Writers, Readers & Self Publishing

Our community of self-published authors is generous with the knowledge they have gained on their writing journey. Here at Writers, Readers & Self Publishing, we will share with you their advice, their experiences and their ideas for writing and promoting award-winning books.  We will also share incites from our readers and others in the field of self-publishing such as editors, designers and successful best-selling authors who graciously share their thoughts and experiences. Our readers and writers have also contributed some fun and interesting stories that we hope you will enjoy!

Montfort The Founder of Parliament – Of Journey and Research

Author Katherine Ashe's four book series depicting Simon de Montfort was completed in print in September of 2011 when Montfort The Angel with the Sword was made available for purchase. This concluded 34 years of research, writing, and travelling to the locales where Simon once lived. The series was written under the "aegis of fiction" owing to gaps and rampant bias in the historical record, but the conclusions Ashe reached follow a logical and well-reasoned strand, making her research take on the flavor of an investigation. Thirty-four years of investigative efforts are extraordinary, and result in some extraordinary and unconventional points of view in her novels. For many years it was considered a hanging offense in England to utter Simon de Montfort's name; thus what accounts there were of him were chiefly negative, which explains why modern authors often condemn him. What drew Ashe's curiosity to Montfort was the fact that he was acknowledged as pivotal in founding modern democratic government, but little about his life was general public knowledge and most of what was written cast him in a traitorous light. Concerning a man at the crux of something so revolutionary and as early as the 13th century, there had to be a reason for why he was so marginalized and maligned. This mystery piqued Ashe's interest. Her investigations began in 1977 as she read through every volume on Montfort available in New York City's public libraries. But these books, with historian after historian contradicting each other, spurred her to dig further, leading her to seek out the actual, original source material at the British Library and the Public Record Office in London and the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. In 1978 at the Bibliotheque Nationale the request slip given to the clerk brought forth the Montfort Archive, a boxed volume of original early charters, trial notes of Simon's trial for treason in 1262 and a brief autobiography written by Simon himself in connection with the trial. At the London Public Record Office, the 13th century scrolls used by royal clerks for the purpose of tracking royal expenditures was offered, along with a pair of velvet-covered bricks so the reader, unrolling the scroll from one side and letting it roll up again on the other could brace the opened part, keeping the document from coiling itself shut. In the neat and orderly Latin of the Chancery script Ashe found items that provided new insights. A Pipe Roll entry in November 1238 concerned a payment to a physician who guaranteed that if the Queen and King drank an herbal tisane and prayed at the tomb of Saint Edward the queen's barrenness would be cured. Ashe knew that seven months later the Queen was reported (by Matthew Paris) to have given birth to a remarkably strapping infant, clearly not puny and premature. Christened Edward for the saint who worked this miraculous birth, that child would reign as Edward I, King of England. What was happening concerning this sequence of events? Where was the Queen nine months before the birth? The Royal Charters showed the King and Queen were at Kenilworth, the home of Simon de Montfort -- the same friend who, at the Queen's Churching -- six weeks after the birth and on the occasion of the Queen's first confession since her pregnancy -- would be accused by a distraught King Henry of being a seducer. The breach of friendship with King Henry was so sharp that Simon fled for his life and was in exile for four years. Following that incident, Henry would vacillate between cajoling Simon into serving him militarily and attempting to send him to death for treason. Henry needed a male heir far too much to be able to repudiate Edward, but once he had another son, his behavior toward Edward became treacherous as well, as evidenced by his sending the boy into perilous situations; Henry bestowed the rebellious province of Gascony upon him when he was only fifteen -- the same province where the King's brother Richard, as overlord, had narrowly escaped being murdered. Beginning with the payment to the physician, Ashe pursued a line of investigation that has lead to her highly controversial speculation that Simon de Montfort was the natural father of Edward I. Framing her work as an historical novel, she explores the question, and how and why it could have come about. But the issue of Edward's paternity comprises but a small fraction of the whole of the Montfort series. There are other speculations as well: for example, was Montfort the link between the Emperor Frederic II's use of a cannon at his siege of Milan -- the first known use of the weapon in Europe -- and the description of a cannon in the works of Roger Bacon? Additionally there is a crucial issue, mentioned twice by the thirteenth century chronicler Matthew Paris but ignored by every modern historian. After creating the Provisions of Oxford, which are in effect the constitution that defines the two houses of Parliament, the barons who had done this work abandoned the project. Going off in pursuit of the King's fleeing brothers, they lay siege to the brothers at Winchester, and there they were poisoned, many of them dying, others never recovering their health. The issue here is that Montfort did not go with the barons but stayed behind at Oxford, evidently thinking it was strategically more important to put the Provisions into effect. The logical thread indicates he did not seize power as he is accused, but stepped into the power vacuum resulting from the illness of virtually all of the other active barons. He was not a tyrant seizing power, but a military commander who had a clearer idea of priorities than his fellow lords had. This gives a very different view of Montfort than the power-hungry despot his detractors portray. Again, Ashe's tenacious research has led to an unconventional conclusion as she followed the trails of logic. Eventually Ashe's research was carried on at the Astor Tilden Lenox Library in New York where 19th century reprints of a broad range of 13th century documents widened her understanding of the period, and the prejudices of Montfort's contemporaries both for and against him. In addition to the J.A. Giles translation of Matthew Paris's Chronica Majora, on extended loan to her through the kindness of the librarian at The New York Society Library, she was able to obtain two Stewart era reprints of the work in the original Latin. The Monumenta Franciscana opened for her a view of Simon's friendships, chiefly with his mentor Bishop Robert Grosseteste and Grosseteste's followers, Bishop Walter Cantaloup, Geoffrey de Boscellis and Adam Marsh, all of whom were of the Franciscan order. Not only did she read his friends' letters pertaining to public marital harmony, but, from covering letters that accompanied loaned books, she also discovered Simon's reading list -- as much as was available. Chiefly these were religious tracts such as Saint Gregory's Commentaries on the Book of