretly a cruel or unpleasant person, [Though I feel that I am much more amicable online than off…] but that I feel my discomfort and worry bleed through my words. I’m scared. I hesitate. I re-word, erase, and refine: “Will they like this? What if someone thinks it’s awful–what if it goes viral for being terrible?” [Like that last one? I always jump to worst case scenarios.]

But to be a writer–nay, an author–you have to have a thick skin! That means you can’t be afraid to take off your mask. You can’t be afraid to put yourself and your work out there! You need to handle criticism and praise with equal parts grace and aplomb. If you even hint at uncertainty, your peers will repeat this as if it is a magic incantation that will remove your doubt. I even find me telling myself this sometimes, which is awkward.

So what is a writer to do when they need to be honest and real on social media in order to connect with others in an authentic way, but find themselves full of anxiety and fear? They either stop writing, or do the exact opposite of what they are instructed to do: they create a new mask.

But… the goal was to not have a mask, right? Well, we see what happens when famous people use social media without their masks on–it doesn’t work. They alienate people, and quickly; a few of them even lose fans, and access to their own accounts for it. So you end up creating this half-mask, like the Phantom of the Opera, where you are both open and honest, but also guarded. Telling people how they should feel is stealing their agency–if something someone says about you or your work bothers you, you have every right to be upset about it! But the way you wear your own mask when others are watching says more about you than any thinly-veiled rant or tear-stained tweet ever could.

Ultimately, the magic author incantation is a lie. You cannot follow it as written. There is no way you can completely turn off your ability to care what others think about you, even if you try to convince yourself otherwise. We’re only human, and fall easily back into old habits… we trade one mask for another. It’s not a bad thing; this way we can fulfill the spirit of the incantation while being honest to both ourselves and our followers.

I believed in it for too long. I tried to bend my own feelings to fit it, trusting that it was right despite it feeling all wrong. I should know by now to listen to my gut, even when it contradicts what seems like solid advice. I took an impromptu trip to visit family recently, and had a lot of time to think about my online presence while not having much of an outlet through which to curate it. I didn’t pack my laptop, so I had what I could reach with my phone. [It was mostly Instagram, and it was largely pictures of the forest around my parent’s place in Missouri. It was… quaint… and you didn’t miss too much. Just some lousy photography of trees, flowers and my poor, misplaced-but-well-taken-care-of cats.]

I worried about leaving it quiet for so long, but it didn’t seem to make a difference. Now that I’m back and updating, having had this revelation about masks, I am seeing a better response to my posts and tweets. It’s kind of magical in its own sense, but I know that it’s because I learned from my past experience, and was willing to go against what I was initially told to do.

The lesson in this is: Don’t be afraid to be yourself online, but don’t forget to protect yourself either. Remember that we’re all wearing masks out here–even when at first glance it may appear that some of us aren’t wearing one at all.

The Little Things We Take For Granted

I’ve had enough. I stole my husband’s keyboard.

Last night as we climbed into bed we were talking about my book sales over past weekend [The recent Heartwarming Sale was a huge success!] and I was saying how I needed to get started on the third volume of Atlantis: TVC soon, but that even typing up the outline was difficult because the keyboard I had bought to fit the smaller space available on my desk was too stiff to write on. So half-asleep he proposes: “Why don’t we just trade keyboards?”

Now, for reference, I had asked him to trade keyboards when I was still using my giant gaming keyboard and he said no, despite having way more desk space than I do. Now that I spent money on a new, smaller, stiffer keyboard he’s changed his mind? I say as much, and get nothing but a snore in response.

My husband never remembers anything he says while half-asleep. So after he left for work today I switched our keyboards. I’m writing this entry from his keyboard now, and it’s amazing. I press a key, and it actually goes down! I don’t have to smash certain keys to get the fact that I have touched them to register! My backspace is normal size! Bliss.

