Thursday, June 27, 2013

Introducing "Hunt to Read"

After months of traipsing around in the shadows of dark hallways, cloaked in the chilly blanket of secrecy, I'm pleased to announce my latest business venture:

In an era where bookstores are shuttered every day, Hunt to Read recreates the excitement of hunting through bookshelves for those hidden gems that one would stumble across in a bookstore, but online. We eschew stuff like "virtual bookshelves," and try to boil the experience down to its essential components for readers: look at the cover, if interested, click through and look at the blurb, let us know what you think of both via a rating, and then if you like it enough, click through to find the book on various retailers.

For authors, we provide a suite of cutting-edge analytics that show you how often folks clicked on your cover to get to the book detail page, how often they expand the blurb, how often folks click through to the various online bookstores, etc.

It may not seem like a big deal to the layperson, but this kind of data is absolute gold to even traditionally-published writers and even publishers, who don't get much in the way of feedback aside from sales numbers.

We can do this in large part because my business partner, Rick, is a analytics programming genius. Even though this is just the "first build," the analytics interface is already incredibly polished and reliable, and is drawing rave reviews from the folks who have already put their books on the site.

We think there's great value in these analytics, so down the road we'll charge a small monthly fee to list books, as well as access to other cool stuff we have planned for authors and publishers down the line.

For the moment, though, we need books on our site so that our readers don't get bored! So we're offering unlimited free 6 month listings for a limited time to build our library. That includes full access to our analytics and a spot on the site, absolutely no risk, we don't take your credit card number or anything.

Eventually, we have some exciting new improvements waiting to enhance the reader experience, all kinds of good stuff that I think people will really enjoy. And, of course, once we have enough books to make it workable, we'll separate out books by genre, devices they're available for (i.e. Kindle, Nook, iBooks, etc.).

But for now, we need more books. If you're an author, feel free to list your book via the link below, absolutely free, no risk, for six months:

If you're a reader, by all means click through and take a look at the interface; we're always looking for feedback (both positive and negative) on how to improve the reader experience. Know that a lot of cool new stuff is in the works for readers in the future, but for now, browse and enjoy.

And by all means, let your writer (and publisher) friends know that they can list their books for free; we need more listings so folks have more books to browse.

Happy to answer any questions in the comments, but for now, just very excited to finally be able to tell you all about the site!


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

So You Want to Write a Book...Tools of the Trade (or "What You Need to Publish Your Indie Book For Cheap")

So you've thought about what it takes to write a book, and you have a killer idea, as well as some prep work done on that idea. Great! Congrats on making it this far.

I know you're itching to "start writing, damn it!", but before you do, there's a good reason why you should pause and take a personal inventory before you start.

I mean that literally; inventory all of the writing tools currently at your fingertips. It might be something as simple as "Laptop, Word, notebook, pen." That's pretty much what I started out with, but I'm going to tell you right now, especially if you plan on writing more than one book, you'll be better served by beefing up your toolbox a bit before you start. While it's possible to, say, convert a manuscript from Word to a program like Scrivener after you start, it's much, much easier to just start in Scrivener and go from there.

"What's Scrivener?" I'm glad you asked...

The Tools

Idea Notebook: This is the small notebook you should be carrying around with you at all times. I prefer the Moleskine Ruled Pocket Notebook, especially since I tend to be pretty tough on stuff in my pockets and Moleskine has some of the most durable products in the business. I've also had success with the thinner Moleskine notebooks, which you can get in a pack of three for a little less cash.

Budget Option: Pocket notebooks can go for as little as $2 for a two pack at a place like Target.

Larger Notebook: I also like to have a larger notebook that I can use for mind-mapping, free-writing, and ideas. I usually go with Five Star Three-Subject Notebooks, since, again, they're durable and high-quality. But anything from a legal pad to one of those black-and-white-covered Composition Journals that everyone remembers from high school should be just fine.

Budget Option: A cheap notebook or legal pad is available for under $1.