Job -- which no doubt Simon must have found very heartening during his years of travail as Viceroy in Gascony. Concerning his faith, from the writings of his friends and even his enemies it was clear to Ashe that Simon was a deeply religious, yet a flawed man who found that harsh penance could scarcely atone for his sins. Ashe gives readers an informed look into his spiritual condition which helps explain why his mentor Grosseteste played such a major role in his life. Reading the same books, religious tracts, and biblical commentaries Simon read, afforded Ashe a deeper than usual view into Montfort's spiritual and psychological makeup. In her books Grosseteste's admonitions and encouraging words to Simon, some quoted, some literary invention (which she always grounded on the spirit of Grosseteste's own writings) contain practical, biblical wisdom and underscore why Simon read such spiritual works as the Commentaries with special interest. The Book of Job concerns a timeless message of spiritual resolve during harsh trials – a man alone amid his enemies is symbolized by the lily among the tares (choking weeds.) This is a vivid metaphor that mirrors Montfort's need for endurance during his time in rebel Gascony. And it makes clear why he changed his shield's blazon from his accustomed fork-tailed red lion rampant to a lily. In her second volume, The Viceroy, Ashe uses this research detail in this exchange between Simon and his son Henry: "When we reach La Reole I must have a new shield made," Simon mused. "I'll have it painted with a lily. In white on an azure ground." "Not our red lion?" Henry asked, dismayed. Simon shook his head. "I want the lily that Saint Gregory writes of—that grew among the tares, like Job who lived among the wicked folk of Uz but kept his faith." Scouring the same books Simon read not only enabled bright detail, but it helped explain Simon's transformation from a man given solely to harsh penance into a figure who begins to apply the years of practical wisdom from his mentor Grosseteste. This is not a lapse or an unwonted character swing; it is Ashe's intimate knowledge of de Montfort and his maturation. She has captured the subtle changes in Simon's personal beliefs and passions, based on the books he read and the clues he left behind. Her knowledge and appreciation of de Montfort's reading matter gives readers an unbiased and intimate look into the religious transformations that were slowly growing across Europe during this period, and how individuals such as Simon were drawing upon those changes. There was the entire world in which Montfort lived that needed to be understood. Ashe threaded her way not only through the period's religious views, agriculture, economics, armor and architecture (palatial, military and vernacular.) In her words, "My research has been done almost entirely the old fashioned way -- going to the original sources as much as possible, and reading, and reading, and reading." However, her practical research brought her as far as taking sword lessons and renewing her riding skills. One of the most persistent questions she found, in writing about a time before modern transportation and communications, was how long did it take, normally or at top speed, to get from one place to another? The beginning of her first book describes a joust between a young Simon and a seasoned challenger. By interviewing jousters, she was able to capture Simon's well-schooled, but yet, untried skills and merge those with his documented nearsightedness. However, as with her riding instructors, she found that each jouster had his own style and few agreed with one another. Conversely, replica distributors and manufacturers have now recreated the armor and the high saddles of the period; however, the heavy breeds of horses, though deft and swift, have not yet been recreated. There is only so far that research can go before speculation must fill in the gaps. Ashe visited Simon's manors, not only Leicester and Kenilworth, but Chawton, Hinkley, Asheby de la Zouche, and his wife's castle at Odiham. Other sites, including the battlefield of Evesham, and places relevant to Simon in Paris, Normandy, Poitou and Gascony helped her craft the vivid scenes in the series. In addition, Ashe walked where Simon, his peers and enemies walked, even retracing King Henry's tour of Paris with King Louis. She visited La Reole, Simon's stronghold in Gascony with its grand tower room, the towns where he held court as Viceroy, each of the cities he conquered in England, and the spring that formed at Evesham where he died. The use of primary sources coupled with practical application enabled Ashe to have a keen understanding of the cultural and physical world in which Montfort lived. She took no detail for granted. To further illustrate how Ashe's practical approach buttressed her research: she drew upon her time spent in theater as a playwright, director, and actor. In a stage play everything written must be do-able and there must be continuity. If an actor is instructed to pick something up, he must be told when and where to put it down. Every detail must be very clear in the playwright's, or the director's, mind. Every scene requires to be played out in a logical and well-informed fashion. Historical fiction authors can gain much from Ashe's method of investigation, and readers will appreciate the tenor of her novels. Not a little space is left at the end of each novel where she details the flow of her logic, providing the phrase in question, the source, cultural milieu, and oftentimes the direct reference in her source. Many historical fiction authors devote a page or two devoted to source information or perhaps a paragraph that states that the novel is a fictional work. Ashe clarifies from the outset in her novels that Montfort is written "under the aegis of fiction" because of the gaps in the historical record. She does take liberties that would not be allowed a historian, which is why she novelized this account of Simon de Montfort and calls it "informed speculation." However, the evidence and passages where she used conjecture, which she provides in the notes section illuminates her logic and reasoning when she fills in the historical gaps. Some might call her evidences circumstantial, or say that her cause and effect approach lacks validity. But no historian of so distant a time in the past works with complete evidence. All must speculate, and many repeat others' earlier speculations, making them appear, by repetition, to be "facts." Ashe makes her cases on each point with conviction. Montfort is not a dry work of research, but a fast-paced story of adventure where Ashe's 34 years of investigative research have resulted in sweeping, life-like scenes. She shares with readers the delight she experienced during her journey in a way that connects with her audience. She has critics, but her answers parallel the reasoned approach she takes in her novels; she answers with a dexterity, grace, and polish that few authors could replicate. Many would ask why she would spend 34 years researching such an ambiguous individual and novelizing his life. But her reasons are quite simple: "My intent is not to write a definitive biography, but to rouse public interest in a man whose life truly changed the world — who has affected all of our lives up to the present, and will into the future as long as governments seek their authenticity through people's elected representatives." vist Katherine Ashe at her author's page on amazon.com to experience Simon de Montfort's 13th century world and visit her blog to learn more about Simon de Montfort. Scott Higginbotham

