4 Paid Apps for Writers

I wanted to round out my “Apps for Writers” series with a selection of paid apps folks might find useful. I’ll skip the obvious, like MS Word or WordPerfect (because, yes, surprisingly the word processing program from my 10th grade computer class is still for sale. Funny, that.) Here they are, in no particular order:

Scrivener – This app has it all: outlining, note-taking, character sheet templates and more. It’s a fantastic way to plot, plan and write your novel. Once you’ve written your masterpiece, Scrivener can export it in many different formats, including MS Word, .mobi and .epub. You can find a bunch of tutorial videos I’ve done here on the site, and you can pick up a copy here for $40 (Windows) or $45 (Mac) here

OneNote – OneNote is the unsung hero of Microsoft Office. In fact, most people who have Office don’t even realize they have OneNote. OneNote allows you to organize notes into virtual notebooks making it perfect for story bibles and managing your reference materials. Find an article on the web that’ll be handy later? Just drag it into OneNote, and everything including images and formatting is preserved. I use it extensively and heartily recommend it. If you buy it standalone, it’s $79.99.

WriteOrDie – There’s a free web version of this app, but the downloadable client has the advantage of not being tied to that behemoth distraction that is the Internet. Set a timer, say how many words you want to write in that time and go. If you stop typing for a few seconds, it beeps, flashes and otherwise jolts you back to work. Great for when you need to bust out a number of words in a short period of time. $10 from writeordie.com.

DropBox – Hey, wait a sec, Nick, didn’t you say DropBox was free? Why yes, it is. The free version of DropBox gets you 2 GB of space in the cloud, but there are paid subscriptions that let you expand that out to 50 GB or 100 GB, depending on your needs. 50 GB = $9.99/mo, 100 GB = $19.99/mo. Learn more here.

Any others you’d recommend? Sound off in the comments. Also sound off if you’re still using WordPerfect, because, well, wow.

6 iPad Apps for Writers

If you got a shiny new iPad for Christmas, you’re probably looking for some writer-type apps. Here are several that I use. Click on the app’s name to learn more:

CleanWriter – I’m big on distraction-free environments when I’m trying to pound out words. This little app gives you a clean writing environment. Turn on the Hacker theme and you get the old school green-screen word processor feel.

Notability – this is the end-all be-all of note taking apps. It lets you handwrite notes, type, take audio recordings, insert drawings or photos and more. Perfect for your story bible or research notebook.

OneNote – If you’re a Microsoft Office 2010 user and OneNote is your story bible/research notebook of choice, you can’t go wrong with this one. It’ll synch with the OneNote notebooks on your PC so your data will always stay current.

Storyist – The closest thing to Scrivener that I can find for the iPad. Storyist gives you the ability to create notecard-based outlines and then write out the text of your manuscript. It also has templates for character sheets, settings and more.

DropBox – This is essentially a folder out in cyberspace where you can toss your files and then access them from any device. So write some notes in Notability or jot off a scene in CleanWriter and then send it off your PC or Mac via DropBox. All the apps listed above have an option to sync with DropBox (except for OneNote, which uses SkyDrive from Microsoft). This’ll also backup your files to the could automatically, in case your iPad has an unfortunate encounter with your toddler.

Pandora – I usually don’t listen to music when I write, but I know there are a ton of people who do. Pandora gives you a personalized, streaming radio station tailored to your unique musical tastes.

Are there other iPad apps you use when writing? Sound off in the comments.

5 Free Apps for Writers

If you or a writer in your life is considering a New Year’s Resolution to write more, or be more disciplined about writing, here are 5 free programs that can help you.

1 – Q10
This is a bare-bones editor that looks and feels like an old school word processor, green screen and all. It has no formatting capabilities, no bells or whistles and is absolutely perfect when you just want to sit down and pound out 2,000 words. I wrote the majority of IMPERIUM using Q10, and heartily recommend it. www.baara.com/q10.

2 – DropBox
Backing up your files is a lot like flossing. Everyone knows they’re supposed to do it, but your dentist will tell you that not everyone does it enough. Seriously, ask your dentist and he/she’ll tell you you aren’t backing up enough. To help with that, there’s DropBox. This is essentially a folder out in cyberspace where you can toss your files and then access them from any device. It’s ridiculously easy to set up, and any files you put in that folder are automatically backed up. Quick and easy. Your dentist will be proud of you. www.dropbox.com.

3 – Calibre
If you’re tech savvy, it’s easy enough to create a .mobi file of your novel. However, there are a bunch of other formats out there (epub, pdf, etc) and taking the time to create each individual file is a colossal PITA. Enter Calibre. Among other things, this tool allows you to convert files from one format to another and then preview them to ensure they look good. http://calibre-ebook.com.

4 – PureText
Sometimes when you’re researching, you’ll copy a big chunk of text off the web and then paste it into your story bible. Then you spend 5 minutes cleaning up any screwball formatting issues that came through (why the hell is the left margin set to 5″?). For those moments, there’s PureText. Just press Windows+V and your text gets dropped into the current document, sans any formatting. www.stevemiller.net/puretext.

5 – Paint.NET
For the do-it-yourself cover artist on a budget, Paint.NET is a fantastic tool. It has many of the same features you know and love from tools like Photoshop, but without the hefty price tag. www.getpaint.net.

Any other tools you’d recommend? Sound off in the comments.

Captain America vs. Green Lantern

I missed both Green Lantern and Captain America in the movie theaters this past summer. I was able to rectify that thanks to the magic that is my PS3. I loved both these characters when I was a kid and was excited to see them brought to life.

I watched GL first and while it was fun it wasn’t as great as I’d hoped. Then I watched Captain America and was blown away. That movie was brilliantly done and I loved every minute of it. Once the credits were over and I’d seen the Avengers trailer, I started thinking what made Cap so much better than GL. The special effects were good in both films and I liked the casting.

That left the writing.

So here are three things I learned about writing from watching these films.

Characters Need Goals
In Captain America, Steve Rogers starts out as a 90 lb. weakling who wants to join the army. He tries a bunch of things to enlist and finally succeeds. Then he struggles to gain respect as a soldier, is injected with the Super Soldier serum and becomes Captain America. When he learns his friends have been kidnapped by Nazis, he goes off to help them. And ultimately, he has his final showdown with the Red Skull.

See the pattern there? Event. Boom. Event. Boom. Cap is always marching to complete another mission.

Compare that to Green Lantern. Hal Jordan starts out in a botched test flight. After getting reamed out by his employer, he finds Abin Sur, who gives him the power ring. He gets taken to Oa where he’s told about being a Green Lantern and the responsibilities that brings. He turns his back on it, goes back to Earth and sort of drifts through the movie until the final
confrontation in the end.

So the lesson here is drifting is not satisfying for your audience. A character needs to be moving toward a goal or desire.

Characters Need Good Antagonists
In Captain America, you’ve got the Red Skull. He’s a super-Nazi with incredible strength and a cunning intellect. He masterminds an organization called Hydra and in all ways he’s basically the anti-Captain America. His motives (global domination) stay true the entire film and he, just like Cap, is always moving toward a goal. That keeps up the tension because when you watch the villain attain his goals, you know things are going to go bad for the hero.

In Green Lantern, we start out with Hector Hammond, a nerdy high school teacher who gets psychic powers after being exposed to a fragment of a powerful evil being called Paralax. Hammond uses his powers to get revenge on his overbearing father and he kidnaps Hal’s girlfriend, but beyond that his “evil” is pretty tame. At the end of the film, Paralax shows up and starts destroying GL’s city. Paralax here is just a giant yellow cloud with a face. We don’t get insight into its motives or its wants, so while the destruction it wreaks is impressive, it’s not satisfying. Even with Hector Hammond, I found myself feeling bad for the guy rather than hating him as a villain.

Lesson – Villains need goals to march toward just like the heroes, we need to understand what makes them tick, and while it’s okay to have a sympathetic villain, he/she needs to come across as a villain.

Characters Should Behave Consistently
In Captain America, Steve Rogers doesn’t back down from a fight even when he’s hopelessly
outclassed. He stands up for what he believes in and is willing to sacrifice himself for that.
That holds true when he’s 90 lbs, when he’s saving his friends from prison, and when he has the final battle with the Red Skull.

In Green Lantern, Hal vacillates from being cocky and arrogant to being insecure and borderline whiny. There were times when I just wanted to shake him and yell “Damn it man, you’ve got the most powerful weapon in the universe on your finger. Grow some balls!”

Lesson – Characters’ actions and attitudes should be consistent. Of course, they should grow and evolve, but having a character be cocky in one scene and then timid in another is jarring to the audience.

Any other writing tips you’ve picked up from movies? Sound off in the comments.

On Reading Your Work Aloud

Sooner or later, all writers are told that it’s a good idea to read your work aloud; it makes it easier to pick up on overused phrases and find sentences that are clunky. What’s even better is to have someone read your work to you. However, not everyone has their own own personal book reader at their beck and call. So the next best thing is to have your computer or Kindle read to you.

I started using the Text To Speech feature on my Kindle for this very reason. It sounds terrible, but it forces you to hear every word. And unlike reading it aloud yourself, the Kindle will never insert a word you’ve forgotten. Case in point, I’d written the sentence “the device was size of a paperback book.” I’d proofed the draft several times, but my brain always stuck the word “the” in there for me between “was” and “size”. When the Kindle read the sentence, I realized I’d missed the word and was able to fix it.

Granted, the Text To Speech feature sounds like an old fashioned Speak and Spell, so I just pretend that Stephen Hawking agreed to narrate my work. 🙂

How about you? Any other proofreading tips you’ve discovered? Sound off in the comments.

Thoughts on Getting Reviews

OK, so you’ve finished your novel. You’ve polished it until it gleams. You’ve had it professionally edited. You sprung for professional artwork. You’ve just posted it to Amazon. And now…

Now your book is up there with hundreds of thousands of others, and no one knows about it.

There are a bunch of things you can do to market your book, but one of the most effective is getting a review on a book blogger’s site. That puts you smack dab in front of your target audience and encourages them to buy your book. So here are some tips to land that review.

1 – Locate your target blogs. I used the Book Blogger Directory to find as many urban fantasy blogs as I could. Once you’ve found a bunch of sites, move on to step 2.

2 – Run recon. Make sure that the site accepts self-published books. Look for a link on the site called Review Policy (sometimes it’s in the About section as well). The Review Policy tells you what sort of books the blogger likes, if there are any genres they’re not accepting, and if they take self-pubbed books. If they say they don’t accept self-pubbed novels, then move on. Do not be “That Guy” who thinks he’s special and the rules don’t apply to him. Trust me, they do. If the reviewer doesn’t specify whether or not they take self-pubbed books it’s probably safe to pitch them.

2a – Assuming the site takes self-published books, have a look at some of the reviews that have already been posted. You’re looking for two things here. First, does the blogger like authors who write with your particular style? For example, my novel IMPERIUM is a lot closer to Jim Butcher than it is to Stephenie Meyer. Make sure that the reviewer goes for your type of book. Second, do you like the reviewer’s style? Some reviewers give lots of spoilers, others speak in generalities. Make sure you’re comfortable with how they work.

3 – Send a polite note to the reviewer. Address them by name, provide them with your book’s blurb and ask if they’d be interested in reviewing your book. Also provide your email and website (or blog address). Erika over at Badass Book Reviews has an entire post dedicated to just this point.

4 – Wait patiently. Some bloggers say that if you haven’t heard back from them in a week, they aren’t interested. Respect that. If you get no response, let it go and move on.

