Saturday, October 31, 2009

learning from the past

We have a gentleman that comes a few times a year to our local theater, a beautiful 1927 grand theater. What he does is perfect for this historic movie theater; he brings a silent movie and plays accompaniment on a pipe organ.

Along with playing music, he tells all about the making of the movie and gives special tidbits of information about the silent movie stars in the film.

This time he brought "The Cat and the Canary", perfect for Halloween. The movie was very dramatic with its use of light and shadow, and the organ music did double duty for the sound effects. It reminded me of something that I needed to pay more attention to as a writer ... the setting.

In writing a setting, we can use scenery, lighting, or noises to set up the scene. Sometimes it is good to go back and see what we have left out of the setting. How can we improve the setting to enhance the mood for what is coming next?

C. Fern Cook
Wild Evolution

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Book Pricing and the Unknown Self-Published Author

We've been discussing this among ourselves regarding what readers want and what readers are willing to pay for in the current economy. While we can't argue that money is tight for almost everyone, and readers are probably being more judicious in their book shopping, we wonder what this means for new authors just starting out - both in publisher houses and self-published.

There's no doubt that some currently 'hot' books on the market are priced higher than other 'also ran' books. The price difference can be double or more, depending on whether one is offered in hardback. And in the ebook scene, the same kinds of differences can be seen. To put this in more understandable terms, let's use an example and compare 'apples to apples' by pricing both a popular book and a similar self-published book printed in trade paperback format:

The 'Twilight' series by Stephanie Meyers versus 'Generic Teen Vampire Book Title' by Unknown Self-Published Author.

Assuming that a reader even knows to search for the teen vampire book by Unknown/Self-Published, if both USP's book and SM's book appear in the search listings, and USP's book is priced at $16.95 and SM's book is priced at $12.99, assuming the reader has not read either one, on name recognition alone, my bet is that the reader will choose the cheaper and more popular book priced at $12.99.

Now let's suppose that Unknown/Self-Published decides to make her book more price-competitive and lists hers at $12.99 too. With the same reader conditions - not having read either book and recognizing author Stephanie Meyer's name or series title - the reader may seriously consider USP's book as a contender for the reader's $12.99 book allowance ... until the reader sees USP's cheesy cover and realizes this is a 'do-it-yourself' book. Again, the winner is the better-known, better quality book.

These are just suppositions based on our own reading and purchasing experiences. But let's delve a little deeper into the situation, assuming that both books are equally priced and have equally engaging covers. Why would the reader have any incentive to blow $12.99 on an unknown author's book? Has it received much media attention? No. Does the reader have any previous experience with this author's writing style? No. Does the reader have ANY reason to choose an unknown author over a known author about whom there is much media attention - and two movies produced from her books? Well ... what do YOU think?

The only reason we can think of that any reader might take a chance on an unknown author is if the reader heard good recommendations from trusted sources (friends, respected review sites, etc.). There's that dreaded M-word again ... MARKETING. And the reader finds the unknown author's book blurb particularly compelling - so compelling in fact that it sounds MORE INTERESTING than a book that is already receiving generous media acclaim. There's where excellent writing and marketing skill come into play again. And - AND - the reader has not been burned previously by gambling on an unknown author.

Now, wait a minute. What do we mean by 'burned previously by gambling on an unknown author'?

Many readers who read a lot are an adventuresome group and will take chances on books they haven't heard anything about. But with the proliferation of self-published UNEDITED books flooding the market (and we're talking about fiction here), we are seeing more and more reader review comments like, "Interesting story, but could use a good editor!" or "So many typos and other mistakes, I won't read this author's work again!" Are we exaggerating or making this up? Unfortunately, no.

So, what does all this mean?

What it means, we think, is that while the self-publishing venue has become affordable for everyone, not everyone should pursue self-publishing. Why? While traditional publishers and small established publishers have seemed to put up barricades keeping many newbie authors from getting published, what they have in fact been doing (as a side-effect of choosing to publish only books they feel are marketable) is acting as gatekeepers, helping to prevent terribly written books from flooding the market - which is what is happening right now. We're not saying all self-published books are written badly. What we are saying is that quite a few of them are. Because, while some self-published authors love to read so much they want to write their own books and get them published, loving to read does not guarantee good translation to writing well. By 'writing well' we mean producing a book that is engaging in plot, characterization, reading flow, AND does not contain so many typos, grammatical errors, and logistical and character and setting inconsistencies that it makes reading a chore of unbelievability.

So, back to the pricing issue. If you are an unknown self-published author hoping to sell tons of books and make a nice chunk of profit off each book, think again. Self-publishing venues like Createspace and others who provide the book producing service do so with THEIR OWN PROFITABILITY in mind. Their goal is to make a profit off producing the books you order or convince your friends to buy. If you place your book on Amazon, you may think you are getting more sales exposure, but as a tradeoff you are getting half as much profit. By bumping your book price up to $4.00 or $5.00 more than your net cost, you are in fact pricing yourself out of the readership market. And the same is true for ebooks, if you have tried venturing into that market.

