Making Promises You Can’t Deliver

© Can Stock Photo / eric1513

Years ago, a fellow writer contacted me about including me in a book she was writing. I’d met her at a few events where I was promoting my Luke and Jenny book series. Her book was about honoring people who helped to preserve the history or promote the culture of the old west. It would feature many prominent Arizonans, as well as a few Hollywood actors.

Needless to say, I felt both honored and excited to be included in this very distinguished group. One member had been the host of a kid’s TV show in Phoenix which ran for over thirty-five years. He may not have been as famous as the Hollywood actors, but I grew up watching him on TV. I was especially excited to be in the same group he was, and I really looked forward to reading her book once it was published.

A few years went by. I checked her website from time to time. There was no new information, but I wasn’t concerned. Writing a book doesn’t happen overnight, so this was not uncommon.

It’s now been more than a decade since she first contacted me, and her website has since been taken down. It wasn’t a good sign, and I wondered if something might have happened to her. A number of people she included in her book have since passed away, including the kid’s TV show host. Then the other day I saw one of her posts on Facebook. It was the first I’d seen or heard of her in years.

I commented on her post and asked her how she was doing. I also asked her about her book. Her response was totally unexpected. She changed her mind and she wasn’t going to do her book after all. It was too much work and she didn’t have the time. Seriously?

We’ve all had ideas for books which we may have started, but, for whatever reason, we were unable to finish. The issue here is her having contacted and interviewed people before she changed her mind. At the very least, she should have reached out us, along with the families of those who had passed away, to thank us for our time and to apologize for not being able to complete the book. It would have also been nice if she had returned whatever materials I may have sent her. Where I come from this is called common courtesy.

Things happen, but it never ends well when you don’t deliver on the promises you make. I honestly feel like I’ve been duped, and whatever respect I may have had for this woman evaporated the minute I read her comment. I take my profession seriously, and I’ve worked hard to build a good reputation. If something beyond my control comes up and prevents me from keeping a promise I let the other party know, as soon as I possibly can. My reputation depends on it.

Gayle Martin

Are You Ready to be Published?

© Can Stock Photo / alexskopje

There is nothing quite like the thrill of finishing your very first manuscript. If you’re like most new authors, you probably can’t wait to see your book in print. However, there are a number of steps you need to take before you’re ready to publish. The following checklist will help you determine if you are indeed ready.

Have you determined if there is a viable market for your book?

The old adage that there’s an audience for every book is generally true, but some genres are more popular than others. That said, some niche authors do very well. I know a gay man who writes romance novels for gay readers, and he built a following rather quickly

Have you completed your research and listed all your sources in a bibliography?

This mostly applies to nonfiction works, although I included bibliographies in my Luke and Jenny series of historical novels for young readers. The series was written to teach actual historic events in an interesting and entertaining way, and it was geared toward educators.

Have you gotten two to four manuscript reviews to use for your back cover blurbs?

It’s an important step which many new authors miss. Having a back cover blurb gives you more credibility. I’ll ask other authors for reviews and let them know there’s some free publicity for them, as their name and book title appears on my cover. Authors associations and online forums are a great way to connect with other authors.

Have you obtained written permission for all the visual references you’re including, such as photographs or charts?

This is a biggie, and never assume it’s public domain because it’s a historic image or it’s royalty free. Copyright laws changed dramatically in the 1970s, and some museums own the rights to images in their collections. Also royalty free doesn’t mean copyright free, so read the terms and conditions carefully when purchasing stock images. When in doubt, ask. Better yet, create it yourself if you can.

Have you used your spellchecker?

Seriously. Even the best of us make silly mistakes, and double checking your spelling will make your editor’s job a little easier.

Have you decided how to publish your book?

Gone are the days when big publishing houses dominated the market. Today’s authors have many options. Please refer to my post,  The Three Options for Book Publishing, for more specific information.

Are you prepared to deal with the possibility of rejection letters or receiving bad reviews?

Not everyone is going to like your book, and those who choose to find an agent or go the traditional publishing route will have to deal with rejection letters. However, you needn’t fear an occasional bad review. It means that you are real.

Are you willing to accept editorial changes?

This is another biggie. Your editor is a fresh pair of eyes who goes over your manuscript to give it the polish it needs to help it become successful. They can and will make changes. Therefore, it’s important that you find someone you feel comfortable working with. Once again, author’s associations and online forums are good places to ask for referrals.

Have you planned a budget to cover expenses such as software, editors, and other out-of-pocket costs?

Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, writing a book is a business venture, and you will have some out-of-pocket expenses. Even traditionally published authors have overhead expenses, such as computers and software. Grants, endowments or crowd funding may be available for those authors in need of financial assistance.

