Odds And Ends

With the manuscript for Action Figures – Issue Two: Black Magic Women out to my editor, it’s time to move on to the cover, which is proving something of a challenge.

Coming up with a concept for the cover of book one was remarkably simple; it was one of those “it just popped into my head” moments, and even after giving the concept some cooling-off time, to see if it was still a good idea once the thrill that comes with the act of artistic creation died down, it held up. I threw the idea over to my cover artist Tricia Lupien, and she nailed it right away.AF Cover

The cover achieved what I wanted it to achieve: it hinted at the nature of the story without spelling it out. It also avoided the trap I see on so many other novel covers: it wasn’t such an abstract image that it told you absolutely nothing about the story.

It further avoided another trap common to self-published novels, in that it wasn’t absolutely wretched (like these regrettable entries).

Book one was such a cakewalk, I assumed I’d have similar luck with book two, but no. I wanted to utilize the same approach and present a cover that teased the story, but every concept I came up with didn’t stand up to the cooling-off test — mostly because the end result would have been a crowded image. I’m not a great artist, but I grasp composition well enough (thanks in large part to my time at the Kubert School) to know when an image is too cluttered.

While it pains me to do so, I asked Tricia to play with something more general, that drew inspiration from some of the more familiar comic cover tropes (i.e., the hero walking away, as if in defeat, a la “Spider-Man No More!”; or the anguished hero cradling the body of a dead comrade, a la “I love my dead Dark Phoenix!”). The back cover will now serve the intended original purpose of the front.

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In case you missed it, which you may have because I didn’t post anything here, the print edition of Action Figures – Issue One: Secret Origins is now available at Barnes & Noble’s website!

AF on BandNLast month I submitted the novel to B&N hoping to have it added to their catalog of in-store items, but apparently its sales need to be better for that. However, they added the book to their website, so I’ll take that as a minor victory.

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To tweet or not to tweet is the question I’m asking myself.

Full disclosure, I hate Twitter. I simply don’t get it. It’s like Facebook for the ADD crowd, with the self-absorption factor cranked up to 11. I’m as guilty as anyone for posting trivial fluff on my personal Facebook page, but Twitter, to me, always seems to encourage people to report on their every little activity (“Just peed in nastiest restroom ever #employeesmustbleachself”).

Yet, like any social media outlet, it has a lot of potential as a marketing tool, which is why I encouraged my wife to set up a Twitter account for Storied Threads.

Apparently, a lot of indie writers are turning to Twitter, sometimes in favor of Facebook, to promote their work, mainly because Twitter feeds every post to every follower, unlike Facebook, which decided to monetize news feeds by limiting what people see from pages they’ve liked, thus encouraging people to drop money to expand their posts’ visibility.

The question is, do I take advantage of a viable marketing tool, or cling to my distaste for the Twitter platform?

Of course I’m going to swallow my contempt in order to pimp myself. Duh. Go follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MCBaileyWriter

Action Figures – Issue Two – An Introduction

Benchmark time! Draft four of Action Figures – Issue Two is done, and now it’s off to my editor-slash-sister-in-law Tori for a final review. That means it’s time to start chatting this thing up.

So, what happened in book one?

Well, you could always buy a copy and read it, but if you’re going to be that way…

In Action Figures – Issue One – Secret Origins, we met the Hero Squad, a group of aspiring super-heroes — Carrie “Lightstorm” Hauser, Matt “Captain Trenchcoat” Steiger, Sara “Psyche” Danvers, Stuart “Superbeast” Lumley, and Missy “Kunoichi” Hamill — as they embarked on their first adventure. The teens ran afoul of Archimedes, a renegade artificial intelligence; the deadly mercenary Manticore; the mysterious mastermind known simply as the Foreman; and local super-hero Concorde, leader of the Protectorate, who tried (and failed) to ground the fledgling super-team.

What’s book two about?

Action Figures – Issue Two: Black Magic Women picks up a few days after the events of issue one. There’s no rest for the weary Squad as they find themselves in the middle of a feud between the necromancer Black Betty and Dr. Enigma, the Protectorate’s expert of all things magical and supernatural. The prize is the Libris Infernalis, a book of powerful dark magic — powerful enough to summon ancient demon-gods capable of laying waste to the planet.

What else happens?

The team learns more about their super-human capabilities thanks to Doc Quantum, leader of the Quantum Quintet and one of the world’s greatest minds; Missy undergoes some frightening changes; the Squad meets the Entity, the Protectorate’s mysterious fifth member; and Nina Nitro shows Carrie what it takes to play in the super-hero big leagues.

There’s also a little bit of romance in store for Carrie, but I would like to assure readers, there are and will continue to be NO LOVE TRIANGLES.