Your only real alternative as a self-published unknown author is to do all the marketing you can, get your book reviewed in as many high-profile genre sites as you can (and hope for good reviews), and PRICE YOUR BOOK COMPETITIVELY IN THE OVERALL MARKET. That is the only way you will have a ghost of a chance of selling even a few copies of your book. And continued sales of that book and future books you may write will depend in large part on how well your book is written.

-Penumbra Publishing

Monday, October 26, 2009

Holloween giveaway and all day chat

Join me and a slew of other authors on Thursday the 29th for an all day chat at Author Island.
There will be a prize given away every hour including a copy of Wild Evolution and a reserved copy of Wild Justice (Wild Evolution's sequel due out in spring 2010).
Halloween is the perfect time for the story of Wild Evolution's macabre tell of murder and revenge.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

To Self-Publish or NOT to Self-Publish ... that is the question

There's been some hot and heavy conversation about self-publishing these days, especially with the boom of self-publishing services like Createspace and Lulu and WordClay and others popping up all around. Rather than tell people what we think is best, we'd like to offer up some points for consideration to help authors decide for themselves what they might think is the best option for them. Truthfully, not everyone's situation is the same, and no one answer will be the best answer for everyone. Here are some things we think should be considered when trying to decide whether to pursue publishing by a RECOGNIZED BIG-NAME PUBLISHER (Random House, Harper-Collins, and so forth) as opposed to self-publishing. The first thing you should consider is...


THE BESTSELLER. If you're already multi-book published and have a few bestsellers under your belt, chances are your relationship with a recognized big-name publisher is already well established and you don't have any real reason to go off and jeopardize that by self-publishing your next book. You're already getting fat advances on future sales royalties, and your book sell-through numbers substantiate the publisher's repeated intention of paying you those advances. The only reason you might want to self-publish would be because you're at odds with your publisher over some book that departs from your usual fare, and the publisher is balking. Then maybe you would consider putting it out there on your own. And if you are doing well as an author, maybe you can afford to and have already hired your own book publicist. All you'd need then is an editor, a book producer and distribution network, and some cash to front the expense of getting your book out there. If you don't care how many copies sell, then why bother in the first place. More than likely you do care, so you will go all out on it. But you will also be snubbing your publisher, and they may not want to deal with you next time you come up with a book that is similar to what they have already sold. So our guess is, if you are already sitting pretty, you won't spoil things by going out and trying to reinvent the wheel by doing everything yourself.

THE MIDLISTER. If you're a midlist author with a recognized big-name publisher, and your sales are moderate, you might just be able to play on the name recognition you've developed as an author to branch out on your own and keep a larger portion of your sales royalties. Author J.A. Konrath has actually blogged about this very scenario, and it is an interesting blog to consider. But he does warn that what might work for him certainly isn't a one-size-fits-all solution.

THE RELATIVE UNKNOWN. If you are an author who's enjoyed mild publishing success with second-string publishers or indy publishers or small ebook publishers, and you do have a bit of author name recognition from sales through those publishing ventures, then you too might think self-publishing would be the way to go. But experience says that while the solo route is tempting, it may not work out as well as one might hope. One thing to consider is that your book sales might actually have been the result of a group promotional effort of authors at the publishing company - an effort you would be hard-pressed to duplicate on your own. So, for instance, instead of selling 50 or 100 books during an all-day themed chat on your publisher's hosted reader forum, you might sell 3 or 4 books on your own after working really hard to get an author interview or chat set up at a genre-based reader forum hosted by a review site.

THE UNPUBLISHED. If you are an author aspiring to be published, tread carefully. It might be tempting, after receiving several rejection letters, or bombing in several writing contests, to just chuck it all and go for the self-publishing route. It will be a lot easier and cheaper anyway, won't it? Well, maybe ... maybe not. What you have to consider are the following:

1. Why do I care if my book is published?
2. How many books will I need to sell to feel like I am a success?
3. Am I hoping to make a decent living off my writing?
4. Do I have the editorial savvy to make my writing as good as 'real' published work?
5. Do I have the technical savvy to work with a book producer to get my book in readable form?
6. Do I give a horse's pattoot how good my book is and whether or not readers will like it?

We could go on and on with the questions, but you get the idea. You need to have a plan before you go off on a business venture like self-publishing.

Oh, you didn't think self-publishing was a business venture? Well, you'd better think again. If you want to make a living at it, or want to make any money at all self-publishing, then it SHOULD be a business venture.

If your goal is simply to be published and be done with it, and have a couple books to give away to friends and relatives, then certainly self-publishing is the way to go, and there are really affordable alternatives available now - Createspace coming to mind first.

