Friday, March 30, 2012

A new book reivew of SufferStone from Chris Gerrib (author of Pirates of Mars, and The Mars Run) on POD People website.

"I found [SufferStone] oddly fascinating, and something about the book kept drawing me into it. I think part of what pulled me in was seeing the patterns of imperialism playing out again. I also think that Ms. Atrium made me care about the characters, thus I cared what happened to them. So, I’m putting SufferStone down as an interesting read.

Read the complete review at:

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Girl Heroes in Current Fantasy Novels: A Lament

by Stella Atrium

Back to my first complaint.  I was making a case that women characters are cheated in sci-fi / fantasy stories.  A reader countered my assertions that several writers present the young lead hero as a girl.  So I decided to look into this trend that is a common trope for the 2001 -2011 decade.

Bone Doll's TwinI read The Bone Doll’s Twin (the trilogy) by Lynn Flewelling where a boy/girl named Tobin starts out as a boy due to magic, because the girl heir would have been killed.  She fights the last battle, though, in full armor on horseback wielding a sword AS A GIRL.  The ambiguity of gender confusion was interesting, but the forest witch was a more fascinating character.  This book, at least, presents the troubles of other women who want to join the fight, or who serve fighters.

I read the Poison Study series by Maria V. Snyder where a girl named Yelena is trained by a mean minister named Valek who later admits to sexual interest and becomes her savior when her foolhardy trust in his lessons get her in trouble.  They succeed together, but he has all the real power.  There’s another female character in this story named Star, but she serves only as counterpoint.

I read The Book of Deacon, which is the first in a series by Joseph R. Lallo.  This female lead character, a too-na├»ve girl named Myranda, is always alone and persecuted until she reaches hidden island where everybody has magic; a cloying feast of description and little plot.  She also bonds with a mean, mysterious character older than her and with sexual interest.  She sheds all the security and friends in this paradise to follow him into trouble.  Do you see a pattern yet?  Curse of Chalion

I read The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold and enjoyed every paragraph.  This female character has a brother who should be heir, and a teacher who is more than he seems.  However, she has a mother and grandmother, a BFF and ladies-in-waiting.  Within the feudal society where the bad guys have no redeeming qualities, she makes decisions to side-steps the fate that only a woman would face – marriage to the wrong man as a pawn in court politics. The solutions were too easy, but the character of Cazaril was a delight in his fatalism.  A fun romp into formula writing.

I’m currently reading Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson because of the buzz on GoodReads about the next upcoming book in the series – and something about a video game based on the series.  Here the primary character is a guy named Kelsier with specific powers based on real physics. I can see the appeal to sci-fi readers who are mostly guys.  The female lead, since his wife is long-dead, is a street waif named Vin who…  wait for it…  has special powers she knows nothing about because she was orphaned from her noble family.

Another big surprise…  in Mistborn there are NO OTHER WOMEN.  Oh, yeah, there’s a cook who cuts Vin’s hair so she looks more like a girl. Where are her sisters, aunts, cousins, BFFs, younger girls she persecutes?

Guys…  Women live in a world of women.  Women solve problems differently than how men solve problems.  Women don’t act on inflamed anger or rush into danger like Keifer Sutherland in 24 – so not believable (even for a guy).

Where are the stories where women solve the kinds of problems that women have using the kinds of resources that women can gather?  Unwanted births, little access to wealth, no voice in the public square, the demand to follow custom, submission in a confrontational situation, secret revenge, and more.  Stop putting a sword in their hands and look around.

How do women succeed in adversity?  Here’s a hint…  They work WITH other women.

Aaahhh, I feel better now.  Got that off my chest.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Self-Publishers: Beware the Dreaded Comfort Zone
by Stella Atrium

Thomas MastersI sometimes talk with an artist friend who has a studio in the same building as my writing studio.  He shows his works at the storefront gallery below us.  The gallery owner expends considerable effort in the Chicago market to draw an audience into his openings, and the paintings sell well.

Except now the painter wants to market his works to regional galleries and has picked a few favorites to approach.  His paintings have all sold, though, so he needs a not-for-sale cache to request an opening at other galleries.  He also needs a press kit and ready responses to interview questions.

“I first began painting because…  The biggest surprise in my career so far was…  My favorite color is green, thank you for asking, but I’m in my blue period now…”

I asked yesterday how the plan for the gallery tour was coming along.  His greatest fear is that the paintings will sell out at the first gallery and the tour will have to be canceled.

Oh, the trials of success.  inside Masters

He gave me a soulful look and said, “I wish I hadn’t started with the gallery tour idea. The expense of travel. The need to sell myself into each market.  The constant glad-handling and repeated questions.  I’m dreading the whole adventure.”

It’s terrible that he’s so successful.  Just terrible!

Paintings are like fashion in a way.  Once Michelle Obama wears an outfit to a public event, she cannot be seen in that dress again.  Self-published books, however, are more like a stand-up routine at a comedy club.  Since the jokes work only on the people in the room, they can be re-used with a new audience.

