Kaia Steelflower meant to spend her winter resting, but the high price upon the head of her barbarian companion Redfist has drawn her out of safety and through the northern passes to the Highlands.
Bandits, blood, and treachery, Kaia’s seen it all before. But something else lingers in the snowy wastes north of the mountain Rim. Ancient power has found a new host, plans have been laid for rebellion, and the giants of Skaialan do not take kindly to foreigners. Saving Rainak Redfist will demand all the skill, strength, and cunning the Steelflower can muster; saving herself–and her new princeling husband–might be impossible.
Winter in the Highlands is brutal, and it’s only just begun…
Please do not email me with scolding or asking for other formats. Again, once the sales channels propagate, Steelflower at Sea should be available through Kindle, Nook, and the like, but for right now, buying direct from yours truly is the best way to get it.
I am at work on Book 4, tentatively titled The Highlands War. But it’s far down on the list and I won’t get to it for a while. In the meantime, enjoy Kaia’s adventures among the mad Northern giants. Many thanks to Skyla Dawn Cameron, without whom Kaia would never have made her return. Go buy a book or some cover art to thank her, hmmm?
I’m going to go do my usual release-day run and soak my head in a bucket to get rid of nerves. Or, at least, to try to get rid of nerves. Even a head-bucketing might not do the trick.
We're in the home stretch for Steelflower in Snow, which means I'm waiting for a proof copy to arrive before I finish its listing. That means it will be on sale this month, barring anything unexpected like huge formatting woes or someone else yelling at me about putting it in e-format. It's occurred to me, listening to readers respond to the news that a third Kaia book is coming out, that plenty of readers have no idea how the book-sausage wends its way from the zero draft to being on sale.
So, here's a little look at how the book gets to you.
All the following steps can't happen until you have a whole corpse upon the table. The corpse–the draft–can be Frankenstein'd together from separate bits, it can be lumpy and imperfect or even downright ugly. The important thing is, it's finished, and you can set it aside in a drawer–physical or electronic–while you recover from the birthing process. A zero can take months or years to finish–unless, that is, you're on deadline. Then it takes as long as the deadline allows, always assuming no accident, act of gods, disaster, or publisher folding and absconding into the night. But you've got your zero draft and have let it marinate for a little.
Do not skip the marination, by the way. Letting a zero lie fallow for a few days to a month means that when you come back to it, you can see it with some objectivity. Not a lot, but every little bit helps. Plus, you won't be so tired of the damn thing you just want to throw it in a hole and forget about it.
Nobody can buy your book if it's in a hole, silly.
Draft, Edit, Draft
After the zero is marinated, you can slap it on the grill. This means an initial revision to get it to first-draft status, during which you fix the most egregious errors, embroider places where you only left a skeleton of dialogue or stage direction, and just generally polish the damn thing. First draft is kind of a misnomer, since you can go through a couple waves of revisions before the story is fit to be seen by agent (if you're submitting it) or editor (if you're under trad contract, indie contract, or self-publishing).
Lots of self-publishers tend to skimp on the editing stage. It's expensive, and an experienced writer can often make do. But I'm here to tell you, if at all possible, don't. A good editor is expensive, yes, but s/he will save you so much trouble down the line it's not even funny. If you expect people to fork over hard-earned cash for your wee book, it behooves you to make said wee book as good as possible. Someone who hasn't been living and breathing the book through all the zero-draft and subsequent stages will see things you don't and be able to highlight fiddles, inconsistencies, larger issues, and crutch words. Don't skimp on your editor, and take as many rounds as the story needs.
On average, I usually do a zero draft, a first draft, get an edit letter, and do a final draft. I am somewhat of an outlier here; it's more normal to have first draft, edit letter, second draft, final edit polish, third draft and line-edit, then a final draft, especially if you're trad published. And each of these takes time.
So, let's be conservative and say it took you a NaNoWriMo to get your zero draft done, a week to marinate it, and you revised to a reasonable first draft in, say, a month. When it comes to edits you're working on someone else's timeframe, and each round of edits can take a couple months for the editor to read critically and produce an edit letter, then you take a month, month-and-a-half to revise. The choke point in this process is generally that the editor isn't just your editor, they have a whole stable of clients (if freelance) or authors (if trad), and you must wait your turn. There can also be a delay even if you get the book back by edit deadline, and each round adds months to the process. This is, as I said, extremely conservative. It generally takes a longer at each step.