However, if you have more serious aspirations, like fame, fortune, and the satisfaction of seeing your book in print (not that ANY of these are guaranteed with publishing or self-publishing), then you need to look at the options available to you from a more serious perspective.

YES, you can self-publish and get your book out there in a matter of weeks for sale on Amazon if you go through Createspace, but if you want people to take you seriously as an author, you'd better make darn sure you can create a decent cover and edit your own work and produce the upload files per specifications. Book formatting is not a breeze. It can be done, but you have to understand HOW it is done before you just jump in there and do it. Createspace is pretty user friendly, but they do not have 24-hour tech support. They have a forum for you to ask questions, and maybe nobody will answer your questions for weeks at a time. You can email Createspace for help, but they won't do the work for you. So not only do you have to become your own publisher, you have to become your own preprint production staff, tech support, and quality control. Are you prepared for that? Or barring doing all that yourself, you can PAY a service to do it for you. Do you have $300 to $4000 sitting around to blow on getting your book self-published? The service fees can vary widely depending on who you go to for help.

When you start thinking how difficult it is to get the attention of a publisher as opposed to how hard it is to publish your book yourself, you might find yourself between a rock and a hard place. The downside is, in either scenario you still have to promote yourself and your book if you expect to make any sales. And chances are, your book will make better sales if it is published by an established publisher who already has a readership base and distribution channels. If you are your own publisher, you have to create all that from scratch AND do all the editing AND the artwork AND the preprint formatting AND the uploading of files AND the proofing AND the sales promotion AND...

Well, you're starting to get the idea now, aren't you? Self-publishing is not quite as easy as it sounds, if you are looking at it as a viable alternative to getting your book published with an established publisher.

Again, if you don't care what your book looks like or how many grammatical mistakes it contains, or how many copies you sell, then maybe self-publishing is the answer for you. But if you DO care about getting your work transformed into a quality product, then you have to be prepared to do what is necessary to ensure that it is - if you go the self-publish route. And that necessary work can turn out to be just as hard or harder than getting published by an established publisher.


Once you make the decision to publish your book yourself and it gets assigned an ISBN, it is considered published. And if you ever change your mind and wish you had just sent it to a publisher - TOO LATE. It's already published, and most publishers won't touch it.

So the self-publishing issue is a lot more complicated than your first thought. There are many things to consider before making a decision. Decide what's best for your situation, then choose wisely.

-Penumbra Publishing

Saturday, October 24, 2009

putting yourself in the public eye

Marketing holds many avenues. Some can be done behind the scene like here as a blog, or you can put yourself out in the public with a book signing which is fairly common or you can do a live radio interview.

I did my first radio interview. It was a little nerve-wracking and I am extrovert. I have done public speaking in front of groups before but this puts it up a notch. I am glad I did it. Now that I have lived through the first one am ready to get another one lined up.

It is good for my soul to try new things and master them. I like a challenge, now I am ready to do it better. The first one was a little off, I think people could tell I was nervous. But that ain't going to stop me from doing it again.

The only problem with marketing is it takes so much time and you never know how well it works. I would rather spend time writing, that is a safe zone for me.

Marketing is a necessary evil, like cleaning the house, someone has to do it, and I can't afford a maid just like I can't afford a publicist.

C. Fern Cook
Wild Evolution

Friday, October 23, 2009

What is a good QUALITY story?

We started this publishing company with an altruistic idea (that was perhaps not very well thought out in terms of profit-making business models - but oh well, that is an entirely different post begging to be written)...

We wanted to help new writers get their QUALITY work published, and to assist veteran writers who'd been overlooked by the big 'traditional' publishers get their QUALITY work published.

And why would we want to do this? Because we are authors who want our own writing to be published - and READ - with the ultimate goal of doing it for a living because it is what we love doing. Plus we wanted to have CONTROL over our books, to dictate how they will be produced and how they will look, and where they will be sold, and how much we will earn for the sale of our books.

We read quite a bit, and we believe we can recognize a QUALITY story when we see it. But when someone asks for a description of that elusive QUALITY, sometimes it is difficult to qualify and nail down definitively in cold hard words. But I'm going to give it a shot. For the purposes of this discussion, a QUALITY story means...

(drum roll please)...


Well ... now that I've written it down, it doesn't seem as if it should have been that difficult to say out loud and put in tangible form. But the truth is, what may seem 'well-rounded' to one person may mean something totally different to the next person. And 'well-written'? That leaves the field wide open, as do the phrases 'engaging, original, and unique premise' and 'interesting characters with depth and believability'. Wow, OK, so there is much more to be said on the subject, apparently.

Let's examine each part more closely with the intention of clarifying what WE mean by the sum total of this description of QUALITY writing. Because truthfully, no one can dictate what it shall mean to everyone - even though many try. What it boils down to from a publisher's standpoint (and probably a reader's standpoint too) is whether the story WORKS WELL for the person who's reading it, no matter whether that person is a friend of the author, a critique partner, a prospective agent or publisher, or any reader chosen at random. The more people from different arenas who can agree that the work is QUALITY, the more likely that it will be perceived by the general public as QUALITY, because we are then working from a concensus of opinion from a small sampling taken from a cross-section of readers that is much wider than the writer's best friends or family members. And this broad cross-section sampling is important, because it includes the opinions of people from different walks of life and different business backgrounds, and especially people who read a lot and know what works for them and what doesn't. That, my bookish friends, is called EXPERIENCE. Experience knows from trial and error what works and what doesn't. And when a book looks, feels, smells, sounds, and tastes like something that is QUALITY, then it is close enough to be judged as QUALITY.

One of the worst-case scenarios that any publisher faces is receiving a query from a newbie writer who has very little reading experience and very little writing experience, and very little experience, period. Because these are the writers who have not taken the time to find out what QUALITY writing is, so how can they possibly think they are magically going to produce it? I freely admit that flukes do happen, and sometimes a new writer will produce something good on the first try. But that is surely the exception, not the norm. Most newbie writers simply assume that whatever they have put down in tangible written form is unique and original, because THEY have never done it before. Just because they read some books or watched some movies or played some video games and then came up with a book plot that's similar, that doesn't mean it's going to be GOOD. It does mean the work is probably going to be a flippant and shallow rehash of everything that's already been done to death. I mean, if the author's book reads like a popular book or movie or game that's already come out, then where is the ORIGINALITY, the UNIQUENESS in it? That's not to say some premise can't be redone with a different twist, but if the author hasn't bothered to check what's already been written or produced in his chosen genre, how can he be sure that it hasn't already been written by someone else - perhaps much better?

And there's where the dreaded M-word comes into play ... MARKETING. A writer who is serious about producing QUALITY work will do the necessary research to know what his competition has already produced, what is already out there, and make sure his is different - UNIQUE.

Now in regard to WELL-ROUNDED, WELL-BALANCED, and DEPTH. 'Well-rounded' is defined in the dictionary as 'comprehensively developed and well-balanced in a range or variety of aspects.' The term 'depth' plays in there too, as in 'comprehensively developed.' The story plot and premise should have depth and meaning so that these features carry it through the entire length of the work. For instance, a 200-page novel about a woman in love with her boss better be about more than her going to work every day and fantasizing about how she can spirit him away for a romantic trist - unless her elaborate fantasies are so involved and detailed and improbably funny that they are actually the focus and the point of the story. Otherwise there needs to be some personal conflict, or some other things going on in the background for comic relief or dramatic emphasis. Without the necessary depth and development, that 200-page novel might as well be a 20-page short story.

But just filling the story up with an ensemble of characters won't do the trick. In fact, putting too much focus on too many characters can just make the whole story seem shallow and confusing. So that's where the term WELL-BALANCED comes in. There has to be some medium range of focus for the story. And to take the idea of 'well-balanced' even further, pacing of the story should be such that the first half (first 100 pages for instance) don't focus on one hour in the life of a character, while the second half speeds along and tells the next 30 years of the character's life. This kind of unbalanced tale could work if the focus was specifically on the character's life and a pivotal moment that shaped the rest of his life, but this is the exception rather than the norm. Balance also applies to point-of-view characters and verb tense, and other aspects of writing style. A sudden shift in handling of any of these aspects should be for a very good, justifiable reason, or the story will seem off-kilter, unbalanced.

And now to BELIEVABILITY. This means the story and its plot and its characters have to be more than cardboard cutouts, more than mere ghosts of the real thing. The characters should look, sound, and act like real people, people that behave logically within the constraints of the premise and the setting of the story. For instance, the writer should not have a damsel in distress in the 15th Century shouting modern explatives - unless it is a time-travel where the damsel is a modern woman somehow thrust into the 15th Century. And 'believability' is key, because while all the things that are going on in the book may be a fantastical conglomeration of action, if the transitions from point A to point B to point C and so forth don't smoothly move the characters around, with every detail accounted for, then believability flies out the window. One example of lack of believability is where the main character is cornered in an abandoned house by his nemesis and has no weapon to defend himself. But just as the villain is about to do him in, he grabs a gun off the dusty fireplace mantel and shoots his attacker. Gun? What gun? Where did it come from and why was it there? Oops! Believability just ran screaming from the story. Use a fireplace poker instead. With the character huddled by the fireplace trying to figure out what to do to save himself, the poker would be a logical and expected surprise solution - BELIEVABLE.

And last we have ENGAGING and INTERESTING. These two are the most difficult to pin down, because what may be interesting to me may be totally boring to the next reader. Why? Because we all have our own preconceptions of what is interesting to US as individuals. And that is not something that can be examined without first pigeonholing readers demographically.

