Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Do Readers Dislike Suspense?

Here's a "Health & Science" news brief from the 9/2/11 THE WEEK magazine that I found fascinating:

Mysteries without mystery

Have you ever been tempted to flip to the end of a mystery novel? Go ahead. Suspense, a new study has found, is irrelevant to our enjoyment of a story. In fact, say researchers at the University of California at San Diego, most people like stories more if they know in advance how they end--even with plots that hinge on a mystery or a twist. The researchers set up different versions of 12 short stories written by authors such as Agatha Christie, Raymond Carver, and Anton Chekhov. One came with an introduction that spoiled the ending; one had a spoiler embedded in the middle of the text; and a third appeared just as its author had written it. Surprisingly, readers who learned the endings of their stories up front reported liking them much more on a scale of one to 10 than did readers of the other two versions. Why? The pleasure readers get from a good story, researcher Jonathan Leavitt tells BBCNews.com, has far more to do with the quality of the writing and character development than with a nail-biting plot. Once a reader knows how a story turns out, Leavitt says, he or she "can focus on a deeper understanding of the story."

Interesting! That was my experience with the final Harry Potter book. I enjoyed reading it a second time far more than I liked the first time. On the reread, I knew how it would turn out, so instead of worrying about the fate of Harry, Hermione, Ron, or Hagrid, I could just focus on the writing and the interactions between the characters.

The UC-San Diego study seems to contradict what so many New York editors say they want: a "high-concept" (i.e., gimmicky) plot. What readers really want may be good writing. But many times I have witnessed the NY crowd treating the quality of the writing as irrelevant, while looking for nothing in a story except a tricky or "commercial" plot or gimmick.

Food for thought!

The complete article at BBC News: 


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Facebook: Personal Profile or Author Page?

Not a week ago, I was saying I didn’t want to join Facebook. But a friend who’s much more of a Luddite than I am said she thought I’d enjoy it. And then I read a good article in Slate.com by Farhad Manjoo: “Everyone else is on Facebook. Why aren’t you?

Manjoo covers all my objections: that it’s just something else to distract a human from the business of real life; that it keeps people at the computer when we already spend WAY too much time at the computer; that a writer updating her Facebook page is a writer who's not writing; that Facebook “friends” don’t substitute for the real thing; that it’s a gross invasion of privacy; etc. etc.

I won’t repeat all the points Manjoo makes in rebuttal. I’ll just give you the link again so you can read the article for yourself.


Deborah J. Lightfoot


Manjoo convinced me: Today I joined Facebook. I did it in a small way, with an “Author Page” instead of a personal profile.

From what I think I know about it all, an Author Page seems like it’ll be less work than a personal profile. Whatever I post to my Author Page will be wholly public—viewable by everyone, the same as my blog.

Which means I won’t have to keep track of various groups. I’ve heard that some Facebook users restrict their high school buddies to one group, their college friends to another, and their friends from work to yet another. Egads! I’m not that organized. I’d rather have one page with book-related content that’s viewable by everyone.

One friend from my childhood commented, a year or so ago, that she’d looked for me on Facebook but didn’t find me there. So then she Googled my name and found my website.

I suppose now I’ll be findable on Facebook. That’s sort of the point—I think.

It’s not like I was actively keeping my light under a bushel, pre-Facebook. I’ve had a website since 2000. Then I got another one through The Authors Guild. Then I set up a WATERSPELL-only site at The Authors Guild. Then I got a page at SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. And of course there are pages devoted to my backlist books from my other life: The LH7 Ranch, Trail Fever, and A Century in the Works.

Now there are pages at Amazon and Barnes & Noble devoted to my new novels: WATERSPELL Book 1: The Warlock and WATERSPELL Book 2: The Wysard. And I’ve got a profile page at Smashwords.

I was pretty easily findable pre-Facebook. But now maybe I’ll be where people expect me to be. If Facebook serves a useful purpose, perhaps it is in the site’s ability to pull together a big chunk of the world’s population, all under one roof.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Passion Between the Pages

In The Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857), Charlotte’s friend and biographer, Elizabeth Gaskell, described Charlotte’s reaction to the success of her novel Jane Eyre. Elizabeth had asked Charlotte “whether the popularity to which the novel attained had taken her by surprise.”

This, wrote Gaskell, was Charlotte’s response:

“She hesitated a little, and then said: ‘I believed that what had impressed me so forcibly when I wrote it, must make a strong impression on any one who read it. I was not surprised at those who read ‘Jane Eyre’ being deeply interested in it; but I hardly expected that a book by an unknown author could find readers.’”

I love the honesty of Charlotte’s answer. Many writers would have felt compelled to say they were “shocked, simply shocked” to have produced such a success as Jane Eyre. But Charlotte knew the strength of her words. I suspect she would only have been shocked had people not found her novel to be compulsively readable.

It’s the difference between writing with passion—writing from the heart—versus writing that is little more than an intellectual exercise, or a cynical attempt at producing something the market will deem “commercial.” The books that have stayed with me are the books that reveal something of the author’s heart and soul. They’ve got fire. Between the pages, they seethe with passion. Not (necessarily) passion of the romantic sort, but the kind of passion that has the writer up at 2 a.m., pounding the keys.

I can’t say for sure (since I don’t know him personally), but I suspect that Philip Pullman poured a lot of himself into His Dark Materials, the trilogy that begins with The Golden Compass. And I’d be willing to wager that Ursula K. Le Guin grew a bit obsessed with her Earthsea universe. She started the books in 1968 with A Wizard of Earthsea and was still writing about the world of Earthsea in 2001.

That’s what I want from a writer: Passion. Obsession. Fire in the belly.

When I was writing the first two books of my WATERSPELL trilogy, I took time to record some thoughts about the process and post them on what is now my oldest website. At WATERSPELL: Interview With the Author, I said:

“Writing WATERSPELL became an obsession. I couldn’t let it alone. I’d be up until 2 or 3 in the morning, then spring out of bed after a few hours’ sleep and start pounding the keyboard again. It was an exhilarating experience. There’s something mystical about being awake in the middle of the night, hearing voices in your head as the characters talk to each other—or shout at each other, as is often the case with Carin and Verek—and typing as fast as you can to get the whole confrontation down on paper in ‘real time,’ while the characters are speaking.”

I fervently hope the passion and the immediacy that I felt while the story poured out of me is still there on the page for the reader today. I feel tolerably confident that it is. Everyone who read WATERSPELL in manuscript told me they couldn’t put it down.

Now the books are out there, published, in the real world, and I’m hoping readers will find these two fantasy novels by an unknown writer. Everyone tells me to get on Facebook, but I value my privacy too much to willingly surrender my entire existence to that particularly insinuative social-media platform.

So for now, I’ll just drop a line to virtually everyone in my e-mail address book. You say you only hear from me when I’ve got new books to promote? Well, what would you expect? When I’m writing, I don’t have time to e-mail you.

Such is a writer’s social life. We end up socializing with no one except other writers. Writers understand when a fellow author drops out of sight for months at a time. “Normal people” just think it’s rude. Normal people don’t understand how deeply abnormal a truly passionate writer can be. Bleeding on the keyboard is not the healthiest way to spend one’s life. But it’s likely to produce books that achieve what the writer set out to do.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

WATERSPELL E-Books for Kindle and Nook

WATERSPELL Book 1: The Warlock and Book 2: The Wysard are available as Kindle e-books for $2.99 each.

If you have a Nook instead, you can download the .epub versions at Smashwords (Book 1 here and Book 2 here) and sideload them onto your Nook. Or just wait a week or two, and both books will be available from Barnes & Noble for direct purchase and downloading to your Nook.

Sign up to receive my blog posts in your e-mail (see "Follow by Email," below right) and I’ll tell you as soon as the Nook books are available via Barnes & Noble.


Many people complain about the difficulties of formatting their books for publishing at Smashwords. I, too, balked at the 72-page Smashwords Style Guide that Mark Coker posted. I read only about half of it before I threw up my hands and just dove in.

And quickly enough, I learned what works well and what doesn’t work when you’re formatting a Word .doc file to upload. Most importantly, I learned to use the Heading 1 style for chapter titles and anything else that should show up as a clickable or “tappable” item in the Contents sidebar.

I also learned to set a first-line indent in the paragraph’s Normal style instead of using the Tab key to indent paragraphs. And I figured out pretty quick that, when centering text, I must remove that first-line indent from the Centered style, or the centered text would be pushed slightly over to the right.

I now consider myself something of a Smashwords expert. The Book 1: The Warlock and Book 2: The Wysard .epub files that I produced at Smashwords look perfect on my Nook. The .mobi files also look great on the free Kindle reading app for PC that I installed on my computer.


Since Smashwords does not yet distribute to Amazon, I also went to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) so Amazon customers could more easily download my books to their Kindles.

Good gracious, what a hassle! The same Word .doc that uploaded seamlessly at Smashwords did not work well at KDP.

Problem 1: No paragraph indents. During conversion to the Kindle format, the 0.25" paragraph indent disappeared throughout both books.

Problem 2: Dropped italics. Also during the Kindle conversion, some—not all—italics disappeared. This was as serious a problem as the lack of paragraph indents. I use italics to indicate internal dialogue. Without that visual cue, some passages of WATERSPELL were rendered nearly unintelligible.

I searched around and found out how to “Modify Converted Content.” It turns out that the Kindle format is HTML. To restore my paragraph indents and my italics, I had to download the HTML file off KDP, unzip it, and open and edit the HTML file with Microsoft Word.

Restoring the paragraph indents was merely a matter of editing the underlying style. That took seconds.

It required hours, however, to “Compare Documents”—KDP’s HTML file against my original Word document—to identify all instances of dropped italics. I paged through the comparison file, and every time I found text tagged “Not Italic” I had to locate that passage in the HTML file and reapply the italics. Maddening!

Finally, however, I got both books repaired. Then I had to “re-zip” my edited HTML, which I didn’t know how to do. A quick search online, however, found these instructions:

“Highlight the files you want to zip and right-click, then on the menu tab, hover over ‘send to’ — there’s an option in there for sending to ‘compressed (zipped) folder’ — click that and you're done.”

Bless you, Queber, author of this tip.

I re-zipped both books and uploaded them back to KDP. And as far as I can tell, by perusing a sample of each using my desktop Kindle Reader app, my edits held. The paragraphs are properly indented now, and the internal dialogue is once again italicized.


All things considered, I’ve found Smashwords far easier to work with than KDP. Though some people speak disparagingly about Smashwords’ “meat grinder,” I have been perfectly satisfied with the quality of the e-book conversions there. My e-books come out error-free—which is more than I can say for KDP.


Here’s a list of everything I’ve published, to date, via Smashwords. All of these items are available as Nook Books. To find them, just search on your Nook for “seven rivers publishing.” (My WATERSPELL e-books aren’t in the official Barnes & Noble Nook catalog as of this writing, but they’ll appear soon.)

WATERSPELL Book 1: The Warlock $0.99 (Limited-time discount price)

And for those with Kindles, you can sample and purchase my WATERSPELL e-books here:

What fun! This is a lot of work, but I’m enjoying the chance to learn new things. I also love being the mistress of my own fate.

"Life is something like a trumpet.
If you don't put anything in,
you won't get anything out."
—Composer W.C. Handy

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How to Read E-Books Without an E-Reader Device

     To open and read an e-book, you don’t need to own an e-reader device like a Kindle or a Nook. Just download the free software that lets you use your computer or smartphone to enjoy e-books. The programs are quick to download and install, and they’re easy and fun to use.


To open a Kindle (.mobi) file, download a free Kindle Reading App. Choose from the list shown here for the iPhone, Windows PC, Mac, BlackBerry, iPad, or Android phone.


To open and read a NOOK or Sony Reader (.epub) e-book on your computer, download Adobe Digital Editions.


Barnes & Noble also has free NOOK apps for various devices: iPad, iPhone, Android, PC, and Mac.


     Installing and using these free applications is a great way to experience the rapidly expanding world of e-books. Try them all, and decide which suits you best before you go out and buy a NOOK or a Kindle. Or save your money and just use the free e-book apps on your laptop or smartphone.

     E-books are so much cheaper than printed books, I'm surprised by the number of people who are resisting the change-over. If everybody who uses a computer would install an e-reader app, then buy a few $2.99 e-books, they'd see why some of us longtime readers have rapidly come to prefer e-books over print books.

    The e-books of my five-star-rated WATERSPELL fantasy trilogy are a mere $2.99 each: www.waterspell.net

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

WATERSPELL Paperbacks on Sale Everywhere!

The online bookstores have caught on: WATERSPELL Books 1 and 2 (paperbacks) are now available through both Amazon and Barnes & Noble:

Barnes & Noble:


The covers have not yet shown up at Amazon, and the Book Descriptions are missing at Barnes & Noble—leaving me to wonder why the booksellers don’t just import the complete bibliographic info from either Bowker—Books in Print or from the Lightning Source catalogs (the daily catalogs LSI provides to its U.S. and international distribution partners). But it’s a start—10 days after the official publication date, the WATERSPELL paperbacks are for sale pretty much everywhere.


It’s easy to see why readers prefer e-books to either paperbacks or hardcovers. The WATERSPELL paperbacks sell for (Book 1) $17 and (Book 2) $18, for a total outlay of $35 for the set.

Compare that to a typical e-book price of $3, $5, or $9 for thick fantasy novels like mine. Any rational person will prefer the e-books.

I chose to release WATERSPELL in both formats, however, because I wanted hard copies to take to events, to send to reviewers, and to satisfy all the folks who continue to tell me they want “real” books, not e-books. I’m confident they’ll come around to e-books eventually. With the paperbacks, I’m just humoring them until they figure out that e-books are a much better deal.


Here’s why the WATERSPELL paperbacks cost so much—

Cost of printing = $5.89 (384 pages x .013 print cost per page + .90 unit cost per book)
Wholesale price = $8.47 (the price the retailers pay for each book—a 50% discount off the list price)

Cost of printing = $6.67 (444 pages x .013 print cost per page + .90 unit cost per book)
Wholesale price = $8.98 (the price the retailers pay per book—a 50% discount off list)

The list price is twice the wholesale price—that's standard. It means the retail outlets—Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.—are making a profit of $17.45 on each two-book set.

The publisher, however, makes only $4.89 on each two-book set. Add up the wholesale price (8.47 + 8.98 = 17.45) and then subtract the cost of printing (5.89 + 6.67 = 12.56) and that leaves a profit to the publisher of $4.89. That’s less than a third as much as the retailers make.

To show these numbers another way:

A reader buys both books and pays full list price of $34.90
The bookseller receives half that total, for a profit of $17.45
The printer gets most of what’s left: printing cost of $12.56
The publisher and author share the rest of the money: $4.89

From this, it’s apparent that paperbacks and hardcovers are expensive because everyone in the production and sales chain makes a tidy profit. The reader pays dearly, yet the publisher/author gets little of the money: In this example, the publisher/author gets only 14% of what the reader pays. Assuming a 10% royalty to the author—$3.49—the poor publisher makes only $1.40.

Which is why e-books are destined to take over the industry. Why pay for ink on paper when the same book can be published electronically for a fraction of the cost?


Some of you are following my “adventures with Accurance,” the company I hired to help me produce my books. I have detailed Task 1: The Covers Are Finished and Task 2: The Text Formatting Is Finished.

My next posting about Accurance will be Task 3: Print Setup and Distribution. Obviously the “print setup” has been accomplished. The paperbacks are now available.

But I’m still trying to figure out what Accurance means by “distribution.” When I get my questions answered, I’ll blog about that part of the process.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

WATERSPELL Paperbacks Are Now On Sale!

They’re in print! WATERSPELL Books 1 and 2, The Warlock and The Wysard, are now available through “normal distribution channels.”

Lightning Source, the printer, defines those channels as Amazon.com, Barnes & NobleIngram, and Baker & Taylor.

The official publication date was October 31, 2011.

The Book 1 ($16.95) and Book 2 ($17.95) paperbacks have already shown up at Amazon, but the covers are not displayed there yet.

Conversely, the covers are gloriously shown (Book 1 and Book 2) at Borders in Australia. But Down Under, the books are shown as “Out of Stock.”

I trust that all the booksellers will post the complete and correct ordering info, sooner rather than later. For now, I’m just delighted that the paperbacks are officially in existence and on sale.

For books this thick (approx. 400 pages each), the e-book editions are going to be less expensive, and therefore more appealing to fantasy readers who like long books but don’t want to lug around volumes that weigh a pound or more.

The e-book editions of both titles should be available later in November.

I’m doing a happy little dance as I type. These books have been my grand obsession for quite a long time, and now they’re finally finished, published, and on sale.

Next, I must get back to final revisions on WATERSPELL Book 3: The Wisewoman, to have it ready for paperback and e-book publication in Spring 2012.