Amazon Storybuilder and Storywriter

I found some new writing tools tonight and they got me so excited I figured I’d give them a quick review. They’re called Amazon Storybuilder and Storywriter, they’re free, and if you think Amazon is out to get us all, you probably want to stop reading right here.

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This looks like another way for Amazon to break down the walls of traditional publishing, this time for TV and movie scripts, much the same way they’re doing with book publishing. Like its Kindle Scout program, it looks like you can write and submit scripts for review and possible production. That is cool and all but what has me most excited is their Storybuilder tool, which allows you to create and manipulate virtual note cards on a virtual cork board, much like Scrivener does. Except this is free and it works on your tablet as well as your desktop (mostly; more on that in a bit).

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Here’s a test outline I made really fast to, well, test the functionality. As you can see, this is designed for script outlines off the bat, with Act 1 set up at the start, but you could set it up however you want.

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It is really easy to drag and drop scenes to reorder them. The picture above doesn’t show my cursor, but I’m in the middle of moving the 3rd scene down.

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Now that I’ve gone wild and moved the 3rd scene after the 5th scene, I put Act 2 in front of Act 1. I guess this is going to be a pretty experimental film.

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You can also click on Collapse Cards in the bottom right corner to just show the titles of the cards, and you can click on Manage and select Print-Friendly View to export the outline in list form for easy printing.

I tried opening Storybuilder in Chrome and Safari on my iPad. Both allow you to pull up your outline, add cards, and write/edit cards, but if there is a way to drag and drop cards to rearrange them, I couldn’t figure it out. That’s the one feature I’d like (or if it already exists, the one I need to learn how to use).

So is it perfect? No. But for me it’s pretty damn useful, because at least I can access it when I’m away from my desktop, unlike Scrivener. Plus, it’s free, so that’s hard to beat.

Since Amazon is also offering the Storywriter service as well, I opened it up and messed around with it. It’s basic, and you should probably know how a scripted page should look already, but for the price of free I had nothing to complain about it. Here’s a quick test I whipped up to showcase some of the different elements.

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I should note that once I was inside Storywriter, I couldn’t find a way to exit it other than going back in my history to the Amazon Studios page again.

So hey, free tools and a possible path to getting your script turned into an Amazon TV show or movie. Not bad at all.

Stepping Out of the Cave

Inside a Cave

The writer, bleary-eyed and squinting, makes his halting way out of the cave in which he has spent the entire summer. It wasn’t always pleasant in that cave, but it was cool at least. Here the writer finds temperatures in the 90s, which he hadn’t counted on. Didn’t he smell pumpkin spice on the wind? Surely the leaves should be turning colors under an overcast sky, and a cool breeze should be riffling the writer’s wild hair. Instead, bright sunshine and baking heat. Shaking his head, the writer removes his sweat jacket and throws it back down into the cave, careful to miss the stack of pages from a summer’s worth of work. It’s not hard to miss, that stack: nine chapters, about 25,000 words.

The writer sighs as sweat drips from his brow. It was supposed to be a bigger stack, the kind that you’d knock over if you swung your jacket at it as a result of unseasonably warm weather. Still, it was a stack, where it might have been nothing at all. It had been dark in that cave, after all, and nine chapters wasn’t something to sneeze at. (The dust that the writer had allowed to collect in the corners and high shelves of the cave? That was another matter entirely.)

Outside the cave, trees rustle in the breeze, the chittering leaves passing judgement on the writer’s lack of progress. Or maybe that’s all in the writer’s head, which is thick with the oppressive warmth. The writer looks back in the cave, considering a quick retreat, then turns and marches away before he can change his mind, reaching the relative coolth of the shade beneath the trees. From there, he leans sideways and peers around the great trunk. A passing bicyclist sees the writer’s head pop out from behind the tree, squeaks in fright, and veers away, narrowly missing an elderly man crossing the road. The man rears back in fright, and the thin plastic bag he holds tears apart, spilling its load of canned meats and fruits. They clunk onto the road, denting and rolling hither and thither. The man gets slowly to his knees and shepherds the cans back into his arms.