Oh no ... the dreaded M-word again - MARKETING!!!

That's what GENRES are all about - trying to categorize books into common groups based on common themes that are perceived to be engaging and interesting to specific groups of readers. So the bottom line is, most genre books will not, by definition, be engaging and interesting to a broad cross-section of readers who may tend to focus on different genres to the exclusion of other genres. A writer cannot write one book to please everyone - or can he? If he manages to, he's got the infamous BLOCKBUSTER on his hands - a bestseller that appeals to a broad range of readers who might otherwise stick to their chosen genres to the exclusion of other genre books. That's the kind of book most writers want to produce ... a book that is loved and respected by almost everyone. But the making of a bestseller is best left for another post, so this should be enough for now to explain a QUALITY book.

Happy writing and reading!
-Penumbra Publishing

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Burning Your Book

Hey all you writers out there...

Have you ever written TOO MUCH? So much, in fact that you know it is a big horrible load of nonsense that has gotten so out of hand, you can't stomach the thought of trying to sort through it to find that nugget of GREAT STORY you thought you were going to write?

I'm not talking fifty pages of going in the wrong direction with your story and then having to backtrack a bit. I'm talking NINE HUNDRED pages of WHAT IN THE HECK KIND OF WICKED DEMON WAS I POSSESSED BY when I typed all this meaningless crap?

Yeah, OK, I can see some of you out there nodding your heads. You know what I'm talking about.

Well, let me tell you what I did the last time I dug out that voluminous tome, that huge gorilla on my back weighing me down as a writer because it was the one thing I couldn't get a handle on.

I flipped through it. I read all the Post-it notes and margin scribbles I'd made, trying to shape that monstrosity into some semblance of a real, readable novel. I mean, I had printed out the whole thing and hole-punched it and put it in two huge piano-hinged D-ring binders. Do you know how much a 900-page manuscript actually weighs? It is a terrible burden on one's shoulders, on one's writing soul.

Finally I slammed the binder cover shut in disgust. Angry with myself because that THING had been hanging over me for ten years - TEN YEARS - I dragged it outside to the trash barrel and just dumped the whole thing inside. Then I went back in the house and got a box of matches. And I burned it.

It took three days of stirring and shuffling the mountain of paper and rekindling the fire to be certain it was all incinerated to an illegible crisp. Because I didn't want one single shred of it left to remind me of the horrendous failure I'd become. I felt awful and depressed the whole time I was doing this ritualistic cleansing.

And then an interesting thing happened.

I felt RELIEVED ... liberated ... because I didn't have to worry any more about that darn manuscript I couldn't fix. It had been one of my first stories that I labored over to make deep and complex with various subplots - to make it a worthy read. What I actually made was a worthy nightmare. To be sure, it was a learning exercise. In the process of building that monstrosity, I was learning how to write. But I hadn't learned well enough to rescue it from the depths of the flaming inferno to which I'd sentenced it.

Now, three years later, I still think about that story. I've even made a couple false starts, trying to rewrite it the way I felt it should have been written in the first place. But I haven't gotten past chapter two.

So maybe it was just one of those stories never meant to be written - at least not by me. I can always say that someday I'll go back to it when I get the time. But who's got the time? And anyway, whenever I think about it, I get an uncomfortably weighty twinge between my shoulders. And who needs that? I'll just leave it in reserve as one of those stories I can always revisit if I ever run out of writing ideas.

My advice to any of you out there facing a similar burden - burn your book and move on to a brighter, better story. You'll be a happier writer for doing it.

Dana Warryck
Crystal Clear: Storm Ryder
Lucifer's Last Lover
The Protectorate: Patriarch

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Let your story 'ferment' to help find the 'hook'

To me, coming up with a unique hook [catchy gist or draw of the story] is a lot like making wine.

With winemaking, it takes about three months from pressing the fruit to pouring a good glass of wine. First you have to assemble the basic ingredients: fruit, sugar, and yeast, and then let nature take its course.

In writing you have to assemble basic ingredients: the idea, the characters, and a twist, and let the story come alive.

I found that the style I use in writing is similar to the fermentation process. The idea has to bubble and ferment before I end up with something that is useable.

With my last book I had most of the story done before an interesting opening hook came to me. My point is, don't worry. Let the story ferment for awhile - you might surprise yourself.

C. Fern Cook
author of
Wild Evolution

What I saw in my experience as a cop

When I mention my law enforcement experience to fellow writers I hear comments like; 'I need to have a long talk with you sometime' or 'I have a lot of question I'd like to ask you'.

Most people would be surprised or even shocked if they new what kind of people carry a gun and a badge. Many times the type of people who are attracted to law enforcement are just one step away from the kind of people they haul off to jail. Even when I was in the academy we were told that cops and criminals are a lot alike.