Final draft means final, right? Oh, my dear sweet summer child, not even close.
Hell is Copyedits
A copyeditor is a fine soul who goes through your book sentence by sentence. CEs are the infantry of Campaign Get Your Book Done. A good CE, worth their weight in gold, finds small holes, factual errors, shifting character eye colors, timeline inconsistencies, and nitpicky things that will make your book look juvenile if left unattended.
This doesn't mean looking over copyedits is easy. It's akin to someone coming into your home and wiping your kid's nose, tucking their shirt in, critiquing your housekeeping, pointing out that you should really keep up with oil changes on your car, looking a little disappointed when they find a plate in the cupboard that the dishwasher missed, and doing it all while looking perfectly coiffed and imperturbable.
You know they're just there to help, but at the same time, having someone go through your book baby so closely feels uncomfortably closed to being judged and found wanting. Now, there are bad CEs, or CEs who want to be content editors instead of CEs, but by and large, they're good people who are making your book stronger, and it's a thankless task due to its fraught nature.
Naturally, a good copyedit takes time. Then you have to go through and approve the changes or stet them, which takes a long while and possibly some alcohol or other substance of your choice in order not to go mad. If you're lucky, you can send the manuscript in Track Changes back to your editor; if you're self-publishing, you need to approve changes or stet them yourself. Some writers economize on this step by taking the book sentence-by-sentence backwards, exchanging CE services with another author, or having your computer/e-reader read it aloud while they follow along to maximize the chance of seeing/hearing an inconsistency.
Of course this is a time-consuming task. Surely you're done now, right? Oh, honey. No.
No, you are not.
Formatting and Cover
If you're trad, your publisher has a whole division of people whose job it is to make the interior and exterior of your book look as professional as possible. Let's talk about interior first.
There are some self-pub tools that make formatting ever so much easier. They range from the horrifically pricey (say, InDesign) to the buy-once-cry-once (think Vellum) to the free (like KDP or Draft2Digital's online tools) in which case you get what you pay for. In each case, they require a clean, proofed document (MSWord is standard, but you can do .RTF files with OpenOffice and the like too) and a significant time investment in learning the tool plus going through and manually checking that all parts look the way you want.
In other words, there's a reason why it takes a whole department to do interior formatting, and like anything else when it comes to putting a book out, it's worth doing well. Which brings us to the cover.
People pick up and select books based on the cover. Sure, once you have a core audience word of mouth and faithful buyers will take up some of that slack, but the cover, alas, is the thing your book will be judged on first and hardest. Publishers also have whole divisions just to work on covers, and even with all their resources, they frequently publish some ugly howlers. The poor self-pub author, lacking said resources, either has to learn graphic design and spend significant time (and possibly money) getting the tools to do a cover correctly, or they job it out to cover artists, and those don't come cheap either. (My favorite is Indigo Chick Designs.)
Formatting takes time. So does the cover. A publisher's formatting and cover design teams have several books they're working on at once, which gives them the benefit of economy-of-scale but is also a choke point; a self-publisher is in charge of either doing both or hiring it done. This can be done concurrent with editing, but it's still a significant time-and-cash drain.
As my grandfather used to say: You can have good, cheap, or fast; pick two.
You've finished edits. You have a cover. You have the interior design. Surely now you're done?
Oh, no, my darling one. Next comes proofing, and if you weren't thoroughly sick of your book before, my friend, you're about to be.
A trad publisher will send you page proofs in PDF or paper (I prefer paper, I don't see what needs to be done in PDF nearly as clearly) and also send them to a professional proofreader, whose only job is to look for formatting inconsistencies, typos, dropped words, widows-and-orphans, and the like. You, as the author, go through and are supposed to confine yourself to only looking for the same things.
Unfortunately, as it's your book-baby, restraining yourself is well-nigh impossible. Or, to be more precise, I often find it impossible and have to constantly hold myself back from revising the book in the proof stages, especially if it's in PDF form. I'm so used to revising on a glowing screen that the same mental muscles get used, and changes at the proof stage are always expensive and time-consuming.
Don't piss off the Production department if you're trad published, my friends. If you're self-publishing, the department is either you or people you're paying personally, so don't piss them off either. At some point you have to let go, because it's been months if not a couple years (or more) you've been working on this damn book.
Are you done now? HAHAHAHAHAHA.
Uploading and Final Proof
If you're trad published, your publisher has probably automated a great deal of uploading different formats and arranging for printing. It's that economy of scale again, and even though they have the resources, it's still something that takes time.
If you're self-publishing, you have to first choose how you're going to go about publishing, which requires energy and research. I normally do three separate platforms for electronic editions, in order to keep my eggs in diversified baskets and to maximize my royalty returns. Then there's print publishing, which I normally do through Lightning Source (which has been folded into Ingram now). The biggest expense at this stage is the ISBNs, which I prefer to buy separately for print editions. I'm not even going to tell you how much they cost because I might start sobbing.
There is a rule of publishing: for every book, there is generally one HUGE FUCKING PROBLEM, and that PROBLEM will inevitably rear its shaggy, ugly head as late in the process as possible in order to cause maximum grief to the author. In self-publishing, stuff tends to crop up in the upload and final proof stage–and what's a final proof, you ask?
Well, it's the physical book you order from the printer in order to page through and check that all the fiddling you did to produce a "print-ready" PDF worked and that the book looks as professional as possible.
Of course, it takes time for a printer to produce a one-off, and that time must be paid for. Why bother, I hear some of you ask? Because you don't want to find out about formatting issues when customers complain in your reviews. It's embarrassing to put out a shoddy product, and it costs you reader goodwill.
For e-editions, it means going through in an e-reader that can handle different formats–.mobi, Kobo, Nook, etc.–and checking. Vellum will generate different formats for you and it's always best to upload those instead of trusting a platform's online conversion. You don't want to spend all this effort and cash and at the end find out that some automated bullshit at Amazon made your book look like a joke.
Are you done? Are you really, really done?
Uploading also means setting a fair market price for your books, which a lot of self-pubbers struggle with. There are those who game the system, especially in Kindle Unlimited, and the race to the bottom in ebook prices has been good for nobody who wants to make a living at this. You have to decide what your time and investment in this book is worth, and stick to your guns when those who want things for free come whining and one-starring. Making that decision takes time and energy.
Then there's the little matter of sending out ARCs or review copies, mostly electronic. I used to do so for self-pub books, but finding them on torrent sites immediately afterward (in most cases, before the book even came out) put paid to that notion in a big way. Bracing yourself to tell people "no" when they want your book for free is an awful feeling, dealing with it another expenditure of energy.
Then there's marketing. Nobody knows the surefire way, it's all a crapshoot, and yet a new author can be seduced into shelling out for "expertise." Your own research and trial-and-error will teach you more, and for less, than any so-called expert…but again, it takes time and energy.
So does attending conventions, if you choose that method. Not only do conventions cost you working time and travel/food funds, but they also represent a significant investment of energy that might drain you–and your bank balance–right down to transparency.
You're done. Until next time.
Once release day hits, the agony should be over, right? Well, yes and no. On the one hand, the book is out there in the world, hopefully meeting the readers who need it.
On the other, a self-pubber needs to stay abreast of market and platform conditions, and if one platform fails or becomes greedy (looking at you, KU) shifting your books to another or tinkering with prices eats up more time.
For those published trad, there might be marketing to deal with, the reviews your editor sends you, the constant worry that your book will sink and won't earn out, contracts finishing or in the negotiation stage, editors for different projects on holiday or attending conventions, and a million other things that will eat your time, your attention, and your stomach lining if you let it.
And you're never working on merely one thing at a time. Juggling projects in different stages of the process is always fun, if by "fun" you mean "a constant source of stress and irritation I must endure in order to pay the mortgage."
Any stage of this process can go horribly awry, or can suddenly need revisiting as later stages progress. There are those who will simply file the serial numbers off some fanfic, stick a Poser cover on it, upload it to KDP then rinse and repeat, looking for their own economy of scale. Maybe that works for them, but it's not for me. A quality product takes time, and making a book the absolute best it can be before it's let out of my desperate clutches is far better than the alternative.
A book takes time, my friends. There's a lot of work you don't see between the pasture and the sausage. And that's why Steelflower in Snow is not out quite yet.
I finished the big push of Steelflower in Snow revisions yesterday. Today is for writing cover copy, formatting, all the minutiae that attends upon packaging a book. Filling out the ISBN information, getting the title page done up, page count once the PDF proof has all its bells and whistles attached…these are things a publisher does, and doing them oneself is time-consuming but necessary. That’s why writers often job that particular set of tasks out to trad publishers, it’s just so much easier with an economy of scale going on.
As soon as I have ordering information, you guys will know. It’s been a long hard road to get here, and I’m not at all sure I can continue with The Highlands War, but at least this book is coming out. Patreon and Gumroad subscribers have already had teasers and tastes, and I can’t wait for devoted Readers to finally know the first half of what happens to Kaia in the cold, cold north.
The dogs are somewhat upset that I’m not running this morning, but frankly, after yesterday I doubt I could find my way home if I go a block or two the wrong direction. If I can get cover copy done and finalized today it will be somewhat of a miracle.
That said, I should go stare at a blank page for a little bit. I do have a skeleton of cover copy hidden somewhere, I just have to figure out where. Wish me luck, huh?
The rains have arrived again. False summer has fled, heat-stressed leaves have dropped and those who survived the drought have begun to turn. Miss B is sanguine–she remembers, however dimly, that water falling from the sky is a thing.
Sir Boxnoggin, Lord van der Sploot, however, is agog. Things were not like this in Texas, he informs me, every time he has to step outside. I tried to remind him of a hurricane or two, but he informs me archly that what he remembers is dust and heat, not this damp bullshit.
Lord van der Sploot is not a big fan of change. I don’t blame him, he’s had more than his fair share. He needs a good long chunk of boring, nothing-ever-changes time, and we’re doing our best. It helps that feeding time, running time, and playing time is all the same, even if there is water where there shouldn’t be.
I took a forced rest this weekend, in order to gear up for the big push to get Steelflower in Snow out before the end of the month. I managed not to work except for a thousand words or so on Incorruptible, mostly because I don’t want to lose momentum. It was a chore to keep myself from working, but I did get all my Sunday cleaning chores done early. Other than that, I stuffed a lot of movies into my head, watched another couple episodes of Castle Rock–though I must say, the Queen episode brought everything nicely to a halt for me and I’m not sure I want to continue–and managed to read a good chunk of The American SlaveCoast, which I’ve had to take in small pieces because it’s just so devastating.
Once I’m finished with that, I can reward myself with finishing Laura Kinsale’s For My Lady’s Heart, the Middle English edition. Right now the main characters there are in Ruck’s secret fastness and I want them to stay there until I can return.
In order to get there, though, I’ve got to work. The siege portion of Steelflower needs some heavy revising to make it ready, and I should probably go looking for the glossary, too.
*sigh* No rest for the wicked, ay? There’s also a run in the rain to accomplish, while Sir Boxnoggin complains next to me. He’ll settle down once it’s clear we’re outside to work. I may even have to get him a little coat, since he’s shorthaired and runs warm. He’s glad to have a nice bright home to return to, full of comfy beds, pets at the drop of a hat, and regular mealtimes, and his gladness helps when I start dragging.
Other than that, I have my SAD light on just to stay ahead of the game. I’ve been more productive on rainy days than I was all bloody summer. And bonus, with the rains, not so many people will be out letting their dogs off leash or wanting to stop me while I run in order to exchange commonplaces about the bloody weather.
I’ve waited half the year for this, and dammit, I’m going to enjoy it.
This morning brought a leisurely breakfast with the Princess. We haven’t seen each other for a couple days, so it’s good to catch up, even though both of us are coughing, hacking, and filling wastebaskets with used tissues at a truly alarming rate. The dogs were glad both of us were in the same place for an extended period–they hate when anyone leaves, and both canines want to herd the hoomins into a tight bunch so they can supervise with little effort.
So the Little Prince was off to school and the remaining monkeys were in the same room, which sort of balanced everything out. Now, however, we’ve separated to begin our days, which means Sir Boxnoggin is trotting up and down the hall and Miss B is curled next to my chair, eyeing me reproachfully. Why, oh why, can I not stay where she places me?
In any case, I’m not as physically miserable as I was Sunday, and feeling better than yesterday. The Princess is a couple days behind me on this cold cycle, so today will probably be the worst. Thankfully, she can spend it on the couch with a box of tissues and plenty of liquids.
I might even make triple-garlic chicken soup for dinner. We all sorely need it.
Incorruptible continues apace, and revisions on Steelflower in Snow do too. If I can get the “Karnaugh” section of the latter revised, I’ll count it a day well spent. I’ve decided the next serial will be the gunslinger story, so I should start making preparations for that, too. A placeholder cover will be fun to do once I accomplish everything else today.
And maybe, once all that is done, I can make another pair of super shiny earrings. I’m experimenting with cup chain, which is sparkly but finicky. And so. many. jump. rings. I must have wasted at least six trying to get everything connected on yesterday’s pair.
But the finickiness is so worth it, since these were EXACTLY what I wanted. Bright, swinging armor. I can’t wait to make more of them, frankly. People keep asking if I’m going to sell them on Etsy, and if I get to a place where I’m comfortable about my craftsmanship, I’ll probably put a few pairs up. It seems like a cool way to lose a little cash, and better than shipping books around.
So that’s my day. I might shoehorn a run in, too, if I get really ambitious. But for now, it’s time to brush my teeth, make some more coffee, and get down to Incorruptible.
Saturday I attended the Taste of Style with a friend, and while that was nice, I woke up Sunday morning with my head full of snot and my entire body aching. The first (let’s hope it’s the last) cold of the season has arrived, and certainly wasn’t helped by my silly (but entirely adult) decision to have a drink with early dinner and a couple glasses of gallery-opening-quality wine.
Apparently I am not allowed to drink at all, according to my body, and murder causes paperwork, so I’m going to have to find a different way of coping with the current political situation.
Being physically miserable kind of put a dent in the housework I wanted to do yesterday, but nobody’s going to die if I don’t dust. I got the dogs brushed, the upstairs hoovered, and the my laundry was already done, so I called it a win and spent most of the day staring vaguely into the distance while fumbling for a box of tissues.
The good kind, with lotion. Don’t ever skimp on your kids, your books, your asswipe, or your nosewipe, my friends. If I’ve learned anything from adulthood, it’s that.
Today is the drop-dead date for starting Steelflower in Snow revisions.1 I’m thinking that will be released late October or early December, since November is set aside for a completely different book.2
I’ve also been playing around with placeholder covers, like for Incorruptible.
Of course everyone I showed versions to said my name needs to be bigger, but that feels like hubris. And don’t worry, this book isn’t out yet. I may even do it as a serial, I haven’t decided yet.
In any case, I have some cold medication to swallow and the dogs to wear out. Since I couldn’t run or ramble yesterday, they are both fidgety as fuck, needing something or another to bleed off that excess energy. I won’t be able to move very quickly, but at least sniffing all sorts fo interesting new smells will keep them occupied and give them something to process when they collapse for a nap.
Nap. That sounds good. But I’ve miles to go before I sleep, even for a bare twenty minutes.
All right, Monday. We’re not going to hurt each other, right?
It is that most glorious time of the year: PUMPKIN, CANDY, AND SKELETON TIME. I was so, so tempted to get one of these and stick it in the birch tree in the front yard. I’m sure if I did it would be stolen by neighborhood kids in no time, but it’s nice to dream, right?
And then there’s this. I was playing around with Design Wizard the other day, and this made me laugh.
I do have a couple editing client spots opening up, if you’re into that, and I’m still doing cover copy surgery and creation too.
But right now, it’s a Friday, there’s yoga to be done and dogs to walk, and a massive tankard of tea to drink before I attempt either.