Pens: Ever since grade school, I've been a bit of a pen snob. I don't have any idea why; I just like the "flow" that a superior rolling ball gives me. Though back then I preferred the trusty old Pilot V5s and V7s, I since had a mishap with a cap on one of those, so now I favor retractable gel-based ink. For my money, there's nothing better than the Uniball Signo Blue Pens. They're a bit expensive, but like I said, I'm a pen snob--feel free to use cheap pens or even ones you "conveniently forget to return" at hotels. Keep in mind, I like blue ink for versatility's sake, since you might want to use these for editing proofs of your paperbacks, as well.

Budget Option: You can't beat free pens that are given away at any number of events. Barring that, you can find 60 more than adequate ballpoint pens for a little over $6.00, and can probably do better than that if you're hunting for deals.

Computer: Even if you write out every word of your book longhand with a quill pen on parchment, you're going to need a computer to publish your book. If you have the money to splurge, I strongly recommend the MacBook Pro. I got the most budget-conscious 13" edition almost two years ago, and it still runs like brand new, despite how many different programs I constantly keep open on it.
Budget Option: If you're working on a budget, or don't feel comfortable with a Mac, I'd suggest looking at sites like Tiger Direct, New Egg, or Buy Dig, as they run sales on cheaper laptops quite frequently. Be sure to look up reviews on CNet or a smilar site to make sure that you aren't getting a lemon. Also keep in mind that if you want to do your own covers in inDesign, you'll need a machine capable of handling that beast of a program. The best I can do for something that is "functional" (but likely can't handle inDesign) is a $199 refurb from TigerDirect. The link takes you to their current refurb deals--that's going to be about as good as you can do.

Scrivener: I can't sing the praises of Scrivener enough. When I started out as an indie writer, I thought for sure I'd have to spend a ton of money formatting books, not to mention the headaches that become apparent with Word once you get over 30,000 words or so in your manuscript.

Scrivener is the one product that absolutely is not optional for the writer starting out today. It's only $45, and will pay for itself by the time you finish your first book. For now, just know that a formatter will charge you $50 to get your book properly formatted into a single file type (.MOBI, .EPUB, or even .DOCX--you'll likely need at least two of the three). Scrivener will do it quickly and painlessly for no additional charge once you've bought the program. You can try it for free at the link at the beginning of this paragraph; I did, and had bought the full version within an hour.

Budget Option: There is none here. Even if you have to scrimp and save, do it to get Scrivener.

Scrivener for Dummies: Gwen Hernandez has done a wonderful job of putting together a resource to help you fully harness the power of this wonderful, powerful program. Get a copy of this book and start reading it, cover-to-cover, in your free time while writing. Even if you have to put it in your (ahem) "reading room" to get it done, if you catch my drift.

Budget Option: You can go through the Literature and Latte tutorial site for free and Google various Scrivener support options for nothing. I still prefer Gwen's book, though, since she has all of the info in one place.

Microsoft Word: I know, I know: "Word's so expensive! I thought you said that this Scrivener did everything for you!" Scrivener does a lot, but as I've discovered more about advanced formatting of paper books, I've found that having a copy of Word helps a lot. I still write blog posts in Word, for what it's worth. If you're only putting up ebooks, then I think you can get away with Scrivener just fine. If you want to have your book available in print, or even if you want to start a blog as a promotional tool, you're going to have to bite the bullet and get a copy of Word.

Budget Option: I really, really dislike Open Office, but some people swear by it. It's likely "good enough" if you just want a Word substitute for blog posts and such. I cannot speak to its functionality as far as blocking and formatting a print book, though. It's free, so have at it.

Adobe inDesign: inDesign is a tool that separates the pros from the wannabes. A lot of folks see that I'm paying $20 a month for a piece of software (the horror!) and think that I've lost my mind. While I have lost my mind for other reasons entirely, I can't tell you how often I use this program to make covers for books and short stories (like the cover for Rogue, at right), for articles that I put up on Scribd, for header and footer pictures, for title pages; the list goes on-and-on. Sure you might be able to get by with a Photoshop facsimile like GIMP, or you may think it's cool to pay $50-500 per cover, but I've already gotten the $240 of value from this program so far this year and then some. On a side note, if you are going to use inDesign to make covers, I'd highly recommend taking a class like Dean Wesley Smith's cover design course; it may seem like a chunk of cash, but consider that the (admittedly awesome) cover for Jesus Was a Time Traveler cost me $349, and would now cost $549. DWS's cover class has made it so that I feel comfortable enough making my own covers for the cost of some good art off of Dreamstime.

