Author Archives: Kristen S. Walker

Binge Reading

With video streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, it’s become popular to watch a whole television series at once, instead of waiting for a new episode each week. The term for this is now “binge watching” and I admit that I do it myself sometimes, like when Netflix releases an entire season right at the start of a weekend. (I know that I’m clearing my calendar for Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life in November!) But the other day, one of my friends asked a thought-provoking question: is there an equivalent for “binge reading?”
I would say absolutely yes—I’ve been doing this my whole life, long before there was a name for it. Back in those carefree days of childhood, I loved to go to the library, check out an entire series of books at once, and sit down to do (almost) nothing but read for a weekend or a vacation. As an adult, I have less free time to read a lot, but I still make the time for a good “binge read” every now and then—and sometimes I don’t get to pick when it happens.
Sometimes a book just grabs me and I can’t put it down. This happened to me a few months ago when I discovered the Towers Trilogy (Radiant, Defiant, and Towers Fall) by Karina Sumner-Smith. I was only about two-thirds of the way through the first book when I went online and ordered the other two books, because I knew I had to know the rest of the story. Fortunately, I was traveling at the time, and sitting on an airplane or in the airport was the perfect time to pick up a book.
Ebooks make it even easier to binge read because you don’t have to wait for the next book—you can just click a button and download it in seconds! Sometimes, you can get an entire series at once in a “box set” which is awesome, especially when they’re on sale. And I admit that I have at least one subscription which lets me read an unlimited number of books for one monthly fee. Sometimes it’s reassuring to know that I’ll never run out of books to read . . . but on the other hand, sometimes it feels overwhelming. How will I ever find time to read all of these books?
rorylibrary

Rory Gilmore freaks out when seeing a library and realizing how many books she has yet to read.

We have a lot of options for entertainment in our modern world: there’s an endless stream of movies, television shows, video games, websites, music, and more, all competing for our attention. We only have so much free time that we can spend on enjoying the things we love, and I know that a lot of people simply stop reading after they finish school because they’d rather watch TV or do something else for entertainment. And I feel sorry for them because they don’t know the joy that comes from getting lost in a book world.
deadtreehallucinate

I actually enjoy doing both!

And for those of us who still love to read, I think this is the best era ever for reading. We have so many choices, whether we like ebooks, print, or both! It’s so easy to get books, whether new or old, and you can always find great recommendations from reviews on Goodreads and blogs. So binge read away!

What Independence Means to Me (As An Author)

July 1st was Indie Pride Day to celebrate independent authors. Today is Independence Day in the U.S., a holiday that many of my neighbors like to celebrate by grilling in their backyards and setting off illegal fireworks. While I hide inside with my frightened cats, I thought I would take the time to reflect on what it means for me to be an independent, or self-published, author.

I’ve been a writer since I started dictating stories to my mom at age five, but I didn’t have as much interest in traditional publishing. I enjoyed sharing my stories with others but I liked to keep control over them. When the internet took off, I switched from swapping notebooks with friends to sharing on fanfic groups, but a few negative experiences led me to creating my own website for my writing so I had control. Meanwhile, I researched traditional publishing markets, but I was turned off by the heavily restricted contracts. I liked the internet’s freedom to connect directly with readers throughout the world, even though I wasn’t getting paid a cent. No one could tell me what to write or how my stories should be presented.
Three years ago, I finally took the plunge by self-publishing my first novel, Small Town Witch. I spent eighteen months preparing and did a lot of research before I uploaded that book, but I quickly found out how much I still had to learn. Even today, I spend a lot of my time learning about writing, editing, covers, marketing, and everything else that goes into publishing my own books. It’s a lot of work, and since it’s an always-changing world, there will always be new things to learn. I’m far from an expert, but I see that even the most successful and smart indie authors are constantly adjusting to keep up with the demands of readers, new technology, and different conditions on various ebook stores.
But I haven’t regretted one moment of this journey. I know that trying to do everything myself means I’m the only one to blame for my mistakes, but I like the process of trying new things and learning. I’ll never fail, because ebooks never have to go out of print and I can keep improving. I’m not a bestseller by any measure, but every book I put out is a little better than the last, and my sales are growing. Doing the work myself means that I also keep the largest share of the profits. And no one can make me do something that I don’t want.
Could it be easier if I’d been accepted by one of the big traditional publishing houses? Yes, but that’s no guarantee that my books would sell any more copies than they are right now, or that they’d be the same books at the end of the process. I know that my stories aren’t quite mainstream or have a wide enough appeal to sell millions of copies. I’m okay with that. I don’t need to be the next Hugh Howey or Andy Weir. But if there’s a hundred people out there who like my quirky stories, then I’m happy to find them. Independent publishing lets me share my stories with the readers who like them, so I’m proud to be part of this self-publishing movement. And I’m happy that I can also work with other authors like those here at the Independent Bookworm.

#SPFBO The Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off 2016!

spfbo banner 6

This year is the second Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off or SPFBO! If you enjoy fantasy and you’re looking for your next great read, you should check out this competition, currently underway.

In the next six months, ten book review bloggers will read three hundred fantasy novels. Each blog will choose one favorite book from their stack of thirty, leading to ten finalists. Then all of the blogs will read and rate the finalists to choose a winner. Along the way, they’ll be shining a spotlight on some of the best self-published fantasy novels today. With so many great books to choose from, it’s a fun way to find new books.

There’s no big money prize at the end. The competition’s purpose is to show the high quality of self-published fantasy books being produced today. With so many new books constantly being published on Amazon and other stores, there’s too much to choose from, and it can be hard to weed through to find the books that are well-written and professionally edited. Book reviews help you see what other readers liked, but a lot of reviewers choose not to read anything that was self-published. Many of the judges in SPFBO didn’t read self-published books before the competition. Last year’s contest changed their minds–now they agree that some self-published novels can be just as good as the ones from big traditional publishing companies.

It’s still early in the year-long competition, so only a few reviews have been posted so far, but there’s already a lot of great discussion about the contest. Mark Lawrence, who organizes the contest, keeps a list of all related posts on his blog, or you can find them using the hashtag #SPFBO on Twitter.

There’s also a mini contest of book covers from the 300 entries. See a selection of the best covers and vote for your favorites at the SPFBO Cover Contest!

On a personal note, I entered one of my own novels, A Flight of Marewings, into the contest. I’m still waiting to find out what my reviewer thinks about it, but I’m excited to take part and see what happens. I’ve already seen a lot of books that I want to read in the contest, too, so I’ll be doing reviews of some of the entries on my personal blog. Wish me luck!

The Power of Fairy Tales

Fairy tales have been around for centuries, yet somehow they’ve never lost their power to enchant us. What is it about these stories that continues to capture our imaginations?
Some scholars have made attempts to dissect fairy tales down to their basic elements, labeling characters and situations as particular archetypes and distilling the whole thing down to a single plot called The Hero’s Journey. While these discussions may be interesting or even useful for some people, I find them dry. Examining a fairy tale this way takes most of the magic out of it for me.
But there is something to be said that these stories, if not perfectly universal, do have elements that many people can relate to. The longing to find someone to love, the fear of monsters in the woods, the darker emotions of greed and jealousy and hatred. In versions rewritten for children, fairy tales are molded to teach moral lessons and always end with good rewarded and evil punished. But many of the original versions of fairy tales are much darker, and sometimes even the good heroes are killed or scarred by their ordeals. It’s not surprising that fairy tales inspire not only modern children’s movies but also terrifying horror stories.
I think the thing that draws me the most to fairy tales is the otherworldly atmosphere that they create. From the moment we hear the words “once upon a time”, we know that we’re in another time and place where the normal rules don’t apply. It’s not unusual for animals to start talking or a girl to learn how to fly. We get the sense that anything could happen, and it opens the realms of imagination.
The fun thing about fairy tales is that it seems I will never run out of new stories to discover. There are always new modern retellings and imaginings of the favorites, while there are also thousands of old fairy tales and folk stories from virtually every culture in the world. There’s everything from light-hearted children’s versions to dark originals and adult-oriented new versions, and even humorous parodies. It seems they’re not going out of style any time soon, and that suits me just fine.
It’s my hope that as a writer, I can capture some of what I love about fairy tales in my own stories to inspire others. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I’ve always liked “The Princess and the Glass Hill”, “Beauty and the Beast”, and “The Little Mermaid”. Do you have a favorite fairy tale?