Do you have a plan for marketing and promoting your book?

Marketing the book is the author’s responsibility, even if you are traditionally published. Thankfully, there are many how-to books out there to help you with your marketing plan.

If you answered no any of these questions then you’re not ready to be published. However, this checklist may be a handy guide for doing what you need to be ready.

Remember, book publishing is a team effort. So for best results, you must be willing to work with others and be willing to consider whatever suggestions or advice they may offer you.

Gayle Martin

 

How to Create a Book Video

photo by Gayle Martin

One of the perks of being a novel writer is learning new skills, and one of the new skills I learned was video production. Book videos are a must-have tool for building your brand and marketing your book(s). They’re like a TV commercial or a movie trailer and they’re used on websites, blogs, and social media. There are several different ways to go about producing a book video. The most common are slideshows, author readings, and book trailers

Video Slideshows

Back in the mid 2000s, when I wrote my Luke and Jenny series of historical novels for young readers, Internet videos were a new technology. Video editing software was expensive and difficult to use. So, back then, many authors produced video slideshows, which were easy to create in Powerpoint. My first two book videos were simple PowerPoint presentations that I produced myself for very little money.

Even today, you can still create a nice video slideshow without having to spend a lot of money. Powerpoint has come a long way, and nowadays you can animate slides, record voice overs, and add music tracks to your presentation. Or you can take it to the next level and produce your slideshow in iMovie or one of its Windows counterparts. Whatever approach you take is entirely up to you.

Author Readings

Thanks for smartphones, we all have a camcorder in our pocket. Those authors who wish to make a more personal connection with their readers may opt to read a portion of their book to their readers. Such videos are inexpensive and easy to produce. All you need is a smartphone, a tripod, and some basic video editing software, such as iMovie.

Lighting, however, may be a challenge, so you should definitely take some test shots of your set before you begin shooting. If you have the means, consider hiring someone to shoot the video for you. A professional will know how to light the scene and can determine which camera angles are the most flattering. Either way, be sure to read a sample that’s interesting and action packed, but don’t give too much of your story away.

Book Trailers

Book trailers are like movie trailers. You shoot a few scenes from your book, but like the author reading, you don’t want to give too much of your story away. The idea is to entice a potential reader.

Unlike slideshows and author readings, book trailers are more expensive to create, and in most cases you’ll need to hire a professional to produce the video for you. Be sure to read their contract carefully before you sign. You may also need to hire actors. If so, they will need to sign a release form, granting you their permission to use their image. There are many release form templates available for download on the Internet, and oftentimes they are free.

Whether you are creating your video yourself or hiring a pro, there are a few things you need to be aware of when it comes to producing a video.

Royalty Free Doesn’t Mean Copyright Free

Some people think royalty free means copyright free. However, this isn’t the case at all. Royalty free is a term for a particular type of licensing agreement. Simply put, it means you don’t have to pay the right holder each time their image or music is used. You still have to pay a one time licensing fee up front to use the footage or music. There may also be limits on how the footage or music can be used. For example, it may be limited to editorial or non-commercial use only, so be sure to read the fine print carefully.

Other Sources

Pond5 is my go-to company for video production. You name it, they probably have it. Stock footage, music, photos, and whatever else you may need. Shutterstock and Can Stock Photo are also good sources. All of these companies will charge a fee, so you may want to shop around. Be sure to read the licensing agreement before you buy, and be wary of any website giving you “free” stuff. The quality may not be that great, and you may be buying pirated materials.

And finally

Whether you’re doing a simple slideshow video, or hiring a professional and doing a full board production, it’s important to remember that content is king. You want viewers to take an interest in your books, but you don’t want to give them too much information either.

I’ve posted one of my  book trailers below. It’s for my Marina Martindale contemporary romance novel, The Deception. I’ve come a long way since I created my first book video. Instead of a simple Powerpoint slideshow, I’m now producing book trailers.

Gayle Martin

 

Consistent Book Cover Design

Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, building your own unique brand as an author is essential. For those of us who’ve written more than one book, this includes having consistent covers. After all, what’s the first thing a potential reader sees? Your book cover.

Five Star Publications, Inc., published Gunfight at the O.K. Corral: Luke and Jenny Visit Tombstone, the first title of my Luke and Jenny series of historical novels for young readers, back in 2006. As publisher, Five Star took care of the cover design. The illustrator and cover designer created a beautiful book cover, and I was quite pleased with it.

Unfortunately, when the time came to publish my second book, Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War: a Luke and Jenny Adventure I found out that the person who designed and illustrated the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral cover was no longer available. Thankfully, we were able to find another illustrator with a similar drawing style. However, no two artists are exactly the same. I loved the Billy the Kid cover illustration, but it didn’t match the O.K. Corral illustration closely enough to make the two books look related. I now had to make a decision. I could either have a book series with one cover which looked like it didn’t belong, or I could have the original Luke and Jenny book cover redone with a new artwork from the new illustrator. I opted for the latter. It really was my only option.

My covers were now consistent, which, in turn, made it that much easier to build my brand.

A few years later I published updated editions of the Luke and Jenny series, this time with my own publishing company, Good Oak Press, LLC. I could have redesigned the covers with new illustrations, but opted not to. My brand had been well established by then, and other than new ISBN numbers, and some minor copy editing, the books were essentially the same as the Five Star editions. The only change I made was to add the brown borders to distinguish them from the earlier Five Star series.

After completing my Luke and Jenny series I changed genres and started writing fiction for adult readers. This meant starting all over from scratch and building an entirely new brand, including creating a pen name, Marina Martindale, but the same rules for my covers applied. While I now write stand alone novels, I still work with Wes Lowe, who did the Luke and Jenny cover illustrations, and I still have consistency in the cover designs. It’s all about building your brand.

Gayle Martin

 

 

Lessons Learned from Self-Publishing

I’ve recently moved to a new state, and while I was unpacking, I found a copy of my very first book. It was a historic cookbook titled Anna’s Kitchen. I’ve learned a lot writing and publishing since then, and I’ve done my best to share what I’ve learned with the rest of you.

I published Anna’s Kitchen in 2005. I was such a smart-alec at the time that I thought I knew everything. I did have one advantage though. I’d been freelance graphic designer for years. Therefore, I already knew how to typeset and how to design an interesting book cover. Unfortunately,  I didn’t know squat about editing, distribution, or marketing. So, here are the lessons I learned from self-publishing.

  1. A spell checker is not a substitute for an editor, or a proofreader.
  2.  You need to work with Ingram if you want your books distributed properly.
  3. Five-hundred books takes up a lot of space.
The Luke and Jenny Series

The following year I met Linda Radke, owner of Five Star Publications, Inc. Linda published my second book, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral: Luke and Jenny. Visit Tombstone. It would be the first in my Luke and Jenny series of historical novels for young readers. Linda was more than my publisher. She was also a mentor. The final book of the series, Riding with the James Gang: a Luke and Jenny Adventure, was published in 2010. I was now ready to change genres and start writing novels for adult audiences. At the same time, however, Linda was changing her business model to specialize in publishing children’s books. (Her company is now called Story Monsters, Inc.) We talked it over, and she honestly thought I was ready to start up my own publishing company, which I did. My publishing company is called, Good Oak Press, LLC.

Looking back, I have no regrets. With Anna’s Kitchen I learned, firsthand, how much work goes into publishing a book. Good Oak Press later published a new edition of Anna’s Kitchen titled Rosie’s Riveting Recipes, along with new, updated editions of the Luke and Jenny series. I’m also writing, and publishing, contemporary romance novels as Marina Martindale. 

Gayle Martin 

Lessons Learned from Self-Publishing


I still have the last remaining copy of my first book; a historic cookbook titled Anna’s Kitchen. I produced and self-published it back in 2005. I learned a lot from the experience, and I’ve done my best to share what I’ve learned with other authors.

Looking back, I must admit I was such a little smart-aleck at the time that I thought I knew everything. Okay, so maybe my having been a freelance graphic designer helped. I was able to produce something that looked really cool. That counts for something, right? However, back then I didn’t know squat about editing, distribution, or marketing. So, here are but some of the lessons I learned.

  • A spell checker is not a substitute for an editor, or a proofreader.
  • If you want your book to be distributed, you really need Ingram.
  • 500 books really does take up a lot of room in your shed.

Ah, I was so naive at the time, but it was a good, yet humbling, learning experience. The following year I wrote Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, the first of my Luke and Jenny series of historical novels for young readers. That same year I signed on with a partnership publisher, Five Star Publications, Inc. (Now Story Monsters, LLC.) Linda Radke, the company president, was an amazing mentor. I learned a lot about the publishing business from her.

After I finished Riding with the James Gang, the final book in the Luke and Jenny trilogy, I was ready for a change. I wanted to write full-fledged novels for adult readers. In 2011, I wrote my first romance novel, The Reunion, under the pen name, Marina Martindale. Linda Radke was also changing her business model to publishing children’s books only. However, we both agreed I was ready to go out on my own, and I started up my own publishing company, Good Oak Press, LLC.