My experience covers 2 states and 4 law enforcement agencies and with all of them I encountered the same type of personalities. Law enforcement agencies attract a special kind of people; that is a two edge sword.

In my experience the people I knew who became police officers would fit into four basic categories, they were:

The lazy man, a cop's job is considered a lazy man's job;

Prestige, wanting other people to look up to them or the perceived power they hold over others;

The thriller seeker, 99 percent boredom and 1 percent pure adrenalin, they often push the envelop to feed their need;

And the one who wants to make a difference. The one who wants to help either quits or becomes jaded. I quit.

Yeah, I'm sure most people would be surprised at the kind of antics that go on behind the scenes at their local police department. The image your local police department puts on for the public is not what really happens when they think no one is looking.

Most law enforcement officers develop an 'us against them' mentality.
In their training they are taught 'command presence', but in personal matters that type of behavior often leads to divorce. After awhile they end up associating only with other law enforcement people. That is the worst thing that can happen because they lose their perspective and it further feeds the 'us against them' mentality.

Crime scene processing will change as technology advances, but when you deal with people's ego, that pretty much stays the same. No matter how much we advance technically, our egos get in the way and we act like a jackass.

C. Fern Cook
author of
Wild Evolution

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Criticism is Good

When I was first testing the waters for writing, I couldn't even watch someone read my writing. If they made a grimace, it sent shivers through my spine. It could have been a burp working its way up their throat; it didn't matter to me. I needed a smiling face when someone read my heart and soul put down on paper. At that time in my development as a writer, I couldn't take the pressure; I needed approval for my writing.

Years later, I have learned to cherish other people's opinion. I want them to be honest. I need to know where my weaknesses are. I need to know how they see the story to be a better writer.

Of course, there are the people who will not give you an honest assessment or can only tell you what they hate about it. These are not the people who help you grow as a writer.

When you find one or two friends who are willing take the time to read and give you honest assessments about your story, they are worth their weight in gold. Hang on to these true friends.

C. Fern Cook
author of
Wild Evolution

ON WRITING: Slinging Slang and Jumbling Jargon - the Idiocy of Idioms

Idiom is defined as “a speech form or an expression of a given language that is peculiar to itself grammatically or cannot be understood from the individual meanings of its elements, as in keep tabs on.” Other terms for idiom, depending on the application, are jargon or colloquial expression or slang.

The writer’s primary objective is to communicate to the reader. Writers often like to ‘spice up’ a passage by inserting some slang expressions or industry-specific jargon, or colloquial expressions to make their writing more entertaining and lively. One disadvantage in doing this is the 'spiced up' expressions might not be understood by a variety of readers, or might undesirably date the writer and make the writing untrustworthy to a part of the reading audience.

The most important thing a writer can do is anticipate the general reading audience of the piece and conduct careful research to determine what idioms are familiar to the audience the writing targets. Younger people especially may be offended by inadequate attempts by older writers to mimic their slang. And remember: A little goes a long way. Don’t over-spice your writing with too much colloquial expression or lingo, or it will become unreadable. Also a choice phrase can quickly become overused and will stand out as a tired clichĂ© in your writing. (See the last line of the last paragraph below for a shining example.)

Some common older idioms like “get your goat,” “beat around the bush,” “burn the midnight oil,” “chow down,” “it’s a cinch,” “elbow grease,” “count your chickens before they hatch,” “green” or “wet behind the ears,” “down pat,” “nose to the grindstone,” “pay the piper,” “fair to midland,” and “with bells on,” may have lost their relevance. Some slang idioms like “tubular,” and “sock it to me” that were popular in the past have lost their zest or meaning. Also simple words or phrases like “fat,” “cool,” and “hot” as slang may actually mean something new the writer is not aware of. Keeping abreast of current lingo and taking special care in researching can help relieve the idiocy of idioms and make your writing sing like a bird.

Gwynn E. Ambrose
The Cat’s Fancy

New and Recent Releases - Everything's ON SALE

Hello readers...

We've got several new releases out, soon to be available in ebook as well. They can be purchased from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other popular book retailers, as well as our web site and direct from the author!

Right now on our web site you can get $2.00 off any print title we sell direct, and get free economy shipping too! Visit to find out more...


Crystal Clear: Storm Ryder
by Dana Warryck
First in the new sci-fi-romance series

A widow and her young son are caught in the middle of a tug-of-war over top-secret alien biotechnology missing from the military. Meanwhile, the original owners want it back, and have sent someone to retrieve it!

The Protectorate: Patriarch
by Dana Warryck
First in the vampire erotic romance series (reissued in print)

A vampire sworn to protect the secret existence of his people risks everything to save a human child - and love a mortal woman.

Lucifer's Last Lover
by Dana Warryck
First in the supernatural romance series, Good and Evil (reissued in print and retitled)

Satan faces his ultimate downfall in the arms of a beautiful corporate PR expert.

