Sunday, October 16, 2011

Indie Insider - Shannon Muir

How many words do you do write a day? Where do you do it?

This varies, but I think on average 500 words a day except in November when I'm doing National Novel Writing Month and have to push myself to 1500 words a day average. Over the years I've learned to write just about anywhere. I'm a master of using my smartphone for this; my first published book in 2007 was a textbook, largely written on the Blackberry I had at the time. I have an iPad that also has this incredible Bluetooth keyboard that lets me carry it around like a small laptop, but it's not quite as versatile. Since I don't drive, I've written on long public transit rides a lot. I also write snippets when I'm able to go out and eat alone, or in a park, or the library – all kinds of places.

Do you think that people judge a book by it’s cover? Who makes yours?

I do believe that it can be a strong factor. That said, I generally make my own covers, and it's been quite the learning curve. While not an artist, I am trained in programs like Photoshop, and because I'm unemployed can't hire anyone to do my covers. It's a risk I'm willing to take and do lower sales versus not being able to do it because I don't have the funds; maybe someday I'll get them all replaced. In a couple cases, because of the nature of the distribution channels, my older books actually have the cover made by the distribution company as the cover but the Kindle edition cover I made. Touch the Stars is one of these cases. What I did here was made a cover similar to what the other formats use, but yet distinct. The one exception is the cover to Flying Glory Flashback: Celebrating 10 Years of the Lyrics, Words and History behind the Webcomic FLYING GLORY AND THE HOUNDS OF GLORY which was provided in barter by the webcomic's co-creator Kevin Paul Shaw Broden in exchange for my work on the webcomic helping with the story and "songs," which I thank him for but I know he's too busy to do consistently.

What do you do when you get writers block?

Usually I have multiple things going so if I'm stuck on one thing I'll switch to something else. If none of those are sparked, I'll try to read a book. When all else fails, I go play in my favorite massively multiplayer online game but sometimes spend too long there – LORD OF THE RINGS ONLINE by Turbine/Warner Brothers. As a writer, if I'm going to get lost in an MMOG, I think I might as well do it in a world built upon rich literature.

How much time do you spend on social media per day? What do you concentrate on?

Right now because I am unemployed I spend a lot more than I used to. Most of it is invested in Twitter which is where more pros seem to hang out. I do maintain a professional page on Facebook, but most of my posting there is to my personal page and as long as Facebook will let me keep them distinct I intend to – I'm very chatty on Facebook but also talk in a way I wouldn't want to talk to people I hardly know. Twitter's also great because I can easily load up a series of short informational bits with HootSuite if I know I'll be away from the desk for a few hours and keep a conversation going easily, though if I want to tweet live on the road I can. It's also been easier to find people with similar interest on Twitter thanks to hashtags. I have a Google+ account but can't figure out how to tap into it. Additionally, I post to my blog once a week.

Which narrative form and tense do you think is the most difficult and why?

I find that I default to writing stories in past tense. For some reason past is easier to do for me than present and I don't exactly know why. I'm trying to force myself to do more present tense stories. Somehow I get a stronger sense of drama telling about things that already happened, yet that doesn't make logical sense because I would think present tense should tap into the fear of the unknown. Also, I tend to write in first person over third person, and when I do third person I do third person limited omniscient. True full third person omniscient is difficult for me because it gives too much freedom to see, say, and do anything at any time. I suppose I need some structure.

Do you use a professional editor, critique partners, or beta readers? What is your process?

At the moment, I haven't done any of the above, but some of these I need to work into my process. With my training, I don't need to rely heavy on a professional editor, but I do need the beta readers to catch the stupid mistakes I don't see myself. However, even that's not flawless. One of my books got republished way too many times in that I'd dropped lines out a poetic lyric and it took me six checks to read and catch it. No beta reader would know the line was missing. Actually, in this example, it was because I was scrutinizing the print equivalent repeatedly before I could clear it for distribution and that's the only reason I caught it (and bought several wrong copies in the process). All the ebooks versions went out with the error but were quickly redistributed with the fix once I saw it. I'm really not proud to admit that, but I'm making a point. that you can't do it solo.

How important is it for an indie author to use a professional editor?

Beta readers can tell you what doesn't make sense but may not be able to put a finger on exactly why. Editors can also tell you things about structure and formatting, and how issues with that may be relating to potential confusion, or to help enhance presentation. As I noted I personally have an English degree in Creative Writing and a Masters in Communication so I am self-trained to catch a lot of this. I also really have to take advantage of it because, being unemployed at the moment, I can't afford a professional editor. You do not get a second chance to make a first impression, and by all means, if you can afford the help – or have someone with the background willing to help in some sort of free or barter situation – by all means take it.

How long does it take you to create a book from start to finish?

None of my titles to date were done traditionally setting out as :I will write a first draft, then revise, then edit, then distribute". Touch the Stars is the closest of these, with the first draft originally written over nearly 30 days in National Novel Writing Month in 2005. When I finally decided to publish it, I took a week going over it again to format, and also see if there was anything I didn’t explain adequately enough in the first draft. I didn't know much about finding beta readers online then and was my own editor, so it actually went up within those couple weeks; in an optimum situation I think I would have allowed a couple extra weeks for review and feedback. The ebook versions actually came out much later, but they only took about an intense full day to do. So that adds up to about six weeks in total for that book.

Search for a Woman: An Anthology of Poems and Stories Looking at Women from All Walks of Life is a value-priced anthology of largely pre-existing material that already had been vetted in workshops. Here again, I took my chances with what material was new and just released it. Also, I wanted to release it in conjunction with a Labor Day event so I let the deadline dictate the release. In hindsight I don't recommend that, but having been laid off for a couple months I wanted to jump on all avenues to get my name out there. I think this book took less than a week.

Flying Glory Flashback: Celebrating 10 Years of the Lyrics, Words, and History behind the Webcomic FLYING GLORY AND THE HOUNDS OF GLORY proved to be the most challenging book I've done to date. It could only have one beta-reader, the comic's co-creator, as most people would not be familiar with the history to know where I'd made errors and the complete lyrics for the "songs" in the webcomic never saw the light of day before in many cases. That said, one pair of eyes – busy ones at that as he himself is also a writer and artist – weren't enough and we had to redo it several times even when we thought we'd both got it right. That's a big reason it became released on Kindle way in advance of other formats. This one took about six weeks as well, if the time spent on the corrections is included.

Please list three unique blogs or web sites for writers that you read on a regular basis.
(Please don’t say Amazon, Facebook or Twitter etc!)

Right now there isn't any one specific place I read regularly. I admit I'm still a bit overwhelmed by the Blogosphere and the Twittersphere. I like going as many places as I can and soaking up as much information as I can.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Writing for me has proven a challenging road. I've known since the age of ten when the teacher chose a poem of mine about a toy shop to be featured at the local mall exhibition that I wanted to write. In some form or other, I've been at it for twenty-five years, though only recently have been in a position to start releasing a lot of that work. The ending though I'd like to leave is not to give up in yourself, and if you believe, keep at something. You may have to work hard and improve, and may not have a natural gift despite the drive and determination. It may not be easy. Yet, if something is that deep down in your heart, persevere.

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