Monday, July 30, 2012

Learning to Like Tea Part 3: Loose-leaf

You remember how, back in April, I posted Part 1 and Part 2 on learning how to like tea?

Part 3: Loose Leaf Tea!

Don’t throw away your bagged tea; it’s still tasty, and some days you’ll just not feel like cleaning up a loose-leaf tea. But the world of loose-leaf teas provides more room for personalization, exploration, and taste bud frolicking.

What you need

First off, you’ll need supplies. Get a tea ball or a tea strainer of some kind.

Tea balls are small, and because they’re contained, the tea is less likely to spill. The downside is that experts say tea tastes better when it’s got more room to expand, such as in a tea strainer. (I’m guessing it has to do with surface area exposed to the water?) Tea strainers are usually larger, of course, so the leaves have more room to move around. There are also other tea accessories to choose from (tea stick? single cup of tea brewer?) and you can easily spend hundreds on finding the perfect product. I suggest buying something cheap to get yourself started, and upgrading when you know what you like. Personally, I’ve found tea brewed in a tea ball is still quite delicious, and I don’t notice a big difference (oh, barbarian me!).

You’ll also need airtight storage containers for your tea if you’re purchasing from independent shops or other non-prepackaged teas. You go with plain tea tins or decorative ones, as long as they’re airtight. Also make sure they keep out the light, so no airtight clear plastic or glass containers, unless you keep them in a dark cabinet. And keep the containers out of direct sunlight and out of the freezer; tea should be kept at room temperature or slightly cooler, but not refrigerated.

Now you need your tea. Go with something similar to a flavor you’ve already tried in the bagged version: a floral tea if you like florals, a nutty if you like nuts.

What you don’t need

You do not need a cast-iron teapot for your first loose-leaf tea, or an entire nice tea set, or rock sugar, or other fancy accessories. These things may or may not come later, after you’ve figured out what kinds of tea you love, and how often you’re going to invest the time to drink it. I’ve got two tea sets at home that I adore, but 85% of my tea drinking comes from a regular old mug, with a tea strainer, with water from the break room coffee machine. Luckily, I have enough tea-loving friends that I do get to use my tea sets (one on a weekly basis during my Sunday writing buddy sessions, the other when I have several guests over). But it’s not something I would suggest acquiring in your first month of serious loose-leaf tea drinking. It’s more effort to clean, and not worth the investment if you won’t have the opportunity to use it.

The basics

Let’s say you like English Breakfast. You can pick up a loose-leaf English Breakfast tea from, say,  Twinings. Some loose-leaf tea tins are as inexpensive as boxes of bagged tea, although usually you’ll have to pay a little more. With a black tea, you’ll need to add 1 tsp of tea per 8 oz of water into your tea ball (most mugs are more than 8 oz). Use more tea for stronger flavor (don’t brew longer). Put your tea ball into the mug and pour your hot water over the tea ball. With English Breakfast, brew 2-3 minutes.

Hint for water temperature: your idea temp for black tea is 205 F. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a special thermometer to test my water (although they do make those). If you have a stovetop teapot, wait until it starts whistling, then take it off and let it sit for two to three minutes. Or, pull it off when you just begin to hear some bubbling in the teapot and pour then.

Remove your tea and set it aside on a plate or something. You can reuse this tea. Loose-leaf teas generally can make 2-3 cups of tea before needing to be switched out, as long as it doesn’t get oversteeped or brewed in water too hot. The second and third cups, of course, will be a little weaker, but #2 not noticeably so to my taste buds.

Sweeten (or not) as you usually would.

Where this gets fun

Loose-leaf teas come in a wide variety. Tea aficionados have spent hundreds of years blending new varieties, and there’s always something new and interesting to try. Plus, you can blend flavors to make one of your own.

For example, take Teavana’s Morrocan Mint Green tea, made from green tea and spearmint. It can be blended with Jasmine Oolong tea for a natural/floral taste, or ToLife White Tea (strawberry, jasmine, orange peel, and rhubarb) for a natural/fruity taste.

You can take your loose-leaf Earl Grey and add a pinch of dried lavender for a natural/floral taste.

You can hit the Asian market and pick up a traditional jasmine tea, and add to the teaball a bag of that white tea you just wanted more from for twice the anti-oxidants and plenty of flavor.

To get yourself started, I recommend browsing around at Teavana. They’ve got tips for brewing the perfect cup of tea, and recommended blends. Downside? Many of their teas are expensive, and if you go into a store in person, they’re pretty pushy on the sales. But, you can’t smell the teas online, so it’s worth the in-person trip if you can manage it. Just be firm with the salespeople. (Tip: take cash and leave your card at home. Tell them your budget before you start and expect to spend every cent of it. For a first trip, $50 is a decent estimate for teas and supplies; you can get away with $25 if you already have air-tight containers in which to store your tea. Stick to 2oz samples to begin with, so you can sample different types. You will want to spend more than this, so consider yourself warned.)

Independent tea shops, if there’s one in your area, are usually fantastic. And unlike Teavana, which is a chain (they train their employees to push sales), they may have a more relaxed selling style that can be as attentive or as hands-off as you’d like (or not. You know, independent, so each one is different.)

And of course, major brands will sell loose-leaf teas in regular grocery stores and places like World Market.

New tea drinkers: Questions? What do you notice about loose-leaf tea? Is it different from bagged tea for you?
Experienced tea drinkers: What’s your favorite blend of tea? Any advice for people just starting out on loose-leaf tea? 

(Learning to Like Tea Part 1Part 2, Part 3, Guest Post: Types of Tea, Guest post: Getting the Best Cup of Tea)

Friday, July 27, 2012

Publishing Industry News

Publishing industry news for 7/14-7/27.

Industry News

Pearson Hall (the parent company of Penguin Books, among others) purchases Author Solutions, Inc., a self-publishing company. Controversy arises throughout the writing community over the move, which Jane Friedman explains pretty well. Porter Anderson offers a compilation of links of authors and industry professionals responding to the move, almost all in protest. (short explanation at bottom of page)

Random House launches a television company dedicated to making television content from their books.

The Writer Magazine goes on hiatus after a 125-year run as the company looks for a purchaser.

The DOJ begins responding to the letters from the public on the price-fixing lawsuit. Standing by their decision, they respond to Barnes and Nobles letter of protest and a letter from self-published writers in agreement, among others, and is generally dismissive of all claims that the settlement might be a bad idea, pointing out that claims that it will hinder competition are highly speculative. Penguin launches an appeal on the case, but is denied.

Authors sue Harlequin, popular category romance publisher, for e-book royalties on the basis that Harlequin's method of calculating the royalty for payments pretty much halves the percent the authors should receive.

Barnes & Noble releases Nook for reading on the web; Nook readers can now access their e-libraries anywhere, even without Nook in hand.

Industry Blogs

QueryTracker's Publishing Pulse for 7/20 and 7/27.

Roni Loren shares her unfortunate experience being sued for using copyrighted photos in a blog, pictures she found from a Google search and thought it would be okay if she added to a personal, not-for-profit blog, on which she included a "I don't claim to own this picture" disclaimer. Yes, and the photographer won, because the law was on his side. Be careful what pictures you add to your blogs!

Janet Reid answers questions. Readers often form critique groups and share manuscripts with each other; this is generally accepted and the incidence of plagiarism is almost nil (most writers will be offended at the very suggestion.) However, sending a manuscript to a screenwriter is an entirely different animal, assuming the screenwriter even opens it. Reid advises that you don't take that chance. Also, in regards to the standard wait time for a response to a query, 30 days is about industry average. And is it a red flag if an agent is a member of the AAR? No. Many agents are not, and while it's a good sign that an agent is legitimate, not having a membership with AAR isn't necessarily a sign of the opposite. It's okay to ask why she isn't.

This Saturday, Janet Reid will answer queries received between 7 and 8pm EST. This doesn't mean acceptance or feedback, but it does mean that, at the very least, you'll get a non-form reply.

The Editor's Blog explains point of view (POV) in 3 lessons: Lesson 1, lesson 2, and lesson 3. Commonly confused with viewpoint character ("the particular character viewpoint a story is told from"), point of view is actually how the story is being told, that is, first, second, or third person, and omniscient, objective, and subjective.

Also on The Editor's Blog is a post about writing synopses. There are two types: the tease type and the report type. The tease type is made to draw reader in and make her want to read more; it models the style of the story itself. The report type explains what happens in the story from start to end. Which should be used depends on the situation (contest, or agent) and the preferences of the recipient. Keep an example of each on hand.

Agent Kristen summarizes the differences between pitches and queries. A query is a business letter to sell your manuscript to an agent/editor; a pitch is a short statement to sell your manuscript to the agent/editor. Written vs. verbal.

QueryTracker posts an article all about fingerprinting.

Rachelle Gardner asks, "Is talent overrated?" and then answers, "Yes." For her, as with for many of us, it's as much hard work, practice, and effort to improve that lends us ability, not natural talent. (Watched The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel Thursday night [highly recommended!], and as one of the characters said: "It's funny; the more we do, the luckier we get.")

Her guest poster Ed Cyzewski also reminds us that our biggest competitor isn't other writers: it's social media. Are your manuscripts interesting enough to draw readers away from Facebook? What will you give them that's more interested? The truth. Books are deeper. They're not short little blurbs, and they're not censoring out the details of life, but rather uncovering the core truth of it.

On Writers Write, the 10 Principles of Effective Writing are posted. #s 1, 2, and 3? Brevity, clarity, and communication. Also, when to use me, myself, or I.

*Edit-added Friday noon*
Nathan Bransford's These Past Few Weeks in Books

The big deal: ASI self-publishing isn't like Smashwords

I'll admit that at first, when I heard that ASI was a self-publishing company, I thought "Oh, like Smashwords or PubIt!" No. ASI is old-school self-publishing, as in, a service where an author sends in a manuscript for x number of copies to be printed, and sends the check to the publisher for these copies. Again, author pays publisher, as in the publisher makes its profit from the authors. The standard traditional publishing model is 'publisher makes profit from readers purchasing book and shares a portion with the author' (also known as 'author earns royalties'). ASI also offers a number of services such as editing, covers, and marketing - all for a price, of course. There are manuscripts for which POD (Print-on-demand) is ideal (a gardening book that you'll be giving to thirty close friends, for example, or a Class of 2012 cookbook for which you've pre-sold 200 copies to families of students and expect to sell no more, or a self-published work that has achieved success as an e-book and has fans asking to buy print copies that would be otherwise unavailable). However, for most authors intending to earn an overall profit on their writing, POD is not the ideal choice of publishing, and some companies such as ASI have a reputation of selling more services than an author needs, charging the author thousands of dollars when the author only sells a few hundred dollars worth of books. If you're considering self-publishing and intend to be a career writer, I suggest starting with a free self-publishing service (Smashwords, PubIt!, KDP, etc).

What publishing industry news have you come across in the last two weeks?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wednesday Writing Exercise

Ever have a dream where one of the people in it says something that sticks with you, long after you forget the rest of the dream?

All I can remember of last night's dream is this line:

"It's easier to forgive when it's your own heart that was broken. If you ever want a full account of your sins, ask a person who loves the person whose heart you broke."

Interview your main character about someone who broke his or her heart (preferably a heartbreak from the distant past). What did that person do? How does your main character feel about him or her now (forgiveness, enduring hate, etc)? Does the MC say it was partly his/her own fault? How so?

Now interview your main character's best friend (parent/kid/current lover) about that same betrayer. What happened? Whose fault was it? How does the MC's best friend feel about the betrayer now?

Whose story is more harsh? Does the anger add to the conflict, or make the resolution more dramatic? Is forgiveness necessary for the story to resolve, and will the best friend be able to move on as quickly as the hero? Will the loose ends be wrapped up by the end of the book, or can you use them to lead into story #2?

How can this emotion enhance your story?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Seven Things Writers Can Learn from Gardening

1. You can't grow a flower without a seed.
Planting the seed is planning. Even if you write by the seat of your pants, you still need the basics: characters, setting, and often research. Otherwise, your seed isn't fully fertilized and won't grow!
2. Seeds don't grow without water.
If you don't water your seed, you won't get a plant; if you don't put time writing into your idea, you can't grow your idea into a novel.
3. Not all plants grow at the same rate.
Not all novels are written at the same speed. Sometimes a story takes months to be written, and sometimes it dances off the fingertips. Don't panic if you find yourself writing one story less quickly than you wrote the last.
4. Use insecticide if you have spider mites; use fungus-killer if you have fungus.
Cut the adverbs if you write with too many; cut the introspection if your story is moving too slowly. If you don't edit, your novel won't be able to reach its full, beautiful potential. Also, don't apply the wrong treatment to the wrong problem! It's easy to cut out your own voice, but it's voice that makes the petals bright.
5. It takes patience.
And editing. Lots of editing. But when you've given it time, energy, and love, you'll have a fully bloomed (edited and revised) novel.
6. Not everyone likes flowers. Nor does everyone like the same kind of flower.
Some people are allergic to roses; some people don't read mysteries. If the agents or publishers you're querying don't accept your novel, it might be because they prefer sunflowers. Don't take it personally.
7. If everything dies, try again next year.
One dead garden isn't the end of the road. And if your first story doesn't sell or doesn't turn out like you wanted it to--that's the sign to start another. Just don't salt your earth by being rude to the agents you're trying to query!

What tips about writing have you learned from gardening?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Creating a Fantasy Language: Lesson 4

Lesson 4: New concepts in grammar
(Creating a fantasy language: (Lesson 1, Rationale, Lesson 2Lesson 3, Lesson 4, Choosing wordsCreating an Alphabet)

In our last lesson for creating a fantasy language, we built on rules we already had by adding more of the same.

Now let’s try something entirely new:
It gave her a flower for her hair.

New concepts:
two objects (her, a flower)
possessive case (her hair)

Grammar-lovers will know that her in it gave her is a dative-case noun. Everyone else knows that her is another noun in the sentence, the person to whom the flower is given.

In my language, dative pronouns gain the suffix –s (or –es to nouns that it’s otherwise hard to add an –s to).

We’ll put the person to whom something is given after the thing that is given.

It gave for her hair a flower to her.

Now possessive case: I’ll add a –p suffix to create possession. In nouns ending with a consonant where that isn’t easily spoken, it will be –ip, -op, or -ap.

ot (it)
itis (her, dative)
a (ne)
laksh (to give)
Merin (flower)
fle (for)
Stiton (hair)
itop (her, possessive, for neuter noun)
(What)(to whom)(for what purpose/other prepositional phrases)(verb)(thing given)
It (to) her for her hair gave a flower.
ot itis laksho fle itop Stiton ne Merim.

Try another, just to get the hang them.

Charlie gave his mother a flower.
laksh (to give)
ne (a)
Merin (flower)
mother (chenin)
Charlie (to) his mother gave a flower.
Charlie atip Cheninis laksha ne Merin.

I (female) stole an apple from my father.
iko (I, female)
bork (to steal)
ne (a/an)
Munoch (apple)
du (from)
ikap (my, for masculine noun)
Chanan (father)
I from my father stole an apple.
iko du ikap Chananos borki ne Munoch.

Now combine with another rule, using phrases you’ve used before:

He under the table stole an apple from his father.
at (he)
uz (under)
ke (the)
hoskon (table)
bork (to steal)
ne (a)
Munoch (apple)
du (from)
at-p (his)
Chanan (father)
He under the table, from his father stole an apple.
at a’uz ke aHoskon, du atop Chananos borka ne Munoch.

And use new phrases with the same concepts:
The dog (neuter) with a tail accepted from you (masc) its collar.
ke (the)
ne (a)
du (from)
you (ut)
wufon (dog)
ot-p (its)
Donparlan (collar)
vesh (with)
sota (tail)
drigoh (to accept [as in, to allow to be given])
The dog with a tail, from you accepted its collar.
ke wufon ovesh ne oSota, du utas drigoho otap Donparlan.

By now, you should have vocabulary for all your pronouns. I still haven’t addressed me or my. Let me fix that:
ikop/akop/okop: my
ikos/akos/okos: me (dative case, such as “he gave me a dog” or “he stole from me an apple”)
ikon/akon/okon: me (objective case, such as “my father handed me to my aunt”)

And of course, I want to practice.

The dog without a tail gave me a flower.
veshra (without)
sota (tail)
wufon (dog)
ke (the)
Merin (flower)
ne (a)
laksh (to give)
ikos (me, dative)
The dog without a tail (to) me gave a flower.
ke wufon oveshra ne oSota, ikos laksho ne Merin.

What new concepts did you create for your language this go-around? Post a sentence and translation!

Vocabulary so far:
san: to drop nansan: to put down nansanko: to lie down ko: self koma: self-aware
uzko: to be sick kopalli: to self-reprimand palli: to reprimand del: to create laksh: to give
borr: to roll syl: to cast magic der: to cause bork: to steal dragoh: to accept
uz: under tep: on elti: into el: in ti: to
du: from vesh: with veshra: without
sylpana: the magic source pana: lake cortan: ball hoskon: table fodratan: anger
witkin: chair bason: floor fodrishin: hostility dupon: bowl Merin: flower
stiton: hair chenin: mother chanan: father munoch: apple wufon: dog
donparlan: collar
ut: you (subject) ot: it (subject) ako: I (male) iko: I (female) utu: you (object)
ata: him iti: her oto: it (obj) at: he it: she
ikop/akop/okop: my ikos/akos/okos: me (dat.) ikon/akon/okon: me (obj.)
ke: the ne: a
fodrish: hostile
kes: one des: two tres: three fes: four res: five
ses: six pes: seven les: eight nes: nine doc: ten

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Found this through the Content Marketing Institute website, and I had to share:

Why we read is as varied as why we write. But I agree with the items on this list - books that have these are the books that people keep coming back to, that are the first picked off the shelves and the first to be shared with friends.

It's one thing to write; it's another thing to write something that people want to read. What kinds of content are in your novel? What will make readers crave your story?

What kind of content do you crave?

Monday, July 16, 2012

How Priorities Affect Writing Style and Purpose

After Rachelle Gardner posted the question "How Hard Should We Make Our Readers Work?" it got me thinking. To me, there's no clear answer, because it depends on the author's purpose.

In my eyes, fiction has three main purposes:

  1. To entertain
  2. To make you think about an issue
  3. To make you think about the story and the writing
These purposes are often (as in somewhere between usually and always) connected, but the prioritization of them determines the overall objective of the author.

I write because I like stories. They're my escapism. When life gets tough, I turn to worlds where the good guys win, evil loses, and amazing things happen to ordinary people. Therefore, I want my readers to get the same thing from my books.

I also write because I want to get people thinking. I enjoy working in underlying issues that I want people to at least think about, and preferably talk to each other about. I include themes that I think are underrepresented in the literature I read, and that I consider important. 

I don't want people to think about the writing itself, at least, not until they've looked at the first two. I want my writing to be 'invisible' - that is, I don't want the reader to notice the writing at all. It's just a vehicle for story.

But, I do slide things like foreshadowing, symbolism, and other subtle techniques into the work, and I wouldn't mind if people noticed these things (especially on the second or third read-through). I put a lot of hard work into them! Like everyone else, I like being appreciated.

For me, my pleasure reading mostly puts #1 (entertainment) first, then #2 (issues), then #3 (style).

But people who really enjoy literary fiction probably put #3 pretty high on the list. They want to work to get the most out of any story; they get their entertainment from the work they put into the story and the meaning they get out of it through that work. That's their fun.

Some kinds of speculative fiction put #2 first. The idea is to get the reader thinking about something and to see the potential consequences thereof. Readers of these sorts of works enjoy vigorous debates. They like to think, and they like to follow chains of logical consequence. "Could this really happen?" is a pertinent and enjoyable discussion.

Your writing will reflect your priorities (1-entertain, 2-issues, or 3-style). Some examples of how this might show are:

(3,2,1): Do you want your readers to have to work when they read your story? You'll pay more attention to things like the rules of writing (every metaphor is perfect, not a single sentence has an unnecessary word, and there's not a single cliche) and inserting deeper meanings and layers of symbolism. Your story may or may not end happily (probably not, actually), and your plot's appeal will be in how it reflects the real world, not in how much it entertains your reader (although that's a positive side effect that will probably arise from your good writing). Your readers will have to read carefully so they don't miss a single detail, and every time they read, they'll get something more from the story. The work is the fun.

(2,3,1): Do you want your readers to think about an issue, such as the moral ambiguities of artificial intelligence? Then you'll probably put deep consequences and moral issues into various aspects of your writing. You story may or may not end happily, but to enrapture your audience, you'll make your plot deep and intriguing. You may be trying to persuade your readers to favor one side of the issue over the other, or make them consider possible consequences of an issue they haven't considered before. You may or may not give them your own opinion, but the what-if structure of the novel still leaves room for debate. Written perfection is a means to an end (I'm seeing a few useful cliches and oddly placed hyperboles in your future), those means being the fact that readers keep reading and, should they see your double entendres, they have more to discuss. On the whole, you want your readers to work through forming an opinion and thinking about the issue, not through reading the story. They'll be discussing your story from now until the end of time, and you might just change the world.