Writing novels isn’t a hobby. It’s a business. My advice to any novel writer, or prospective novel writer, is to treat it like a business. Kudos to you if you’re lucky enough to beat the odds and sign on with a traditional publisher. However, as I explained in my earlier post, The Three Options for Publishing Your Book, the odds of a major publishing house signing on a first-time author are extremely slim at best. Most of us will either sign on with a partnership publisher, or we’ll start up our own publishing business.

If you’re a new author, or if you only plan on writing one book, I recommend finding a good partnership publisher, but writer beware. There are some bad actors out there too, so I highly suggest you do some research before signing on with them.

If you’re planning on writing more than one book you may want to consider doing what I did and creating your own publishing company, which you can do as a sole proprietor, or as an LLC. Each has their pros and cons, so again, you will have to do some research, as rules and regulations for creating a corporation vary by state.

I’ve learned a lot about book publishing since I wrote my first book. Some through trial and error, but mostly through working with Linda. Looking back, I have no regrets, and I plan on writing and publishing books many more books.

Gayle Martin

Pondering the Meaning of Life

© 2019 Gayle Martin. All Rights Reserved.

The other day I learned that an old family friend had passed away. She and her husband were close friends with my parents, and she was the last one standing. 


I’ll call her Jane. I saw quite a bit of her when I was young, but once I became and adult and left home I only saw her at special events; weddings, anniversary parties, and funerals. The last time I saw her was over twenty years ago. As soon as I heard she had passed away, I looked up her obituary. It included a photo, probably taken a good fifty years ago. And while Jane wasn’t overly pretty, she was an attractive woman and surprisingly photogenic. 


Her obituary began the usual way. When and where she was born. It mentioned her parents, grandparents, and siblings. It mentioned her marriage and a business her husband once owned. There was also a mention of her being a cub scout den mother, and that’s when her story took an odd twist. Instead of saying she was a full time mom and homemaker, it listed all the country clubs she’d belonged to. It concluded with saying that she had spent her entire adult life playing bridge at the country club. 

Wow.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve always had a great deal of admiration for full time moms. I think they have one of the most important, and overlooked, roles in society. I also think we should make time to do the things we enjoy doing. It brings meaning and balance in our lives. If playing cards is what you enjoy doing then so be it. However, there’s a whole lot more to life than just playing cards at the country club.

Life is about what we do for others, and doing what we can to make the world a better place. It’s also about the legacy we leave behind. Whether it’s my Luke and Jenny series of novelettes for young readers, or my Marina Martindale contemporary romance novels, my job as a novel writer is to bring a little joy into people’s lives, even if it’s only for a few minutes out of their busy day. For me, doing what I can to help people take a break from their troubles is a life well spent.

Gayle Martin

When to Use a Pen Name

People ask me if I write under my real name, or a pen name. I actually write under both. There are many reasons why authors choose to write under pen names.  
  • The author wishes to keep his or her privacy.
  • The author writes controversial or sensitive subject matter, such as erotica.
  • There is, by coincidence, another author with the same name, or a similar name.
  • The author has a name that is confusing, hard to pronounce, or with an unusual spelling.
  • The author writes in more than one genre, and wishes to build a separate brand for each.

The latter two reasons apply to me.

When I wrote my first book, Anna’s Kitchen, I thought my legal name, Gayle Martin, was perhaps too common. So, I included my maiden name, Homes. However, there was a problem. Before I was married to a Mr. Martin, I spent my life having both a first and a last name with unusual spellings. Gayle Homes. I was constantly having to spell my name for people, and they were still getting my name wrong. They all thought I was, “Gail Holmes,” and no, it didn’t exactly do wonders for my self-esteem. 

Once Anna’s Kitchen was published, I realized that the troubles of the past had come back to haunt me. The name, Gayle Homes, with or without, Martin, simply left too big of a margin for error for a keyword search. Had I not picked up the name, Martin, along my life’s journey, I would have used a pen name from the get-go. That said, we learn from our mistakes. So when I started publishing my Luke and Jenny series of historical novels for young readers, I dropped the name Homes and published as Gayle Martin. It worked, and I successfully built my brand as a children’s book author. Then came the next problem.

Why I switched to a pen name

As much as I loved my Luke and Jenny books, I wanted to branch out into the romance genre. Most readers in this genre expect some steamy love scenes. However, this would present a real problem if young Luke and Jenny fans, or their parents, bought my newer books, thinking they too were written for younger readers. So, I created a pen name, Marina Martindale, which is simply a play on my middle name, Marie, and my last name, Martin.

Ultimately, it’s up to each author to decide whether or not to write under a pen name. If you opt to do so, I highly recommend creating one that’s easy to spell, easy to pronounce, and memorable.

Gayle Martin
or is it
Marina Martindale?