Budget Option: Hire a cover designer who's starting out to do your cover on the cheap. This can run anywhere from $20 to $50 (and higher, if you want a pro). These folks used to be all over the KDP boards, but they haven't been too active as of late.  Still, Google searches are your friend here. I cannot stress this enough: if you don't know how to make a pro-looking cover, outsource it to someone who does.

A PDF Reader: Finally: something for free! I love using Preview on Mac, but Adobe has made some upgrades to their free Reader program that make it a worth rival to Apple's product. You don't necessarily need it at the start, but when looking at print covers and formatting your book proof for print, it will be invaluable.

The Kindle Reader App for Your PC or Mac: You need this to make sure the formatting in your book looks okay; no weirdly-spaced lines or hanging orphans, if possible. The good part is that the Kindle apps for computers are the absolute worst that your book is going to look. Sure, the spacing might get a bit wonky on your phone reader from time-to-time, but I think folks are more forgiving of that because it still happens with the big-time publishers, as well.


I think that about covers it. Did I miss anything that anyone else uses to write and/or publish? If so, let me know in the comments.

Next Time: Start Writing!

Previous Posts in this Series:

1) Before You Start

 D.J. Gelner is a fiction and freelance writer from St. Louis, Missouri. Check out his books, available at his Amazon Author Page and on Nook, iBooks, and Kobo. Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here). E-mail him directly at

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Writing Update: The "Hack" Series Now Available Everywhere

Quick writing update before I get back to the "So You Want to Write a Book...?" series tomorrow:

-The Hack books are finally out from Amazon's lock and key. Alright, alright; a lot of folks got to download them for free because of KDP Select's free days (stay tuned to the SYWTWAB series for an explanation).

That said, I can finally offer Hack: Innings 1-3 for free on Kobo, Smashwords, and Apple. Hopefully Amazon and B&N will price-match that soon; until then, I've posted a PDF of the Word file on Scribd; that'll have to do for now.

Apple is still lagging behind as of this post; I'll get their info up as soon as they put all of the books up. Until then, here are the links for Nook, Kobo, and Smashwords:

Nook: Innings 1-3, Innings 4-6, Innings 7-9, The Complete Game (all innings)Kobo: Innings 1-3, Innings 4-6, Innings 7-9, The Complete Game

Smashwords: Innings 1-3, Innings 4-6, Innings 7-9, The Complete Game

Apple (when they go live): Innings 1-3, Innnings 4-6, Innings 7-9, The Complete Game 

-Note that Hack: The Complete Game is on sale for $3.99 on all of those sites for now; just my gift to you all with those devices for being so patient.

-I also have a few signed copies of JWATT to give away. The drawing will be July 19th. To enter to win, simply add your email address to the box at the upper right of the page to join my email list. I promise to email the list before anyone else whenever a new book is released...and that's it. No spam, no dumb-ass newsletter, just notifications whenever I release a new book. Period. Exclamation point? No, just period. The winners will be drawn from everyone on my list on the 19th. For those Rogue readers out there, I think this is a lottery even Joe Grissom could get behind...

-Writing has unfortunately been subsumed to business the past few days. I have made headway on a couple of my non-fiction books as of late, and I have a few posts banked up for the "So You Want to Write a Book" series.

-Corcoran Was a Time Traveler: Going well. A good amount of catch-up has been in the works for our fearless Dr. Templeton thus far. At about 14,300 words. Hope to bang out 5,000 or so tonight, but we'll see...

-I've decided to move Twilight of the Gods to a pen name once it's done (at 4,000 of 8,000 words thus far), one that shouldn't be too tough for aspiring internet sleuths to discern. Everything under that name will be $2.99, but will also be available for Amazon Prime members to borrow in perpetuity. Still the same writing that you've come to enjoy (or at least I hope you enjoy; otherwise, pal, I think you're on the wrong site), just a different business model that will hopefully expand my reach. Yes, there will be a post about pen names in the SYWTWAB series...probably a few months down the road.

-That's all for now. I'll be back tomorrow with another exciting writing post. Until then, thanks for reading...

 D.J. Gelner is a fiction and freelance writer from St. Louis, Missouri. Check out his books, available at his Amazon Author Page and on Nook, iBooks, and Kobo. Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here). E-mail him directly at

Friday, June 21, 2013

So You Want to Write a Book...The Idea Hunt


 In the last post in this series, we tackled some of the big-picture ideas you need to think about before sitting down to write a book.

I assume that because you moved on to this post, you've spent hours upon hours agonizing over every little detail therein. No? Well, I hope that you at least thought about the points raised and figured out that yes, you do indeed still want to write a book.

Once you've made that commitment, you're going to need something to write about.

You need an idea.

As any writer who has finished a book knows, ideas are the essential currency of our trade. An idea that I had is why you're reading this post right now.

I also realize that a lot of times ideas are tough to come by, especially when you're sitting in front of the computer, "ready to write."

Most folks have been taught to either repress their creative brains or redirect their creative side's efforts toward other, less rewarding tasks through years of schooling and work.

You know the ability's there; it shows itself in the worst times, while you're on the subway, or in a meeting, or waiting to get an oil change. That "aha!" flash of brilliance that would make a great jumping off point for a story, or a fine premise for a non-fiction book.

You try to will yourself to remember those moments, those hints of genius, through sheer brainpower and memory.

Unfortunately, most of those ideas are ultimately lost to the ether, forgotten amid piles of bills, soccer practices for the kids, and increasing demands at work.

You know..."life."

Fortunately, there's help for you yet. It's a little something I like to call "The Idea Harvest."

The Idea Harvest

You're going to have to do a little bit of work for this one:

1) Go out and get a little notebook. I like the smaller moleskines since I'm a bit rough on notebooks and they have a leather cover, but you can get small, pocket-sized notebooks at Target or Wal-Mart in packs of 2 for $2.

2) Get a Decent Pen. My favorites are UniBall Signos, preferably in blue so that I can use them for editing proofs if need be. They write smoothly and retract, which prevents mishaps like your Pilot V5 leaking all over your jeans pocket because you forgot to put the cap back on (I still wear those pants like a badge of honor to this day).

Once you have both, carry them around with you everywhere. Get into the habit of writing those ideas down. Even if the idea seems stupid, or it's a joke, or just a line of dialogue, write everything down in that notebook.

Before you know it, you'll be using the other notebook in the two pack.

"Hey Gramps, (since I'm sure all of the kids still go around calling thirty-year-olds "Gramps") I have something called a smart phone." Yes, yes--I'm well aware. I have one too. I even use it sometimes if I can get enough light and my reading glasses to sit just right...

Admittedly, I don't carry around a notebook often for this specific reason--I have something to capture ideas near me pretty much twenty-four hours a day.

But let me ask you: you also have a smartphone with you constantly, but how many notes have you taken with it? How many voice memos have you dashed off to yourself all this time? A few? Maybe?

That's what I thought.

The whole point of this exercise is to get you to carry the notebook around as a reminder that you should be jotting ideas down. Only after you have that beaten into you by months of carrying notebooks around should you wean yourself off of it and go back to using your phone to take notes.

Um..."Book Ideas?"

Right! Now that you've started taking down copious, insightful, hilarious notes, you should have plenty of them. Or maybe you've always had a great premise for a novel, but didn't know where to start or where it would go.

That's totally fine.

The next step is figuring out how you can put together an entire book relying on some of those disjointed, seemingly unrelated ideas that you're writing down. More appropriately: you have a premise, so how do you fill it in with ideas.

Non-Fiction Books: Make an Outline

Outlines are the lifeblood of non-fiction books. It's the rare non-fiction piece that can be insightful and entertaining without an outline. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is one of the few that comes to mind, and that's about a lunatic genius who gets hopped up on all kinds of drugs and hallucinates 3/4ths of the book, anyway.

Outlines work in non-fiction for a good reason: they're a great way to organize your thoughts into a cogent whole. Heading, subheading, supporting points. BOOM! Each chapter gets its own heading. If you decide to go with a traditional publisher, they'll want to see an outline anyway. Outline, outline, outline.