Hey, man, why the hate for love triangles?

One: they’re overdone. Every bloody YA series has a love triangle, it seems. Two: they’re a cheap, lazy way to generate tension in a story. There are better, more interesting ways to explore romance in a story than simply playing the Archie-Betty-Veronica card. Three: they can overwhelm the other, more important things going on in the story. In The Hunger Games series, the idea of a young girl being forced into government-sanctioned gladiatorial games gets overshadowed in media stories by the Katniss-Peeta-Gale triangle. Oh, yes, let’s focus on the cutesy romance instead, downplay the tragic death of hundreds of children over generations in the name of keeping the poor in their place.

But I digress…

Anything else I should know?

Make sure to read the acknowledgements in the back of the book, because I’ll be adding a little Easter egg for readers.

When will book two be available?

My goal is to have it out in March. That will depend in large part on how quickly my editor and my cover artist finish their respective jobs. I don’t like to be pushy or set hard deadlines on people who have other, more important responsibilities, so things will wrap up when they wrap up.

Will the book be available for the Kindle?

It will, although the e-book version will probably come out after the print edition. Formatting the manuscript for Kindle is a whole ‘nother project in itself.

Stay tuned for updates as they become available!

To Market, To Market

My wife (Veronica of Storied Threads) is away this weekend, peddling her wares at Arisia in Boston, so I’ll have two days to myself, and I’ll be spending those finishing up a marketing plan.

I know: exciting stuff, right? Well, it’s already proven a very interesting exercise.

Pitchbook Pg3 copy
A sample page from the “pitchbook,” a presentation to B&N that will, hopefully, convince them to kick out the latest teen vampire romance series and give my novel some shelf space.

The reason for this little project: Barnes & Noble has a program for independent authors and small presses, wherein B&N vets indie books for possible sale at their brick-and-mortar stores, which is of course a huge deal. Part of the submission process is providing a detailed marketing plan, and while I have operated under an informal, in-my-brain plan, I never committed anything to paper (or screen, as the case may be) that really spell out what my goals and target audience are.

And I do have a target audience, which is a crucial point. Sure, I’d love to say Action Figures has the potential to become adored by people in every demographic, but I know that’s not true, and doesn’t help me at all when it comes to marketing my book; I need to concentrate on a core audience of those readers most likely to flock to a YA super-hero story (a piece of advice I recently shared with fellow indie author Robert Rowland, and would be foolish to ignore in my own efforts).

What is my core audience? Geeks, in particular geek girls, who are increasingly hungry for superhero stories featuring a female lead, and are tired of their adventure stories getting bogged down by distracting love triangles subplots. To be mercenary about it, geek girls remain a largely untapped market, because corporate head honchos are, by and large, middle-aged men who insist girls don’t like this kind of stuff (ask Paul Dini about his experiences with know-nothing executives).

My hope is that whoever at B&N makes the decision to put indie authors on the shelves will see the potential here, and give me a shot. The process takes about six weeks, so I won’t know what’s going on until around my birthday in March. I can think of no better present than to see Action Figures in Barnes & Noble stores nationwide.

Sharing The Love: King Of Tokyo

During a chat with my friend Pamela, she mentioned to me that people are more likely to share their complaints over a bad product or service than their praise, and will share those complaints with more people than someone passing around a good word. The ratio she quoted: a disgruntled customer will tell three people of his or her bad experience, while a satisfied customer will tell only one.

One of my takeaways from this: boy, people sure like to complain. My other takeaway: this theory easily applies to small artisans such as independent authors. Pamela’s context for this was her background in the restaurant industry, but the fact remains, indie writers depend on good word-of-mouth to sell their writing. Our budgets for promoting our work tend to be tiny to non-existent, so positive buzz is as crucial to our success as things like a solid social media presence.

I promised myself that in 2014, I would actively spread the word of things I loved instead of whining about things I disliked. I doubt this will lead to a sweeping change in thinking, but if it encourages people to do the same, great — in general; selfishly, for myself; and, less selfishly, for fellow indie authors who could also benefit from someone sharing their love for their stories.

Monster-fighting fun!
Monster-fighting fun!

So, here is my first share of the year, and it’s the game King of Tokyo. It’s a light, fast, easy game in which players fight as giant monsters. Think “Destroy All Monsters” by way of Yahtzee. It’s a lot of fun. There are a couple of expansions available, which I’m hoping will add to the basic game rather than complicate it, which tends to happen with expansions. I mean, I love Arkham Horror, but man, the expansions are sometimes, appropriately, maddening.

The Year In Review, The Year In Preview

Long story short, this happened in 2013:AF Cover

This is my first novel to see the light of day. The concept has been kicking around my brain for years, and I tried a few different approaches to making the story work, and last year the project finally came together. Attempts to see it published through traditional avenues failed, so I turned to self-publishing. Action Figures made its debut on Amazon.com in September, and I’ve sold 58 copies since then — 42 softcovers, 16 e-books via Kindle.

Not a staggering number, sure, but I’m certainly not unhappy with it. It gives me plenty of incentive to keep going, something I haven’t had in a while. Book two is nearing the end of its current round of editing, and as soon as my last three test readers weigh in, I can do a final round of edits, then ship it off to my editor for her review. Action Figures – Issue Two: Black Magic Women should be out in March.

What happens after that? Well, a third book is in the works, but the question is: will it be Action Figures – Issue Three, or something else? I have an urban fantasy novel (Bostonia) and a comedy-fantasy novel (Strongarm & Lightfoot) ready to go (after final editing), and it would be nice to diversify a little, try to capture a different audience.

Either way, two releases in one year will depend on finances, since paying for cover art is all on me, and I only have so much money to invest at any given time (no, I will not resort to Kickstarter. I have issues with crowd-funding), but the will to keep putting out fresh material is there, and it’s strong.

Action Figures – Issue Two – Progress Report

I’ve reached one of the “hurry up and wait” points in the process, when I can’t get much work done on the manuscript because my test-readers are busy doing their jobs.

I did receive some initial feedback over the weekend, from my friends Kate and Julie (who informed me she bought a couple copies as gifts, which made my weekend in a huge way), so I was able to do a little work on draft three –and by “a little,” I mean I relocated an entire scene, so readers will get to meet one of the bad guys a little earlier, and patched up some weak spots. I won’t call them plot holes; they were more like plot cracks.

Those cracks were due in part to my particular writing process. I’m what you might call an “organic writer”: I plan out the story in advance, but not meticulously; I like to write blind to a degree, and let certain elements develop on their own. This leads to some great moments between characters, and often generates story elements that give the story depth and character, but also means I spent the revision process hunting down and fixing plot inconsistencies.

The other challenge came from the addition of magic to the Action Figures world. Magic can be a fun story element, but it’s easy to misuse. I have yet to figure out exactly what the rules of magic are in the Marvel Comics universe; Dr. Strange can do pretty much anything he needs to do to advance the plot, except when he can’t, again for plot reasons. Even his method of casting spells is inconsistent; classic Dr. Strange invoked the names of arcane entities (“By the hoary hosts of Hoggoth!”) in his spellcasting, while modern Dr. Strange does not, for the most part.

As a reader and a writer, I hate magic as a story element when it has no clear rules. I didn’t want that for Action Figures, so I made sure to nail down the “laws of magic” for Dr. Enigma, the book’s sorceress character. Of course, I have to make sure those rules are communicated to the reader — and I’ve only been partially successful in that, according to my test readers.

In addition to the clean-up work in draft three, I managed to finish off the Action Figures short, which I plan to post here after book two is released. I’m hoping I have somewhere in me another short, something to bridge book one and two, that I could post immediately, both to keep current readers engaged, and to maybe capture a few new readers. We’ll see.

Your Last-Minute Shopping List

Christmas is coming up fast. Have you finished your shopping yet? No? Slacker.

Well, I’m going to throw some suggestions out at you. I’ll get the selfish one out of the way: buy Action Figures! You need to get book one so you’ll be able to understand what’s going on in book two (which is now off to my test-readers. Woo!).Pirates Honor

If swashbuckling historical fiction is more your style, my friend/fellow writer Justin Aucoin has his trilogy of piratical shorts in the Jake Hawking series, all available for the Kindle and the Nook. Start with A Pirate’s Honor and go from there.

For a faster read in a Christmasy vein, check out my buddy Rob Borkowski’s Wight Christmas, a flash-fiction short that’s available on Amazon.com for the Kindle.

For an early Christmas gift for a theater lover, snag tickets to this weekend’s final performances of my friend Scott Kegler’s play WHACKED!, at the Hole in the Wall Theater in New Britain, Connecticut.Loki Doll

For something a little more kid-friendly (or adult geek friendly), check out my friend Jess Maclean’s shop Geeky and Cheeky on Etsy. My wife Veronica has a growing collection of handmade G&C dolls, including a complete set of Avengers dolls.

Speaking of my wife, go visit her new Storied Threads website! It’s been re-launched with a focus on her clothing and fandom items, while her Etsy store will focus more on her original embroidery designs.

Now, go forth and shop — and in doing so, you’ll be supporting independent artists and small businesses, which is always a great thing to do.