Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Descripturbation: How to (and How Not to) Describe Characters

Hello hello!

Today I'm going to talk about one of the thorniest and most often-ridiculed issues in writing--character descriptions. Some authors describe every pimple, dimple, dent, and wrinkle of lace; some basically avoid description at all, which can leave readers feeling as though the characters are no more than wooden silhouettes with "Protagonist's Name Here" taped to them.

So, what does too much detail look like? 

Women's clothes often get the brunt of this. The men's clothes in the same works are often less elaborate, but have a look at the paragraph below.

"Her blue paisley dress had delicate puce and chartreuse ribbons on the puffed sleeves. The layered chiffon skirt was hooped, and numerous petticoats trimmed in yellow lace spilled out from beneath its voluminous edges."

Now, that's ugly, in many ways. There are too many adjectives, some passive voice, and the actual dress combination is pretty hideous. But fancy steampunk/Victorian dresses are easy to ridicule. What does overdescription with a male character in a more contemporary setting look like?

"His perfect nose was Euclidean and his brow was high and fair. He had deeply-set brown eyes with smooth lids, and his eyes twinkled under dark brows and short black lashes. His mouth was slender-lipped and his smile, very wide. His dimples dotted golden cheeks and the creases of his grin reached almost to his dark sideburns. Slick, anthracite hair that had been gelled into perfection flopped insouciantly off to the side.

His neck was slim but strong and his golden skin showed through the opening of his blue and white plaid button-down shirt, a real second-hand item, not a designer look-alike. His Gotye t-shirt had stylized doves and hands opening on it, and his jeans--which were fashionably worn and ripped, but had obviously been broken in--had a dove embroidered on the pocket as well. I stared at his Converse sneakers and fell in love."

As a friend said, "I just think it's kinda awesome that someone who writes so well can just as easily write so BADLY at the drop of a hat."

These two paragraphs are excessively detailed, to an irritating extent, because whatever else was happening in the scene stops DEAD to let the description show itself out.

"His brown eyes sparkled as he grinned at me. He ruffled his slick black hair and leaned back, his band t-shirt peeking through a plaid button-up."

This rewrite is a bit simpler, but it still gets the feeling across without stopping the action dead. It also makes the description more active, contextualizing his eyes and hair with expressions and an action.

What about insufficient detail?

My personal prejudice is that "less is more", but if a story is full of lush descriptions elsewhere, it's probably okay to let yourself go in the character descriptions. For first drafts, it's also okay to go a bit bananas--you can always cut things later. For those of us who write fantasy and sci fi, there are extra challenges, because the books exist in unique universes.

That said, it's often a good idea to trust the reader. They can imagine things, they know how tropes work, and it's okay to skim over descriptions a bit when referring to something that should be ordinary. Wastebaskets, for example, or toilets. Focus on what's different, not just what's the same. For both characters and the setting, it's often wise to add bits of description throughout the book, sprinkling them in. Using relative descriptions can also be helpful in keeping the reader immersed. One of the best things you can do is make a description active, so that the character interacts with their environment rather than being set apart from it. Here's an example.

"She smiled and stretched her long, tanned limbs. She was tall and stringy, and her grey-streaked black hair gleamed like steel in the light of the twin suns."

We know she's on an alien planet--possibly one with low gravity--and that she's an older woman already. It's not a lot, but it can go a long way. But that's the easy stuff--what about specific character description issues?

Source. This is a great resource.

How do we describe diversity without having to say, 'this character is black or Japanese'?

The best thing you can do is get yourself a colour palette of skin tones. Dark skin comes in many, many shades--there are some incredible resources to explain some of those shades.

"Her reddish-brown skin glowed in the sun, and she squinted, her full lips curving into a smile. She unholstered her pulse rifle and trained it on the scruff-rat leisurely, then fired."

Now, you could describe her skin as 'chocolate' coloured, but that kind of description has really fallen out of use. The problem with food-like descriptions is that it's othering and a bit creepy when all protagonists are edible. It's fine in small doses--and I've seen black authors use "almond eyes and chocolate skin" as descriptors, and "creamy" or "milky" skin do get used to describe white characters, but Asian characters don't have "teriyaki or sesame skin" and Latino characters don't have "corn tortilla" skin, Nor do, say, First Nations people have "pemmican complexions". The problem is that people are sometimes unaware that the way they describe others is fetishizing (which makes a person into an object) or just plain absurd.

