Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Meet My Muse

Here she is.
(My muse, not Michelle.) 
I wrote the following article about authors and writing inspiration for author Michelle Howard's first newsletter, which was published about a week ago. I thought this might be of interest to Spacefreighters' readers, so I'm positing it with Michelle's blessing. (Thanks, Michelle!)  

I met Michelle after she read my second book, THE OPHELIA PROPHECY, and emailed to share her thoughts about it. One of the topics she proposed for the guest article was how I come up with my ideas. This is something I enjoy talking about because I find the whole creative process mysterious, beautiful, and exciting.

But it can also be very scary. As authors, we load ourselves with some pretty heavy expectations. It seems like what we do is never quite good enough according to our internal critic, and sometimes the external ones as well. A hundred or a thousand or a hundred-thousand people can tell us we’re great, but one nasty review can throw us into a funk for days.

Author Elizabeth Gilbert (EAT, PRAY, LOVE) gave a great TED talk about this and offered some very interesting advice. The gist of it is that we shouldn’t internalize our creativity so much. That we should think of ourselves as vessels for conducting creativity from wherever it comes from, out to the rest of the world. That can help us to ease up on ourselves. I particularly appreciate what she said about just showing up at the desk every day. She spoke of sitting down and saying to the universe, “I showed up. I’ve done my part. Now you do yours.”

I confess that though I found a lot of wisdom in this, I also had mixed feelings. Another author who gives great writer advice is Chuck Wendig. His is more of the tough-love variety. He advises authors to “own that shi_”, and to act like the writing gods and goddesses we know we are. And I confess I find those kinds of affirmations empowering.

I try to meditate every day, and I often start by setting an intention. Usually something like, “I have a clear and focused mind.” But sometimes, inspired by Wendig, I set the intention to “be the writing goddess I am.” Silly as that probably sounds, somehow it does seem to work for me. I think because it dovetails nicely with some advice Neil Gaiman gave to a woman who was anxious about something she was trying for the first time: “Pretend you’re someone who can do this.”

Though on the surface these two approaches seem opposite, I think they work for the same reason. If you assign the source for your creativity outside yourself, it takes off the pressure. If you refuse to doubt you can do something, it takes off the pressure.

Still, when I become frustrated because I can’t quite get the words on the page, I do tend to reflect on Gilbert’s advice. It can be very cathartic to blame the muse.

This was perhaps the longest introduction to an article I’ve ever written, but I think I’ve finally come back around to the topic of where I get my inspiration. My muse has some very specific needs. [No, I did not just call you needy.] And some very predictable behaviors. [Nor did I call you boring.] And a tendency to leave me staring at or talking to people who aren’t there at all. [Go away! I’m trying to write an article!]

First of all, she *loves* science. If you ask her about this, she’ll deny it, because she believes that muses are supposed to be shimmering and majestic and not quirky little geeks. (It has something to do with being related to fairies and ancient deities.) But all of my worldbuilding unpacks from the science talks I take her to, and books like SYMBIOTIC PLANET (symbiosis research for GHOST PLANET), FRANKENSTEIN’S CAT (biotech research for THE OPHELIA PROPHECY), and ENTANGLED MINDS (psi and quantum physics research for ECHO 8).

Beinecke Digital Library:
http://brbl-zoom.library.yale.edu/viewer/1013696
Also, she has a thing about titles. Muse *crack*, at least in my creative world. Back before I wrote my first published novel, GHOST PLANET, I was trying to think up ideas for a story to enter in the Writers of the Future contest. I had already tried a few fantasy stories that made it to “honorable mention” but no farther. I thought trying science fiction might give me a boost, or at least some new ideas to work with.

I remember the title “Ghost Planet” popped into my head. I started noodling on what a story with that title might be about, and the little dear was off to the races. It has played out exactly that way with just about every story I’ve written. Here lately she’s tossed a couple awesome ideas at me with nothing more than a color. (I have an experimental story in progress on Wattpad called RED.)