The writer, pulling a face, hides behind the tree with his back to it. He is red-faced and not just from the heat. He forgets how close he is to civilization, because down in the cave it feels very far away. Maybe he should return to the cave, he thinks. After all, he knows where the book ends, and a lot of the events that need to happen to get there, but much of the book remains a mystery to him. The only way to solve that mystery is to write, even if he doesn’t know what the next sentence, the next word will be. He grimaces. Yes, back to the cave. It’s dark down there, but there’s work to be done.

Before he goes back, he carves nine notches into the rough bark of the tree, where a summer ago he had carved a rough rectangle with the words Book 3 at the top. Nine. There’s room for fifty marks. The untouched bark stares at him and the writer turns away, trudging back to the cave. On the way, the hint of a cool breeze tickles the back of the writer’s neck. Taking a deep breath, the writer pauses, stretches, tries to release some of the tension in his neck and shoulders. Then it’s back down into the cave and back to work.  This time, though, the writer tells himself he’ll check on the outside world more often. As long as the weather changes soon.

Guest Post: Samantha Bryant and Going Through the Change

Today I am happy to host Samantha Bryant on my blog. I know Samantha through Google+ (home to many a fine writer), and I jumped at the chance to have her guest post here. For me, a writer who chose to self-publish, it’s really good to see the thought process of a writer who published with a small, independent publisher, and to see the results. Food for thought.

So read on to find out about Samantha, her book, and her path to having it published. And then pick it up for free, today and tomorrow (see details at the bottom of this post)! Congrats, Samantha!


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Small, Independent Publishers: Neither a Jet Plane, Nor a Slow Boat to China
OR
My Path to Publishing

You hear a lot about how slowly the traditional publishing world moves. It’s been described as glacial in speed, and in the midst of it, that doesn’t feel inaccurate. It’s a source of frustration, especially for eager new writers who are anxious to get their words into the hands of readers. The slow pace is part of why many writers choose to independently publish their works. (Though impatience can lead to a poor product in some of those cases, too).

I didn’t self-publish Going Through the Change: A Menopausal Superhero Novel, though I was looking into it, and might well consider that route for other works in the future. For me, it came down to whether I had the money to do it right–hiring editors and artists to make my book the best it could be–and whether I had the chutzpah to market it completely by myself. I came up short on both those fronts. My day job is not lucrative, at least not in dollars. (I’m a public middle school teacher). My marketing knowledge can be boiled down to, “Well, I know what I don’t like.”

So, I took a sort of middle road, shopping my novel around to only small, independent publishers. For those considering a similar route, here’s how it went for me.

Going Through the Change: A Menopausal Superhero Novel, from conception of the idea to a book people can now buy was almost exactly three years.

In March of 2012, I was struggling to finish the first novel I ever actually finished (unpublished as of yet, His Other Mother, women’s issues fiction). It’s a dark story and it was emotionally hard on me to finish it.  So, part of my brain was trying to escape.

My husband and I were talking while we walked our dog one night about how superheroes all seem to be teenagers and if that meant that hormones cause superpowers. I said something like, “Well, if hormones give superpowers, then menopausal women should be the most powerful people on the planet!” He laughed and told me to write it down and a novel was born. I came up with the general concept and some rough character descriptions for a superhero novel, escapism at its best. I filed them away and used them as a carrot to make myself get to the end of that first book stick.

In July of 2012, I finished writing His Other Mother (that one took four years just for the writing of the first draft, and several more months for rewrites), and let myself start writing Going Through the Change. I finished the first draft in August 2013 (somewhere in there, I picked up my Magic Spreadsheet habit, a tracking tool for a daily writing word count which really increased my productivity). By the end of 2013, the book had been through my critique group and some beta readers and I had rewritten it. Keep in mind I also had a demanding full time day job (middle school teaching) and a family (husband, two children and a dog) during this time–there was only 1-2 hours per day I could get for direct focus on writing, often less.