Fortunately for me he’s on a miniature kick right now so he’s building armies and hasn’t been on the computer in almost two weeks. He still has several boxes left to put together and paint; it could be months before he notices.

I never thought I could hate a keyboard so much. I mean, I could have sucked it up and bought a different one, but not many are compact enough to fit in the space I have available. Plus there was no floor model for this particular board, so I couldn’t test it at the store. I tried everything I could think of to break it in, but even with several weeks of that there were still problem keys. I mean, I would be writing for five minutes, go back, and realize most of my words were missing the letter A. My fingertips hurt after typing on that thing! I looked up the model online to see if anyone else had that issue, or if it was just me. It was at this point that I discovered there were whole forums dedicated to “keyboard feel” and I was stunned. I wish I had known keyboard feel was a thing before I bought a new one. I thought that for typing, all keyboards were keyboards! Turns out that I am a dumbass and unknowingly bought one of the stiffest boards on the market.

SiiG JK-US0012-S1. DO NOT BUY.
Model: JK-US0012-S1. The “JK” stands for “Just Kidding–ha ha, you thought this was functional!“, right?

 

So I suffered through two months of crappy keyboard for nothing.

Well… part of that was negated by my torn rotator cuff, so it’s more like a month and a half–but it was still a month and a half of hurt fingers and swearing! At any rate, I’m finishing up my outline and plan to break ground on volume #3 tonight after the little one goes to bed. I am ridiculously excited to write again, and I hope to get this volume out just as fast as the first one. My goal was originally to release two books a year, [Back then I didn’t know any better!] but on average it takes me six to seven months to write the first draft, then two more months for edits, revisions, and creating the artwork. That means each book takes around nine months from start to finish and my output is two books every year and a half–which isn’t too bad considering that I’m raising a kid and sleeping on the rare occasion as well.

I already have a complicated relationship with sleep without hating the fact that I need so much of it to function. Besides that, energy drinks aren’t the greatest thing for you–and I have something like a +25 versus caffeine, which sucks. When I get in a writing [or drawing] groove the first thing I do is a quick calculation of what time the kid will wake up, and how much sleep I would get if I could only keep writing for just one more hour! Before I know it many hours have passed, and I only get three hours of sleep before my three year-old is running around and trying to climb the walls while I stumble out to the couch and stare bleary-eyed into space while cursing the me of last night who thought it was soooo important to finish that chapter. Also, once I achieve enough alertness to even think of reading what I wrote, there is a 75% chance I will hate it and need to rewrite whole sections of it.

All this would be made a thousand times worse by having to do it on The Worst Keyboard in Existence. I have never been so happy to be rid of something in my life!

Well, except maybe that landlord who used to sneak into our house when she thought we weren’t home. She’d eat our food, and once she came over naked to do it. Ugh. Why did I have to remember that, of all things? Thanks, brain.

Advertising: Facebook Versus Google

I recently ran an ad campaign, because over the holidays my sales slumped. Why were my sales slumping? Well, initial excitement over my second book had tapered off, and people were all wrapped up in holiday stuff. It’s fairly common. If I was smart, I would have set up a sale and ad campaign to run right after Christmas, to catch the eye of all those people getting e-readers for presents! But alas, I was caught up in holiday stuff as well, and didn’t take the opportunity. So I promised myself I would run a campaign for the next holiday, which was Valentine’s Day.

E-readers make excellent gifts! E-books… not so much.

This was dubbed the Valentine’s Heartwarming Sale*, and it recently ran over the weekend of Valentine’s Day, which was very convenient. I ran the promotion for three days in all, and I decided to try out a new ad delivery service, Google Adwords. I’ve run ads on Facebook before, but I’ve avoided Google in the past because I feel like with light novels the covers really help with letting the reader know what they’re purchasing. Google ads are… just words, like it says on the tin. But because there was also a promotion, I figured the sale aspect would generate a few clicks on its own. So I ran one ad on Facebook, and another on Google, just to see how they stacked up.