Clearly it makes no sense that a whole story should erupt spontaneously from a couple of words. But it happens. In my case, A LOT. And that’s what fascinates me about the creative process. It’s also why the ancients came up with the idea of muses — they couldn’t say any more than we can today *where* those stories come from. It’s so much like magic, they must be coming from some outside source, right?

It’s nice to have a partner, and it’s also a relief to have someone else to turn to (or blame) when things go wrong. Even if they’re only in your head.

Monday, July 14, 2014

On Disappointment...

Mission: Success
Laurie's Journal

My big, sad news for the week? RWA Fail.

Let me clarify that does not in any way describe a failure on RWA's part.

The "fail" part is all mine...

A year ago, I made plans to attend Nationals in San Antonio after having to skip the conference in Atlanta due to demands of my day job. So for 2014, I ensured my leave time was slotted, my registration paid, our Golden Heart/RITA ceremony tickets bought (x2), The Golden Network Retreat registration booked, hotel reservations made, and my suitcase nearly packed, but...

Yeah, *sob* not going to happen.

It's dueling careers again, but this time it's not my day job that wrecked havoc on my plans, but my other job...raising Thoroughbreds.

Two days ago our barn managers (unexpectedly) resigned. And while we'd had a lot of issues with the level of care they were providing and so not a big problem to see them go as far as that aspect, the timing of their decision without the courtesy of giving us fair notice meant we're left with only one option...trying to find knowledgeable backup care at the height of vacation season. (And mainly feeling very uncomfortable about leaving the ranch for a week under these circumstances.)

This was a tough, gut-wrenching decision, but ultimately we had to recognize that RWA Nationals is just not in cards for us this year.

The writing is on the wall. It says: "You need to give this a pass."

Now comes the sad task of notifying my close peers and fellow Firebirds and Starcatchers who I had so looked forward to seeing again (including my co-blogger, Donna) that I'll be an absentee.

With all things writing, life just sometimes happens. (As my hero in The Outer Planets says in quoting John Lennon, "Life is what happens to us while we're busy making other plans.")

As writers, we learn to roll with the punches a lot, to accept disappointments and find a new path.

So it's sayonara, RWA, for 2014. I'll truly miss the experience and the camaraderie I was so looking forward to.

But it's time to pick myself up, dust myself off, and look ahead once more.

I may be scouting some other writers' or SF/R conferences this coming year, or possibly organizing a writer's retreat with a few close peers. To quote my favorite Vulcan, "There are always...alternatives."

Time to move on.

I just may have a very exciting announcement to make around the September 1st timeframe.

And it's looking to be a very busy fall and winter on the writing front.

Have a great week.

~~~ * ~~~


Friday, July 11, 2014

SUMMER SIZZLES WITH SF ON THE SMALL SCREEN

When negotiations break down in Defiance--


Summertime television used to be the dumping ground for rejected pilots, B-grade series, and re-runs.  Those days are long-gone.  In this age of video streaming, on demand, Netflix, Hulu and a dozen other ways to watch what used to be broadcast over the airwaves, summer is now just one more glorious excuse to put new programming on the home screen.

This summer offers a dazzling array of science fiction and paranormal programming to choose from, enough to delight the geekiest of us.  Just take a look at the SF shows on my DVR list:  DEFIANCE, FALLING SKIES, UNDER THE DOME, EXTANT, THE LAST SHIP.  And the paranormal offerings:  SALEM, DOMINION, THE WITCHES OF EAST END.  For those who love the workings of the mind there is PERCEPTION; for the straight science nerds there is MANHATTAN.  And for those who like to mix their peanut butter and chocolate, there is THE STRAIN, an SF/paranormal/horror hybrid.

That’s a total of eleven new or returning shows to keep me busy.  There are undoubtedly more out there. (But, hey, I have to sleep (and write!) sometime.  

Just in case you haven’t had time to read your TV Guide, here’s my brief run-down on each of the featured shows:

MUST-SEE

--THE LAST SHIP(TNT)—Starring Eric Dane and Rhona Mitra, this drama about a Navy destroyer which may be the last hope of a world dying of a mysterious plague boasts plenty of authentic shipboard action, thanks to the cooperation of the U.S. Navy.  Filming was done aboard the U.S.S. Halsey, the U.S.S. Dewey and the museum ship U.S.S. Iowa—by none other than Michael Bay’s production company Platinum Dunes.  Lots of medical suspense, too, as Mitra’s research scientist character tries to find the cure for the plague. 

--DEFIANCE(SyFy)—Fully realized alien cultures, complicated characters, an evocative setting that is at once familiar and unrecognizable as our former home of mid-America, and the ever-reliable fallibility of human nature.  That is DEFIANCE.  Better than ever in Season Two.

--EXTANT(CBS)—Unknown writer’s script hits Hollywood and sparks a bidding war.  Script ends up in the hands of Stephen Spielberg.  Spielberg, as executive producer, decides on a television series for the near-future SF story, and allows the writer to see his project through.  This is the tale of Mickey Fisher and EXTANT, his story of a female astronaut (Halle Berry) who spends a year in space and comes back pregnant.  The astronaut already has complications in her marriage:  her husband (Goran Visnjic) has sought to ease the pain of their childlessness with a cyborg child, the result of his cutting edge research in robotics and AI.  She has trouble bonding with the, er, child and desperately wants one of her own.  That’s the set-up.  I haven’t yet seen the first episode, which aired this week.  We’ll see if it lives up to the buzz.  But you have to wonder: what is it about this story--an old idea, been done a dozen times in SF—that fired everyone’s imagination?  

CONSISTENT PERFORMERS

--FALLING SKIES(TNT)—The aliens came, they saw, they conquered.  What’s left of humanity fights back with the tech equivalent of sticks and stones under the leadership of a former history professor from Boston (Noah Wylie).  The effects are good, the acting is decent, the intrigues between various alien species scrapping over Earth’s strategic importance, with humans caught in the middle, are fun to follow.  Post-apocalyptic darkness can be entertaining!

--UNDER THE DOME(CBS)—Basically a soap opera with daily weirdness supplied by Stephen King, this “limited series” survives on the strength of its characters.  King’s best writing has always unlocked the dark heart of small-town America, and UTD is no exception. 

--PERCEPTION(ABC)—Eric McCormick’s Dr. Daniel Pierce has a problem.  He’s a paranoid schizophrenic who sees and hears people who aren’t there.  Fortunately, there’s a pill (or several) for that, and as long as his meds are working, Pierce is functional.  He teaches as a neuroscience/ psychology professor at a mid-size university.  And he consults with the FBI, providing insights into the criminal mind.  But the meds have side effects, so Pierce stops taking them periodically.  That’s when his hallucinations start helping him with his cases.  McCormick makes the show, but his boss at the university, STAR TREK NEXT GEN alum LeVar Burton, is always good for a laugh.

--SALEM(WGN)—Hard to say which is more interesting in this period paranormal—the witchcraft or the political maneuvering that surrounds it in the Massachusetts town of witch-burning fame.  Then there’s the sexual tension between John Alden (Shane West), descendent of the town’s founder, and Mary Sibley (Janet Montgomery), leader of the witch’s coven.  Add in a weak-willed Cotton Mather (Seth Gabel)—yeah, wrap your head around that one!—and you’ve got the ingredients for fascinating viewing.