I started querying it and submitting it in January 2014.  I won’t make you suffer through the rejections, requests for full manuscript that still got rejected, and no-answer-answers with me. But I did only try small and independent presses and found that the response time was usually a month or less. The querying process for His Other Mother at bigger, more literary focused presses, for contrast, took roughly six months each time I submitted it.

The story for Change ends happily with a book contract from Curiosity Quills Press in August 2014. I found them via an online friend who also publishes with them. I liked them because they had a focus on speculative fiction, and had published a very popular supervillain book already. The covers of their other publications looked good, and I am shallow enough to judge the quality of the product at least in part on the cover.

I also liked the transparency of their terms. You could see what the contract terms would be without even submitting anything. It made me feel like I knew what I was getting into. I also checked in with Preditors & Editors and cyber-stalked them a little to make sure no big red flags went up before I sent in my work.

CQ had a really quick process. From my initial query to a request for a full and then to my contract offer was only a space of about two weeks. Compare that to my submissions of His Other Mother to larger presses. I often waited six months for a non-specific and unhelpful “No.” The process from there was initially very busy with two editing passes, proofreading, formatting, marketing planning, and cover design, followed by what felt like a very long lull, until ARCs were released and I could start seeking reviews and promotional opportunities. Book release day was April 23, 2015, almost exactly three years to the day since I thought up the idea. In traditional publishing, I’d call that speedy-fast-quick!

For my debut novel, I don’t think I could have asked for a smoother, more comfortable process. CQ has a very family feel and the other authors, editors, artists, proofreaders, etc. have been nothing but supportive, helpful, and kind. Working with a small publisher didn’t free me from marketing responsibilities, but it did give me partners and support through that, people to ask questions of and trade favors with. It opened some doors that maybe would have been harder to open otherwise, like getting on shelves in bookstores or featured on certain blogs and review sites. Because I had a publisher behind me, I didn’t have to fight as hard to have the book taken seriously in some settings.

I’m happy with the quality of the product itself. I’ve got a wonderful cover that works much better than any of my own ideas would have (artist: Polina Sapershteyn). After all, I’m a writer, not a graphic artist. The book was professionally edited, formatted, and proofread on the company’s dime and seems to play well in all formats as a result. I’m not sure I could’ve done that on my own or afforded to hire it done.

Only time will tell if I’ve made the right decisions for my debut novel, but right now, I’m feeling good!


Going Through the Change is going through a change in price for a couple of days in early August. On August 5th and 6th you can get the Kindle edition for free on Amazon. Check it out at: http://bitly.com/face-the-change

Samantha Bryant is a middle school Spanish teacher by day and a mom and novelist by night. That makes her a superhero all the time. Her debut novel, Going Through the Change: A Menopausal Superhero Novel is now for sale by Curiosity Quills. You can find her online on her blog,  Twitter, on Facebook, on Amazon, on Goodreads, on the Curiosity Quills page, or on Google+.

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Anthology Opportunities: June 2015

Depositphotos_7200270_originalThere are quite a number of science-fiction and fantasy anthologies looking for submissions right now, so I thought I’d share some of the ones that interest me, in case you might find them useful as well. (Of course, these are all time-sensitive and subject to change.)

Clockwork Phoenix 5

Looking for “stories that sidestep expectations in beautiful and unsettling ways, that surprise with their settings and startle with the ways they cross genre boundaries, that aren’t afraid to experiment with storytelling techniques. But experimentation is not a requirement: the stories in the anthology must be more than gimmicks, and should appeal to genuine emotions, suspense, fear, sorrow, delight, wonder. I will value a story that makes me laugh in its quirky way more than a story that tries to dazzle me with a hollow exercise in wordplay.