Learning to Love on Indian Time
by C. Fern Cook
Inspirational/sweet romance (reissued in print and retitled)

A woman newly ordained as a minister goes out west to begin a new job with a small parish and learns that, like everything else in the small town, love runs on 'Indian Time.'


Wild Evolution
by C. Fern Cook

A Colorado rancher evolves into someone - something - different after he becomes a werewolf by contamination and his former best friend, a local deputy, tries to pin him with murder.

Talk of the Town
by Lucille Naroian
Category romance

A mystery writer butts heads with a caustic talk-show host on live TV, and their antics become ... the talk of the town!
Mistress Blackheart: Policeman's Prerogative
by Dallas White
First in the Dominatrix series

An internet dominatrix tangles with the police officer who booked her for arrest - add a pair of handcuffs, and no telling who will end up on top!

by Willa Kaye Danes
Magical romance

To save her clan from extinction, a three-inch-tall fairy must find and return with a half-pixie, half-human childhood playmate who's now a man all grown up. If he comes back with her to Fairyland, will he stay as her mate?

Happy reading - check back soon for more new and exciting additions to our catalog of available books from great authors!

Monday, October 19, 2009

A note for all the authors trying to get published

Hello fellow authors...

If you thought finishing your first novel was the hardest thing you would ever do, think again. If you thought editing your finished novel to make it publish-ready was the hardest thing you'd ever do, think again. If you thought getting your publish-ready novel accepted by a big agent or publisher was the hardest thing you'd ever do ... maybe you're right.

Getting only rejections? News flash - All the rejections you've been getting may be due NOT to the fact that your book sucks, but due to some small nuances of marketing you may not even be aware of. Here are some tips from the BEEN THERE, DONE THAT file.

1. You have to present yourself as a professional. Keep your query letter short and sweet and to the point. Add a lot of humor if your book style warrants it. Be a real person but don't be real annoying. Don't send candy, don't write your letter on scented or colored stationery. Keep it clean and professional, and for heaven's sake, spellcheck and grammar-check and address it to the right person whose name you have spelled correctly. Believe it or not, if you don't do the necessary legwork to find out who to write your query letter to, it will be thrown into the slush pile, perhaps never to be heard from again.

2. Follow all the little niggling details of submission set forth by your target recipients, no matter how senseless they may seem. Don't give your recipients any excuse to deep-six your query submission. Don't skimp on this.

3. Don't mail-merge your letters and send out a bunch of shotgun queries that all sound alike, because chances are you will send the letter addressed to one place to the wrong place, or you might send the same letter to two divisions of the same publishing company and actually get your two letters compared side-by-side (with a snicker added for insult) - assuming of course anyone actually reads it. If rumor is to be believed, all queries are logged, so that a record is kept for future reference.

4. Personalize your letters and put your heart and soul into them. And make sure your sample chapters and synopsis are as error free and engaging as possible. Engaging as in INTERESTING. If the opening line of your first chapter does not GRAB the person reading it, your query packet will be deep-sixed. Why? Because, as harsh as it sounds, if your very first sentence doesn't grab the agent or editor or assistant or first reader (whoever), then that person will assume that the real readers out there in Consumerland won't be HOOKED by your story either. One actual real-live reader who buys and reads lots and lots of books in different genres admitted that if the first sentence doesn't grab him, he puts the book back on the shelf. So by golly, make your book INTERESTING enough that the reader doesn't feel like setting it aside and moving on. (And of course, it naturally follows that the second sentence, and the third, and so on, will be just as engaging to keep the reader reading. In short, your book has to be interesting to your target audience.)

5. TARGET AUDIENCE???? What, pray tell, is that? Oh, here is where we must repeat aloud that dreaded M-word ... MARKETING. Yes, you MUST know who would want to buy and read your book. It is YOUR job, as the author, to tell the prospective publisher or agent where your book fits in the greater scheme of all things literary. If you do not have a handle on this, if you do not know a book like yours that is already popular, (but of course yours has a completely different twist that will make it unique!!!), then how can you possibly convince the reader of your query letter that you have indeed done your research to make sure there is an existing market for your book. Without an existing market, you have to demonstrate that one does exist but has not been tapped yet. Think how many thousands of FICTION books are published each year (the number is staggering) and you get some ghost of an idea how dang difficult it is to market a book and reach your target readership.

6. Which brings me to the final point of this long drawn out message... It doesn't matter whether you can write well. All that matters is whether you can sell well. That, my author friends, is called THE BOTTOM LINE, something every one of us is terribly guilty of ignoring. Agents are in business to sell books to publishers so they can earn a commission off those sales. That is their primary, perhaps only purpose for existing. Publishers are in business to sell books and turn a profit from those sales. That is the ONLY reason they are in business. If they do not make money, they do not stay in business.