--THE WITCHES OF EAST END(FOX)—Much lighter in tone than SALEM and very easy on the eyes, this show about a family of witches is set in contemporary times.  Mindless entertainment of the guilty-pleasure sort.  But the characters and the acting keep you coming back.

REMAINS TO BE SEEN

--DOMINION (SyFy)—Based on the 2010 film LEGION, which at least had Paul Bettany going for it, this offering pits Archangels Michael and Gabriel and their legions of angels against each other for dominion of Earth.  Gabriel wants to return Earth to its original paradise form—sans humans, who he believes has driven our heavenly Father away by destroying the world He created for us.  Since God is nowhere to be found, that’s not a bad theory.  Fortunately for us, Michael’s on our side.  Oh, and there’s a new “savior” (a human one, this time) for the world.  The problem here is in the actors, all unknowns, who seem a bit thin to be carrying all the weight that’s piled on them.  (And, BTW, SUPERNATURAL had this going on, too. How does God just up and disappear in a fit of pique?  I find that hard to swallow.  Either’s He’s God—and He’s omnipresent—or He isn’t.)

--THE STRAIN(FX)—On the one hand, Guillermo del Toro.  On the other, a virus that creates ugly-ass, ripping, tearing vampires.  It’s a toss-up as to whether this one makes any sense or is just a teen-night gore fest.  The first episode airs Sunday, July 13, so we’ll find out then.

--MANHATTAN(WGN)—Similarly, this show about the scientists and their families living at Los Alamos during the development of the atom bomb won’t air until late July. Still too early to know whether this is a science-y drama, or a soap opera with a cool setting.

AND, OF COURSE, THE MAJOR EVENT OF THE SUMMER!

--OUTLANDER(STARZ)--Okay, technically it’s not science fiction.  It’s not paranormal.  But it is time-travel romance.  The FIRST time-travel romance, the one that started the whole historical time-travel/Scottish Highlander romance landslide that still rumbles through the genre to this day.  I refer, of course, to Outlander, the first in Diana Galbadon’s series of game-changing romance novels set between modern times and 18th Century Scotland.  The book will be brought to the screen for the first time on the premium Starz cable network starting August 9, starring Caitriona Balfe as Claire and Sam Heughan as Jamie.  And you can believe my DVR is set for that one!

Cheers, Donna



Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Pippa's Journal & Some Blogging Ideas #amwriting

For the next few months, I'm on an almost non stop blogging tour with five releases over the next six months. I still have to pinch myself over that. FIVE! One of the things I love about my new publisher is they help out their authors with promotion - in this case a pretty respectable blog tour around the release date. Major plus! But being an independent sort and not used to this kind of boost, I still went ahead and organized my own. So here's the downside. Between my publisher's tour and my own, I needed to come up with 29 blog posts for Tethered. 29!! That's nearly a whole month's worth! *brain melts*


Breathless Press | All Romance eBooks
Smashwords
Fortunately not all of them are guest posts - there's a fair few interviews and a few just excerpts. Breathless Press have also arranged a few spotlight posts for release day, which require no input from me at all, other than me visiting and sharing on the day. Oddly, the hardest ones are the open ones. Honestly. Give me a topic and I might grumble a bit, but faced with a request that says '1000 words on anything', and I can guarantee my mind will go blank. For my own tour I offered some options and suggestions for what I could do, which helped, but I still have some left totally open.

So I thought I'd tell you about some of the suggestions I made and some ideas on how to fill those blank spaces titled 'anything you want to write about'.

1. For my own tour, I offered the host a choice of interview, review (nerve-racking, I know, but you have to start somewhere), guest post on a topic of their choice (see 2), or an excerpt. Of course, interviews and excerpts are the easy (or easier) options, but trying to make interview answers sound fresh and interesting when it might be the third, fourth, fifth etc time you've answered a particular question does get harder. I'm not naturally funny, but I try to be. >.< 

Also, I try to make excerpts exclusive (and some host sites will insist that it *is* exclusive) which gets harder the more you do. I don't want to give too much of the story away, and publishers often put a limit on how much of your work you can use for promo (sometimes the first one or three chapters, or so many words or a percentage, so watch how much you use). But someone following your tour will soon switch off and lose interest if it's the same excerpt every time.