“The stories should contain elements of the fantastic, be it science fiction, fantasy, horror or some combination thereof, [but] bring something new and genuine to the equation.”

6 cents/word,  stories under 5,000 words STRONGLY PREFERRED. Submit by July 26, 2015.

Defying Doomsday

Looking for stories of “apocalypse-survival fiction with a focus on disabled characters. (One of) the protagonist(s) must be a character with disability, such as physical impairments, chronic illnesses, mental illnesses and/or neurodiverse characters etc. We will consider stories with characters experiencing all kinds of disability and hope that submitting authors will be creative with the possibilities.”

7 cents/word, 3000-7000 words. Submit by June 30, 2015 to clear the July 1 Australian deadline.

Futuristica Volume 1

“We prize diversity, specifically stories that include multicultural backgrounds or lead characters of atypical ethnic origins. Basically, while we have nothing against heterosexual white American males, we feel they are already adequately represented in science fiction and we want stories about the rest of humanity.

“We are interested in character-oriented fiction.” They stress their desire for women-positive, sex-positive, and science-positive stories.

7 cents/word, 3000-10,000 words. Submit by August 31, 2015.

Hidden Youth: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History

“Your story must be set before 1935 C.E. (NO exceptions), and take place primarily in our world or an alternate historical version of our world. (Travel to other worlds, other dimensions, Fairyland, the afterlife, etc. is fine but should not be the focus.) Your protagonists must be young people (under the age of 18) who were marginalized in their time and place.”

6 cents/word, 2000-8000 words. Submit by July 31, 2015.

SNAFU: Future Warfare

“We want ORIGINAL military-style combat with strong elements of future technology/sci-fi, and we want horror. Give us fear… suspense and tension… we want originality and speculation about future aspects of war. Most of all we want action, action, ACTION! We want something jaw-droppingly amazing.”

4 cents/word AUD (so 3 cents/word USD, per Google), 2000-10,000 words. Submit by August 13, 2015 (or August 12 to be safe again, because Australia).


Header image purchased from and copyright innovari/depositphotos.com.

The Only Sweepstakes Left Follow-Up

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Recently I tried a KingSumo giveaway in order to build my mailing list in advance of the release of my new book, The Fifth House. In The Only Sweepstakes Left, I gave away one Pop! toy (the winner could choose from three available) in exchange for signing up for my mailing list. Of course, not everyone who signed up would be interested in my mailing list, and it’s easy to unsubscribe from it, but I wanted to experiment with a new way to build my mailing list, so I did.

Now that the giveaway is over, I wanted to look at it and see what worked and what didn’t.

Was it a success? It was a modest one. I got 33 e-mail addresses to add to my mailing list, and 37 total entries. If you’re not familiar with KingSumo, it is meant to encourage people to share your giveaway on various social networks because if Person 2 uses Person 1’s Lucky URL, Person 1 gets extra entries into the giveaway. In this manner, no one is penalized for sharing the giveaway. The more they share, the better their chances of winning might be (assuming people use their Lucky URL to sign up). The end result, ideally, is that one’s giveaway goes viral.

So did my giveaway go viral? No. There were two entries in which contestants used another contestant’s Lucky URL. Those entries were probably ones I would not have otherwise gotten, but I wouldn’t say that was viral. A minor cold, maybe, or a case of the sniffles.

What lessons did I learn from this giveaway? There might be any number of reasons that this wasn’t a bigger success, but here are my conjectures. 1) A single Pop! toy was not enough to entice people to allow me into their inbox. If I had been willing to give away all three, that might have been more attractive. 2) There wasn’t enough of an overlap between readers and toy fans. If I shared the giveaway in book communities, the toy didn’t attract book fans. And if I shared the giveaway in toy communities, I wasn’t necessarily getting contestants who cared about my books at all.

What will I do going forward? I could try to get my money back for KingSumo, since they have a 60-day Satisfaction-Guaranteed refund policy. However, I think the cost of the service (a one-time payment) will pale in comparison to the long-term use I can get out of it.

However, for my future giveaways I will probably stick to giving away books, especially ebooks which have zero additional costs to me. If I have a large mailing list at some point, I would consider giving away a toy to a randomly-drawn person from that list to reward loyalty, but I don’t think I would use one to entice new fans to consider my books.

What about you? Have you tried anything unusual to promote your books or build your mailing list? What worked and what didn’t?

Review: Crooks & Straights

Crooks and StraightsCrooks and Straights by Masha du Toit

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a wonderful read which I suppose falls into the YA category but suited me just fine as an adult reader. It is the story of a young girl in a magical version of South Africa who gets caught between the magical and non-magical world around her. The world itself is full of everyday magic, but also tension as it becomes increasingly clear that magical people and creatures are an oppressed underclass. As such, the book deals with civil rights issues and the topic of children with special needs, through the lens of a world uncomfortable with magical or odd things.

The book is full of inventive magical details and feels very real and well-constructed, and the writing flows well and is often quite beautiful. I recommend Crooks and Straights to fans of Harry Potter, movies like Howl’s Moving Castle, and the books of Neil Gaiman.

View all my reviews

The Fifth House Edits: Week Four

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I’ve been so busy, I skipped the Week 3 post, but this week and last have pretty much been the same. At a pace of three chapters a day, I’m going through The Fifth House and making improvements. This includes clearing up confusing sections, cutting out redundant words, sentences and sections, and checking that the characters and their actions flow together from one chapter to the next.

That last part is no small task. When I write 1000 words a day during the first draft, I sometimes have to change my plan for the story in mid-stream. I don’t have time to go back and change what I’ve already written during my drafting stage, so I drop a comment into the document noting the change and advising Editor Andy to go back and fix it later. Other times, I just write filler describing what I wanted to but couldn’t write, or I write something and leave a note explaining that what I just wrote was horrible and could I make it better during edits.

Editor Andy hates First Draft Andy for pulling this crap, but that’s the way it goes. It allows me to keep writing up until The End without getting bogged down in repairing what I’ve already written. Still, it gets frustrating. Here are some of my favorite comments to myself, that make me curse First Draft Andy aloud.

“Confusing. Delete.” So if it was confusing and I should delete it, why didn’t I just do that during the first draft? Because then I would have had to write more to reach my 1,000-word goal for the day.

“This can all be shown instead of told, second time through.” All you have to do is snap your fingers!

“Stood stood stood” I guess I used the same word in three consecutive sentences…

“repetitive” “comma overload” Self-explanatory

“I don’t like this whole paragraph, but I’m moving on for now.” Now you’re just being mean.

“Not taking into account word count, this would be a good chapter end.” In other words, what’s wrong with a 300 word chapter if it’s got a nice hook at the end?

And my favorite: “This makes no sense to me.” In my defense, I get up really early to write.

You get the idea. At my average pace of three chapters a day, I should have this editing done by Valentine’s Day, a gift to myself. And then what? I start all over, undoubtedly finding all new mistakes and confusing sections to fix.

I’ll most likely take a one- or two-week break between this editing pass and the next, though, to work on some short stories and to get a little distance from the book.

There you have it. Writing, editing. It’s work and it’s not always pretty, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Photo credit: Translator’s Revenge by Daniela Vladimirova.

Review: The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide

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Review:
The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide: Every Indie Author’s Essential Directory – To Help You Prepare, Publish, and Promote Professional Looking Books
Joel Friedlander & Betty Kelly Sargent
ISBN-13: 978-0936385365

The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide bills itself as “the first and largest collection of curated and verified resources for independent authors who plan to publish their own books.” It has “over 850 resources listed in an easy-to-use format that includes live links, phone numbers, email addresses and brief descriptive copy. The Guide makes vendors and other resources easy to find by separating them into 33 distinct categories within the 3 main tasks the self-publisher must deal with. How to Prepare, Publish, and Promote their books.”