If you find yourself stuck after three or so ideas for chapters, don't worry: all that means is that you need to focus your idea harvesting for the next few days, weeks, months, etc. Think about the book whenever you have free time in short, directed microbursts. What could you provide that would be helpful to your readers?

That raises another good point: ultimately non-fiction comes down to one thing: value.  What kind of value are you giving your reader? Especially in a world where tons of great content is available for free, how will you make your stuff stand out?

Fiction: Plotter vs. Pantser

No, that heading doesn't refer to what you think it least I don't think so...

Fiction writers tend to fall into two camps. There are those who plot out every twist and turn ahead of time, writing incredibly detailed outlines to the point that they just need to "fill in the blanks" come writing time.

Then, there are those of us who prefer to create characters and throw them in a situation, with little or no idea of how the book is going to end, and see what happens.

As you can probably tell, I tend more toward that "seat of my pants" style of writing, as do Stephen King and Dean Wesley Smith. Joe Konrath is more of a "plotter," writing meticulous outlines for his thrillers and mysteries.

While it's absolutely true that I'm a "pantser," I still find that I write better when I have a loose idea of where I'm going to go. Most importantly, I often need a mental picture of a book's final scene to keep me going (no worries, JWATT readers, I can tell you exactly how books 2 and 3 are going to end right now, if you put a gun to my head. Please don't, though...).

So as a crutch, before I start, I make what is called a "mind map" to keep the story chugging along should I get stuck. To the right, I've put up a picture of a mind map for a story in my forthcoming Debt of Souls series that I decided not to write. I've been using these things since high school--for whatever reason, my brain learns better following the trail of bubbles from start to finish.

I'm not terribly loyal to these mind maps; probably 75% of the stuff in them makes it to the page. Nonetheless, they're there in case I hit a roadblock or get bogged down in a scene.

Then again, like DWS, you might get bored if you know where a story is going before you start, or, like Konrath, you might feel lost without an outline. I tried outlining, and it was far too constraining. I've tried going the other way and not mind-mapping at all, but my brain seems to come up with the last scene of the story shortly after I start anyway.

I'd suggest trying both approaches, seeing what works better for you, and going with that.


"Homework? Boo!" Fine--go ahead being one of the millions of people like younger me who whines and complains about wanting to write a book without actually ever doing it.

Do some prep work on your idea. If it's a non-fiction book, write a detailed outline of your idea. Try to anticipate questions that others might have along the way and answer those in your prose.

If you have an idea for a fiction book, try outlining it or mind-mapping it before starting. Some people like doing character sketches--I've found these to be a waste of time for me, but others swear by them. Fiction writing is a lot more of an art than a science. Keep that in mind as you start to put fingers to keyboard.

Do you have any writing tips that help you? Leave them in the comments.

Next time: tools of the trade.

 D.J. Gelner is a fiction and freelance writer from St. Louis, Missouri. Check out his books, available at his Amazon Author Page and on Nook, iBooks, and Kobo. Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here). E-mail him at

Monday, June 17, 2013

Author Interview: J.M. Ney-Grimm

After a rousing first interview with the great Stuart Jaffe, the Author Interview series makes its triumphant return!

Today's victim guest? J.M. Ney-Grimm, who writes in an amazingly rich, lush, green, Norse-based world filled with trolls and fantasy, or as I like to call it, "New Zealand whenever Peter Jackson visits."

I had a chance to catch up with J.M. via email in between her luxurious jaunts with her family to the beach. Enjoy!

Thanks for dropping by, J.M.! It's always nice to be able to point to somebody and say, "See–this person's done a LOT nerdier stuff than I have!", especially since there are so few people with such credentials! Explain a little bit about your experience designing a number of fantasy-based games.

Too true! What could be more nerdly than working for a game company? Must plead guilty! I was with Iron Crown Enterprises between 1984 and 2000. I did a little bit of everything: painted maps, wrote adventures, edited the Narnia chose-your-own-peril and then the Middle-earth role playing games. The grandest fun was art directing the Middle-Earth Collectible Card Game. Sixteen-hundred paintings by more than fifty of the most talented fantasy artists in the world. (John Howe, Rob Alexander, Ted Nasmith, Liz Danforth, and many more.) An acquaintance once compared it to competing in the Olympics. What a ride!