Getting Back in the Groove

I’m sorry that I’ve had such a long absence. I really appreciate my fellow authors of this group for being patient with me while I was gone, and for keeping the blog running. I’ll try to be more active now with writing, both blogging and stories, so look for more from me in the future.
I had eye surgery that took a long time to recover from. In fact, I’m still recovering my full vision for at least another month, and I also have to limit how much screen time I have in order to avoid eye strain and headaches. It’s been a frustrating time for me because I can’t write on my computer or read on my tablet. Electronics have been both helpful and hindering in this process because I could increase the font size to make everything easier to read, but then I could only use them for a little while at a time.
It was hard not being able to see anything or do much for several months. Although I had limited vision even immediately after the surgery, it surprised me how difficult it was to do even common tasks. For a while, I was very sensitive to light and had to wear sunglasses all of the time (even indoors, which looked strange). Later, when my vision started to recover, I still had problems with depth perception and I was cross-eyed when one eye healed faster than the other. Even just walking outside in public became difficult since I was constantly worried I was going to bump into someone else. I’m so fortunate that I only had temporary vision loss because now I can appreciate what I have even more. I can’t imagine what life is like for those people who have permanent visual impairment, partially or totally. Although there are some accommodations out there, most people do take it for granted that you can see, and I needed a lot of help to get by.
The one thing that I rediscovered during my recovery is audiobooks. I listened to a lot of books on tape as a child, but I’d stopped when I got older. I was delighted to find that audiobooks are even bigger now and easier to get with the internet, and I can load them onto my phone to listen instead of lugging around giant cases of cassette tapes. It’s a very different experience to listen to a masterful narrator read aloud a story instead of reading the words. I enjoyed closing my eyes and being transported to another world. I know some of the other authors here on IB already know the joys of audiobooks and have even produced their own, but this was new for me. Now I look forward to hearing more audiobooks.
Now that I’m recovering, it’s taking me some time to get back into writing. I have to take it slow without pushing myself too hard. I was also in a “groove” last year where I was writing and publishing new stories every month, and once I slipped out of that, it’s been tricky to get it back. I might have something new by the end of the year, but I’m not making any promises right now. Please be patient and keep an eye out for more news from me in the future. There are a few projects percolating at the moment, but it’s hard for me to estimate when they might be done.

Hug an Author — Write a Review!

The great thing about independent publishing is that there’s an opportunity for anyone to publish a book. But with so many new books getting published all the time, it’s hard for indie authors to get our books to stand out. The first step is to make sure that our books are as good as we can possibly make them, spending months or even years polishing every sentence. But once that wonderful book is out in the world, how do we get anyone to notice it?

The best way is old-fashioned word-of-mouth. Someone reads our book and they enjoy it, so they tell a friend, who gets interested and decides to read the book, too. With the Internet, this can happen even faster, because you can recommend a book and have a lot of people all around the world see that recommendation. Book distributors like Amazon and social sites like Goodreads have made this process even easier by offering simple tools for anyone to rate and review books. Now, it’s not just critics who have a platform for voicing their opinions about the latest novels. You can read reviews written by readers just like you to help find books that you could enjoy. But it’s been estimated that only 1-5% of all readers write any reviews.

When you write a review, you help the author by drawing attention to their book. You also help other readers find the book and figure out if it’s for them. If you say, for example, “I loved how the cat helped solved the mystery!”, then cat-lovers will know to pick the the book up–and people who don’t like cats may realize that it’s not for them. Reviews are subjective, but they still help describe the book and inform potential readers.

There are guides out there about how to write a good review, but you don’t need to be an expert on anything to write a good review. Just describe what you liked or didn’t like in the story that you read. Often the most helpful reviews are a mix of both positive and negative comments. Remember to add details. Don’t just say “I loved it!” or “I hated it!”, describe why you had that reaction.

Sometimes, you may not love the book you just read. It’s okay to say so. (It’s not okay to attack the author personally, but you’re allowed to be honest about the book itself.) Some people don’t feel comfortable posting negative reviews, and that’s okay, too. But as authors, it’s our job to accept some criticism, and if we listen to all our feedback (good or bad), that can help us to grow in our storytelling abilities. And don’t be scared off by horror stories of authors who lashed out at a negative review–it has happened, but it’s rare (and you should report any author who harasses you).

In the end, our books succeed because of the readers who love them. Writing a review is a nice way to thank the author for the hard work they did so you would enjoy the story. Reviews have been compared to giving a hug to an author, and that’s how I feel about them, too. I love to write for myself, but I publish my stories because I know people are entertained by them. And every review I get reminds me that somewhere out there, I made someone smile.

Ending a Series: The Fae of Calaveras

stw-photo-cover-md

Small Town Witch

Sometimes a series is open-ended, with many books continuing on over the years as it follows a variety of stories of the same character or world. But other series have a finite ending after a certain number of books, such a trilogy, that tells just one story.

When I first started writing Small Town Witch, the first book in the teen fantasy Fae of Calaveras trilogy, I didn’t know what kind of novel or series I was setting out to write. I had ideas about a whole town of magical people, each with their own powers and secrets, interacting with each other through a tangle of stories. I would write about Rosa’s story for a while, then jump to another teen girl who was jealous over her ex-boyfriend or a boy getting injured in an explosion at the high school. The result was a chaotic mess.

My first reader, my husband, asked me a very good question then. “What’s the thing you want to focus on? Do you want this to have a broad scope with a lot of people, or is it a more personal story about one girl and her family?” That made me think about my writing in a whole new light.

In the end, I decided it was a personal story about Rosa and her relationship with her mother. From that choice, the logical conclusion of the series followed: Rosa’s story would be finished when her problems with her mother were resolved. When I thought about what steps it would take to reach a resolution, I realized that the story was too complex for just one novel. That’s when I knew that it would become a trilogy.

Witch Hunt

Witch Hunt

Those plans have finally come to fruition. Last May, one year after the publication of Small Town Witch, I released Witch Hunt, which describes what happens after Rosa breaks her mother’s spell. Tomorrow, October 10, the final part of the trilogy, Witch Gate, will feature the final showdown between Rosa and her mother. I’m so excited to have everyone read the latest installment, but at the same time, I’m a little sad that the series is coming to an end. I’ve been writing about Rosa for three years now, and as my first heroine, I’ve grown very attached to her.

Writing these books have been a lot of fun and also an emotional roller coaster for me as I learned so much about writing, revising, and publishing my own books. I had to overcome a lot of hurdles, not the least of which was my fear that no one would want to read my books. That fear has been proven wrong because I continue to get nice comments from readers in both reviews and personal letters who tell me how much they’ve enjoyed Rosa’s story and look forward to the next book. I’m so happy that I can share the last part of the story with them.

I may write further stories in Rosa’s small town, featuring some of those other characters that I also grew attached to, but that will begin a new series. The Fae of Calaveras series is complete. For now, I’m focusing on my other series, the epic fantasy Wyld Magic books. Rest assured that I will not stop writing and I still have a lot of exciting stories to share in the future!

Witch Gate is available for preorder on Amazon, iTunes, and Smashwords for immediate release tomorrow, and will be in other stores soon.

Witch Gate

Witch Gate

The Old is New Again: Serialized Novels

Serialized novels have become a popular way to publish stories in the past few years. Some of the advantages of publishing as a serial include readers getting new parts of the story on a regular basis as it’s being written, instead of having to wait a long time for the whole novel to be finished; and authors can get feedback (and sometimes money) for their writing while they’re still working. But serial novels aren’t a new invention that happened on the internet.

In the 19th century, most novels in the U.S., Britain, and across Europe were actually published serially. Famous works like Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers, Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin were published with a new chapter every week or month in magazines and newspapers. When the story was complete, all of the parts would be collected in a single volume, which is how we read these novels today. But when they first appeared, readers would wait for the story in installments, which could be spread out over an entire year.

This method of publishing fell out of fashion with the invention of broadcast radio and television. Today, we think of episodes in a television series as multi-part stories, but written fiction comes out in books once every year or two. Only a handful of novels were published as serials during the 20th century.

But when the internet made it easy for anyone to publish their stories, serialized fiction made a come back. It started with amateur writers posting stories on their own websites, forums, and newsgroups. Then sites sprang up for writers to share free stories more easily, like Fanfiction.net. Now there are too many of these communities to name, where thousands of free stories are shared, talked about, and rated by readers and writers.