Alright, so let’s say you hear back and the reviewer is interested in your book. Yay! But now there’s one last step. You have to be prepared for whatever rating the reviewer gives you. The reviewer may not like your book. They may think your precious novel is a steaming pile of dog feces. Or worse, they may brand your novel with the dreaded DNF (Did Not Finish). In that case, what do you do?

5 – Accept it. You don’t argue with the reviewer. You asked for their opinion, remember? It’s OK to be disappointed, upset or even mad. But you do that offline. Fire up an FPS and imagine fragging the reviewer. Take out your frustrations on a punching bag. Gripe to your significant other or your best friend, but do NOT do it in any kind of an online forum. Chalk it up to experience and move on.

However, assuming you have written a good book and you’ve done your homework so it’s in front of the right reviewer, you should receive a good review. And let me tell you, seeing 5 stars next to your book’s name is one heck of a feeling.

Thoughts on Guest Posting

To help promote IMPERIUM, several other writers were kind enough to let me write guest posts for their blogs. Those posts were easy because the other writers and I agreed in advance on the topic and approximate length of the post. But when I started the BLB book tour, some of the reviewers requested guest posts and didn’t give me a topic. I had free reign and suddenly didn’t know what to write. So here are a couple of things I’ve learned from the experience.

  1. Keep it short. If you’re an unknown, people probably aren’t going to scroll through a 3,500 word blog post. I tried to keep my guest posts to about 300 words or so. That let me tell a quick story or anecdote and give folks a taste of my personality without being overbearing.
  2. Promote, don’t pimp. You certainly want to promote your book in the guest post, but unless you’re posting an excerpt, don’t write a post that just screams “BUY MY BOOK!” That’s a turnoff and a little bit frightening. Instead, consider telling a story about something that happened while you were writing the book, what gave you your inspiration, or maybe something you learned about the writing process while you were writing your story.
  3. Include links. When you promote your work, include links to Amazon or your blog in the body of the post. Some of the people who host you will provide nice introductions or links to your site/blog/twitter all on their own, but others will just copy & paste the post into their blog. You may also want to include a shortened version of your bio at the end of the post to give folks a better feel for who you are and what you’re all about.
  4. Say Thank You. You are a guest on someone else’s blog, so this is only polite. You don’t have to do it in the post itself, but at least make sure to thank the person for hosting you when you provide them with the post.

So that’s what I have so far. If you’re a writer or a “guest post hoster”, what other things do you recommend?

The Writer’s Media Kit

I’ve been doing a bunch of guest posts for IMPERIUM’s book tour, and I found I was emailing out the same information over and over again to each person on the tour. So I finally got smart and put all the commonly requested info into a zip file that I could just attach to an email.

Here’s what my kit includes:

  • Author bio (including website, Twitter handle and other social media info)
  • Author photo
  • Book cover art
  • Book excerpt
  • Book blurb
  • Links where people can buy the book

I took all those items and used 7-zip to create a zip file. You can use other tools, but I’ve found 7-zip gives the best compression. Plus it’s free, which is always a good thing.

Now, when a blogger or reviewer asks me for information around my book, I can just shoot off my trusty media kit and be confident that they’ve got all the info they’ll need.

If you’re a writer, what other bits of info do you include in your media kits? If you’re a reviewer or blogger, are there other things you often ask writers for? Sound off in the comments.

Character Evolution: Vincent Corinthos

Warning: May contain minor spoilers! If  you haven’t read IMPERIUM yet, go do that now, then come back here.

Vincent Corinthos wasn’t always god of the Urisk. In the initial drafts of what would become IMPERIUM, Vincent was a different character. I thought it might be fun to talk about how Vincent evolved into the character he is today.

Originally, Vincent was a god-for-hire. The idea was that supernatural creatures could employ him as an enforcer or guardian, depending on their needs. Vincent would gain all their powers for the duration of their worship and then move on. I scrapped that idea because I wanted a more stable relationship with his followers. Also, I questioned just how much faith his “worshippers” would have in him in scenarios like this.