An agent once told me that the market for books is limitless, once you tap into a national press release vein for marketing.  Unfortunately for self-publishers, that avenue is NOT Twitter.

retweetI love Twitter and spend hours with writer friends there.  We retweet obsessively and provide space on each other’s websites for interviews.  We “Like” each other on FaceBook fan pages and post weekly digests of activity for our favorite writer-tweeps.  We give klout and gold and karma and hugs.

But we don’t read each other’s books, and we certainly don’t BUY them.  Twitter is not a current that leads to national reputation and SALES.  Twitter is a comfort zone where we count the number of retweets as success without a thought that they are only a return gesture for my retweet of his tweet about his book.  None of this activity has reached a reader who BUYS BOOKS.

Are you a writer on Twitter?  Do you have a blog or website where only fellow writers visit?  Do you count yourself as successful and ignore the sales numbers on the 1099-misc? comfort zone

What is your next adventure to burst out of the comfort zone and market to regional bookstores and online READER sites?

Have you enabled RSS feed on the blog? Have your added "Like" buttons to the website that link to a fan FaceBook page?  Have you submitted topical articles to Tumblr or Helium?

Leave some suggestions here for that first step off the cliff.

Also visit me at
For a GIVEAWAY of 20 copies of fantasy novel SufferStone through March 26.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

My Beach is the Best Beach, Bar None

By Stella Atrium

We had a mild winter here, followed by the earliest spring I can remember.  Wisteria bushes are about to display yellow starburst flowers, and even the honeysuckle is sending out hesitant shoots.  Chicagoans are so conditioned, we just know there’s another arctic blast coming our way, often expressed as “waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

Aerial ChicagoNo complaints are allowed on this cloudless March day that’s worthy of June.  So I took a walk to the beach that faces Lake Michigan east of Lake Shore Drive. The water has no salt and no tide.  The temperature will chill your bones into August, but only tourists and children think you visit the beach to go in the water.

My beach is North Avenue, four blocks north of Oak Street BeachNavy Pier is six blocks south of there.  NAB will accept a million people on some days, depending on the fireworks schedule at Navy Pier, Wednesday and Saturdays all summer.  There’s kyacking and skip-jacking and wind-surfing and sun-bathing.  Through the season there’s the Cancer Walk and Chicago Marathon and Regalia for drunken people on boats they don’t know how to drive.

People in all walks of life come here – old and young, rich and poor, over-healthy and over-fat. Today I saw people dressed for summer, and some dressed for kick-boxing (go figure).  People dressed for work were stripping down and rolling up to exposed skin to the sun.  There were kite flyers and dog walkers and chatty women pushing baby buggies.  Ipods with earphones and ereaders for Twitter.

For a bike rider, the path is contiguous going south past the Yacht Club, Grant Park and the fountain, the Aquarium and Planetarium, the Field Museum, McCormick Place and all the way south to the Museum of Science and Industry. The Chicago skyline shimmers on your left for the entire ride.  bikes

But today I turned north walking four blocks to Fullerton.  I shuffle past the baseball diamonds and rowing lagoon, past the volleyball nets and Theatre by the Lake building.  I skirt the grounds for Lincoln Park Zoo and the Nature Museum that has a room of live butterflies that settle on your arm and drink your sweat.

oarsI cut across the Drive to walk north four more blocks to Diversey past the empty moorings of the harbor that occupies the four block to Belmont Harbor that spread north to… (you get the picture) all the was to Evanston.  Chicago has the largest Park District of any urban setting in the USA. When winter releases its grip on Chicago, the whole lakefront turns into a garden. Thank you Mayor Daley Sr. & Jr.

I cut inland at Diversey, ogling the statuary at the Elks Museum, past a slew of world-class Irish bars and juice bars and sushi bars and oyster bars, and pick up a bucket of KFC before I take the train home (practically door-to-door) for a two-hour nap.

My beach has no entrance or exit fee.  I paid no parking fee and bought no $4.29 a gallon gas to get there.  Nah, nah, nah.

I'm sure you think your beach is better.  You can make that argument in reply, but please supply a full description with images.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Why I Embrace Self-Publishing

By Stella Atrium

I saw a solicitation for a tenured position at my alma mater for which I will apply.  Professors seldom leave this department, and competition for vacancies is fierce. I experienced sudden anxiety as though my whole future depended on submitting a stellar letter with quality documentation.  I recognized that tense feeling as the same I felt when approaching agents and publishers.

And then I had an epiphany, not unusual for a spring day in windy Chicago. girls kite

As a self-publisher, those feeling of anxiety are mostly absent. In fact, I just completed a round of letters sent with review copies that were requested in response to a press release that I wrote.  I jotted off the letters citing connections with the group through a PR service (cost: $175), and good reports about my fantasy novel launched in January 2012.  While I completed the “shipping and handling” exercise, I considered getting an assistant for this busy work. That’s how low the work was on my scale of importance.

I have skills for promoting, and for creative writing. So why was I so anxious about traditional publishers and the agents who lunch with them?

