A Story as Told by my Four Year Old

Tonight my four year old daughter told me and my husband a story. I was pretty proud. There was a story arc, character development, a villain and a resolution. I am paraphrasing what I can remember of the story. I remember most of it, but I was too interested in hearing what she had to say to write it down. Here it is, for your enjoyment.

The Princess Zebra and the Wizard

by my four-year-old little girl

Once upon a time, there was a princess who lived in a castle. The castle was made out of clams and raisins, and the princess was a zebra. Her father, the King, was also a zebra. Their crowns were made out of cheese.

One day they remembered that their world was not normal. They remembered that a wizard, who didn’t like cherries or monkeys or most of all people, turned them into zebras and sent all the monkeys to the forest with a wave of his magic wand.

The wizard really didn’t like people because when he was really little, his parents who were people, told him he couldn’t ride his bike anymore because it was too small. And that made him really sad and made him not like people.

One day, the wizard’s parents got him a new bike, and so he realized he should make everything normal again.

And the princess and the king and the queen and the wizard all rode their bikes together and lived happily ever after.


Wait…what’s happening?

So, about a month ago, my husband kind of unexpectedly got a new job. A great job. One that he will enjoy, with seemingly great co-workers and a great working environment. Then, less than two weeks ago, we went to look at a house to rent closer to his new job, and the next day the landlords called and said they really liked us and would be happy to rent to us. A great house. Great landlords (they have been very considerate, kind, and even offered to help me put in a vegetable garden in the back). But that left us two weeks to pack everything and move. Three days of which my husband would be out of town. So, here I am, with two online courses, two kiddos at my feet, and a ton of packing to do. We’re moving to a new city, not far from where we are now, but it’s still a big change.

But, you know what? I feel great. And I should. But it struck me recently that if this had been happening a year ago, the stress and craziness would have overwhelmed me and overshadowed all the blessings. That’s encouraging to me. I think my capacity to handle a busy, crazy, unexpected life has grown. I’ve grown. God has given me a greater capacity, an awesome community to talk with me, pray with me, and give me real, tangible help, and two beautiful kids to give a pretty regular comic relief. 

I was talking with a friend about Galatians 5:16-24. It had been a rough day, and I was feeling down. I had not reacted well to my kids, my husband, or to the situations of the day. I wasn’t sure why. I could list off a million positive things going on right now, and only a handful of inconvenient or annoying or frustrating events of the day. And I realized through talking with my friend and reading the scripture verses beforehand, that I was living in the flesh, in the moment, focusing only on me and the smaller picture of that not so awesome day. I reacted with anger, a devisive and hardened heart, and frustration. That’s not what God wants for me; that’s not what I want for me. I want to react as Galatians 5 describes a person who is living “in the Spirit”: with love, gentleness, joy, patience, kindness, etc. I can’t live that way on my own, not when things aren’t going my way, not when my kids are screaming at me all day to get them this or that, not when Word 2013 shuts down and I loose an hours worth of work, not when I have homework piling up and a million things to pack.

But all those things are no big deal to God, right? Those things are small potatoes. When I strive to “live in the Spirit”, seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit in prayer, in reading Scripture and in seeking out advice from others doing the same, I can react well. I can see the big picture. I can see beyond myself into what God is doing around me. I can see that all of the blessings and positives really do outweigh my troubles. I can see how good God is. 

Are you too focused on small potatoes? Not trusting in what God is doing? Ask yourself, what are the blessing in my life right now? Try to see the big picture and live in the Spirit. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for some of that love, joy and patience. 

ORAcon2013: Cover Design

The next session from ORAcon2013 dealt with cover design. Two ladies from the Killion Group talked about their business, which involves a lot of cover design, and surprisingly without promoting their own business too much, gave a lot of really great tips about creating a cover. Here are the bullet point notes I took:

  • If you were to go to a professional company, they would most likely ask you the following questions, and it would be a good idea to consider these questions in designing your own cover. These are all potentially a part of what goes into a cover design.
  1. Email? Name? Contact Info?
  2. Book Title? Series Title?
  3. Genre?
  4. Setting?
  5. Label (NYT Bestselling author, Amazon # in a category, etc.)?
  6. Is there a quote you would like to use?
  7. A tagline?
  8. Consider the spine and the back for Print on Demand
  9. What size? 5 x 8? 6 x 9?
  10. Coloring and general appearance of hero/heroine?
  11. What is the feel of the book? Sweet? Inspirational? Action?
  12. What do you as the author envision?
  • Here are some websites where you can find stock photos which are royalty free: Dreamstime, Hot Damn Stock, Shutterstock, Fotolia
  • Decide if you want to buy exclusive rights, which often times cost much more, or if you want to buy stock photos that could be used again for another person’s cover.
  • Color is an important aspect to a book cover. There is an online Color Scheme Designer that can help you make sure your colors aren’t clashing.
  • Typography and Legibility. If your font looks great on a print book but no one can read it on Amazon’s thumbnail version, you’re in trouble. Make sure the title and your name can be read clearly in all formats.
  • Kerning & Tracking. Kerning is the space between letters. Tracking refers to whole words. Here and here and here, you can read more about kerning and tracking. This is an illustration I found here.

  • Type styling and branding. Do you want all of your books to have your name in the same font, styled in the same way to promote your brand? You need to come up with something that is versatile if you write in more than one genre.
  • Serials. If you plan to do serials (episodes, acts, or parts) you need to figure out how to make the covers cohesive. Same cover in different colors?
  • Formatting a cover for ebooks and for print are different. Hire someone if you can’t figure it out or don’t want to spend the time to figure it out. 
  • Createspace and Lightning Source have helps with cover formatting and creation.

This is a great article by Matthew Turner about designing your own book cover.

The Book Designer is a great website for authors in general.

This is a great article specifically on Kindle covers, but the concepts could be used for any cover. It’s from the Humble Nations blog.


Getting Reviews: ORAcon2013

The next session at ORAcon2013 was entitled “The Review Game”. One thing they repeated over and over again is that the kind of reviews and the importance of reviews depends largely on your marketing strategy, but they also said that no matter what your gameplan is, getting reviews could be a good addition to your marketing. So, here are the bullet point notes:

  • Why do you want reviews? What kind of reviews do you want? Do you want a few high profile reviews where publishers and agents and bookstores will see and want more? Or do you want the general public to see and read the reviews and possibly start sales by getting your name out there and by word of mouth?
  • Advanced Reader’s Copies (ARC). These are books that you would send to bloggers and reviewers hoping that they will write about your book before the launch date.
  • Galleys- Unedited ARCs
  • NetGalley & Edelweiss are websites where you can post your ARCs and bloggers/reviewers can go there and choose to read them instead of you sending out a bunch of copies and only getting a few reviews. This is quite expensive and normally co-ops pay for a membership and then writers take turns putting their novels on the sites.
  • GoodReads has giveaways called First Reads. They require you to send a print copy, so no pdf’s or ebook formatted giveaways for cheap. Click HERE and HERE to read more about GoodReads First Reads and information about how to take advantage of this service.
  • They also suggested giving out for free just the first chapter or excerpts of your book.
  • Author Central is Amazon’s site where you can create your own author page. This is a great place to get reviews from readers.
  • Timeline. When should you start attempting to get reviews? 4-6 months before release.
  • Try a cover reveal with a giveaway with a signed copy of your book.
  • Blog Hops. HERE is a little more about those.
  • www.alexa.com is a website that allows you to see just how much traffic certain blogs get, so that you don’t waste your time getting a review by a blog that has two followers.
  • Have a Street Team. This might be a private Facebook page where your street team get special perks and updates and get to read your galley/Arcs.
  • Review Queries. Some big time bloggers have guery guidelines. Make sure you read them and follow them closely.

Backwards Plotting: ORAcon2013

Basically backwards plotting is starting your outline with the ultimate result of your story. The speaker that chose to talk about backwards plotting at ORAcon2013 probably had a lot more to say than she was able to get out (because people were not listening and she was trying to have an interactive lecture; it did not go well). Anyway, the one thing I took away from this session was that backwards plotting involves asking a lot of questions in order to make the story believable and in order to work out all the kinks.

Before beginning, a good thing to do is define your characters, figure out the ending, and figure out motivations that get your characters to the ending. Then, start asking questions. How did they get to this result? What are the problems? What would be too coincidental or cliche (and then avoid those solutions)? What secrets are being kept? How do we establish this or that fact without giving away the ultimate ending?