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Print or Digital?

There is a debate among self-published authors right now as to whether it is worth producing a print book when eBooks are outselling print. Cost considerations are often cited as the reason to only offer an eBook. An SP author obviously needs to sell quite a few books to recoup the outlay of expenses associated with a print book. BUT, there is a problem for the author that he or she may not realize, specifically in rural America. Very few if any people living in rural areas have access to high-speed internet. Yes there are satellite internet providers but for those of you who have never dealt with them, this service is not cheap and it is not dependable. The equipment charges and monthly fees put it out of reach for many rural dwellers. Moreover, snow, rain and clouds can interrupt service (and frequently do!). Some social thought leaders believe that rural America is falling behind in the information revolution for just this reason. The New York Times stated that this, in effect, is a blow against equal opportunity. Whether true or not, it certainly affects eBooks and digital publishing. This invariably makes frequent shopping on sites like amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com a rare experience for those in rural communities. How does this affect us as self-publishers? Well, there is no question that eBooks are outselling print books―the statistics don't lie. But there is still an audience out there for print books. There are those who can't take advantage of the digital explosion and those that don't care to; readers who like the feel and smell of a book and want to line their shelves with their beloved books. The brutal fact is that authors who only publish in an eBook format are simply not taking advantage of this group of consumers, even if it is an ever shrinking group! Here are my thoughts on this – First, if you can only do one, print or eBook, always have an eBook version of your book. Authors who choose to only publish a print book are out-of-step with the times.