When it comes to describing eye shape and colour, "almond" eyes are used a lot for Asian characters, but this has become contentious and annoying for the same reason mentioned above. The jury's out on good ways to describe monolids and epicanthic folds, but mentioning 'angled' eyes, 'crinkled' eyes, 'smooth' lids, deeply-set, or teardrop-shaped eyes are all possible choices. It's better to talk to someone from the ethnic background you're trying to describe if you're not sure. As always, research is your friend.

Any final words?

We'll all make mistakes. That's life, and that's writing. Experiment and do research, and run things by friends who can mock you safely (without being too mean) if you're worried that something sounds ridiculous. And, of course, there's always asking your editor or beta readers.

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Leave your comments, rebuttals, and vehement agreements below. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

SFR Brigade Library Updates

All Hands On Deck!

You know the drill, Brigaders. You've been busy writing new space adventures for us to read and that means we need to get the library organized to show off your best work. We love to have our authors listed, and we love to share the library with new SFR readers who don't know where to start. So help us out and send your titles in today! 

Send Liana an email with the following information:

Genre: Action/Adventure, Anthology, Comedy, Cyberpunk/Speculative, Military, Near Future, Paranormal, Simply Romance, Space Opera, or Not Romance
Heat Rating: Sweet (fade to black), Hot (sex on screen), Erotic
Author Name: 
Buy Link: a link to your website or some other page featuring the book
Release Date: For new books or any books coming out between now and March 1, 2015

liana . brooks1 at gmail dot com

If you send an email and don't get a response you can track Liana down on Twitter. Look for @LianaBrooks and tell her to check her spam folder.

Note From Liana: Guys, I will be on leave from the Brigade from mid-December until mid-January. Any Brigade Library updates sent after December 10th will not be added to the library until late January/early February.  If someone volunteers to be the Brigade Librarian for that time frame we will post an announcement here and on the FB page.

Thank you for understanding.
- L

Monday, November 24, 2014

Meet the #Author Monday - Chris Hayes

Please tell us a bit about yourself:
I’m a Family Medicine physician currently working in the field of college health. I began writing science fiction generously laced with romance about ten years ago as a hobby because that’s what I enjoy reading.

Tell us about Sikkiyn:
Sikkiyn is a science fiction novel which happens to include a lot of romance. It’s set in the future and features space travel, telepathy, and both scientific and cultural extrapolation. I don’t really think of it as a romance novel per se, because I did my best to avoid most of the typical romance novel tropes. On the other hand, if a reader is looking for detailed descriptions of technological wonders and exciting space battles, this book will probably have way too much emotion and not enough gadgets in it. In short, Sikkiyn is the type of book that I like to read.

What inspired you to write this particular story?:
I have always been fascinated by the interplay of culture and how different languages and cultures affect the way we interact with other people. I had the idea one day that if we could read minds, this process would in many ways be made easier. And then my imagination took off from there. Sikkiyn is the result. Apparently I’ve got a very strange imagination. 

Please share a favourite snippet from your book:
Larsen’s pulse pounded in his ears. He was drowning in desire—hers, his, theirs—and Lara’s thoughts whirled around in his head. Curiosity predominated. He wanted to block her search but he didn’t know how. His fear that she would discover how he really felt about her and take advantage of it, only to drop him once the novelty wore off like every Ragnaran girl he’d ever felt anything for, was soon overwhelmed by a sense of rightness. He felt her struggle with her own impulses before giving in.
Her lips were closed when she leaned forward to kiss him, an achingly sweet and innocent first kiss. Larsen forced himself to meet her innocence with gentleness rather than passion. And then her lips opened, his tongue tasted hers, and all bets were off. She was a fast learner.”

Which comes first for you – a character's looks, personality or name?:
Looks, I think. I have to picture the character in my head and let him or her talk to me for a while so I can get a sense of the personality I’m creating. The name usually comes later.

Any tips for aspiring authors?:
Write. Do it every day, even if there’s really no time to do it. Find a group of friends to read your work and tell you what they think you need to add or change, then re-write. A lot. An online writing group is good because it’s easier to be brutally honest with someone if you don’t have to see their face. And you want your friends to be brutally honest with you.

Questions for fun:
If you had the power of time travel, is there anything you would go back and change? Why/why not?:
I think I would go back in time to Germany and find Adolph Hitler as an infant. Then I’d bring him back with me and raise him to be a decent human being.  I believe that every child is redeemable.

What super-power would you choose?:
I’d want to be able to read minds at will, like Jane Grey in X-Men.

If you could have three wishes, what would they be?:
I’d wish for a way to end all lethal illness so that people would only die of natural old age or their own rash actions. My second wish would be for a way to produce and distribute enough food to end famine (especially considering all the people who’d be living so much longer).  My third wish would be for an end to war. (Idealistic?  You bet.)

Coffee, tea or wine?:
Tea most days. And then there are the days that require wine…

What is your favourite book? (aside from one of your own!):
That’s an impossible question to answer. I can’t even decide who my favorite author is on any given day.

Favourite genre and why?:
Science fiction romance, of course.  : )

Favourite colour?:
Blue, an intense cerulean blue.

Upcoming news and plans for the future?:
Sikkiyn will be available in Kindle format on November 26th, 2014 from amazon.com and in paperback from amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and solsticepublishing.com by January 26th, 2015.  I’m working on the sequel as we speak, to be entitled Farspeaker.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us!

Facebook author page at https://www.facebook.com/sikkiyn

Facebook Event!

There is a release party on the 28th with a chance to win a free copy of various e-books including Sikkiyn. Here's the link to the release party: https://www.facebook.com/events/397683397052611/ 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

SFRB Recommends 28: Tethered #SFR #Scifi #Romance

This week's recommendation is brought to you by Sabine Priestley.

Book Description

She can kill with a kiss. But can assassin Tyree also heal one man's grief, and bring peace to a galaxy threatened by war?

For Tyree of the Su, being an assassin isn't simply something she was trained for. It's the sole reason for her existence. A genetically enhanced clone—one of many in Refuge—she's about to learn her secluded lifestyle, and that of all her kind, is under threat by a race capable of neutralizing their special talents to leave them defenseless.

For Zander D'joren, being a diplomat has not only cost him his appearance, but also the love of his life. Scarred, grieving, he must nonetheless continue in his role as co-delegate to the fearsome Tier-vane or risk a conflict that could only end one way.

Now both of them need to keep each other alive and maintain a perilous deception long enough to renegotiate the treaty with the Tier-vane, or throw their people into a war that could wipe out Terrans and Inc-Su alike. But there's more at stake than humanity, whether true or modified. Can the love growing between them save them both? Or merely hasten their destruction?

What I thought

I liked this a lot. I enjoy her style and the British influence in her work. This was interesting in that it raises questions about preconceived notions, social mores, and how those can differ across societies and even species. Love, sex and death were among the top contenders. Well written and an enjoyable read. I did feel the ending could have been flushed out more. It felt a bit rushed, but overall great job.

Author site: Pippa Jay | Sci-fi and the Supernatural with a Romantic Soul

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Inspiration for Intelligent Aliens by Aurora Springer

Many authors and fans of science fiction love aliens. My aim is to inspire writers with ideas from weird aliens in fiction and from the perspective of a scientist with a life-long interest in the diversity of life on our planet. Biology facts will be interspersed with fictitious life forms.

Weird biology fact: We have traces of viral DNA in our genomes.

First, what are aliens? Aliens are intended to have inhuman characteristics. I will use broad categories of humanoid, animal based and other.

In Science Fiction Romance, human-like aliens are common, since a degree of physical compatibility may be desirable, although not essential. Humanoids predominate in video media, partly because they are easier to represent. Consider Dr Who: even the exterminating Daleks are mutated humans in a robotic shell.

Animal-like aliens are also common, and many resemble people in fur. Felines are popular, such as the lion-like Hani of C.J. Cherryh, Anne McCaffrey’s Hrubbans, and the Kzinti of Larry Niven.

Dragons are clearly related to reptiles and fall into the category of animal-like aliens.

One early example of non-humanoid aliens is described in the War of the Worlds (1897) by WG Wells.

Piers Anthony in his Cluster series created a variety of non-humanoid sentient aliens. He used the unifying theme of aura as a means of communication and exchange of minds into different bodies. In Thousandstar (1980), a humanoid woman falls in love with an alien resembling a giant amoeba (my description).

Adrian Tchaikovsky has fun with insect characteristics in humans in the Apt series.

Weird biology fact: Insect metamorphosis means that delicate winged butterflies with six legs are the adult forms of squiggly, voracious caterpillars with many legs and prolegs.

Think of the myriad varieties of animals living in the sea. Many are spineless invertebrate animals such as jellyfish, sea cucumbers, and squid.

Weird biology fact: squid communicate by changing color.

Intelligent plant-based aliens are less common. They include Tolkien’s Ents, which are essentially walking, talking trees. Carnivorous plant-like aliens are popular, such as the walking plants with lethal stings from John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids (1951).

Weird biology fact: carnivorous plants can move fast, but they cannot walk. On the other hand, some seeds fly!

Can you imagine intelligent bacteria? Bacteria, aka prokaryotes, can survive in extremely hostile environments, in soil, ice, boiling springs. They communicate via chemical messages and exchange pieces of DNA, like the genes for antibiotic resistance. Different bacteria can combine in a colony called a biofilm. What fascinating elements for novel aliens! Maybe I’ll use these aliens!

Weird biology fact: the descendants of ancient bacteria live in your cells as the energy producing mitochondria.

Aliens can include entities of gas or pure energy. Sir Fred Hoyle, the eminent English astronomer, disputed the Big Bang theory. His 1957 novel, The Black Cloud, explores the idea of an intelligent interstellar cloud. Aliens can be entities of pure energy, although they may be obvious of us.

I hope some of these weird life forms will inspire you to create unique and believable aliens in your stories.

Recent Novel:
Four hundred years earlier the great spaceships had departed from Terra to colonize distant planets. Few ships reached their destinations; their sporadic signals waned and disappeared. No one knew whether the colonists survived. Now, construction of a new generation of hyperdrive ships was scheduled at one every five years. Planet Delta was selected as the next target for survey because the arrival of a brief signal suggested the descendants of the colonists were alive.
Tiger Lily longs for freedom. In her fight to escape the subterranean slums of Terra, Lily competes to join the scout team selected for the next spaceship along with a new set of prospective colonists. Their mission to discover the lost colony faces the challenges posed by the voracious predators of the planet. In the mountains, they encounter Conley, a grim warrior who longs to escape the confines of his isolated valley. Has Tiger Lily met her match in this tortured warrior? But, where is he leading them? Danger lies ahead, and conflicts between humans and aliens. Can they ensure the safety of the new human colonists, or must they retreat to Terra?
Author Bio:
In my "day job" I am a scientist, although I have composed stories as long as I can remember. This year, I achieved my life-long ambition to publish novels. My works include science fiction and fantasy with romance and a sprinkle of humor. I was born in the UK and live in Atlanta with my husband, a dog and two cats to interrupt my typing.
Website: http://AuroraSpringerNovels.blogspot.com
FaceBook: Aurora Springer
Twitter @AuroraSpringer
Google+ Aurora Springer
Wattpad, Goodreads: Aurora Springer

Thursday, November 13, 2014


Part One: Evaluate, Strategize, Execute, Re-Evaluate
Part Two: Sales Targets & Solid Foundations
Part Three: The Marketplace, Your Product & You
Part Four: Branding - Why Your Book Cover Matters

Part V

Top Five Marketing Dos & Don'ts

Welcome to Part V, the fifth and last installment of this series. Today we're going to cover reviews, social-media and even working with publishers. Yup, this post is a biggie. And whether you're a first-time indy-publisher or veteran, I hope I've helped shed a more positive light on the prospect of publishing and marketing yourself.

You can do it. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

I have one last assignment for you. Follow successful writers, see what they do, ask them questions. That's what I did. Indy writers are the most approachable people around. So approach them!

In the meantime, I thought I'd leave you with some hard-learned life-lessons: here's my top-five marketing dos and don'ts.

#1 Reviews
No one likes to be the first to a party.

I haven't mentioned the importance of reviews yet (I've kind of been saving this part). I like to think of reviews as the cherry on top of the sundae. Without that cherry, the sundae might taste just as sweet and yummy, but it will look, well, rather sad.

Same goes for your Amazon book page: without reviews, your Amazon page will always appear ho-hum. People want that cherry, they expect it. They want to go where the action is. But, just like walking into an empty night club, when shoppers see a book page without reviews, they hear crickets.


Solicit reviews!

Before you launch, send out as many pre-release copies as you can. Make it crystal clear you're looking for reviews. Friends and family are your first, best targets. And we all know plenty of writers. Ask them for reviews, too. Do whatever you have to, but do it!

Then, on launch day, beg these people to post on Amazon. Amazon.com is your top priority, as this is where most readers will find you. Reviews on a book blog are fine, but Amazon is where people are shopping.

The day you publish, your book will automatically appear across Amazon, at the very least in the New Release lists. People will see your book, and when they do, make sure they see a book with some serious five-star reviews beside it.

People can search by reviews. Remember that.


Don't give bad reviews to other writers. You're a writer and publisher now, and that means you must give up the mantle of critic. Plus it's a total conflict of interest, not to mention unprofessional. Slamming another writer comes across as petty and superior. Bottom line: it's a lousy way to garner support and good feelings from the community.


I will only ever give a five star review to another writer-friend who asks for a review. If a writer wants my feedback, I'll give it to them privately in an email. Publicly, I only post five star reviews. The rest of the internet is lining up to beat us down and stomp on our necks. If we can't be bothered to support one another, who will?

Five star reviews are gold.

Don't kid yourself. When it comes to giving another writer-friend a five star review, your integrity as a human being is not at stake.

Be supportive. Get support.

#2 Social Media
Screaming into the black abyss. Is anybody listening?

Social media is the most misunderstood tool we have at our disposal. If we're not tweeting to the choir (people who've already bought our books), we're screaming into a bottomless pit of white noise.

Want to tweet to 100k people? You can do that. Want 10k new Facebook "fans"? For $25 I can point you to a number of companies who can arrange that, too. Basically, for a few bucks you can be a social media star—and still not sell any books.

Because none of those people are listening.

Tweeting, blogging and posting book-links is never going to showcase your book to the casual shoppers you need to attract.

So what do we do?


Think like a casual shopper.

Casual shoppers aren't trolling twitter-feeds looking for something to read. And if they are combing through book-blogs, which ones? It's impossible for you to hit them all. You would need a staff of publicists working full time to have any chance of making this work. Leave that (expensive) strategy to the big trads. They have the staff, they have the bucks, and they know which sites and publications to hit.

For us indy-types, it's much easier to go after the casual shopper where they are, and right now casual shoppers are on Amazon, which is why I place so much importance on your writing, your branding and your packaging. I publish on Amazon exclusively, and I make extensive use of every marketing tool Amazon has to offer. I urge you to do the same. But don't take my word for it, just go look at the long list of successful indy-authors who do go exclusive.

Read their blogs. See what they have to say. I did, and I'm glad.


So, if social media is lousy at selling books, what is social media good for?

Social media is for your fans!

Twitter, Facebook, your website and blog, these are the places where people who have read your book will go to follow you. The strength of social media is that it allows you to interact with them.

These people want to know what's new, what's coming. They want to know how your writing is going and when your next book is launching. Tell them!


Stop bombarding your fans with book-links. Your fans already have your book! Nothing will tune people out faster than endless streams of book-links.


Engage your fans on a personal level and you will have fans for life.

Have patience. It takes time to build a following. It took me two years to generate an eMailing list of 100 actual fans.

Don't think 100 is significant? Keep in mind, the people who signed up for my newsletter did so all by themselves, with no bribing, freebies or giveaways. And when I write to them (which isn't often, as I don't want to pester them) they respond—big time!

These kinds of fans are hardcore, and keeping in touch with hardcore fans is key. When you launch a book, it's your hardcore fans that will be your day-one shoppers, and those day-one shoppers can launch you like a rocket up the best-seller lists. Once you're on one list, you'll quickly find yourself on another, and another after that. That's how Amazon works (and why it rocks).

This is what social media is for. Have patience. Play the long game. Nurture your readers. Cherish your fans. Take the time to show them how much you appreciate them.

#3 Professionalism
Self-publishing isn't a last resort, it's an opportunity. 

More importantly, it's a business opportunity.


Treat your writing as a business. That means, sales and revenue projections, budgeting, deadlines (the ones I keep missing), the works. You're not a writer anymore, you're an entrepreneur.

Everything you do has value. Your time is not free. Your time is an investment, it's an investment in your business and in yourself. It's right for you to expect a return on that investment.

Find your weaknesses and fix them. Find your strengths and exploit them.

Just like we had to learn to write, we have to develop our skills in marketing. It takes time. Give yourself a break.

#4 Working With Publishers
Publishers are partners, not shortcut solutions.

Did you skim over that last part about professionalism? Go back and read it again, because you're going to need it here. Especially the part about your hard work having value.

Signing with a publisher means taking on a partner. It doesn't mean handing over creative and marketing control to a third party just because they said they want to publish you, and your head exploded. 

Online publishers are a dime-a-dozen. They are out there, and they are circling like sharks. Many of them will offer you a deal without ever reading your book. If it doesn't sell, they lose nothing. The wrong publisher will bury you.

Make informed choices. The more you know, the better a deal you can make for yourself. 

Have some confidence in yourself. Your work has value.


If you really want a publisher then get one who will work for you. Look for ones with a smaller roster and a proven track record of signing best-selling writers.

Know exactly what help you need. Ask yourself, what can this publisher do that you can't do (or learn to do) yourself? The answer might surprise you. 

Remember, uploading, formatting, setting up print-on-demand, even hiring editors and designers, these are all things you can easily do, or learn to do, yourself.

Only sign with a publisher that brings a different tool-set to the table. 


Never give away your royalties. Not without getting something substantial in return. If you owned a restaurant, would you give 70% of your business to someone who wanted to partner with you?

It's the same with your book. Your book royalties are your equity stake. Your time and all your hard work has value. I can't stress this enough.

Don't sell yourself short. 


Only sign with a publisher you're confident will grow your business. This is important.

If I sign with a publisher (lets say, a small online press that doesn't offer an advance), I'll need to grow my business by at least two, if not three times over what I can do on my own. It will need to grow that much, because that's how much equity I'm giving away. If sales don't triple with a publisher, I'm losing potential money.

I'll explain.

Remember when I asked you to set a sales target? Think about that now. Is your goal to sell 1000, 10,000, or maybe even 100,000? How much net revenue will that generate? That number is your potential income.

Okay, now slash that number by 70% or more (Amazon takes 30% and your publisher will want at least 50% of what's leftover).

So if I think I can sell 10,000 on my own, what do I gain if I'm still selling 10,000 with a publisher? Nothing. I'm losing money. And what exactly are they doing that you can't? If you know, tell me! I want to hear it.

This is why I want you to set realistic sales goals. To protect yourself. Discuss your sales goals with your publisher. If they don't have a sales-target—one that's based on their experience in the marketplace, real sales-data, and a thorough knowledge of your book—run.


Don't make the mistake of thinking that your book-brand is worth less if you're self-published. Nobody's paying attention to who's uploading you. Shoppers have embraced indy-books, and the best-seller lists are there to prove it.


When would I consider a publisher? When I look at the things I can't do. Things like a national distribution deal for paperbacks and hardcovers, reviews in major newspapers and publications, tours for book-signings, events and festivals across the country. Film deals, licensing deals! The list goes on.

But these days most publishers won't do that (not for me). It's too great a risk, and they have to be very careful as to which horse they back.

Certainly, there are plenty of reasons to sign with a publisher. Just make sure you're doing it for the right ones.

Don't sell yourself short.

#5 No Half-Measures

Nobody said this was going to be easy. But if you're going to do it, then do it! No half-measures. Take it all the way and give it everything you've got, because if you don't, then who will? 

Don't let anyone tell you it's impossible, that there are "too many books out there," or that it's a crap-shoot, or that you can't succeed. That's all crap.

I don't have time for the doubters and nay-sayers and neither should you.

Do it!

Nebula Nights - the Making of a boxed set

Boxed sets are a popular commodity at the moment. You see them everywhere, collections of stories by a variety of authors, grouped under some unifying label. But there's a lot of work involved in putting a set like this together. That's why we thought we’d share our experiences and lessons learned.
Earlier in the year, one of the members of the SFR Brigade asked for volunteers for an SFR boxed set. Eleven of us promptly banded together, and our Nebula Nights collection appeared in e-bookstores in record time. Since its release at the beginning of August, the set reached #1 on Kobo and All Romance, and charted as high as #3 on Amazon in science fiction romance. The book maintained an Amazon ranking above 10,000 for most of those three months. So you could say it did well. At the end of October, our contract with the publisher expired, so we decided to go it alone, since the set is still selling quite strongly. This article is a combination of what we did, and what we learned from our experience with the publisher.
Ready to go?
What's your goal?
There's no point in embarking on a project like this if you don't know what you're intending to achieve. In creating Nebula Nights, we wanted to showcase our genre, and encourage readers to purchase more of each author's work. In quantifiable terms, we aimed at reaching one of the major lists, like the NYT or USA Today. It’s good to dream big! 
Don't expect to make money
Let's face it, boxed sets are loss leaders, intended to lure readers on to our other books. We had eleven stories, most of which were full length novels, on sale for $0.99. Any money we earned was split with the publisher after Amazon and the other ebook retailers had taken their slice, and the rest went on advertising. Self publishing the set won't be much better, in terms of royalties.
Choose a theme
Boxed sets ideally have a unifying theme. Readers want to know what they're buying, hoping to find at least a few titles that fit their interests. In our case it was relatively easy – science fiction romance. We didn't limit the heat level. There are books in the collection ranging from sweet to erotic, although most are best described as spicy. Say three on a scale of 1 to 5.
Collect a group of committed, enthusiastic authors
This part can't be stressed enough. We had eleven people whose only trait in common was that they wrote SFR books. Some had decades of publishing experience, others less than a year. All of those women had to meld into a group to make decisions, and to provide essential input in a timely manner. If any one of us had faltered, the project would have been delayed.
Just a word about timeliness. Originally we’d thought of publishing the book later in the year, to give ourselves more time to get organized. Then we realized that the boxed set trend was growing by leaps and bounds and if we didn’t get Nebula Nights out there fast, it might not receive as much notice as we’d hoped. If you’re trying to ride any new, innovative marketing trend, the trick is to be as close as you can to the frontrunners. Publishing is ever-changing!
Bear in mind also that boxed sets are loss leaders, so there's not much point for an author with only one or two books available to participate in a boxed set. The ideal situation is if you have a series already out there for readers to buy, and can put the first story into the set, thereby enticing people to branch out later and read your entire series.
Choose a publisher
There are plenty of firms out there offering their services to put together a boxed set. Do your homework, compare what each company is offering. Read the contract. Make sure you:
  • Retain your copyright and all other rights. You must read the fine print, ask questions, negotiate anything that you find to be a problem for you. It doesn’t matter if every other group of authors the publisher has worked with accepted the terms and conditions – this is your book and you have to watch out for your own best interests.
  • The company can only use your book for this boxed set
  • There is a time limit on the boxed set which can be extended by agreement from all parties
Of course, you can elect to do the work yourself, as we have for the second edition of Nebula Nights. In that case, you'd need to be very sure about your contributors' commitment, and be certain you have the skill sets in the group:
  • formatting
  • uploading
  • marketing
  • social networking
Choose a title
The group brainstormed ideas, a short-list was created and then we went with the most popular. Yes, we did consider 'Love Among the Stars' – but that had already been used fairly recently for a boxed set about movie stars. Lesson learned: research your titles. It’s a good idea to check Twitter and Facebook as well, to see if the title or some variation is already being used, as a hashtag for example.
Commission a cover
Based on the collections' name (Nebula Nights: Love Among The Stars) we commissioned a cover designer. We discussed two options and everyone had input into tweaks. After that, it was a consensus decision.
Determine the order in which the stories appear
Several options were canvased for order of appearance in the anthology. We could have listed the stories alphabetically, by title or by author name. Or had the works by the better-known authors first, or last. After discussion, we used a random number generator to come up with an order.
Provide the publisher with the manuscripts
The publisher took the eleven books and put them together to form the boxed set. We had expected that formats for each book would be the same, with a title page and chapters. A hyperlinked table of contents would allow a reader to jump easily to any title.
After the boxed set was released we realised the formatting was not as we had hoped. For this second version one of the authors, a computer professional, took on the task of formatting the book. Once the work was completed, each of us checked our own book in the collection and signed off on each version (mobi, pdf and epub) after any errors were corrected. This is an important aspect of quality control.
Produce abbreviated blurbs and author biographies
The typical blurb found on the back of a book for an individual story is too long to use in a boxed set. Readers want to be able to peruse a table of contents and quickly get a feel for what the books are about. Each of us came up with a two line summary of her story for the blurb, and a few lines for an author biography.
However, you still will need a blurb that summarises the whole set. That led to another round of drafting and editing from everyone. This is what we ended up with:
11 Sci-Fi Romances that'll sweep you away!
If you like your science fiction blazing with adventure and your space opera spiced with romance, this boxed set is for you. From first contact to battles for survival and love on war-torn planets, this collection from bestselling & award winning authors, including Cathryn Cade, Veronica Scott, PK Hrezo and more, will leave you sighing with satisfaction.
Promotion and Marketing
Yes, as always, these activities are required. Sorry about that! There's no point in doing all this work if nobody knows it's out there. One reason we initially went with a publisher was that the company offered a marketing package, to be paid for by earnings. But as a group we went much further.
  • A number of people paid for additional advertising on sites. These are just some of the possibilities available
  • Night Owl Reviews
  • Requested and got a mention on Dear Author’s daily deals
  • eReader Cafe
  • Romance Junkies
  • The Romance Reviews
  • Coffee Time Romance
  • The Daily Bookworm
  • Kindle Books and Tips
  • Digital Book Today Deal of the Day
  • The Kindle Book Review AND The Kindle Romance Review
  • Kindle Fire Kindle Nation Daily
  • Bargain Booksy AND World Literary Cafe
  • Ebook Booster 99 cent bargain site register.
  • The Kindle Book Review Kindle Fire Giveaway
  • My Romance Reads
  • Facebook ad boosts
  • etc
  • We created a Facebook page for Nebula Nights and organised a fun, fast-paced online launch, with two authors taking one hour slots over a five hour period. We continued to share fun photos with the page, to keep reader interest.
  • Produced a blog hop with author interviews
  • Added one-line review quotes for each book into the editorial section of the book's listing on Amazon
  • Came up with a hashtag for Twitter, and a bunch of tweets
  • Trumpeted the new collection on our own websites and pages
  • Were featured on the USA Today Happily Ever After blog
What did we learn?
It has been a great experience, combining the skills and talents of eleven very different individuals. The spirit of cooperation has left a lasting impression on all of us. So much so that everyone was happy to take on the task of a new release without the help of a publisher.
One disadvantage of working with a publisher is that we won't know actual sales figures for another few months. Many of us are used to publishing our own books, and are accustomed to being able to see actual sales figures as they happen – which is an advantage when planning marketing campaigns.
For the new release, we have concentrated more on quality control, to ensure readers have a smooth, uniform experience. Although the original version was readable for most, some people encountered formatting issues, and that's the last thing we want.
The boxed set in its original form was a bit too long. The publisher told us it was the longest collection that she ever produced - well over one thousand pages. The larger the book, the longer it takes to process – to produce the anthology, upload to sales sites, and download to customers. Ten authors may have been a better number, if only from the point of view of perception. Ten is neat.
We didnt break onto any of the nationally-recognized best seller lists wed been hoping for, but it was good to have that as a goal, out there in front of us, encouraging us to keep doing the promo. Some of us did see satisfying spikes in the sales numbers for our other available novels. And I think we succeeded in bringing renewed attention to the science fiction romance genre, which is always an excellent result.
If you haven't bought your copy of Nebula Nights, here are the links to the new, improved version. It's an absolute steal for $0.99. 
 And (ahem) if you enjoy it, do please leave a review.