I also understand that you are an avid Settler of Catan. This one's a multi-parter: first, do you let your kids win? Or do you ruthlessly hoard resources from them to dash their hopes of victory (hey, it's a tough world out there...)? Second, any general tips? Are you more of a D-card drawer, or a city-builder for points?

Evil laughter. The first half-dozen games? Let them win to build their affection for the game and assure myself opponents. Then pull the ruthless card. Tips? Ask my daughter; she’s the one who wins all the time. (See genius remark, below. I suspect she lets me win sometimes, just to make sure I’ll keep playing.) My strategy: city-builder all the way.

Most of my friends with kids have a tough enough time denying that one child is the favorite. You perhaps have the opposite problem: your kids are twins, so they're probably a lot alike...right? Or are they?

Got it in one. A boy and a girl who are alike in being…spirited! (Parental euphemism for strong-willed, scarily intelligent, and complete darlings.) My husband and I lost the battle to rule our roost the instant they were born!

When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer? Who were some of your early writing influencers?

1969. What a year: the moon landing, my own encounter with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, followed by reading A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. That’s when my hero worship of writers began. I never dared aspire to the profession, until (willy, nilly) Kellor grabbed my imagination with such vigor in 2007 that I had to write his story (and Lorelin’s) in Troll-magic. Of course, I’d written plenty (a good 2 million words or so) before then. I just didn’t call myself a writer. Strange, that. About halfway through Troll-magic, I tried the phrase, “I’m a writer,” and liked the sound of it. My strongest influences (and favorite authors): Robin McKinley (Beauty), Susan Cooper (The Dark is Rising), Diana Wynne Jones (Deep Secret), and Lois McMaster Bujold (The Curse of Chalion).

In reading your book, Troll-magic, I was stunned by some of the jaw-dropping  pictures you paint for the reader. You also have a background in design; does your brain function in a more visual manner? I know mine does to the extent that I think in "films" a lot of the time, trying to frame scenes in my head. Just curious if you do the same when writing.

Now, this is a weird thing: I’m beyond visual while living my life. Every sunset, every tree, every scene of beauty seizes me and astonishes me. But when I’m writing, emotion dominates my awareness. I become my point-of-view character, feeling what he or she feels, communicating what he or she perceives to be important.

That said, Troll-magic is a very visual novel. The landscapes of Silmaren enchant me, and the incredible interior of Kellor’s magical palace makes me want to live there!

Not only are you extremely proficient in writing vivid fantasy scenes, but you also marvel at the physical world around us, perhaps pondering how a bunch of apes on a rock hurtling through space can ever truly profess to know what's going on in a universe of infinite size based on our very narrow measurements of a tiny portion of the visible light and matter around us. That said, why is physics so damned interesting?

Brian Greene. It’s all his fault! I’ll read anything he writes, but his first two books (The Elegant Universe and The Fabric of the Cosmos) are marvelous. Okay, that answer’s cheating; Greene may have converted me to loving physics, but surely the field has merit beyond his authorly persuasion! My father studied physics in college, and I stand with him: who wouldn’t want to know the ultimate explanations for the universe around us? A piece of physics-related trivia: I derived the foundations of the “magic” in Troll-magic by extrapolating from superstring theory. Is my novel really science-fiction? You could maybe make the case, but…no. Grin!

Back to Troll-magic: Lorelin is an interesting protagonist, equal parts Katniss Everdeen and Belle from Beauty and the Beast. Was there any real-life inspiration for Lorelin? More generally, how do you come up with such "jump off the page" characters?

Lorelin is her own self. Strongly so, although I’m flattered that you compare her to Katniss and Belle. I tried to change her appearance, which struck me as clichéd. Surely hazel eyes and a different hair color would be more interesting. But she stubbornly went back to being blond and blue-eyed, despite my best efforts. Her personality was just as forcefully hers: unconventional, strong-willed but kind, and worshipping at music’s altar. I felt no desire to change her nature, only to render her with truth.