I have to say, I was totally blown away by the results! Here are my experiences with both sets of ads.

*=Because I like cheeziness, and I found this really cute stock photo of a heart-shaped mug of cocoa in snow that I really liked. Seriously.

Facebook

I have run an ad campaign on Facebook before, so this was nothing new to me. Or so I thought. My ad ran overnight, but then was pulled for having “Too much text on it”. Turns out, the text on the images of my book covers on the ad counted towards their 20% limit.

So I stripped all the text off–except for the name of the sale–and resubmitted it. What irked me the most is that I lost out on four to six hours of ad time on the first morning because Facebook never notified me that the ad was pulled. If I had never checked my stats to see how it did overnight, I would have never noticed it wasn’t running!

Ten points from Facebook!

Their interface is intuitive, though there were a few bugs with the targeting and demographics areas that I managed to work around. Other than the approval mess, it was a smooth process.

Pros:

  • Ads connect to your series page, author page, or directly to your website
  • Can use an image
  • Ads can also appear on Instagram
  • Can set a detailed target audience
  • Can set daily price limits or total campaign limits
  • Can set custom time period
  • Can choose to pay per click, per impression, or per unique view
  • You can choose where your ad shows up [mobile devices, the side bar, apps, etc.]
  • Easy to read reports

Cons:

  • Does not notify you if your ad is not approved/removed
  • Will run your ad despite it being in review status, and make you pay for clicks/views in that time period even if they do not approve it
  • Buggy Interface [Image upload and audience targeting, specifically.]
  • Ads appear to be served in a set rotation with other ads which keeps the impressions low
  • Cannot have different ads to cycle through in the same campaign
  • Help center/FAQ is difficult to navigate and did not answer many of the questions I had

 

Google Adwords

I’ll admit, their stark interface had me worried, but it really is a full-featured program. There are many options, one of which is the ability to pause a campaign, which I really liked. I was also impressed that there was phone support available–even if I didn’t need it. [Compared to Facebook’s help center, which was… bad.] And when I poked around the advanced reports, a step-by-step tutorial walked me through building a custom report. [Which gave me a ton of data. Seriously, loads!]

Maybe… too much data.

It holds your hand quite a bit, which was comforting to a newbie like me. The hardest part was staying within their character limits! People who do that Twitter thing will feel right at home; for me it took an hour to figure out how to say what I needed to with so few words. Now that the ad has been running for over 7 days, the tools that help fine tune your ads are offering suggestions, and everything they recommend is working. Today–with no sale running–I received 25% more clicks than I did during the peak day of my sale! I went in with no expectations since I’m technically a little fish to Google–but I came away pleasantly surprised.

Note: Today I noticed they had options for image ads and YouTube video ads available now, which is pretty cool! I don’t know if I unlocked those somehow, or if they were available from the beginning. I may experiment with an image ad and see how it performs versus the text-only ad.

Pros:

  • Ads can connect to any web address
  • Can set daily price limits
  • Can set custom time period
  • You only pay for click through, not for views
  • You can define a custom bid per click setting
  • Ads can show up on any partner network–YouTube, Gmail, Blogger, etc.
  • Can create multiple ads within a set that will cycle randomly, or only appear for certain keywords
  • Can set ads to only run during certain times
  • Has instant tools to help you optimize and tweak your campaign to get the most value
  • Has step-by-step tutorials for any non-intuitive feature
  • Many ad blockers have them whitelisted because they are unobtrusive
  • Give coupon code for $100 worth of free ads for new accounts that spend at least $25 in their first month
  • Free Monday – Friday, 9 AM to 8 PM EST phone support
  • Tons of data available through advanced reports
  • Image and video ads available

Cons:

  • Text ads are limited to a title, and only 2 lines of 36 characters each
  • Relies on search keywords to define audience
  • Ads can fail to be served if they have a low relevancy rating on any of your keywords
  • Ads can fail to be served if your bid per click is lower than competing ads
  • Initial reports are straightforward, but detailed reports need to be manually compiled
  • The position of your ad is based off relevancy rating and the amount of your bid per click settings
  • Ads are unobtrusive, and are sometimes ignored

Results: Facebook

Total Impressions: ~7,500

Click Throughs: ~20

Total Cost: $15.72

0.26% Effectiveness

Best Day: Saturday

Best Hours: 12 PM – 6 PM

Peak Hour: 2 PM

Results: Google Adwords

Total Impressions: ~12,500

Click Throughs: ~40

Total Cost: $1.23

0.32% Effectiveness

Best Day: Saturday

Best Hours: 6 PM – 10 PM

Peak Hour: 10 PM

Final Thoughts:

Overall my sales tripled from the combined ad campaign! For a self-published author writing in a niche medium, that is amazing for less than twenty dollars total!

Though sales have dropped with the end of the promotion, they haven’t leveled off. Why not? Because the Google ad was so cheap, I decided to keep running it! It seems to be pulling me an extra couple of sales/lends per day, and it’s only costing me pennies a day to maintain, so why would I not? I know a 0.32% rate looks dismal, but I’d happily pay $2 for it as opposed to $16 for 0.06% less. That’s just smart shopping. As far as Facebook goes, I’ll stick to boosting posts for $5 if the mood strikes me, or when volume #3 releases.

Maybe someday I’ll get brave and try Twitter ads, but I really don’t care for Twitter. Plus whenever I clicked “Get Started” to explore pricing it just took me back to the analytics page in a constant loop. Not particularly inspiring.

Later, I found an independent site that listed Twitter’s rates as $0.50 – $2.00 per ad click. No thanks, Twitter.

No. Thanks.

 

 

 

 

Grand Theft: My Intellectual Property

I know I said I was going to let my shoulder rest, but this is too important to wait on.

I was informed of a website where an unauthorized copy of my latest book, Atlantis: The Visionary Continent, Volume #2: Awakening, is being offered! I couldn’t believe it, so I had to go see for myself. When I confirmed it, I was furious. Livid. Enraged! Other synonyms for insanely pissed! The more I investigated, the angrier I became. It was being offered for free!

Me, after reading my email.

I fumed. The book has barely been out for three months! After a half-hour of spitting anger, I started getting over my shock and began to formulate a plan to deal with this. I ran a Google search, but there really isn’t anything regarding stolen e-books, except advice to not offer books as a direct download from your site. [Which I was not doing–they’re exclusive to Amazon at the time of this posting.] I found some advice regarding DMCA [Digital Millennium Copyright Act, yo.] and decided to do a Whois search on the domain, so I could figure out who to send a takedown notice to.

This turned tricky fast, due to the culprit having a ton of domains that point to other domains, which then pointed to subdomains. I was going in circles. I took a closer look at the site to see if I could find any more info. 293 downloads? Anonymous people with no avatar posting very recent and generic comments? Something didn’t smell right. The work of other authors was on the site also, so I checked some of their listings–the number of downloads varied, but the pages were identical–right down to the comments.

I clicked through to the download page. I reached the instructions, and suddenly, the situation became clear. I quickly viewed the source code of the page, and discovered that my story wasn’t being offered illegally. They didn’t have the actual book–it was being used as bait for a phishing scheme!

Now, I know the classic argument is: “If people are looking for free copies, then they weren’t going to buy your book anyway, so you’re not losing sales“. This is a valid argument, except that what is actually happening is harming public opinion of my brand itself. That is much more difficult to recover from than a sales loss!