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Self-Published Books are our life at indieBRAG!

Literary Snobbery There is no question that self-publishing has created a plethora of poorly written and badly edited books because there are no controls over what is published or by whom. Now anyone can publish anything: good, bad, or downright ugly. And they do. However, the risk of purchasing a "bad" book is not limited to indie books. Have you ever picked up a book published by one of the major publishing houses, read a few pages and then asked yourself, "Really? This is a best seller?" Of course you have, so let's get past the assumption that all traditionally published books are good. They are not! Many a successful author has written a bestseller and then fallen into the trap of pursuing quantity over quality, and relying on their name recognition to sell follow-up books that fall far short of the first one. And the big publishing houses are all too willing to join them in this money grab. That said, in the burgeoning world of self-published books, there are diamonds in the coal bin but few professional reviewers are willing to dig for them; I guess they don't want to get their hands dirty. For example, I had an experience with a book reviewer at a major newspaper. I asked her to read a self-published book that was getting some great reviews by our readers. She was very interested until she asked who published it. "Oh, no," she said, "I can't read that." "Why not?" I asked, "Ralph Waldo Emerson self-published some of his books". "That's different. That was a long time ago" (Really?) "Well did you know that John Grisham also self-published at first?" "This author is no John Grisham!" "How do you know that if you aren't willing to give the author a chance?" "Do NOT send me that book". Click. Literary snobbery lives! Our readers are reading as fast as they can to identify self-published books that deserve to be read. Now I will confess that the majority of the books we review are not chosen to receive a B.R.A.G. MedallionTM. That is because we want our medallion to represent a certain standard of excellence, and thereby assure potential purchasers that the book is worth their time and money. But it is encouraging to note that our readers, many of whom had not read a self-published book before, are excited about how many really good books are out there―our mission is to keep finding them!

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Six Steps to Sustaining an Indie Career

Six Steps to Sustaining an Indie Career By Scott Nicholson (Scott Nicholson is author of the new mystery thriller Liquid Fear—available for 99 cents at Amazon, BN.com, and Smashwords—as well as The Skull Ring, The Red Church, Disintegration, Speed Dating with the Dead, and 20 other books. He resides at hauntedcomputer.com.) I am not sure anyone yet knows how to sustain an indie career in the digital era, despite some people who have been self-publishing since the dinosaur days of paper. The only ones who have careers are those who are already closing in on their indie million. If it all ended tomorrow, they could probably manage okay with some smart investing. Those who are getting a decent income right now could see it go one of two ways. If it ended tomorrow, a solid percentage would immediately shift to giving their books away to “build audience,” even if a paying audience down the road seems unlikely. Those who quit their day jobs to go indie can probably find other jobs, and have a great story for the grandkids about when they were ‘real authors.” A few will continue to parlay indie success into a corporate career. But even corporate…

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Use of Social Media: Scary but Necessary

Use of Social Media: Scary but Necessary After writing my first book and self-publishing it through a company who does such things, I thought that the tough and time-consuming work was completed. Boy was I mistaken! I quickly realized that the process of promoting my book was every bit as hard and time consuming. And, I realized that using social media was going to be a huge asset to promoting my book. Now, I must admit, at that point in time I was only using Facebook. I had begun on Twitter and had abandoned it because I did not want to take the time to learn how it functioned and Facebook seemed easier for the novice to understand. Further, blogging was a totally unknown media that I only presumed was some new swear word when people mentioned it in conversation with me. I was really not any where near the mainstream of social media: not in the ball park as they say. So, I went back to the company that helped me publish and selected their social media program option. For six weeks, I had my own media publicist who taught me about Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogging and Hootsuite, a…

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Doug Carlyle

Doug Carlyle   My second novel, Vinegarone, is in the hands of beta readers and my editor. I'm looking forward to self-publishing that novel this summer or early autumn. I attended a writers' conference this past April sponsored by the Houston Writers Guild, of which I am a member. The conference served two purposes. First, it provided some long overdue time for me to surround myself with like-minded people who enjoy writing. It was during one session that I experienced a badly needed "ah-ha!" moment, enabling me to clarify a particular weakness in the plot of Vinegarone that had been nagging me for far too long. That moment of inspiration allowed me to finish the novel to my satisfaction, and I am my own worst critic. I will never publish junk! Secondly, it reaffirmed my belief in self-publishing. If a noteworthy agent contacted me tomorrow and expressed interest in my novel would I foam at the mouth? Perhaps. But let me share a bit of my experience in Houston. I was particularly struck by the break-out sessions lead by authors Rhiannon Frator and Nikki Loftin. Rhiannon Frater http://rhiannonfrater.com She is a well known, self-published author of zombie/vampire books. She has…

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Writing Tips from Joe Perrone, Jr.

Writing Tips from Joe Perrone, Jr. Inspiration - I find ideas everywhere there are news articles, books, movies, real-life situations.  Sometimes I'll be reading a non-fiction book, and something in it will give me a direction for one of my books.  This is where I got the idea for Twice Bitten.  Another "germ" came to me when I was mowing my lawn, and resulted in the genesis for Changes, a literary novel that I am working on, periodically.  Naturally, real life experiences help me to flesh out events and characters.  Inspiration?  It's all around you!  Use it. Routine - My routine has evolved over many, many years.  Once I have a "germ" of an idea, I begin roughing it out in an outline.  Then, I decide what characters I'll need to tell my story.  I like to do a little "bio" for each character, which includes age, height, weight, interests, hair color, eyes, etc.  I save these for reference as I proceed with my writing.  Each day, when I'm moved to write, I first go over what I've written in my previous session, and make editing, proofing changes as needed.  I don't write a single new word until I have…

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First Year as a Newborn and Newbie Published Author

First Year as a Newborn and Newbie Published Author Last year I rang in the New Year with my daughter, who had just had her first baby. I was exhausted (she had had a difficult delivery) and elated at being a grandmother. This New Year’s day, as I look back at the wonderful year of watching that sweet grandson grow and develop, I can’t help but notice some of the parallels between my experiences as a newly published independent author and that of my grandson. Last New Year as my grandson was trying to figure out how to nurse, when I added up my first month of sales of Maids of Misfortune, the historical mystery I had self-published in both ebook and print form, I discovered I had sold only 47 books, mostly to friends and family. I had an author website (but no reviews), and a blog (where I hadn’t posted anything yet), and I had read enough advice on self-publishing to know that I had a lot of work to do if I wanted anyone else to even discover my book existed. In the first six months of 2010, as my grandson learned to hold his head up,…

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A Note from a Graphic Designer on Book Cover Designs

A Note from a Graphic Designer on Book Cover Designs I cannot stress enough how important it is to have an attractive and professionally designed cover for your novel. The cover is the first impression any potential reader will have of your book. And despite that old adage 'Do not judge a book by its cover', nearly everyone does! Even before I became a graphic designer, I would only pick up books in the shops that had covers that I found attractive and were obviously well done. A cover quickly pasted together in a word processor or novice-level graphic program sticks out like a sore thumb, and people automatically assume the book inside is just as un-polished as the cover without even picking up the book! You've no doubt poured your life's blood into writing your book - let it be represented in the best possible light with an expertly designed cover. The investment is well worth it. When you begin planning the cover jacket layout for your novels, take the time to research existing publications within your genre, and consider what attracts you to various covers. And then talk to a designer about representing your novel with a well…

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Going ‘Independent’? (Self or Assisted Publishing)

Going 'Independent'? (Self or Assisted Publishing) Many writers – and not just novices - frustrated by the endless arrival of enough reject slips to paper the downstairs cloakroom, are turning to self- or assisted publishing – now more commonly called ‘Independent Publishing’. ‘But,’ I hear you cry, ‘isn’t this the dreaded vanity publishing?’ In a word: ‘No!’ Vanity publishers take your manuscript as it stands; their only input is to turn it into print, glitches and all, crop the pages to make it look somewhat like a book and slap a cover on it – for which they will charge you through the nose, no matter how well – or otherwise – you have written it. Your book is not produced to sell in bookstores, but for you, your friends and family to admire and enjoy. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong in that - if that is all you want. To self publish implies a greater degree of author-involvement. Indeed, and as the term suggests, it is to do everything for yourself bar the actual printing. From obtaining an ISBN, to finding a printer to print your novel; an artist to design the layout and create the cover; a copy-editor…

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