Vincent’s original dedicated worshippers weren’t Urisk. I had Vincent set up as a god of vampires, who would possess all the vampiric strengths we know and love, but none of their weaknesses. I ditched that because I found I was essentially writing a Blade knock-off, and wanted to do something different.

When I came upon a sketch of the Dover Demon and saw how much it looked like a Gray alien, I thought, “That’s it, I’ll have him be worshipped by aliens!” I created an entire alien race that existed in another dimension and could enter our universe by tearing holes in reality. These aliens were physically weak, but possessed an innate ability to negate gravity. This let them lift heavy objects with ease, and run very quickly by negating their own weight. While this provided me with a ton of really cool special effects, it made Vincent way too powerful. When I put him in fight scenes, I found he’d just negate gravity around all his adversaries and send them 40,000 feet up into the stratosphere. When you find yourself constantly trying to come up with ways around your character’s abilities, chances are you’ve overpowered them.

And then, after a ton of frustrated Google searches, I came across a drawing of an Urisk. It looked enough like the Dover Demon that I could still include that in Vincent’s backstory, and the Urisk possessed a host of psychic powers. Those powers weren’t listed anywhere, which let me pick and choose from all the ones I could think of. I decided on telekinesis for its utility, pyrokinesis for its combat potential, and limited telepathy for reconnaissance purposes. To avoid overpowering Vincent, I made it so his telepathy wouldn’t work on humans, so he couldn’t just read a person’s mind to know everything about them.

Finally, because all the Greek and Roman gods I’d read about possessed some powers all their own, I had Vincent inherit a few traits from his father, Janus. Vincent’s Glimpse and Opening powers are utilitarian in nature, and while useful, they don’t let him roll over every bad guy he comes across.

So that’s where Vincent came from. I’ve got a few more evolutions planned for him along the way, and you’ll learn more about one of those in the next book. In the meantime, if you haven’t picked IMPERIUM up yet, you can read the first chapter here, and you can buy it from Amazon and Smashwords.

3 Things You Can Learn About Dialogue from the Justice League

You might have heard that DC is rebooting their entire line of superhero comics. The first one to hit the stands was Justice League, and it is fantastic. The first issue focuses on the first time Batman and Green Lantern meet, and the dialogue is absolutely brilliant. This comic highlights three effective ways to use dialogue:

Reveal Information
This is the simplest and most basic function dialogue serves. Two characters talk about something and thus convey information on to the reader. However, just because it’s basic doesn’t mean it has to be heavy handed. When Green Lantern first encounters Batman he says, “You’re real?” And right there we get a bunch of information about Bats. He’s mysterious. There are rumors about him, and for whatever reason, he chooses to stay in the shadows. Those two simple words define how Batman is perceived by the world.

Reveal Personality Traits
It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. This goes along with the whole “show, don’t tell” advice that every writer has heard at one point or another. There’s a panel in the comic where Bats & GL decide to go to Metropolis to look up Superman. Batman says they need to be careful because of Supes because “his power levels –“
“won’t be a problem for me.” GL interrupts. Right there, we get a bunch of info about GL. He’s cocky, he’s arrogant, and he genuinely believes that he is capable of handling anything.
Reveal Character Outlook/Intentions
Dialogue is great, but you should avoid spoon feeding information to the reader. Not all dialogue presents information directly – sometimes you have to read between the lines. There’s a point where Green Lantern is explaining what his role is in the world, that he’s responsible for an entire sector of the universe. Bats’ response to that is “uh huh,” to which GL gets defensive and then elaborates on the Lantern Corps. At face value, it looks like Bats just doesn’t believe GL. But then in a later panel, GL asks him if he’s met Superman. Bats’ response – “I’ve… researched him.” You read that and then realize that earlier on, it wasn’t that Bats didn’t believe GL, he was manipulating GL into providing more information on who he was and what he could do.

So there you have it, three things that you can learn from the rebooted Justice League. If you haven’t picked it up yet, it’s absolutely fantastic and I highly recommend it. In the meantime, are there other functions you can think of for dialog? Sound off in the comments.