Would you click on this book cover?

Should a writer create her own book cover?

Most artists would recommend leaving cover creation to the professionals and I will. The cover to my self-published ebook, Feeding Frenzy, will be professionally designed. It’s my most popular work yet, garnering a Watty award on Wattpad and ranking #11 in mystery/thriller. Currently, I’m working with an exceptionally talented editor to take the book to the next level. It would be foolish to put the finished book out under a bad cover. Nobody would want to read it. My hope is that the finished cover will include the best elements of the cover I had made for Wattpad, but with professional graphic design.

Feeding Frenzy wins a Watty Award.
Feeding Frenzy wins a Watty Award.

What about free books?

That said, there is the question of freebies. I would like to reward visitors to this blog with free stories. So far I only have one freebie readymade. The Fiendish Plot of Doctor Cyclone is a screenplay based on my middle grade novel of the same name. I adapted the story for media club because I love putting on a show with kids. A drama club is nothing like the dreaded classroom play in which stage-shy students must force themselves to perform.

The movie includes ‘green screen’ key effects which allowed me to place my actors on a space station and inside a mine on the moon. Although I’m proud of the project — proud enough to create a souvenir ebook and give it to the participants — I know most people don’t read screenplays. Cyclone should make fun reading for kids, parents, or educators, but it lampoons science fiction cliches — not everybody’s cup of plasma. I need a better freebie to offer readers.

Do you have an extra $1000.00 lying around?

You can spend pots of money on a good cover but I choose not to spend $1000.00 on the book cover for a thank-you gift. “Wild Caving,” appeared in a print anthology. I am reserving the ebook version as a gift for members of the Loon Lake Reading Club. I’d rather save the cover money and spend it on lavishly editing and producing my next Loon Lake novel. Right now it’s sitting in a drawer, waiting patiently for Feeding Frenzy to come out first, but in some ways I think it’s the better novel.

Have your say

With Photoshop, I made a book cover for my literary suspense story “Wild Caving.” It’s a creepy tale that was short listed for a contest and has been published in the Amprosia anthology.

Since it is not available as an ebook I thought I’d make it available for free to anybody who signs up for the Loon Lake Reading Club. Everybody likes to receive a free book, right?

What I am less sure of are my skills as a cover designer. Please take a look at the test covers below and tell me what you think. Wild Caving, unlike most of my writing, displays no sense of humour. It’s creepy and more literary, written in the voice of a uniquely nasty narrator. Judging by audience feedback at readings, I think people will like it, but they won’t ever read it if the cover stinks.

Please look at the covers below and, even better, share them on social media. I need your help! 🙂

Book Cover Feedback

If you have a moment, I’d love to hear your opinions.

  • Which cover is best?
  • Is either cover good enough to catch your attention and make you want to click?

Cover A versus cover B versus cover C…

Wild Caving Test Cover
In a Mediterranean cave, a man’s prehistoric obsession turns deadly.

 

Wild Caving Test Cover
Ley lines and primitive desires.

 

Wild Caving Cover
In the hills overlooking Cassis, spindly pines form a forest of matches.

 

Thank you for your input!

Why your chapter book makes me angry

Kids minds are precious

 

I read a lot of books as a teacher-librarian, and I’m no literary snob when it comes to children’s fiction. I’m delighted to see children reading series fiction, and the kind of stories that will be called genre fiction when they are older: adventure, fantasy, mystery, science fiction. I’m happy to see them devour cookbooks, sports books, record books, joke books, how-to books, graphic novels, comic books, books that describe pranks, YA novels about the lives of teens from the wrong side of the tracks, non-fiction, and magazines on everything from science to movie stars. Anything that inspires a love reading in kids is a good read.

When I’m not at school, I write stories and novels and think about publishing them, either traditionally or independently. To learn how, I watch online videos, and read e-books by self-publishing gurus and independently published best-selling authors. Some of these videos are also made by entrepreneurs who aren’t interested in writing, so much as in creating a mailing list of people to whom they can sell courses, coaching, and digital ‘content.’ I’m sure some of these marketers create useful products while others are complete flim-flam artists. That’s okay. Everyone knows that when you buy something, it’s ‘buyer beware.’ We’re all adults here on the internet.

Except we’re not. Recently, I watched a free webinar on writing books for children and publishing them independently. I was horrified by how cynically the author of the course recommended that we create titles based on the kind of keywords parents and children would be looking for inside the top-selling categories for children’s fiction on Amazon.com. Next, we were supposed to combine these keywords with the latest trends such as Minecraft, or recent hit toys or Hollywood movies to create a sure winner. Once a bestselling concept was created by combining a fad, some popular keywords, and concepts from pre-existing best-selling books, the work of actually writing the book was so unimportant that this guru suggested hiring an unknown to do it on a cheap work-for-hire site such as Fiverr. With this sales method, quantity and discoverability are everything. Good writing is beside the point. How offensive to assume children don’t know quality when they read it!

I looked up some of the books created this way on Amazon to see if they were any good. The first couple I looked at were, predictably, terrible. I used to take a George Brown children’s writing class with well-known children’s editor Peter Carver. Not one of the students in that class ever turned in anything as flawed as the first page of this self-published book. It’s the difference between caring about writing as an art, and trying to rip off as many suckers as possible for money.

I am in favour of self-publishing, and I have no problem with the existence of books that are imperfect, tacky, or not to my taste. Adults are welcome to write and sell any kind of erotica the law allows, without it becoming my concern. It’s when crass marketers try to make a buck by methods which will put boring books into the hands of children that I get upset. Very young children work hard to learn to read, some of them very hard. When they reach the early stage of independent reading and can finally choose their own material, they deserve to read something hilarious, or intriguing, or imaginative, or exciting, or thoughtful, or better yet, all these things at once. They should never be exposed to something which is wilfully awful and boring, created just to have great SEO.

What’s to be done? Censorship is out of the question. Amazon.com does not and should not decide which books get published through its Kindle self-publishing platform. I suppose I could badmouth every disciple of this cynical hack meister, except some of his acolytes might write good books despite their commercial intentions. It can’t be any other way. In the hands of someone with talent and the intention of entertaining children, someone could follow his shallow advice and produce a compelling book that motivates children to read. So if censorship is out, but letting awful books fall into the hands of children is still a tragedy, what is the remedy?

I just spent this Saturday at TDSB Google Camp, a daylong conference for educators wanting to use Google applications in education. Something George Couros said in a workshop about digital footprint resonated with me. He said not to worry about students who might post a bad comment on digital platforms. The essential is to bury the bad in an overwhelming quantity of good.

Putting my anger at the creators of bad chapter books together with Couros’s advice then, I spent much of Sunday writing my very first kid’s chapter book. It involves magic, comedy, adventure, and a plucky heroine who doesn’t let a bully or a mad scientist’s cursed elixir ruin her life. A tentative title might be: Darling Jackie and Missy Hyde.

May it be the first of many, since I really enjoyed writing something that wasn’t too ‘adult’ to read to my students for a change. Ideally, I’ll get feedback from children and my writers’ group to make the story better. I’ll polish it and work at it until the story is something I would be proud to have young children read. And if I publish it or get it published someday, may it serve partly to bury those terrible, cynically concocted e-books that made me so mad.

Feeding Frenzy Wins a Watty Award

Feeding Frenzy Wins a Watty Award

I can hardly believe my supernatural thriller won an HQ Love Award in The Wattys. This award is given to the handful of stories most read and recommended by the Wattpad staff. Wattpad holds the largest online writing competition in the world with a community of 40 million. Feeding Frenzy was selected from among 75,000 entries. It appears on the Wattys list and just got a ‘Wattys’ badge added to the cover.

Feeding Frenzy wins a Watty Award.
Feeding Frenzy wins a Watty Award.

“Each year with The Wattys, we celebrate our community and recognize the stories that have captured the hearts of millions of people around the world,” said Allen Lau, Wattpad CEO and co-founder. “We launched The Wattys in 2010 as a small writing contest. Today, it has grown into the world’s largest online writing contest, and it brings the entire Wattpad community together in celebration.”

Founded in 2006, Wattpad is a free app that lets people discover and share serialized stories. More than 40 million people use Wattpad in over 50 languages. The company is based in Toronto.

Feeding Frenzy to be Published in Paperback and Ebook

It may have won a Watty but I consider the free Wattpad version of my novel to be a draft. Sunday I sent off a newly revised version of Feeding Frenzy for professional editing in advance of its upcoming publication in ebook and paperback forms. I am delighted to announce that multiple award-winning editor, Sandra Kasturi, has agreed to take on the project. Sandra writes brilliant poetry, appreciates quirky fiction, and has a wicked sense of humour. The manuscript couldn’t be in better hands.

Helen Marshall and Sandra Kasturi celebrate with their World Fantasy Awards.

Bookapalooza Book Fair

Bookapalooza Book Fair

It’s been a week since this Durham book fair. Standing behind my table all day, my only regret is missing some of the readings. The organizers at WCDR encouraged us to take time before doors to the Bookapalooza book fair opened to the public so we could visit other vendors. I also took time out during the day to buy autographed books by WCDR members, and to join the Toronto branch of Sisters in Crime. I felt like it was a successful day, despite my having nothing for sale.

 Giving Away Free Books is Part of the Fun.

Maaja Wentz, posing with free book prizes for the Bookapalooza book fair
Posing with prizes for the Bookapalooza book fair in Durham Region. This book fair, run by the WCDR is an annual fair for book lovers with sales and readings.

Many people visited the Feeding Frenzy booth and turned the spinning wheel to win free paperbacks, or free ebooks of Feeding Frenzy to be delivered once it is released. The wheel drew a lot of interest, as did the treasure hunt card implemented by Heather O’Conner. To fill the card and be eligible to win a basket of books, visitors had to visit booths, collecting signatures from the vendors. If I return next year to sell Feeding Frenzy in paperback, I’ll be sure to run another spinning wheel game because people really seemed to enjoy it. Better yet, I can only hope to be placed next to Heather again. Her upbeat manner made for a fun day.

 

Giving Away Free Books at the Book Fair

I’m not going to release the names of winners without their permission but here are some stats from my spinning wheel experiment:

  • 15 people specifically signed up for the Loon Lake Readers’ Club
  • 22 in total gave their email addresses (some in order to receive their free ebook without checking either yes or no in the Readers’ Club opt-in box.)
  • 11 people won the ebook version of Feeding Frenzy
  • Mostly women stopped at my booth and only women spun the wheel, which fits perfectly with the majority of my readers on Wattpad
  • Everyone who didn’t win a prize was given a ‘quick access card,’ with a Q-code and a short URL for the free, Wattpad version of Feeding Frenzy
Maaja Wentz gives away free book prizes at Bookapalooza book fair.
Feeding Frenzy previews at Bookapalooza. Maaja Wentz standing in her vendor’s booth at Bookapalooza book fair, run by the WCDR.

 

Reading at the Bookapalooza Book Fair

In addition to the booth, I was also granted a space during the readings. This was an interesting opportunity by itself as reading to a live audience is a great way to see if your chapter is working. An interested audience is a still audience and I am happy to report that listeners seemed very attentive during my chapter. One of my friends, David Talon, turned up to hear the readings, sporting a fabulous ‘Movember’ moustache. What a lovely surprise!

Cthulhu spotted at Bookapalooza!
Cthulhu spotted at Bookapalooza!
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Readers visit Bookapalooza book fair

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Free Book Giveaway

Visit Bookaplaooza Book Fair & Readings:

Saturday Nov. 21, 2015 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at Durham College,  Centre for Food/ Bistro 67, 1604 Champlain Ave., Whitby.

Book Fair & Readings
Book Fair & Readings: Saturday Nov. 21, 2015 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at Durham College,  Centre for Food/ Bistro 67, 1604 Champlain Ave., Whitby.

This weekend I will be at Bookapalooza in order to test the waters with my upcoming book, Feeding Frenzy. This will be my first visit to this Durham book fair which promises to be an exciting venue to hear author’s speak, buy books in time for holiday gift giving, and to meet interested readers.

My booth will feature free book giveaways that have something to do with Feeding Frenzy. That means many Jane Evanavitch novels, as I am a fan of her thriller-style pacing and humour. There will be fantasy novels with magic and also books with humour. People who visit my booth will be invited to join my mailing list and win a prize. Everyone who spins the wheel will receive either one of the books on display, or a copy of my upcoming ebook, or a quick access card to read the original version of the novel on Wattpad.

If you are in the area, you might like to check it out. I will also be doing a brief reading from the novel as part of a larger reading by the various exhibitors. This is a great way for people to get a foretaste of the books on display. Hope to see you there!

Feeding Frenzy Featured on Wattpad

Feeding Frenzy named a 'featured story,' on Wattpad.
Feeding Frenzy named a ‘featured story,’ on Wattpad.

 

#11 in Mystery/Thriller Sept. 7, 2015 with 25 000 reads on Wattpad

Feeding Frenzy is a paranormal thriller about our obsession with food. It was inspired by the madcap pacing of Jan Evanovitch’s Stephanie Plum mysteries and the over-the-top imagination of Christopher Moore’s comic fantasy novels.

— Maaja

Featured on Wattpad

Wattpad has officially chosen Feeding Frenzy as a ‘featured story.’ You can read it on Wattpad for free anytime. Wattpad members access an almost unlimited supply of stories, in many popular genres. Wattpad is a social network as much as a reading site, and half the fun is connecting with people all over the world.

Those who do not wish to join Wattpad can wait for the definitive paper and ebook versions of Feeding Frenzy, slated for publication late fall/ early winter. The release date will depend on the availability of editors. It’s too soon to name names but I am very excited about the industry professionals I have spoken to so far.

At the moment, the story is in the hands of an award-winning author with a fantastic sense of humour. His notes will help me do a rewrite which I will then hand over to an experienced editor for further feedback. Readers deserve nothing less than professional work.

After Feeding Frenzy is fully edited and covers are made, the book will be ready to launch. Join the Loon Lake reading club to receive notification of publication, pre-order deals, and time-sensitive discounts.

Blasted Bloomers: a new story in the works!

Discover Helene's mysterious past in this Feeding Frenzy prequel.
Discover Helene’s mysterious past in this Feeding Frenzy prequel.

In Feeding Frenzy, Tonya must pay the price for her Aunt Helene’s past mistakes among the magical families of Loon Lake.

Young Helene is an ambitious teen who charms animals and people without trying. In Blasted Bloomers, she tries to ‘be good’ until she meets Jack Waldock, the devilish rebel who tempts her with a seemingly unlimited source of power.

This prequel to Feeding Frenzy will be free for members of the Loon Lake reading club when it’s completed. Join today and be first to receive your Blasted Bloomers ebook.

08/20/2015 Note: I am currently editing Feeding Frenzy with professional input. Blasted Bloomers is a new project which will not be finished until edits on Feeding Frenzy are complete.

Feeding Frenzy

I celebrated the New Year by posting chapter 11 of my serial thriller, Feeding Frenzy.

Click here for the direct link…

Slide1Join me on Wattpad to read it for free on all digital platforms.

 

Shared Writing and the Classroom Novel

The popularity of fantasy adventure novels hasn’t dwindled since Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Teachers capitalizing on this popularity can inspire student writing, without marking more pages than Lord of the Rings. Today, I’m going to talk about shared-world ‘novel’ writing. This is something I did with a class of gifted grade four students, but the format easily adapts to older students, all the way up to high school.

Design the architecture of the story a bit like a video game or a treasure hunt. The protagonists are searching for a special item, or group of special items that are keys to solve a puzzle, or which give magical powers to defeat an opponent. Each chapter depicts the protagonists’ search through a different world.

In the case of our student novel, World Pool, it began when a magic rock and a runaway science experiment tumbled our heroes into a series of water portals. The protagonists, a boy and a girl invented by the class in a chalkboard brainstorming session, moved from world to world having adventures. Don’t ask me how it worked scientifically. It was magic, and as long as the rules of magic are consistent in the story, your students can do just about anything.

Our intrepid heroes visited the soccer world, the stone age, the bronze age, the land of hockey, Formula 1 racing world, the magical jungle, a planet with heart-shaped people, and finished off by visiting the Wonderful Lizard of Paws…

When the chapters were edited, we collated them, photocopied, added a student-designed cover, and bound and distributed the finished product. If I were to do it again today, I would produce an ebook on Smashwords, and give the families a coupon code for unlimited free copies. That way there could be a colour cover, and the young authors’ families and friends could access their book worldwide, at no cost to the school.

If this idea inspires you, try holding a few shared-writing brainstorm sessions with your students. This is a fruitful process but it can’t be rushed. Every student needs to feel implicated in the planning, writing, and peer-editing. The process is as important as the final product, and helps create team spirit.

Suggested procedure:

  • Set aside a daily time for work on this intense project
  • Set behaviour guidelines which allow only constructive criticism, and limit brainstorming to positive comments
  • Discuss the format, story genre, and types of characters students want for their story
  • Collaborate on a story architecture that will allow each chapter to be written by a pair of writers, inspired by a topic of personal interest to them
  • Dividing into pairs also keeps the number of chapters down to 15 or so
  • set chapter length limits (word count or page limits)
  • The class will need to collectively map out the book’s outline, including how it ends before writing begins (I like to use chart paper to keep and display our decisions)
  • One pair will write the first chapter, in which the protagonists are drawn into the first portal
  • One pair will write the final chapter where the protagonists return, victorious!
  • Make it fun! Creativity can ‘turn turtle’ under pressure
  • You may want to discuss writing characters of the opposite sex in a realistic way, and use mixed writing pairs, to avoid sexist clichés
  • Have groups ‘sign up’ for topics to avoid repeats (ex. there shouldn’t be two candy world or vampire world chapters in the same book)
  • Pairs should be given plenty of class time to write, peer-edit, and revise their chapters before the teacher edits them
  • Good copies need to be typed by each pair and submitted to the teacher as a digital file (for printing or ebook conversion)

For more information on formatting ebooks for distribution on a variety of devices, you might like to look at the Smashwords website, or the Kobo Writing Life website. Kindle Direct Publishing sets limits on what you are allowed to publish for free. If creating an ebook for Kindle interests you, check out Amazon’s fine print, or produce your .mobi (Kindle) files via Smashwords.

 

Linda Poitevin Interview

Interview with traditionally published author, Linda Poitvin on Wattpad.
Interview with traditionally published author, Linda Poitevin on Wattpad.

Could Wattpad be for you?

Are you a traditionally published author, looking to open up new markets? Do you have an idea for a book that would make good serial fiction? This interview with Linda Poitevin is partly about writing, partly about marketing, but mostly about how Wattpad can help you find new fans.

Since doing this interview in December 2014, many things have changed for me. I have completed my first Wattpad novel, Feeding Frenzy, which went on to be featured and then win a Watty award. Unlike Poitevin’s novel, mine is going to be independently published after its world debut on Wattpad but I did benefit from her advice. One of her biggest suggestions was to post regularly and following this tip my story went to #11 in Mystery/Thriller. I’m certain it never would have done so well if I hadn’t been disciplined about posting every week.

Wattpad works for Linda Poitevin

Wattpad is a fast-growing platform for reading free serial fiction. I interviewed dark urban fantasy and contemporary romance author, Linda Poitevin about using Wattpad to reach a wider audience. She has a lovely personality and a good grip on the business of writing. It’s clear that she and her fans enjoy falling in love with her romantic lead characters, but there are takeaways here for all kinds of writers.

Art versus Commerce?

I recently checked out Linda’s Twitter page @lindapoitevin with its new tagline: Evocative Romance/Unexpected Evil. It’s a good way to express the different genres she writes in. I think this is a challenge many creative people face. How do you write your truth, or write the stories you would most want to read, without confusing potential readers? When I sit down to write, I never know if I’m going to come up with a poetic serial killer story or a play, or a quirky kid’s book. It probably comes from working as a teacher-librarian. Where once I was almost a literary snob in my twenties (a hazard of doing an M.A. in comparative literature), now I read a lot of kid’s books, Y.A., and genre fiction of all kinds. None of this will make my writing easy to market or clear a straight path to a writing career, but I’ve never needed writing to pay the bills. Working full time allows me to indulge in art for art’s sake, for which I am grateful.

That said, I am still fascinated by the business of writing and the breakout indie authors. Success stories like The Martian or Wool, come easily to mind. While I honestly think few writers get into this business for the money, writing is only rewarding with an audience. Let’s hope that Poitevin’s insights and encouraging experiences will help you find an audience for your work on Wattpad and beyond. 

If you are looking for content that is actionable and focused on converting Wattpad readers to book buyers, Poitevin’s advice is as relevant as ever.

Video Interview with Linda Poitevin

Click on the link to enjoy the full interview: Linda Poitevin Interview

Feeding Frenzy – Serial Novel Experiment

Read it on Wattpad. Feeding Frenzy debut: Oct 31, 2014
Read it on Wattpad. Feeding Frenzy debut: Oct 31, 2014

Starting October 31, I will be combining my love of experiment with Wattpad and NaNoWrimo to do something new. As a result I will not be blogging much about creativity. I’ll be too busy getting up at 5:00 am every day to write fiction. If we want students to experiment and create, we mustn’t be afraid to do the same.

Feeding Frenzy is my newest project and a creative sandbox to explore Wattpad and serial writing. Mexican telenovelas, Ugly Betty, Being HumanSherlock and The Vampire Diaries are inspiring my approach to serial fiction, since I’m trying to teach this medium to myself.

Feeding Frenzy will be posted online, chapter-by-chapter as I write it. The germ for this idea as a science fiction story came to me a few years ago, but finding the right approach has been difficult. This problem fell away recently when I realized I already invented just the right setting for my last novel.

Loon Lake is a mythical, woodsy Canadian anytown which attracts the supernatural like a hockey net attracts the puck. Now, while I’m gathering reader feedback on the first Loon Lake novel, is the ideal time to explore Loon Lake University on the opposite shore. Here’s the blurb:

Feeding Frenzy is a paranormal thriller which explores our obsession with thinness. Imagine a supernatural mash-up between Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Stephanie Meyer’s The Host.

Sweet but chubby Tonya never gets the guy, the grades or the glory. When Loon Lake is overrun by a deadly obesity epidemic, years of dieting allow her to resist a mysterious mind-controlling entity. Can Tonya uncover the source of this evil before she too succumbs?

Follow this blog or, better yet, follow me on Wattpad to read it. It takes moments to set up a Wattpad account which gives you access to 75 million free stories, including novels by well-known authors.

It’s uncertain how long it will take to write and post a novel at the rate of one or two chapters per week, but my goal is to draft most of it during the month of November. So far I have character sketches, a few funny-looking diagrams on rolls of  paper, and sets of plot cards written, discarded and done over. Outlines are hard to write from since story often veers from the original plan. My newest idea is to plot out the main points using sticky notes on a tri-fold science fair board. (Think table top cardboard study carrel.) Normally I’d just write the thing and edit later, but knowing I can’t go back and make changes is a unique challenge, and planning is my secret weapon.

 

NaNoWriMo

The month of November means a lot of things for different people. For Americans it means Thanksgiving. For Canadians it means colder weather. For writing enthusiasts all over the globe it means NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month is a fantastic kick in the pants for those of us who have always thought we had a novel in us, but never found the time. Why wait until the kids are grown, until you retire, or until your jobs stops being so crazy? Do it now, in one month. Write that novel and bask in the glow of accomplishment.

I have done NaNoWrimo a couple of times now. Writing 50 000 words in a month is something I would normally only do during the summer, but in November there is the extra incentive of knowing ‘everyone’s doing it.’ Feeding Frenzy is going to be my NaNo novel for 2014. What about yours?

If you are interested in NaNo for yourself or as inspiration for young people, here are some useful links:

http://nanowrimo.org/

Inspiration

Young Writers Program

For Educators

Me on the NaNoWriMo site (Feel free to friend me and message me there. You may need to create an account.)

The Snowflake Method (Novel planning.)

Coffitivity (This one might help you write your report cards.)

Feeding Frenzy on Wattpad (Read the story or leave a comment. If you’re new let me show you around.)

 

Happy writing!