Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Guest post: Tony Lavely

I thought I’d give some other new authors an opportunity to tell you about themselves and their work. Tony Lavely contributed a great story to the Twelve Worlds anthology, and you should definitely check it out. But, you should also check out Mercenaries: A Love Story, which Tony describes below. He also explains a bit of his journey as a new e-publishing author.

Here’s Tony:

I just self-published my first book, the first in a two book series, Mercenaries: A Love Story, and Derek offered me the opportunity to guest blog in his space. Wow! I thought. That’s great... if I can figure out something interesting to say.

Mercenaries started long ago as a short story written to convince my talented then teen-age daughter that writing wasn’t all that hard - even Dad could do it. I don’t think my effort motivated her significantly at the time, but it did me.

I wrote off and on, all fiction and mostly fantasy until the mid 2000’s. Of course, as in my day job I managed people in a technology environment, I also had a fair amount of business oriented writing to do, and I was honored to write the first several drafts of the VITA 46 standard. (It has gone through multiple rewrites since.) As a manager, one of my frequent complaints was my guys’ and gals’ writing ability. Or perhaps, it was reading ability they weren’t using. Even email should be read through once it’s written – before hitting SEND – to see what liberties have been taken with language this time. That’s a rant for a different day; Derek didn’t invite me to share my dated complaints with you.

More recently I was RIFed, and unable to find other employment, so I pulled some of my earlier work out. I joined to both read other authors’ work, and have them read and crit mine. I  met Derek through another critter, Edward Cote (Violet Skies), and was allowed to join with them and eleven other authors in putting together the Twelve Worlds Anthology.

I found each one of those authors to be talented, opinionated and helpful beyond belief. Derek did a whole bunch of grunt work getting the project off the ground - I hope that’s on your resume, Derek – and all of us benefitted from being involved. But I digress.

I started reading Derek’s blog and came to the realization that not only could I self-publish, I should. For me, it’s the right thing to do. And with Derek’s example, and lots of others that I’ve found since, it’s possible to do. Just a couple weeks ago, I made it happen. After hours and hours of reading, digesting and implementing my readers’ suggestions, and more hours and hours researching, editing and polishing, I pushed the “Publish” button at Smashwords, and I was published. Of course, it took three times to fix stupid mistakes I found in looking over the published editions, but once I got to that point, I was able to go to Amazon and get through their process, too.

For mechanics, I bought and read Derek’s seminal work, Format Your e-book forKindle in One Hour, and followed his instructions. While I used Scrivener’s export to rtf and export to mobi to generate the files I published to Smashwords and Amazon respectively, Derek’s book gave me a good, nay excellent, understanding of what was happening and a feeling for how to handle the little confusions that arose in the process. Mark Coker’s Smashwords Style Guide was as helpful and I had no problems with the Meatgrinder process – though the table of contents took some deviant handling before success.

One of the other benefits of working with the Twelve Worlds group was the introduction to Les Petersen, who did the cover for the anthology. I liked it, and Les was easy to get hold of, and pleasant and easy to work with. I detailed the process on my blog. If you have need of a talented and responsive artist, I recommend him fully.

I purchased Scrivener not for the exporting capability, but for the organizational help it provided. The export capability was a nice bonus. My only complaint so far is that I can’t put spreadsheets in the Reference folder, and that’s a pretty small complaint. Having lost Word when I upgraded to MacOS Lion, I now use Open Office for docs that have to look like Word, and so far, it’s worked quite well.

I put this in mostly for any readers who haven’t yet made the leap; all you pros already know. It’s not easy, but it’s easier than the prep work is. I think the biggest thing to overcome is the certainty (in your mind) that you’ll fail. After all, who would want to buy a book I wrote? How stupid would that be? It’s possible, but unlikely (he says hopefully, still awaiting sale 1).

As far as the story:

Mercenaries: A Love Story Book One

A teenager saving hundreds from slavery? While Beckie never thought about it, it’s the role she takes in this two book series. Jamse, a mercenary (who doesn’t follow quite all the rules), didn’t think about it either. In book one, she is kidnapped (with her brother), and then eighteen months later, with Jamse’s help, she and her best friend become exotic dancer bait, getting the slaver to reveal himself. It’s quite a school vacation for two girls from Minnesota, but they don’t get to sight-see much in either London or Rome. While Jamse is motivated by the billions of euros in the slaver’s vaults, Beckie finds her passion in freeing trapped girls and stopping the fiend. She gets that chance in Book Two.

Mercenaries in draft form filled over 200K words. Since its genesis was three short stories I had originally titled The Abduction Trilogy, it split nicely into three parts, and after Beckie, one of my main characters told me she wasn’t going to stop at the end of the third story, she needed resolution, the draft ended with four parts. Rather than release them as four novellas, I chose to package them in two books, with two parts in each one. I don’t know any way to test whether that was a good choice or not. It reduces by half the number of things I have published, but takes the reader through more of the plot arc in Book One, which I thought was important.

During the critting and beta reading, the word count of Book One went from 98,000 to 71,400. I mourned the loss of all those words, hard fought... and unnecessary to the final story! Cutting those 25,000 or so words eliminated sub-plots which on reflection, added little to the reader’s experience. But they weren’t wasted; I learned more about my characters as I wrote them. And I learned more about the story as I removed them.

I am in the process of editing and responding to beta reader comments on Book Two. On my own, I haven’t recognized any opportunity to cut the word count (or plot count!). But my faithful readers will give me advice, and I may even take it.

This is a key thing for writers to remember: our readers, whether critiquing partners, beta readers, reviewers, friends or family, make suggestions. It’s incumbent on us to evaluate those suggestions honestly. Do they improve the story I want to tell? That’s the question to ask. (Of course, when friends and family are involved, other factors may come into play!) As I said, I mourned the loss of the plot that I removed. But on consideration, I agreed with the suggestions that the detail in Cari’s story did nothing to advance Beckie and Jamse’s story. So, I saved off a version and renamed with a new version number, then went in with an axe and cut, cut, cut.

To summarize (finally!): Self-publishing is not as difficult as it seems. Help abounds for almost any question or problem you face. I can’t being to tell you how unlikely it is that you’ll be the first with a particular issue. Write the story you want to write. Avail yourself of any assistance you get to tell that story. If you’re a writer, you probably are willing to share your experiences; let us know your successes, and ask if you feel a little help would make it easier.

Good luck to you.

Derek: Thanks for describing your journey, Tony! You’re well on your way to publishing success. Now it just takes patience. Yes, you’ll need luck. But you’ve shown the discipline to actually publish, and that’s a huge first step. One that all the other aspiring authors out there should strive to emulate.


  1. Thanks so much for the chance to be seen here!

    #amwaiting for Where Magic Reigns.

    Thanks for sharing, both your journey (it's an inspirational trip for us), and your space.

  2. For $0.99, I'm intrigued to try it.

    If I may comment, the first comment (by Reeth) is more engaging, for a male, than your book's summary. Since that person is beta reading your books, have that individual 'help' with the Amazon blurb. ;)

    So you have your first sale to a person who doesn't even know you! I'm intrigued to see how you deal with 'traffic in persons.'


  3. I should have been more clear above. I have purchased the book. By 'try it' I mean put at the top of my TBR pile. :)


  4. @wannabuy Thanks very much!

    Since you are now the third person to comment negatively on the blurb, I am in the process of rewriting it - within the word count limit!

    I'll appreciate your thoughts when done.

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