How did I do it? Diving into memory and feeling. When I saw red with rage, when fear shocked me motionless, when sudden loss hollowed me, when delight fizzed through me, when joy enraptured me—I lived all those moments and more in bringing my characters to life.

Troll-magic also has some elements of eastern philosophy, including the idea of energy radices and herbal remedies. Though they absolutely work, how did you decide to merge two cultures separated by thousands of miles for your story?

It is a weird juxtaposition, isn’t it? A Norse folk tale married to the disciplines of the far east. The merge evolved when I pondered trolls, the impishly malicious Scandinavian type, not the muscular Middle-Earth type. What were they really? How did they come to exist? I combined those questions with my own study and practice of yoga to produce the entire magic system for my North-lands. Even for fantasy authors, “write what you know” comes into play!

Rapid fire time! Favorite vacation spot?

Beach. Any beach. So long as there is sand and ocean. (Not, so very not, John Varley’s “steel beach.”) I could wish I were “between luxurious jaunts with my family to the beach!" Just one such jaunt this summer. Grin!

Vacation spot that you haven't been to yet, but really want to visit?

Hmm. Japan? Been there, done that. (Fabulous place.) England? Italy? Hawaii? Ditto, ditto, ditto. Dominica? Yes, definitely. Dominica, that amazing nature island in the Caribbean. And Sweden after that. (My visit to the real world North-lands at age 2 doesn’t count!)

PC or Mac?

Love graphic design too much for it to be anything but Mac.

Leno, Letterman, Kimmel, or Stewart/Colbert?

None of the above. ::shy smile:: My husband is the man in my life who makes me laugh.

Finally, favorite movie of all time?

The Two Towers (director’s cut). Arwen’s reverie of her future is sublime.

Thanks J.M.! If you have any questions for her, please feel free to leave them in the comments. And don't forget to check out J.M.'s other books on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords, as well as her blog.

D.J. Gelner is a fiction and freelance writer from St. Louis, Missouri. Check out his books, available at his Amazon Author Page and on Nook, iBooks, and Kobo. Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here). E-mail him at

Monday, June 10, 2013

So You Want to Write a Book...Before You Start

Ever since I chose to make a go of it as a writer, I've had a number of people ask "How do you do it?"

"What? Write a book? I just sit in a chair and keep writing until, ta da! Book complete!"

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. It's a pet peeve of mine: someone gets asked a question in an interview to the tune of, "So tell me about your big break?" And then the interviewee replies with, "Well, I was out in L.A., trying to make a go of it as an actor, and then I auditioned for Big Network Sex-Crime Procedural and got the lead!"

Oftentimes, this is a gross oversimplification, much like my hypothetical answer above.

The topic has come up enough that I think it's worthwhile to get some of this stuff out into the open, out of the dank basement of the indie fraternity-sorority type group ("Now with extra ramen!") and into the sunlight.

Originally, I tried to sit down and put this all in one gigantic mega-post, which would've easily set a record for this site (a record that I think currently stands at 7,500 words for one of the Power Rankings posts...yikes!).

So instead, I'm going to break this up into a bunch of posts over the coming weeks and months in the hopes that I might just inspire someone else with a book inside of them to spend the (little) money and the (outrageous amounts of) time to make their dream a reality.

The first installment will focus on things you should consider before you even sit down to write the book. This is largely advice that I wish I would have heard before starting down the path of becoming an indie author, not because of any want of looking (more on that later), but rather because some lessons can only be taught through experience. All of the pontificating in the world won't necessarily help a lick until you get out there and actually try to sell something that you've poured a good amount of time, energy, and emotion into.

If this doesn't interest you, by all means, feel free to come back when the usual ridiculousness is back—I assure you, you won't have to wait too long. But if you're even a little bit curious about getting your book into print (or pixels), if it's something that's always gnawed at the back of your mind, trying to break free, even as you soak your brain in booze and God-knows what all else, by all means, take the red pill that I'm offering you and read on.

(Not, you know, literally. If someone is there in front of you, offering you a red pill right now, that's most assuredly not me, and it's probably not too safe to take. Of course, as we indie writers are fond of saying, Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV)).

Before You Start
So you want to write a book? Good! Congratulations! That's an important first step there. Go ahead and say it out loud, scream it from the rooftops, "I WANT TO WRITE A NOVEL!"

Now that your spouse/sibling/friend has bailed you out of jail for disturbing the peace, it's time to get down to business.

Writing a book, either fiction or non-fiction, is a lot of work. I'm not talking "build the pyramids" or "dig the Panama Canal"-levels of work; after all, plenty of people do it every year, but it's still a big investment of time and effort.

Every little bit of streamlining you can do ahead of time can help when you're in the thick of the story, desperately trying to remember if the storekeeper's name is "Kirk" or "Kurt," and desperately wanting to use that as an excuse to check out the internet to "do some research."

Before you even get that far, you'll have to make some decisions about what exactly you want to accomplish. Here are some questions that you should ask yourself and think about at length before sitting down to write.

1) Why are you writing? Quick hint: It's okay to say "money." Heck, if you even have a vague notion of quitting your day job "someday" to pursue writing full-time, you're going to need money one way or another. Better to be up-front about it.

To be fair, there are plenty of other reasons to write. Maybe you want to write a memoir that can be a cherished keepsake for generations to come; with Createspace, you absolutely have this option, and it shouldn't cost you more than $100. Maybe you just want to share your writing with others; on some level, that's why all of us do this, too.

Just be honest and clear with yourself about your goals ahead of time. From here on, I'm going to assume that "making money" is at least a tiny fraction of your set of goals (even if it's just coffee or booze money, though one of those items is a lot larger number on the old expense sheet for me than the other, but I digress), so I'm going to focus on that route over the rest of this series.

2) What kind of a budget do you have? Do you have thousands of dollars? Hundreds? Or less? Knowing this ahead of time will better inform your decision of whether to go indie or the more traditional route.

3) How much work do you want to put in outside of writing? I've always had a bit of an entrepreneurial streak, so the various ancillary duties of indie publishing (cover design, editing, formatting, even [ugh] marketing) appealed to me.

That's not to say that they're easy things to do; those are the tasks that I frequently find most taxing and just downright hard, but it's incredibly rewarding to hold a finished product in your hand when all is said and done, knowing that it's the result of a lot of your own sweat equity.

Keep in mind, even if you submit to and are selected by a traditional publisher, they might not do as much promotion and other ancillary activities for you as you might think, but that's material for a different post.

4) How fast can you write? This is a big, often underrated, facet of writing a book. When I started out as a full-time, professional writer, I'd often peter out after 1,000 or so words per day. Though admirable for a lot of people, if you're writing full time, you should eventually get into the 3,000-6,000 words per day range, and be quite comfortable writing like that at least six days a week. If you decide to go indie, that's in addition to all of the covers, editing, and promotion that you'll have to do.

No one said it's easy, folks.

I also understand that most folks keep a day job, so 1,000 words a day in the morning or evening is actually a pretty good pace for them. After a hundred days of that, you should have a manuscript.

Try keeping a blog for a few weeks just to gauge your own speed. Do the math and be honest with yourself as to how long writing a book could take.

5) Are you ready for other people to read your work? In hindsight, this is perhaps the greatest stumbling block for a lot of aspiring writers. "What if people think my stuff is crap?" How will you know unless you put it out there? Why not use a pen name, keep your real identity secret (this is perhaps the only way writing is even remotely like being a superhero), and then publicize who really wrote those books if you come out with a hit? 

People are terrified of the consequences of releasing "a bad book," and I do think folks with a book or two (or a dozen) under their belts too often pay short shrift to this high psychological hurdle in the minds of newbies. Just know that it wasn't so long ago that even the most prolific and proficient writers harbored these same fears. Sometimes, you just have to stand at the top of the diving board and jump.


Mull these over for a while. Maybe even (GASP!) write them out; a structured outline with honest answers or a free-association exercise alike can help you to sort out your thoughts.

Then, by the time you've figured out if you're ready to make a go of it, the next post in the series will be up.

Thanks for reading.

D.J. Gelner is a fiction and freelance writer from St. Louis, Missouri. Check out his books, available at his Amazon Author Page and on Nook, iBooks, and Kobo. Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here). E-mail him at

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