In other words, it’s a book of lists, from different types of editors to ebook conversion services to website designers. And for this book to be useful, you have to be willing to trust the expertise of the authors who compiled the lists, or at least prefer to pick one of their choices than do your own research. In that respect, I’m not sure this book is for everyone. Mostly it feels like a website that has been made into a book, which put me in mind of the early days of the internet when there were so few places to visit, you could find them with the Yellow Pages.

Remember using this? I do.

The authors claim that the ebook version of the book will be “updated regularly to provide current information and links in the fast-changing indie publishing world,” which again seems like something a website is more suited to, but perhaps this is an easier way to monetize this sort of curation. More power to them.

Bottom line: If you’d prefer a list of vendors who have been vouched for by two experts in the field, this book might be for you. If you’d prefer to do it yourself, there’s nothing in this book you can’t find online with enough searching or with a recommendation from other writers. Either way, caveat emptor. Here are the buy links for the book if you’re interested.

The Fifth House Edits: Week Two

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I am now about 72,000 words into the first pass edit of The Fifth House, which is the sequel to The Only City Left. (You can sign up for my newsletter to be notified when The Fifth House is released.) As I mentioned last week, I am using this first pass to look at the structure of the story as a whole, from where the chapter breaks are, to character arcs through the book, to where certain scenes need to fall in relation to one another.

In the process of rereading my first draft, I’ve come across a series of chapters that will require some major rewrites, if not completely new versions. When I write a first draft, I write write write, at least 1,000 words a day, every day. It forces me to keep going when I might otherwise stall out. Generally, it’s a good thing, but sometimes, as with these chapters, it can take me far down a dead end path.

So I need to go back and rework those chapters, but at least this time I have a better sense of where not to go with them. In fact, reading them and seeing where the story went wrong , I was able to make an outline for how to guide the story in a better direction. Edits like these can feel a bit like I’m moving through molasses, but I’m hoping that once I have the structure and pacing locked down, I’ll be much better able to focus on the sentence-level work of making the writing flow and sound right, confident that the big picture is working for me.

Photo Credit: No Cars-1 by Ze’ev Barkan.

The Fifth House Edits: Week One

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I am 40,000 words into the first pass edit of The Fifth House, which is the sequel to The Only City Left. (Sign up for my newsletter to be notified when The Fifth House is released!) For this first pass, I am looking at the structure of the story as a whole, from where the chapter breaks are, to character arcs through the book, to where certain scenes need to fall in relation to one another. More detailed edits will have to wait for the second pass.

Already I have pushed back the introduction of one character and relegated her to a smaller role in the book, because she was fighting for attention in an already-crowded novel. That change allowed me to cut down the length of the first chapter she appeared in, but of course this also requires cascading changes throughout the rest of the book. In the end, I think it will be worth it, though. Plus, any character I cut like this usually shows up again, whether in a short story or another work altogether.

I should mention that I have two point-of-view characters in Book Two, as opposed to only Allin in Book One, and they switch off chapters. This is done to expand the story possibilities in this book, and to have the action be more wide-ranging while still allowing me to tell the big-picture story I want to tell. Reading through my draft, I realized that the second character was sort of defined by her relationship to Allin. Since she should be as important a character as Allin, I wrote an entirely new introduction chapter for her, and I think this makes the story flow much more smoothly.

Finally, when I wrote this draft, I was more concerned with getting the ideas out than making the chapters the perfect length as I went. This meant that some of my “chapters” were 4000, 5000, even 7000 words long, whereas my preferred chapter length is about 2500 words. Breaking the chapters down to that size is complicated by my dual-narrator approach, but it’s a challenge I’m having fun tackling.

So in the first third of the draft, I have cut chunks of exposition, removed a character, added in a new chapter, and cut the existing chapters into smaller, more manageable pieces. Not bad for week one of edits!

Photo credit: [44/365] I am Jack, hear me lumber! by Pascal.