(1,2,3): Or maybe you just want to give your readers an escape. Your plot is first on your mind, so it's deep, intriguing, edge-of-the-seat intense. Subplots abound, but not so many your reader gets lost; everything is connected in a web that doesn't come together until the very end. Your characters will probably have a happy ending (or a tragic but satisfying one). You probably have deeper issues in your work because people enjoy thinking about those and they're extremely entertaining to watch the characters deal with. It's possible that these issues will drive the plot, because dealing with such things makes for good stories. The issues may be less controversial (pollution is bad) or set up to allow your reader to make his or her own moral decision. The rules of writing prevent you from interfering with your reader's enjoyment, but clarity trumps perfection.The goal is to make your reader not have to work hard (so you've got a few more adverbs and that's hanging around than perhaps you stylistically should), but rather to give them a ride they'll never forget. You'll be a treasured bookshelf favorite, the one they turn to time and again, the one that keeps them going when life just plain hurts.

Do you agree with these priorities, and do you see them in different styles of fiction? Do you write fiction? What's your priority order, and how does it affect how hard you make your readers work? 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Publishing news

Last time in the Publishing News series, I put together my post on Thursday and was unable to update Friday, so I missed a few good posts. I'll be adding them in with these two weeks' links.

Industry News

Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and other brick and mortar bookstores hold firm in their decision to not carry books published by Amazon, and explain why.

A recent court case could threaten library lending rights for both e-books and physical books, pertaining to books printed outside the US. With many publishing companies outsourcing the actual printing to other countries, this might impair the abilities of libraries to acquire new books. Libraries are asking that the Supreme Court redefine its final ruling, which says "the doctrine of first sale, the provision in the Copyright Act that allows any purchaser of a legal copy of a book or other copyrighted work to sell or lend that copy, applies only to copies manufactured in the United States," to the more specific "manufactured with the lawful authorization of the holder of a work's US copyright," which would not pose the same possible litigation issues.

The Wall Street Journal shares that your e-book is reading you: e-books are used to track reader data, giving publishers an insight into the readers' habits that has never been available before.

The Library Copyright Alliance and the Electronic Frontier Foundation call out the Authors' Guild on the HathiTrust lawsuit. HathiTrust is a digitization collective of research libraries created from the books scanned in the Google books project. The Authors' Guild suit rests on copyright infringement, but according to the LCA and the EFF, the Authors' Guild could have made a motion to have Google stop scanning at any point in the (so far seven-year long) process, but did not. They also consider HathiTrust to be covered under fair use law.
Please correct me if I misunderstand this, but from what I'm getting, basically many university libraries had their books scanned and digitally uploaded during the Google Books project, and the works were 'compiled' in HathiTrust, "a partnership of major research institutions and libraries working to ensure that the cultural record is preserved and accessible long into the future" (HathiTrust website). HathiTrust does not display books considered to have active copyright, but it appears the public can browse the site like any regular library catalog. Books with expired copyrights can be viewed in full; for the rest, HathiTrust has a link that finds which libraries have print copies of the book. Universities and students look like they can have full access to any book, copyright or not, for educational purposes.
The House Judiciary Committee is preparing to hold a hearing on something called the Market Equity Act, which will close the loophole that allows online-only retailers to avoid paying sales tax. The Retail Industry Leaders Association is in favor the MEA (big surprise, right?).

Publishing an e-book? Wish you had an ARC to hand out as promotional material? Check out Author Solutions'  BookStub, which is basically a business card with the book cover on one side and QR code, promotional number (for those of us with "dumbphones"), and downloading instructions for the e-book on the other. Each BookStub is worth one free book.

If you're planning on going with an inspirational publishing house, you should know that HarperCollins has acquired Thomas Nelson, which now gives them control of over 50% of the Christian publishing market.

The DOJ misses the deadline to publish 800 letters on the proposed e-book pricing settlement. With a stack this large, it hasn't been possible to read them all. They expect to have them posted by July 20, but question has arisen as to whether the delay violates the Tumney Act that gives the public the right to weigh in on decisions before the decisions are accepted by court.

Industry Blogs

QueryTracker's Publishing Pulse for 7/6 and 7/13.

Nathan Bransford posts These Last Few Weeks in Books.

Publisher's Weekly has a great post on the most common errors found when converting PDF files to ePub and why they happen, that also happens to be a positive review of a conversion program called Silk.

Agent Kristen has a series of vlogs, "Fridays with Agent Kristen," addressing issues in writing. Her latest is on prologues and why they frequently do not work.

We all worry about punctuation, but Editor's Blog advises us it's not usually the make-it-or-break-it of a novel. Still, good writing doesn't hurt, and so the blog lists some tricky situations in which "to comma or not to comma" is a legitimate question, as well as their recommendation for each scenario.

Agent Janet Reid answers questions: "Should my synopsis restate the parts stated in my query?" Yes. The two are independent documents and you should not assume that they will both be read. "Should I tell agents I've sent the query letter to other agents?" Not unless the agent requires exclusive queries, and that is fairly rare. Otherwise, agents assume you're sending out multiples of each query letter at a time (personally addressed to each agent, of course, not mass-mailed). "Is it okay to hire a editor if my manuscript is being rejected?" Yes, it's a great idea. Finding a reputable editor to help you improve your manuscript is an expensive investment, though, so start with a good critique group.

Also--and this could get interesting--she has offered to give a reply to all queries she receives once a week for one hour. This is as opposed to a form rejection; the promise doesn't mean feedback. And she asks for only legitimate queries, so if you're not really ready to query or you know she doesn't take your genre, please don't clog the pipelines.

On QueryTracker, Stina Lindenblatt offers ideas to help you find mistakes in your writing. It's hard to find your own faults after months of hard work, love, and sweat; she suggests giving yourself distance. Also, consider listening to your work on audio as opposed to reading it, or reading it backwards, to help yourself find the flaws that need addressing.

Also on QueryTracker, Jane Lebak posts on how redefining the word success can show us we've come further than we think. If making the national bestseller list is your only definition of success, you might always feel inadequate, even if you're making thousands a month from self-publishing.

And Danyelle Leafty posts an excellent when-and-what-stage of website design for authors. When do you begin blogging? While you're writing. Also go ahead and purchase your site name. But you shouldn't worry about writing your "About Me" page until you've sold the book. Post-publication, when it comes out, make sure you keep working on your News section.

Tina Gerow is a published author with a Big Six agency and about 18 novels and stories under her belt. So it's with plenty of authority that she can tell you there is no end to rejection letters: she still faces them even now. It's not personal; it's not you; it's just part of the business. Remember that rejection doesn't stop an author from being successful. Achieving your dreams is worth a little rejection on the way.

Rachelle Gardener offers 6 things to learn from Hemingway: among them, know when to put your work aside; if a story needs more time, then give it more time; and get to know other writers and discuss writing.

Sarah Manguso offers advice to new writers, including living cheaply, investing in your health, not responding to attacks, and slowing down once you've published.

GalleyCat publishes a list of free sites to promote your e-book.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Staying cool with random pictures

Today's writing prompt? We'll go with some random pictures. Your job? Choose two (or more!) and combine them.

Always wear your sunscreen, folks.

 It's hot. Really hot. If you've been outside recently, you know this. And in case you haven't, take EiC's hard-learned advice and remember to wear sunscreen (which won't help cool you off, but will help you avoid getting sunburned.)

 Don't be afraid to go out at night, either. No one will blame you for turning into a summer vampire when the daytime heat is over 100F.

You always thought they made up gun-swords, didn't you?

Another option is to look for cool places, such as pirate caves, to hide from the heat.

Or to search for hidden treasure. Because you never know.

Mini cupcakes, however, do absolutely nothing besides
giving me an excuse to stay inside.

Light meals, such as fruits and berries, will help you avoid that heavy after-eating feeling and can actually help you stay cooler. Plus, fruits and berries will help you stay hydrated. Frequent light meals, avoiding proteins and heavy fats, are a great idea.


We all know that some people love the heat. I generally like it, myself. Just be careful - lots of water, a place to cool off before you cook, lots of sunscreen, a nice hat, and all that.

You probably won't turn into an iguana if you run outside to sunbathe. In fact, that's probably impossible. Probably. Just remember, iguanas get eaten in some parts of the world. Kinda like chicken.

Today's excuse to stay in the air conditioning writing prompt: Choose two pictures and combine them. You have 100 words to write a scene involving both!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Grammar brigade: the verb "to be"

This post is dedicated to my readers studying the English language. Please answer the poll to let me know if this was a helpful post!

In English, all sentences must have a verb. The most basic sentence is "I am." To be is one of the most commonly used verbs.

I am cold. You are a leviathan. That is Charlie. We are the champions. These are all sentences.

If there is no verb in a phrase, then it is not a sentence. It may be a phrase, a sentence fragment, an interjection, or several other things, but it is not a sentence.

Is it a sentence?

To be used in descriptions

The verb “to be” is commonly used for descriptions:

He is kind.
She is good at baking.
She is a good cook.
He who is king makes the laws.
They are the joy of my heart.
Life is the journey, not the destination.
It would be my pleasure.
I am cold.

Basic uses

It is conjugated as is, are, am, was, has been, and will be.

We use is, are, am, or was when we are talking about present tense progressive (see tensechart) or when we are describing a subject.

I am going to the store. (present tense progressive – something that began before the moment of speaking and continues to happen)
I was going to the palace. (past tense progressive)
I am cold. (describing the state of being: Something is something)

We use be when we are also using helping (or auxiliary) and modal verbs. This includes talking about the future progressive tense.

I will be singing when you come in. (future tense progressive)
I might be angry if you do that.
I can be a ninja for Halloween.

Is and articles

In English, only people are considered masculine or feminine (he or she). Everything else is an it, a neuter object. People may refer to their pets as he or she if the gender is known. Sometimes people will think of their boats/cars/treasured objects as male and female, but this is informal.

Articles are the, a, and an. They are used to say the number (one) of an object, and if it is a specific object (the) or a general one (a/an).

If you are describing a thing as an adjective, you will not need an article:
I am cold.
He is angry.
She is purple.
You are so cute!
It is old.

If you are describing something as a singular noun, you will need an article:
I am a cow.
You are the boss.
It was a giant.
She was like an apple. (simile- a type of comparison used in writing to show a figurative comparison. In other words, she wasn’t really an apple, but she looked like one.)

*a is for words that start with consonants. an is for words that start with vowels or sound like they start with vowels when spoken, except for “hard” u’s like in union, user, or unitard.

If you are describing something (or things) as a plural noun, you do not need an article:
We were kings.
They were like peas in a pod. (simile)
You all are crazy.

Prepositional phrases and adverbs

Prepositions tell you where or when something happened (or where it is located). Adverbs tell you how it happened. They aren’t usually considered when you’re trying to figure out whether to use is, was, are, were, am, will be, or to be.

You are under the table. (prepositional phrase: under is the preposition; the table is where. The preposition acts like adverb.)

It is frequently my fault. (frequently describes how often it is my fault. It’s an adverb, not the noun of the sentence.)

Things that act as nouns

Sometimes a word that isn’t a noun, or even a whole phrase, will be used as a noun. These have fancy terms like gerund. Basically, treat them like singular nouns. They usually do not need articles.

Flying above the trees is dangerous.
The thing that appealed to her most was going to the store on Fridays.
They were likely to run off a cliff. (Likely is an adverb; to run off a cliff acts like a noun.)
Giving to charity is the highlight of my day. (The gerund here acts like a noun.)

“He Who Is King”

Who is is a clause that describes he. This is a grammar structure called an appositive. He who is is not very common in modern English, but still sometimes used in formal papers and often in older documents you might study. Appositives, however, are still frequently used.

They look like:

Things that are blue include the sky, the water, and blueberries.
The man, who is my uncle, cannot be trusted.
The book, which is called Under the Sky, is my favorite.

Appositives further describe an object or help identify which of several objects you’re talking about. Check out my articles on That vs which, More whiches, and That. Yes, that. for more about appositives and when to use commas and that or which or who.

Basically, the idea is that something needs more identification (The car that is blue goes fast = there are cars that are not blue) or you want to describe something (I hate running, which is my mother’s favorite exercise = running is my mother’s favorite exercise, but I already have a verb in the sentence [running], so I use an extra clause to describe it).

If you’d like to see more posts like this, please take the poll and let me know what you think! 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Abusing the rules of writing: don't!

The rules of writing have a place. They get us into good writing habits; they teach us the general concept and help us to write invisibly.

But they're also dangerous.

I can't begin to count the number of times I've had someone shove a 'rule of writing' in my face like it's a law of physics. "Adverbs are the mark of a lazy writer and should be killed on sight," I've been told, and certainly there's a reason adverbs are unpopular. But is adverb-o-cide really the correct course of action?

Usually these bold and all-encompassing statements are accompanied by articles on good writing. Sometimes creative writing teachers are cited, famous authors are quoted, books on writing proffered (and then sermonized). 

America's high-blood pressure issues may have as much to do with skepticism than fast food, if you ask me. Because I advise taking rules with a grain of salt.

The problem with writing instructors, is that they can only teach you how to write like someone else. It's up to you to develop your own style. The make-it-or-break-it of a novel comes down to characters, plot, and the ability of a reader to get and stay lost in your world. How you achieve these things may not be the same way Hemingway did.

For that matter, if you're writing category romance or sci-fi westerns in Hemingway's style, you might be doing something incorrectly.

Know the rules. Know them well. They do improve your writing. But also be warned against misusing the rules, or using them when they don't accomplish your purpose.

What do I mean? Let's look at two commonly abused rules: "Show, don't tell" and "Never use adverbs."

"Show, don't tell." Not everything should be shown. This rule is frequently misunderstood. For example, let's talk transitions: if several days pass between important scenes, the flow of your novel will be improved by cutting those days out and tellingwhat happened instead of showing each and every one. Consider how boring it would be to describe what these characters ate and what they did all day each day at the office. Assume they're already well developed, and the writer has offered already an idea of what their average day is like:

Shaking her hair out of her face, she holstered her gun and slumped against the wall.
"Dinner?" Jeremy asked.
She nodded. "Dinner."
The week went by without event, a blur of office work and burritos. Friday started the same. But then, she found the shoe.
Sometimes, you just don't need to know. Transitions are an excellent example of when "show, don't tell" does not apply.

"Never use adverbs." Except when an adverb says it best. I've heard people suggest I apply this rule by erasing any word ending with -ly, but then my supply of usable words would fly below an acceptable level. Good word choice will reduce your need for adverbs, but overusing fancy tags in your dialogue is distracting, and sometimes, howsomething is said or done is as important as that it is said or done. Not to mention that your characters probably won't shun adverbs in their dialogue.

Use adverbs sparingly? Maybe, but maybe not. ("Nicely done," said Jeremy.)

Better to say, "use adverbs correctly." Not just grammatically, but also when (and only when) an adverb says it best. 

The rules of writing exist for a reason. Many reasons. But don't fall into the trap of abusing them. Professional writing instructors may tout their method as the one true way, and while their advice may generally be good advice - there is no one true way! Learn the rules, yes! And then, learn how to break them.

What rules of writing do you see being abused? When do they not apply?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Fourth!

Stay cool, stay sane, and catch some fireworks!

Also, try to get a little writing in. ;)

And don't forget the sunscreen!

Monday, July 2, 2012

How Types of Publishing are Dividing Authors, and Why They Shouldn't

If you've been looking at getting published, you've probably seen the Great Debate of Publishing: Self-publishing or traditional publishing.

You've seen people put forth clearly drawn opinions that traditional publishing is better, or that self-publishing is the saving grace of writers. You've seen blogs that say that traditional publishing locks authors in and prevents them from earning what they should, and you've seen blogs that say that self-publishing tends to be poorly written crud.

But now people are beginning to draw a new line: stop insulting other authors! It's a breath of fresh reason, thank goodness.

More and more writers are becoming aware that the divide is helping no one, and that neither form of publishing is inherently better. Why? Because publishing isn't a one-size-fits-all industry. Sometimes, self-publishing really is the correct option. Other times, traditional publishing is.

It's not about how you publish; it's whether or not how you publish is right for you.

Personally, I see the decision analogous to deciding whether or not to hire a wedding planner: Do you have time to do this all yourself, and do you know where to go? How many people are likely to attend (niche audience=small wedding; genre/general audience=large wedding)?
Your agent, by the way, would probably be most comparable to a marriage counselor in this analogy.
Let's look at each with the assumption that this will be the only type of publishing you do:

  • You'll need to hire your own professional editor, and force yourself to follow the advice. This includes finding an excellent editor with whom you work well, but you also get to choose your editor.
  • You'll need to find an artist for your cover design, or design it yourself. Both options take time, and many authors have difficulty designing covers, which marketing has shown to be a major part of how customers decide which books to purchase. You'll probably have to pay the artist for professional-quality work, but yours will be the final say, so your cover will be exactly as you want it.
  • Marketing is entirely up to you. You must toot your own horn. Most likely, you are e-book only. This means intensive social networking, paying for advertisements, blogging, creating websites, and other forms of advertising; handing out free books and arguing with Amazon for the right to offer your book for free for a couple of weeks; analyzing your own sales, and knowing without anyone else to guide you what will work best as far as getting your book out there. If you attend a book signing, you can only offer your customers bookmarks, cover art, and other non-book goodies to be signed unless you purchase a quantity of your own book through a POD (print-on-demand) publisher, which is a significant investment. Bookmarks are lighter to carry than books, but more likely to be lost before the reader gets home.
  • If you have a niche market, you have a built-in audience, and as long as you provide high-quality work, your sales will probably be steady. Your e-book format is likely to appeal to your readers, who may appreciate the convenience and who are used to being able to find their niche market only through digital format anyway.
  • You will probably have much higher royalties per book sold. You will not get any large chunks of money in the form of advances, but then, you don't have to earn out your advance before getting royalties. This means a more continuous stream of income. 
  • As the market evolves, you will face more challenges gaining respect from critics, family, and professional organizations than through traditional publishing. The barriers are eroding, but they aren't gone.
  • You get your work out now. Self-publishing is much quicker than traditional, even with the same amount of editing.
  • Most self-published authors do not have as large an audience as most traditionally published authors. There are many exceptions, and you can become one. Some self-published authors earn much more than traditionally published authors, because the higher royalties add up. Selling even close to the same quantity as a traditionally published author will produce much higher income. Advertising and quality product are critical.

Traditional Publishing

  • Editing is one of the services your publisher provides. You don't get as much choice in who you work with, but you know your editor probably has experience and has already been vetted by the company, and if your book isn't quite up to standard, it won't go out. Not all publishers provide the same quality or quantity of editing services; which publisher you work with will determine how much editing is provided.
  • Cover art is one of the services your publisher provides. You may or may not have a say in what it looks like, but the product will most likely be professional and vetted by marketing experts.
  • You will have to do most of your own advertising. This includes intense social networking, paying for advertisements, blogging, creating websites, and other forms of advertising; handing out free books and arguing with Amazon for the right to offer your book for free for a couple of weeks. 
  • Your publisher will provide some advertising, and will help get your book out into the hands of critics and customers, providing wide-spread distribution.
  • You have the advantage of having a physical product. The 'browser effect,' where customers can actually pick your book up off of shelves, will improve your ability to attract new audiences. You can attend book signings and be able to sign your actual book. This does, however, mean having to haul heavy books around.
  • You may qualify for an advance to help defer the costs of advertising (or, you know, live off of if it's large, but those are becoming rarer and rarer.) 
  • You may be able to gain a contract for several books, meaning more-or-less ensured income, and an extra reason for the publisher to push your name.
  • You can hand your book to your family members and say, "here it is."
  • Most self-published authors do not have as large an audience as most traditionally published authors. If you fall into the middle of the bell curve, you will probably make more money via traditional publishing. This is, again, not always true.
Okay, now let's do something "innovative": Let's look at combining the two:

Say, as an author, you have a few books published traditionally. Four or five of your books have gone out of print, and the rights have reverted to you. Plus, you have a new series that doesn't really fit the typical scheme of your publisher. You decide to continue the series your publisher already has, and they're willing to take you. But you also decide to self-publish your out-of-print books online, and begin self-publishing your new series (after checking your contract and discovering that it does not, in fact, violate any clauses or such.)

Traditional and self-publishing:
  • You do most of your own advertising. But, your traditionally published books also gain advertising from your publisher, and it helps. The 'browser effect' on sales means that more people are able to pick your traditionally published books up in a bookstore. You have a wide distribution.
  • Your e-book sales are boosted by readers who research you online and discover that you have another series that they purchase. Thus, your self-publishing sales are boosted by your traditional sales.
  • Your e-book audience begins to branch out and purchase your traditionally published books, because although they may cost a little more, they really like your series. Thus, your traditional sales are boosted by your self-publishing sales.
  • Your advances from your traditional publishing may help cover the costs of your self-publishing covers  and editing (whether or not the publishers intend this to happen). You will earn higher royalties from your self-published books, and begin earning them immediately, giving you a steady income instead of having to wait much longer periods to receive money for your work.
  • You will still have to purchase your own cover art and editing services for the self-published works. However, you will have had exposure through traditional publishing to what goes into professional work. You may or may not be able to make independent connections through the agency, but you will at least know what to look for. Also, your publisher will handle your editor and your covers for the books you publish through them, giving you a little more time for writing.
  • You will have physical books to give your family, and the respect that traditionally published authors gain without having to work through the barriers self-published authors often face.

To me, the answer is clear: it's not an either-or industry. For me, I will want to publish traditionally first. Perhaps I will begin to self-publish as well, but I don't plan on giving up one for the other. I know highly successful authors in both fields, some who do both, and some who have become highly successful in one but find themselves eyeing the grass on the other side. 

Would you consider doing both? Why or why not?