The setup is a common one, where the site offers a file: a program, MP3, video–or in this case e-book–and leads you to a page where you can download it. EXCEPT there is a catch–before the download link becomes available, you are usually directed offsite to apply for “special offers”. These look like credit card and loan applications, or free trials to subscription services. They ask for vital info, like social security and credit card numbers, home addresses, etc. More often than not, these are elaborate phishing scams where they use a person’s willingness to get something for free to convince them to give up sensitive info. You don’t get anything except a lot of spam email, and the hassle of having to freeze your credit and apply for a new bank account. Then if you can actually download the file, it’s usually not what was advertised–often it’s a Trojan designed to infect your system so these people can get more information from you. Then they either sell the data they collect, or use it for themselves.

Since the file wasn’t actually on the original website, I had no valid DMCA claim. I went to the root of the site to see if I could glean any info, when suddenly I was on… a legitimate cloud storage site? After poking around a bit, I discovered that the root site was set to redirect to a legitimate site–even though the file is clearly not on their servers. Why would that happen…?

The site is mocked up to look like a filesharing site, but it’s owned by the same person who owns the original site I found the listing on! This is an elaborate deception–this person thought this through, and wants to remain hidden. [Probably because the information they scrape and the malware and viruses they distribute are their main source of income.]

They didn’t even host the cover image themselves! It’s hotlinked from Amazon! The download link sends you to the fake filesharing front, which then redirects you to affiliates where you fill out the offers that will supposedly allow you access to my work. Well, as I said before, I viewed the source file and there is no download. Everything forces you to a file “locking” site that has a pretty bad safety rating itself.

File locking sites are commonly used for something called an integrated affiliate advertising redirect*, also known as a forced click. [Read more on them here.] When you click the download link, it forces you to view ads in an non-closable window, makes you apply for a “free” offer, or sometimes you’ll be told to take a “survey” before it lets you have access to the files you want. [Completing these actions supposedly unlocks the real download button or link.]

Every time you click the download link, the scammer running the fake site gets paid–sometimes even if you back out and don’t follow through! Not only that, but a savvy coder could use it to gain a click and steal your info. Several thousand clicks a day, plus sell-able or exploitable data? That adds up, especially the way this person has it set.

You see, at the end of this person’s setup, the user is presented with a blank white window. That’s it. No file. You are no longer useful. Your clicks and data have been taken. Get out.

It’s bullshit because it’s using my hard work to trick my unsuspecting readers into giving away sensitive information, and earning money fraudulently while doing it. Not only my readers–but anyone who might think it’s a legitimate source for free e-books! They scrape Amazon, using the allure of prose authors have slaved over as bait. They poison brands authors have worked hard to build in the mind of the people they trick. Not. Cool.

At first, it seems hopeless. How can I DMCA content these people don’t have? How can I go after them, not knowing who they are, or even knowing what country they are in? The person who set this up knows this. This is the cloak they wrap themselves in.

But me? What can I do?

Vocaloid. Specifically Hidoor Utopia by Miku
Vocaloid.  Specifically Hidoor Utopia by Hatsune Miku.

I know the affiliates won’t care–after all, they make money through the ad clicks. Web searches care, because the site is linking to content that could harm someone’s computer. They’ll pull the data, but it will be restored by the next web crawl. I could report the shady behavior to the domain registrar and get the domain revoked. That could work–for the amount of time it would take the person to figure out the domain is cancelled and buy a new one. So what can you do? What can I do?

For now, this is all I have been advised to say. I have several options, but in the meantime, I am going to focus on educating people. The more people that are informed, the less often these kind of sites will trick people. My hope is that over time, the profitability of these sites will drop, and they will no longer be worth opening. So share this post, [and the post linked above] and help get the word out!

Please remember you can ONLY purchase my books from Amazon.com! Volume #1 is $0.99 cents right now!

 

Thank you all for your support–stay safe out there!

 

*= What, you couldn’t cram “synergy“, or “omnichannel marketing” in there too?

 

P.S: If you are an author and want to check the site to see if your work is being used, please contact me through one of the methods on my contact page, and I will PM you the url.