2. Guest posts. Now, one thing I did while writing or editing over the past year is actually write a few potential blog posts as I went along, as thoughts occurred to me. It could be your struggles with a particular scene, an interesting bit of research you came across, why you added/deleted something (BTW, deleted scenes and/or maybe a scene you thought of for a sequel/spin off could make a good post. For Tethered, I had a potential opening scene for a follow on book which I was able to use as an exclusive for one host site). Maybe a particular song you were listening to that helped with a section you were stuck on or inspired a character. Anything like that, while the event is fresh in your mind. 

I've also done some Five Things - five music tracks connected to the story, five facts about the story itself or something in it (eg for my zombie story Restless In Peaceville I have facts about zombies, and my paranormal short has five facts about redheads), five heroines from SciFi who inspired mine, and so on. Or you could do your five favourite bands, films, food, characters - anything like that, and just a little explanation about each. One of my author friends suggested ten things I need to write (thank you, Starla Huchton!). Sometimes breaking something down into points/facts works better than just trying to work from scratch. Also, some bloggers did give me topics they wanted. These might be tricky, but having SOMETHING can spark a post better than nothing. When all else fails, ask for suggestions or Google blog idea generators.

3. I generally make playlists for my stories as I write them, but oddly Tethered never got one. But those playlists can make for a good post (and you can use widgets from something like Grooveshark to actually include the tracks in your post). You can talk about how and why you chose the music, what influence it had, what it means to you. Music is such a huge part of my inspiration.

4. Image inspiration. As a break from writing, I often look up images either to spark a story or go with it, or to mock up covers for them. I'm no graphic designer, but sometimes it helps me focus on the main elements in the story and fine tune how characters look. But sharing those also make for a good blog post and maybe help explain your creative process.

5. Talking about writing. I don't know about you, but this is THE hardest topic for me. My process is chaotic and nonlinear. About the only helpful advice I can give aspiring authors is NOT to write like me. So here I tend to focus on the importance of research and talk over what I looked up, what I struggled with, what really interested me, and what resources I used.

So there you go. Maybe if you have some ideas you could add them in the comments. :)

Pippa's Journal

With all my upcoming releases, I don't expect to have anything new to announce before the end of 2014, other than an official re-release date for Keir (fingers crossed). I'm currently trying to finish an angel story (futuristic UF before you think I've forsaken SF permanently for the supernatural) for a submission call, a zombie short for an open call with Lycaon Press (who are publishing Restless In Peaceville), and possibly other short stories as yet incomplete, as part of Camp NaNoWriMo. The angel story has to be in by the end of July though, and if accepted would be released in December. SIX titles in six months? Could be a title too far...

Right now my schedule looks like this -

July

21st-30th Tethered tour with Breathless Press
21st - You Gotta Read
22nd - Love Romance Passion
23rd - Romance Reviews TodayEzrabet's Enchantments
24th - Books and MoreSizzling Hot BooksBreathless BlogSavvy Authors
25th - release day Tethered, spotlight at - Karenna's Blog,Pamaceeve's BlogNanee McGee,
28th - Urban Fantasy
29th - Literary Lagniappe (plus giveaway), Katie Babbles
30th - spotlight at Book Infatuation


August

8th-22nd - tour for Tethered
8th - Cate Peace
9th - Liza O'Connor
10th - Karen Y Bynum, Liana Brooks
11th - Melisse Aires
12th - Patty Hammond
13th - Celia Breslin, Samantha Holt
14th - Mark of the Stars
15th - My Creative Desk, Elle Clouse
17th - Pam Mandingo
18th - Cassandra Page
20th - Layna Pimental
20th - Release day for Restless In Peaceville
21st - Winter Bayne
22nd - Sonya Clark
25th - Veronica Scott

And that's just for Tethered... I'm off to finish the ten remaining blog posts for the tour before I have to get started on the one for Restless In Peaceville. And edits for Keir and When Dark Falls and the paranormal short for October... In the meantime, Tethered is already available for pre-order from Breathless Press, ARe and Smashwords. Now please excuse me while I go implode... *wanders away muttering*