With widespread ebooks distribution, professional authors gained the ability to sell these serials online. Unlike printing where there are limitations on the length of stories that can be economically printed and distributed, digital works can easily be shorter (or longer) than the limited range of traditional novels. Now serialized novels, or series of connected novellas or episodes, are gaining popular readership in stores like Amazon and Smashwords.

After seeing how well serials work for other authors, I’m starting to experiment with serials. Last year, I posted a novel, Witch Hunt, on Wattpad for free at the rate of one chapter a day for NaNoWriMo. I did get some feedback as I wrote, but I found that most readers couldn’t keep up with that pace, and I’ve seen that most successful authors on Wattpad write at the rate of one or two chapters a week. I revised that novel and put it on sale—and surprisingly, even after I gave it away for free first, there are still readers willing to buy it!

miscreation-ep1Then this summer, Holly Lisle challenged writers on her How To Think Sideways site to write and publish a monthly serial as part of her How To Write A Series course. Following her advice, I’ve started a series of novellas using characters from my established Wyld Magic universe. The first episode, The Voyage of the Miscreation #1: “ The Voyage Begins,” was published last week. I’m excited to see how the series turns out as more episodes come out. Hopefully, I can engage readers who look forward to getting a piece of the story every month.

Have you ever read a serialized novel? How did you feel about having to wait for the next part of the story to come out? What rate do you think is good for new parts to come out?

Information about the history of serial novels from Wikipedia.

 

Writing a Sequel: Witch Hunt

Ever since I released my teen contemporary fantasy Small Town Witch (Fae of Calaveras #1) one year ago, I’ve had people asking me, when is the sequel coming out? While it’s flattering to know that they enjoyed the story and they wanted more, it also put a lot of pressure on me to make sure that the second book was as good as the first!

A year between books in a series is standard for traditional publishing, but in the brave new world of independent publishing, a year feels like forever. By that time most readers have forgotten about the first book and moved on to something else. After all, most readers read more than one book per year.

So why did it take me so long? I have to confess that I took a few wrong turns on the way. At first, I wanted to take a break. Finishing my first novel was more work than I’d expected, and I didn’t feel like writing anything. But after I stopped writing, I lost momentum. My habit of writing something every day fell by the wayside. I threw myself into promoting that first book and didn’t have anything else to follow it up with.

Then, when I did sit down to write a few months later, I wanted to go in a new direction for the series. I brainstormed ideas for books featuring different main characters and putting Rosa, the main character from the first book, in the background. This was a huge mistake. The heart of the series is the conflict between Rosa and her mother, but I lost sight of that when I tried to write stories about her boyfriend or her best friend. After a few false starts, I gave up the project in frustration and walked away.

The solution turned out to be writing something completely different. I wrote A Flight of Marewings, an epic fantasy with an ensemble cast, in a completely different tone. That story challenged me to learn new skills in writing and cleansed my palate by taking me in new directions. It gave me back the joy of writing by taking the pressure off. I flew through the novel.

When I finished, I turned back to my original series and realized where I’d gone wrong. It took me a little time to refresh myself on the story and characters, but this time I kept my focus the same as the first book and wrote what happened next between Rosa and her mother. It took me six months from start to finish, but now I’m proud to release “Witch Hunt”, and I think it stands up to the promise of the first book.

And the good news is I kept my momentum going after I finished the second book, and started right in on writing book #3. It’ll take some time to polish, but I plan on releasing it in a few months. No more long wait between books!

Witch Hunt

Witch Hunt

Witch Hunt (Fae of Calaveras #2)
She wished her mom would disappear. Now her mom’s missing, and all she wants is to find her again.

Teen witch Rosamunde broke the spell her mother, Rosmerta, used to control her family and reported the illegal use of magic to the Faerie Court. So her mom became a fugitive from the law, taking Rosa’s younger sister Akasha with her. When none of the faeries can track down her mother, Rosa realizes that she’ll have to be the one to find her mom.

Rosa takes a dangerous risk: getting close to the mysterious exiled Unseelie who helped her mother go into hiding. To gain their trust, she’ll have to break the rules. Her faeriekin friends, Ashleigh and Glen, and kitsune boyfriend, Kai, worry that she’s getting in too deep. But for the chance to confront her mother and save her sister, Rosa will sacrifice anything… maybe even the things that she believes in the most.
Available on Amazon

%d bloggers like this: