Posts Tagged ‘tools’

How to Picture Characters

Good news, squiders! I did not have to go to jury duty today! (Obviously.)

(Also, I wanted to note that I put The Wanderer as MG historical in my box of books post, and it is straight MG. Not sure why I thought it was historical.)

I am not the most visual of authors, but I know a lot of people like to use images to “see” their characters. Or other people’s characters (hooray for fanart!). So, if this is you, I thought I’d give you a few resources to use to hunt down characters or build your own if you already know what they look like.

(I find having pictures of my characters useful for showing other people. I typically just need a name to get a fully formed character when actually writing. But everyone’s different, and that’s okay!)

If you know what your characters look like

As I said, I typically just need a name, and then everything else kind of falls into place. Sometimes I will start with a visual (I want them to be this ethnicity, or have this color eyes, or whatever) and then go for a name, but normally they show up and come with their own details.

If you’re artistic, you can try drawing your characters. I do this periodically with mixed results, because I never quite got past a middle school drawing level. (And also I was obsessed with the anime-style drawing at that point and it shows.) Also I don’t know how to color, so I typically get line drawings I’m happy with and then ruin them by digitally coloring them.

If you’re not artistic, never fear! There’s a lot of character generators out there! Some are specifically designed to do forum avatars, and tend to be from the shoulders up. Search “avatar maker” and you’ll find a ton of them. “Character creator” typically works for full-body ones, and here’s a reddit thread about decent ones.

They do tend to be a bit specialized, so you might need to poke around a bit to find one that will work for you. Here’s a picture of my character Ali that I whipped up just for this blog post on HeroMachine. (It’s specifically for making superheroes or other scifi/fantasy characters which makes it not awesome for character like Ali, who is a contemporary high school student, but I’ve used it forever so I’m used to how it works.)

Ali pic

(Alternately, here’s a pic of Briony from City of Hope and Ruin, also using HeroMachine.)

(There’s a lot of bare midriffs for the ladies in HeroMachine land.)

I don’t know what my characters look like and/or I prefer real people

(Or at least more realistic drawings)

Hey, too bad there’s not an entire Internet out there with pictures of things! Here’s some places to look:

  • Pinterest – there’s even a handy-dandy search bar, right at the top!
  • stock photo websites – Again, handy search bars. Harder to find some weirder things. I remember, when we were working on the cover for Shards, it was near impossible to find a guy looking over his shoulder that also had a shirt on. Additionally, if you find a picture you really like, you can normally purchase it (for a fee) and then you can legally use it in promotional material and stuff like that.
  • Portrait-photos.orgLike HeroMachine, I’ve been using this website for literally forever, ever since someone first brought up trying to match characters to real people for use in avatars, practice covers, Nanowrimo banners, etc. You search by keyword (I usually do this by clicking on a keyword under a picture and then replacing it with what I actually want to search for). I like that this website has a wider selection of people than just “pretty, young people.”
  • Flickr
  • deviantArt

A note about copyright: Please do not just steal pictures off the Internet. If you’re making an icon or a banner or even a cover just for fun, it’s probably okay, but if you’re going to be using them for a real cover or promotional materials of any sort, you need to make sure you have permission to use the image. There are some stock photo websites, like pixabay, that specifically host public domain images, and you can purchase images off other ones. Websites like deviantArt and Flickr usually list the copyright information under each picture. A lot of artists use Creative Commons (CC), and some CC copyrights allow for personal use or modifications. Just be aware.

And if you want to see a lot of old drawings, icons, and banners of various book projects…well, here you go.

(Okay, some of the banners aren’t so old.)

(Also, there’s some landsquid.)

What resources do you use to picture characters, squiders?

Smashwords vs. Draft2Digital

I’ve seen a lot of people talking about doing a wide distribution of ebooks (i.e., not just Amazon) lately, and, as someone who has never done Amazon exclusively, I thought it might be helpful to some people to do a quick rundown of the two major ebook distributors.

(As a quick aside, there’s two general ways to do ebook distribution, assuming you are doing it yourself and your publisher isn’t doing it for you. One is to upload your book individually at each ebook service. The other is to use an ebook distributor, which is what we’ll talk about today.)

Everybody knows Smashwords–it’s probably the biggest name in ebook publishing after KDP. I use Smashwords for the distribution of both Hidden Worlds and Shards. But there’s a new kid in town, which is Draft2Digital (or D2D, as I will refer to it moving forward). After some research, Siri and I decided to use D2D for distribution of City of Hope and Ruin.

Why did we forsake Smashwords? Well, let’s look at each service individually.

Smashwords is the big kahuna. You upload a document, which goes through Smashwords’ meat grinder and gets turned into a variety of formats, which you can then have distributed to the channels of your choice, assuming your manuscript passes muster to get into the Premium catalog. Additionally, you have a page on Smashwords itself where people can buy your book and leave reviews.

Smashwords distributes to a number of retailers, such as the iBookstore, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, etc. They also work with libraries so that libraries could potentially download your book into their systems. You can set a specific library price which is different from your sales price.

Occasionally Smashwords has site-wide sales that you can enter your book into rather easily (normally just by indicating how much on sale you’d like the book to be).

Draft2Digital is smaller and newer. It also distributes to the iBookstore, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, etc. It doesn’t have a library option as of yet, however. D2D does not have a sale page for your book on their site, but does give you a universal link that lists all available retailers (you can see the one for CoHaR here). It’s a leaner service than Smashwords, and distributes to fewer retailers.

Okay, pros and cons.

Smashwords is massive and has a huge reach. Most of the books I have sold on the site have been during sales, so I appreciate being able to jump into those with a minimum amount of effort. The sale pages are nice, though I’m not sure how many people use Smashwords as the main way they buy ebooks. The meat grinder is a pain in the butt. It’s gotten slightly less picky over the years, but essentially you have to strip all formatting out of your manuscript to get it to take it. So the version of your book that goes out to the retailers is pretty plain. Additionally, it can take a long time for your books to show up at said retailers, to get payments from the retailers, or to update changes. Every time you change something, you have to go through re-approval for the Premium catalog as well, which is a bit of a pain.

D2D is smaller, as I said above, and doesn’t distribute as widely. They also don’t convert to as many formats, only epub, mobi, and PDF, though one could argue that you don’t need much more. (Smashwords does have an online reader that you can open on their website, which is arguably nice.) What is nice about D2D, and is a major reason we went with them, is that they update fast. Changes go up in less than a day, which is good for, say, price changes at the end of a sale and whatnot. Sales and payment go through a lot faster as well. This may be purely coincidental, but I’ve sold a lot more copies of CoHaR through the retailers than any of the books uploaded at Smashwords.

So I guess it depends on your end goals and what is more important to you. And I know some people upload to both, so they can have the sale page on Smashwords and the potential library distribution, but still make use of D2D’s faster distribution and payment.

Have one service you prefer? Used one or both? Have horror stories? Inquiring minds want to know, Squiders.

Writing Tools: Netbooks

Oh, Friday posts.  You are always written early.

I have had five computers that were “mine.”   The first was a Pentium III desktop, a gift from my father to take to college in 2001.  Even then it was a bit obsolete (Pentium IVs were out).  It ran Windows ME, supposedly the worst of all Windows OS, but it treated me pretty well.  It eventually died of old age, unable to stay on for more than fifteen minutes before it would blue screen, and I wiped its hard drive and recycled it.

The second was a Toshiba laptop, acquired on Black Friday 2003.  Even though I was recovering from a concussion and a bad bout of the flu and basically hadn’t moved in weeks, my mom and I got there about 3 am to wait for the store to open.  That Toshiba was a lifesaver when it came to college.  I ran meetings from it, worked on stories in between class, and wrote ridiculous amounts of Matlab programs.  It continues to limp on, though it has been retired since early 2009.

I will lump the third and fourth together.  In February 2008, I acquired a new desktop, one of those tiny ones.  It had a ridiculously powerful graphics card.  (Alas, graphics card, I miss you.)  I loved that computer.  But the tower had a poor thermal design, and last April, it died a horrible, overheated death.  The motherboard fried.  Never before had I actually killed a computer.  My previous ones had lived good, long lives and gone softly into the night.   I was heartbroken.  Research showed that this had been a known issue with the early slimline models and that they’d been redesigned.  So I replaced it with a newer, better designed version of the same computer.  And then I named it Lazarus, so it could later rise from the dead.  (And everyone said, “Why not name it Jesus, then?” and I said “I don’t want to give it  delusions of grandeur.”)

That brings me to the subject of today’s post – netbooks.  I acquired my netbook (affectionately known as the minitop to me and my husband) in early 2009 to replace the Toshiba laptop  (It had eaten my NaNovel!  44K words in! D: ).  Netbooks were just coming out at the time and I was in love with the idea of a tiny laptop I could take anywhere with the sole purpose of writing.

At the time, netbooks couldn’t do much more than that.

And it has proven its worth over the last two years.  It’s ridiculous easy to port around.  Depending on which purse I’m using, I can stuff it inside and I’m good to go.  Mine has a solid state hard drive which means I don’t have to worry about it if it gets dropped.  It’s not powerful enough to run anything that can be a major distraction.  Many many thousands of words have been written on it.  I highly recommend them to all authors.

Now, however, I have run into an issue.  My netbook’s hard drive is full.  What’s truly aggravating about this is that it’s not my fault.  I have maybe 500 MBs of stories and pictures on there.  The rest of it are security updates, software updates, things I cannot delete.  I tried to defrag the hard drive last weekend, and it told me I didn’t have enough memory left to defrag!   I guess I could wipe the hard drive and load a different operating system, but I can’t guarantee I won’t run into the same issue again.

So I may, very soon, be in the market for a new netbook.  (I see the current gen of them start with a 250 gig hard drive.  Mine is 16 gigs.)  Do you have one?  Do you recommend it?