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Interstellar: Another Promising SF(R?) on the Horizon


Interstellar, an upcoming feature length film has been described as: "may be the first movie that shows realistic space warp travel." [Sploid]

That in itself is something to get excited about, but add to that a standout cast which is reported to include Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, John Lithgow, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Casey Affleck (Ben's younger brother) and Topher Grace. Matt Damon is also reported to have a role from some sources. With an environmental catastrophy backstory, we just may have a blockbuster in the making.

The film is directed by Christopher Nolan, best known for directing the Dark Knight Batman series and InceptionScified: Interstellar.

It was filmed in Iceland (which also served as the set for the Alien-franchise related Prometheus) and Fort Macleod, Alberta, Canada.

Background

Based on the theories of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, the Interstellar project was originally spearheaded by Steven Spielberg who tapped Jonah Nolan to write the script, making the transition to Christopher Nolan (Jonah's brother) as director an easier transition. The film is co-financed by Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros. Entertainment.

What's It About?

Much of the plot is being kept under wraps, but it's reportedly based on Thorne's scientific theory that wormholes exist and can be used for time travel.  Interstellar is described as depicting "a heroic voyage to the farthest borders of our scientific understanding."

The drama is based on a worldwide food crisis triggered by global climate change and depletion of natural resources.  Crops are failing, and corn is the last viable food source being produced in what is rapidly becoming a worldwide dust bowl.

The storyline seems to take the classic path of great hope rising from near hopelessness.

Wikipedia says: "When a wormhole (which theoretically can connect widely-separated regions of spacetime) is discovered, explorers and scientists unite to embark on a voyage through it, transcending the limits of human space travel."

Is there a romantic sub-plot? Possibly. We'll have to wait to see how the story plays out. At the very least there will be an exploration of human relationships in the face of hardship and great discovery...but also potential disaster and unrecoverable loss.

The tagline:

Our destiny lies above us.

A Look at the Trailer




My Thoughts

The closely-guarded plot appears to be a cautionary tale about a future we're right now heading into at the speed of light. Interstellar may be the ultimate If/When statement: If we don't find ways to curtail the destruction of our sole eco-system, it's only a question of when we'll be forced to find drastic means to fix it or face extinction.

As Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield said: "Dinosaurs are extinct because they didn't have a space programme."

Presumably, Interstellar puts forth one possible solution to our current path to extinction.

When Can I See it?

Interstellar is set to be released on November 7, 2014.

What do you think? Will you plan to hit the theaters when Interstellar is released this fall?

Friday, July 4, 2014

INDEPENDENCE DAY!

Hope you're all enjoying your hot dogs and adult beverages!  Kick back, relax and do something fun over the long weekend. Catch you next week!  Cheers, Donna









Wednesday, July 2, 2014

And the Rollercoaster sets off!


So here we are in July, and the madness really starts for me. The 25th marks the release of Tethered, the first of five titles I have coming out by the end of 2014. Yep. Five titles in six months. Three brand new novellas, one new short, and one full length novel being re-released. Clone assassins, cute zombies, a heartbroken warlock, a rogue superheroine, and my old Blue Demon Keir will all be set loose! Even writing that list is exhausting! I've already done the cover reveals for Tethered, and for Restless In Peaceville (the zombie story) which releases on the 20th August. I've also done the eleven blog posts for the tour for Tethered organized by Breathless Press (just eighteen to do for the tour I organized myself *whimpers*) and the second round of edits on When Dark Falls have already gone back, along with my cover art form. So now I need to work on the blog tours for both of those.


As yet I don't have a confirmed dates for Keir or When Dark Falls, but I'm hoping to take print editions of Keir to BristolCon in October. The paranormal short has a cover reveal set for the 1st October, and a release day on the 8th. When Dark Falls will be November or thereabouts. I'm also working on an angel short story for Breathless Press and a zombie short for Lycaon Press. I'm not even thinking about what might happen if those two get contracted. >.< But Tethered has already gone up on the Breathless Press site for pre-orders HERE. Soooo excited!