I was victim to no fewer than three (count them 3) printers who called themselves publishers, including the infamous Publish America.  I never received positive results from any of their promised marketing efforts.  Nada, zip, zero.

long kiteHere’s an analogy. I was raised in the country, and each spring we had to clean the slough of debris.  We opened a trap that served as a bottleneck and flushed fresh water through along with the sticks and leaves and earthworms. Soon the fresh water ran clear.

Maybe the same is true with self-publishing.  Sure, some writers should take more classes, and some self-promoters should take a breath.  But the new shape of the publishing industry sorts the quality (and ambitious) writers from the sticks and earthworms.  Soon enough books from the fresh writer who lived with frustration all this time will flow freely to readers, so that great characters and original work find an audience.

I will continue with a small publisher because the quality of the product is better than I can weave together on the laptop. I will avoid Smashwords and offering books for free because I believe reviewers who work with magazines find that level of publishing repugnant.

But here’s the question…  If I can make a website and blog, connect with writers and readers on Twitter, GoodReads and LibraryThing, and grab press release leads for $175, then why were writers willing to pay $4500+ to agents (or marketing executives) for less response?

All those self-important agents and publishers and advisors and naysayers can go fly a kite on this windy spring day. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Fresh promotions start today!

Guest interview on website of International Best Selling Author Stacy Eaton.  

Guest blog post with fellow writer Emerald Barnes.

Upcoming interview with Hawaiian mystery writer Gail Baugniet.

Sign up for Giveaway of 20 copies 
 SufferStone: Book 1 of the Dolvia Saga
starts 3/5 through 3/26


Saturday, March 3, 2012

Best Practices for Self-Publishers

by Stella Atrium
Promoting an ebook on Amazon is a business, even for self-publishers.  I found a plethora of online articles for how to apply business principles to self-promotion, almost like gaining a BA in Business Management, I suppose. pushpins

These structures build a brand (online persona):
•    Maintain a focused and fresh website
•    Select areas for connections (Reddit, OpenSalon) and be supportive in comments
•    Build a platform for a diverse online presence
•    Blog regularly – but not too often – about real experiences
•    Link to colleagues, critics, and consumers
•    Learn habit patterns of followers and fans, and adjust behavior to serve them

Additionally, I found that a certain daily discipline is needed to avoid wandering off the path and to use my time productively.  The Best Practices listed below largely follow business principles for promoting any brand name product. The list is derivative and works for me.  Your list may shape differently.

1)    Channel my efforts – With new social outlets popping up each day, the writer must select those that drive traffic into the blog and drive sales for the book.  I have found success on GoodReads more than LibraryThing, on Reddit more than Linked-In. I have to develop a presence on social sites where visitors add comments and where readers make choices for purchasing the next trilogy in fantasy.

2)    Don’t get distracted – I love Harry Potter fans who are energetic and loyal, but I’m done with that series now (even Rowlings is done with that series now) and want to move on to readers who have moved on.

3)    Respond to comments – When traffic reaches the blog(s) and comments are posted, my timely responses are essential.  The visitor wants to feel acknowledged.  This principle has caused me to pace the timing for placement of guest blogs and interviews, along with questions posted to Reddit, so I’m not always chasing my tail.

4)    Add genuine responses – If the visitor chooses to comment, then my reply should address her ideas, not a promotion for more links.

5)    Get to know colleagues – On Twitter especially, I learned to stay within my genre and not wander into groups for romance or detective stories (well, some detective writers).  When I explore websites of loyal retweeters and get to know their interests, I can feel confident when I retweet fresh posts from them to my followers.

6)    Be generous – The world doesn’t revolve around my book on Amazon (big surprise). Look into more shared interests for music, writing advice, publishing advice, funny images in the news, global causes to support.  Present the whole person on social media.

triangle7)    Develop a consistent message – How does this imperative jive with number 6? I return consistently to my primary focus of developing real female characters in my stories.  Which causes, blogs, interview offers, fellow writers reinforce the message of global women rights and stories that feature women as lead characters?  These social advocates become my friends.

8)    Dress the blog with links to friends – Sometimes links overwhelm the presence of the blogger.  Sometimes the blogger neglects links, even “follow on Twitter”. I have remade the blog page many times to reach current friends and reinforce the central theme.

9)    Assess sources of traffic – I have been surprised with how traffic works on the blog(s) and home website.  Overall, content drives traffic as much as placement.  Fair-weather friends are soon absent, while friends with similar interests linger and retweet.

10)     Be patient – Building relationships takes time.  When I see traffic for a successful blog, I want more traffic – the definition of an addict, I think.  Some social media groups allow for comments that are more negative, so I learned to take the good with the bad.  Colleagues comment to build stronger platforms.  Consumers (who buy our products) comment when they object to assertions.  I must learn to serve both groups.  connections

These guidelines have focused my hours devoted to promotion online, and outcomes are mostly positive so far.  What additional best practices have you embraced that may also serve my efforts?  Any suggestions?