Her Cybog Awakes - Melisse Aires
With her cyborg turned warrior by her side, Sabralia must stand up to each danger and challenge or lose the man she loves. Sensual Sci-fi Romance.

Duty knows no family. Love has no price. Secrets can cost you everything.In this Japan-inspired tale, one woman's family destiny is key to the survival of the last city on Earth.

Butterman (Time) Travel, Inc. - PK Hrezo
A futuristic romance along the winding path of time. It's the year 2069 and even though eighteen-year-old Bianca Butterman is heir to the family time travel biz, she never expected to be earning her official time-craft license with golden boy pop superstar, Tristan Helms, in tote. Her life is about to get a lot more complicated ... and exciting.

Noelle In His Heart - C.E. Kilgore
A holiday romance with a sci-fi twist! Noelle wishes for someone who understands she has love to give but commitments to honor. Stranded on Earth, Steve longs for someone who will understand that his alien heart can love just as deeply.

Stark Pleasure - Cathryn Cade
Can she survive the perils of the galaxy on her wits ... or will she have to use her body?

Birth of an Empire - Catrina Taylor
War rips lives apart, but three people will show the universe that love can bring about peace.

Escape from Zulaire - Veronica Scott
Winner of both a National Excellence in Romance Fiction Award and an SFR Galaxy Award!
When the planet erupts into war, Sectors Special Forces Captain Tom Deverane must decide whether to save Andi Markriss, the intergalactic businesswoman he loves, or sacrifice her to save Zulaire.

Solia's Moon - Lyn Brittan
When her terraforming company expands into creating humanoid life, Lunar Physician Solia Calian has to find a way to stop them. She'll have the help of her ex, the mysterious sheriff Giancarlo Sable, but they'd better hurry up. When the creatures they want to liberate start turning on them, figuring out where the real danger lies is the only way to leave the colony in one piece.

When Sara Donovan joins Project Enterprise she finds out that what doesn’t kill her makes her stronger. An Air Force pilot – the best of the best to be assigned to this mission – Sara isn’t afraid to travel far beyond the Milky Way on an assignment that takes her into a galaxy torn apart by a long and bitter warfare between the Dusan and the Gadi.

Iron Admiral: Conspiracy - Greta van der Rol
The Galaxy teeters on the brink of war. Can ex-admiral Saahren persuade the woman who hates him to help him prevent the coming conflagration? And perhaps even love him?

Mirror Image - Kristina Gause Stutts
When one woman learns the truth of about herself, she must accept reality beyond comprehension, and face an enemy who wants her dead. Paired with her clone, and the one man who makes her heart flutter the world must be saved at all cost.

SFR Brigade Bases of Operation