So right now I'm working on writing, editing, scheduling reveals/tours, artwork, and blog posts for all of those. A pretty typical author schedule whether you're trad or indie (although perhaps not so many titles all at once, lol. This year has been exceptional.). One of the bonus points of my two new publishers (Breathless and their sister YA press Lycaon) is they also help promote by organizing small blog tours, submitting for reviews, are very active on several social media platforms (which is why they got my attention), and positively love to pimp their authors. So I thought I'd talk about some of the things I look for now in a publisher when I'm looking for one. Um, these points are in no particular order of importance because they all contribute to the whole. The only one that I would rate number one is the Preditors & Editors/Absolute Write checks.

1. When you find a publisher you like/want to submit to, check them out. The Preditors & Editors, and Absolute Write forums are a good place to start. Also the Writer Beware blog. See if you can speak to one or some of their authors or ask in writing groups. You'll always find there may be one or two authors who have negative things to say about a particular publisher, but if the general consensus is AVOID, then you can discount that one author was just unfortunate in having a bad experience. Been there, done that. It can also be worth stalking some of their authors on Twitter to see what they're saying. Many are vocal if they think their publisher is doing them wrong.

2. Check out some of their authors and/or books. This gives you an idea of their covers (if you hate all the covers, chances are you won't like the one you get yourself), the genres they publish and possibly how well they're doing, what their editing and in-house style is like, where they distribute to (do they have their own online store and is it easy to use/find what you're looking for? A poorly done website/store is not going to attract readers. Most small presses will also offer multiple digital formats, which I think is great. The more formats they do, the better and easier for readers. Not everyone loves Amazon and Kindles). I've submitted to publishers because I love some of the books they've published, which is a good sign to me. And yes, I *have* been shallow enough to pick them for the covers in the first place. But I still check out all the other things too.

3. Their social media presence. This is something most publishers demand of their authors, even down to putting it into the contract. But I expect the same. Is their website professional and easy to use? Do they have a blog that's posted to regularly? Twitter? Facebook? Goodreads? And how active are they? How much do they interact? What kind of things do they do? And do they keep their authors up to date with upcoming events/promo ops/deals and discounts? It's no good if they put their books on at 25% off and don't notify their authors so the authors can also promote it.

4. Promo. Now, I came into publishing with eyes wide open knowing I would be responsible for most, if not all, of my promoting. This can vary from publisher to publisher though. Some will do blog tours for new releases, enable pre-orders for releases, give spots on their blog to help with the launch, possibly ads. Check this out beforehand. For a new author it can be overwhelming having to do all the marketing from scratch, so maybe a publisher who can give you a bit of help at the start with a tour is a bonus. Some publishers hold regular chats about marketing to help guide you, but will still expect the author to do it all. Some will send you swag you can hand out at conventions if pimping your books there. Promotion has to be my least favourite thing but it's necessary, and while I go for the soft sell a publisher that gives you a bit of help is a big bonus.

5. The contract. For the love of little apples, read and understand the contract before signing! And if you don't understand it, find someone who can explain it to you. Some publishers actually have sample contracts on their website, so you can get an idea. Be aware of what you're signing over and for how long. You can't bleat about it after you sign. Again, terms will vary. A lot of places are bringing in exclusivity clauses, which previously were only part of Big Five contracts. Watch out for those. Big Five or larger publishers can sweeten that by offering bigger promotional options, wider distribution etc, but not all small press companies offer anywhere near that in return.

Is there anything else you look for in a publisher? Did I miss anything out? Let me know!