So THAT is what really matters. Whether your book is great and all your friends love it means absolutley nothing. If your query letter doesn't convince the business entity you are trying to get to publish your book, then you won't get published. Writing is the easy part. Selling yourself as a marketable commodity - and yes, YOU are the commodity, not just your book - should be your one goal in life if you want to be published. Your book is just window dressing. YOU are the investment that will produce the writing that sells, and then go on to produce more writing that sells more books.

Put your business hat on, and rewrite your query letter with that in mind. Oh, and don't forget to make your writing interesting and error free and a joy to read. Because that's what readers want - assuming they ever get to the point to be able to look over your book with a buying eye. They don't give a flip about the business of writing, because that's your job. And the job rarely if ever pays well. Sometimes it doesn't pay at all.

Now, why was it again that you thought you wanted to be an author????


-Penumbra Publishing

Wild Evolution now available at Smashwords

Wild Evolution, a grisly werewolf tale of murder and suspense by C. Fern Cook, is now available in multiple ebook formats at

Go check it out - and remember, it is also available in both print and ebook at our publisher web site

Author-signed book giveaways TODAY at Bitten by Books

Go to this link:

and follow the directions at Bitten By Books month-long Halloween online bash to enter for a chance to win an autographed copy of books by Willa Kaye Danes, Dana Warryck, and Dallas White!

The books have been sent to the contest promoter, and will be distributed by the contest promoter.

Thanks for your interest, and spread the word!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Penumbra Publishing PIXIE Ebook on

Great news folks,


What's Smashwords? It's a place where we can list our books for sale (and you can buy them) in ebook in a variety of formats to suit almost any electronic reader needs.

Smashwords features indy authors and publishers to showcase their work and introduce new talent to the reading world. We're excited Smashwords is up and running, but don't forget, we still have our books available for sale on our web site, and we're using the same type of software application to turn our books into ebook-friendly formats for a variety of reader needs.

PIXIE by Willa Kaye Danes is the first book we've uploaded to and it is available for preview, so go check it out and tell us what you think. If there are bugs that need to be worked out, we would like to know!

Check out our books at

Monday, October 12, 2009

Tennessee Humanities book fair

I took the trip to Nashville to visit the Tennessee Humanities book fair. The drive down was exhausting, rained the whole way down. It was an overcast all day Saturday when I went. The air was damp and cold, but the people were not.
I was pleasantly surprised. Even with lousy weather, many people ventured out to the middle of downtown Nashville.
I was glad I was one of them. It was very well organized and books of all kinds were there for any readers taste.
I will definitely go next year.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Humanities Tennessee Festival

Looking forward to Humanities Tennessee Festival book fair this coming weekend.
I was wondering how many readers venture to such events?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Beautiful Day - Time in a Bottle

What a beautiful day it was today! I love this short spell during fall, right before the first frost, when the days are crisp and cool. The weather today was like that - absolutely perfect, sunny, clear sky, moderately warm - just perfect!

It made me think of the Jim Croce song, "Time in a Bottle," a bittersweet lament about savoring the moments you have to share with someone you care about. This was one of those days where I wish I could save it in a bottle, so I could take it out sometime and enjoy it again.

But time isn't like that. Once it is spent, it is gone. I piddled away this beautiful day working indoors on something that probably won't mean a flip to anyone in a couple months - including me. I did manage to take a break from that for a little while to share some of the beautiful day with the loved ones around me.

I know for every person that enjoys a beautiful day, someone else is not having a good day. Things go wrong, and sometimes everything and everyone around you seems to be conspiring to make you end up hating life during that awful time. For some people it seems like no day is a good day. So it is especially wonderful when a perfect day comes along, a day so simply beautiful when nothing bad happens in your little world, it makes you want to rejoice and wish the time could last and last.

But we all know it won't last, so no matter what you are doing, always take a little time each day to enjoy the day, enjoy the company of someone you care about, enjoy life. Because once it's gone, it's gone.

-Willa Kaye Danes

Not fitting in

I have spent my whole life moving from one place to another. Even as a child we moved every couple of months. There were always new places to explore and new friends to make. I loved it, up to now. But now I have come to rest at a place I never thought I would end up in, an uncaring and unfriendly town.

This is a place where I don't belong, a place where I am all alone. These people and their mistrusting ways have killed off a once outgoing personality; someone who never met a stranger no longer tries to be a friend. I no longer set myself up for rejection, I no longer try to make friends. I have learned to live among the unfriendly people in this town, I have become a loner.

But I have my own little refuge in the midst of the unfriendly, a place where I am welcome everyday. Three loving dogs greet me every morning here at Muddy Mutts Acres. In a place where I am unwanted I come home and create a better world, a world where the wrongs are righted and I fit in. The world I create when I write is the world where I belong.
C. Fern Cook