The other big thing I took away from this session was to avoid coincidences at all costs! Don’t do what’s been done a million times in the same way that it’s been done a million times. They suggested looking up cliches for your genre. I looked up cliches for fantasy and these are some of the ones I found:

  • Purely Evil/Purely Good. No one is purely evil or purely good. Your villain should have reasons for what he does. Your hero/heroine should have struggles.
  • Magic saves us all. Just when the poo hits the fan, a magician shouldn’t show up with a giant magical pooper scooper and fix everything or poof in to give the hero the right tool or whatever. Likewise, unlimited magic is an all too common, unrealistic, lazy way to write a story.
  • Good people are beautiful; Bad people are ugly. ‘Nuff said.
  • Women are damsels in distress-always. Now, I would say that if there is one character that is a damsel type of lady (I know some of those, and that’s okay) then fine. But women in any story should be deeper than that, even if they do need to be rescued.
  • Men are dumb or useless. This, I believe is a newer cliche, and over reaction to the damsel in distress.
  • The one vs. twenty and the one wins scenerio. Yeah. That pretty much never really happens.

There are more, but those are the ones that a lot of people agree are cliches to be avoided.  So, when backwards plotting, you can better anticipate and avoid these cliches and coincidences.

Here are a few helpful articles I found concerning backwards plotting:




Do you have any suggestions or methods for backwards plotting?

Publishing, What to Do, What to Do…ORAcon2013

The second topic covered at the ORAcon2013 conference was called the Self-Publishing Revolution, although they talked about traditional publishing, digital only publishing and hybrid publishing. Here are the bullet point notes I took:


  • Traditional Publishing. This is when an author goes through a publishing house, often through a literary agent.
  • Digital Publishing Only. This is self-publishing in e-formats only.
  • Self-Publishing. This is when the writer does everything themselves, and publishes in both print and e-formats
  • Hybrid Publishing. This is when an author publishes through two or more methods mentioned above.

Reasons to choose Digital 1st/Digital Only Publishing House

  • Higher royalty percentages
  • 35%-50% of net as opposed to 25% traditional
  • No up front costs to you
  • Free editorial input
  • Wider distribution (than doing it on your own)
  • Most pay monthly or quarterly (traditional pays 2x/year)

Reasons to choose self-publishing

  • Complete control (from cover art to editorial to pricing, etc)
  • Can distribute through most retailers
  • Potential to earn more money

Examples of what a self-published author gets in percentages from these retailers:

  • Amazon: 70% at $2.99
  • Barns & Noble: 65% at $2.99
  • Smashwords: 85% for direct/55% for 3rd party sales (the speaker mentioned that they had a lot of problems, and suggested using Draft 2 Digital instead, which had comparable percentages)
  • CreateSpace (I didn’t get their percentage)

When Self-Publishing: Cover Art

  • Check for typos
  • Study other cover art in your genre
  • Remember it has to look good on a thumbnail on a website

When Self-Publishing: Content Editing

  • Often done by “book doctors”
  • Content editors fix plot/characterization/arc issues
  • Can be very expensive
  • Many authors skip hiring a content editor and/or rely on beta readers/critique partners
  • Cost. Figure approximately 1cent/word. You should get 3-5 pages for free to test the editor before hiring. Be wary of cheap editors. Be careful. That’s a lot of money. Make sure you are getting quality editing!

When Self-Publishing: Formatting

  • 3 main formats: .epub; .mobi; .pdf
  • Barns & Noble & Amazon will let you upload a .doc or .rtf file and convert, but the formatting tends to be sloppy and inconsistent and difficult to correct. Not recommended.
  • You can pay for eformatting.
  • Print formatting is different. You can use CreateSpace or LightingSource. Your size options will be 6 x 9 or 5 x8. Remember, higher page count = higher cost. If you have a 100,000 word count, go with a bigger size to save a lot of money.
  • Through Lightning Source, all  bookstores would be able to order your book, but it costs $40 for even the slightest mistake in formatting. They mentioned even they (professionals who do it all the time) get “tricked” and have to pay $40 for uploading a non perfectly formatted book. CreateSpace is free to re-upload and fix mistakes.
  • Interior formatting is done in Word or Indesign
  • Standard font is 10 to 12 point
  • You can choose cream or white paper; cream is thicker and costs more.

Self-Publishing Process

  • ISBNs.
  • Kindle assigns an ASIN to your ebook when you upload it.
  • If you distribute through smashwords or ARE, you can use their free ISBNs.
  • To publish direct with Apple or Kobo, you must have an ISBN.
  • Can purchase an ISBN through http://www.bowker.com
  • $125 for 1 or $250 for a block of ISBNs (keep in mind that you need a different ISBN for every version of your book: print, amazon, etc.)
  • KDP Select (Amazon’s Program) options. Your book must be exclusive to Amazon for 90 days & you get 5 days where your book can be free in that period

Marketing a Self-Published Book

  • Best marketing plan is a good book.
  • Eye-catching cover, great hook, solid editing is a must.
  • Promote the same as a traditionally published book. (Traditional publishers will little to no marketing for you, so you are doing the wokr either way.)
  • Don’t doubt the power of FREE. It’s the best promotional tool. Give away a book/novella for free while launching the release of a novel or series. Free novellas/short stories/serials will promote you as a writer.

What a Publisher can do that you can’t…well…maybe you can nowadays.

  • List books for pre-order and specify a drop date
  • Get your book into additional retail outlets and/or libraries (However, Amazon has some options here)
  • Foreign Sales (Well…Self-Pubs now have options here too)

For Foreign Sales

  • Market Prices for professional literary translators range from $30-35/page ($6,000-$9,000 for a translation)

ORAcon2013: Worldbuilding

The first topic covered at ORAcon2013 was worldbuilding. Here are the basic bullet point notes that I took:

  • People always interact with their settings in a way unique to themselves. So, an OCD character would notice things out of place, a photographer would notice any pictures, a purple heart on display might catch the attention of a military person or a police officer, signs of a battered wife/child/husband might be recognized by a counselor, etc. Know who your characters are and when writing from their point of view, write what they would see.
  • The setting becomes a character too. I found this statement especially well worded. I have never thought about my world as another character, or in a sense, even the different cultures in my novels could be considered different characters.
  • Create and know the norms for the culture and how the people live.


  • Do Lots of Research. Use original sources such as mythology, history, etc. Use academic writings, google, wiki, and the internet in general (be careful! double check your facts!)
  • Interview!! Get real people to answer your questions for you about how hospitals work or how police stations run or how travel works in the country you are writing. These details will throw off any reader that knows better.
  • Research Vacations. Well, this one is obviously a little more difficult if you don’t have the funds, but it would be a good thing to do if you can.
  • Read Real Life Accounts.

Setting Details

  • Specific details lend authenticity. Little details and unique specifics allow a quicker pace but still creates a good setting. There is no need to go into long bouts of irrelevent detail.
  • A few well-chosen, distinctive details go a long way. Make sure details are pertinent to your character’s point of view. Different characters should notice different things.
  • Terrain/Geography can add setting detail, be an obstacle, be a symbol or shape your entire world. Use description of terrain/geography wisely.

Sample questions to consider when wondering if your world is fully built

  • Give AT LEAST three details that are particular and distinctive to your world: sight, sound, smells?
  • Can you identify the most powerful detail of your world for each character’s POV?
  • What is/has/will go wrong in this world?
  • Who is the most outrageous character?
  • What is the class system?

Last thoughts

  • If your POV character doesn’t see, touch, or feel it, should it be described in your book?
  • It’s about the expectations you’ve built for the reader. Don’t build your character in a certain way, say as a smart alec, and then have some scene where they are super respectful with no explanation.
  • Write a “Series Bible” and a “Character Bible” where you lay your ground rules, limitations, and basic descriptions of culture and people.
  • Don’t answer all the questions in the first book of a series, but don’t leave everything up in the air. The reader needs to want more, but be satisfied at the same time. This reminds me of chocolate or cheesecake.
  • Your characters should not be surprised by the world- other than the character who might be a stranger in the world.
  • If any detail or scene pulls the reader away from the story or confuses the reader unnecessarily, leave it out!

Here are some articles that I’ve found dealing with worldbuilding that are extremely helpful: