Friday, August 31, 2012

You know you're a writer when...

10. You bought three books on baby names before it ever occurred to you to have children.

9. When you catch yourself ogling someone, you're usually thinking, "I could base a character off that person," instead of thinking about asking the person out.

8. You have nightmares about blank computer screens, and the word "synopsis" gives you the creeps.

7. You notice someone giving you an odd look, and then later realize what was odd about it was that the person wasn't giving you an odd look.

6. You tell people "my baby is ugly," and they don't think you're a horrible parent.

5. You can stand in a room full of people and announce the number of deaths you've made happen, and no one arrests you.

4. Anyone who touches your favorite pen, dies. (Probably horribly, and with a different name. See #5...)

3. You say "I got another rejection!" with pride. (And your first is framed on the wall!)

2. You think "social media" rhymes with "advertising."

1. "Edit" is a four-letter word that falls somewhere between "love" and "hate."

How do you know you're a writer?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wednesday... Copyright Exercise?

Instead of a writing exercise this week, I'm going to encourage you to read this blog:

Copyright Is Not a Verb

Whether to copyright or not is a question that periodically circulates through writers' groups, and while this article does not tell you whether or not to register a copyright, it does tell you what you give up by not getting a copyright (including the rights to winning money in a copyright violation case), and when the best time to register a copyright is (within 3 months of publication).

Another note of point is that many publishers handle copyright differently, so obtaining a copyright immediately before finding a publisher may not be your best option. The general consensus, if you're going the traditional publishing route, seems to be to wait until a publisher has agreed to take your work, because the publisher may register the work for you, including paying the fees. Whether or not you own the copyright or they do will be part of your contract. Read carefully and decide which you prefer.

Also, you may have heard in the past that registering a copyright was an expensive and arduous process, but it's worth noting that thanks to electronic media, it's now much cheaper and quicker. Expect to drop around $30-40 and spend about half an hour or so on the process.

What have you heard about copyrights in the past? Have you gotten a copyright registered before? If so, what were your experiences?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Grammar Brigade: Restrictive vs non-restrictive clauses

Some time ago I did a post on which vs. that (okay a few posts). One of the key elements was restrictive vs. non-restrictive clauses.

That's the difference between these two sentences:

I was making a cake for my brother who loves chocolate.
I was making a cake for my brother, who loves chocolate.

The first example implies that the speaker has more than one brother, only one of whom likes chocolate.

The second implies that there is only one brother, and that brother likes chocolate.

Restrictive means that there is more than one possible person to whom the sentence could be referring, and the clause that restricts it specifies which person it's going to.

Non-restrictive means that there is only one person to whom the sentence could be referring even without the clause, and the clause just adds a little more information about that person.

Which is correct?

A. I was writing a book report for the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, when my cat attacked my pen.
B. I was writing a book report for the novel To Kill a Mockingbird when my cat attacked my pen.

C. I read the poem, "Roses," before going to the store.
D. I read the poem "Roses" before going to the store.

E. The book Lost in the Dark, written by Debra Fevers, was too long.
F. The book Lost in the Dark written by Debra Fevers was too long.

G. It was a cold day in April, which is my favorite month, when I found the king.
H. It was a cold day in April which is my favorite month when I found the king.

I. I read a poem, "To Walk in White," before going to the store.
J. I read a poem "To Walk in White" before going to the store.

1. B: if you don't specify which book, you'll never know. This is not extra information.
2. D: If you don't specify which poem, you'll never know. Even though there are quotation marks, in this case you should not use commas.
3. E: There is only one book by that title. If you don't specify the author, you still know which book. Therefore, the author is extra information.
4. G: There's only one April. This is extra information.
5. I: Because you say a poem instead of the poem, what's important is that you read a poem, and it doesn't matter which poem. Since the name of the poem is extra information, you would use commas--it's a non-restrictive clause.

Hope that helps clear things up! Are there any specific cases you'd like to look at?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Publishing Industry News

Publishing industry news and helpful blogs for 8/11-8/24.

Industry news

Apple protests the DOJ's proposed settlement as unfair, including pointing out that the DOJ is attempting to rewrite their contracts with the affected party before even hearing any evidence, despite Apple never participating in the settlement. It also accuses Amazon of being a monopolist and driving the DOJ's investigation. (Also see PW article for more.)

Music industry attorney Bob Kohn asks permission to weigh in on the DOJ vs. Apple and Publishers case.. He includes the fact that even the DOJ admitted that Amazon was using predatory pricing, and asks the DOJ to release its findings.

If you're in the RWA (Romance Writers of America), you've probably heard the big news: the RWA board voted to drop the Novels with Strong Romantic Elements category from the Golden Heart future contests during the 2012 national conference. This means that books categorized as non-romance but with romantic subplots will either have to enter as their romantic version (such as an urban fantasy novel entering into paranormal romance) or not at all. The Regency category is also being combined back into the Historical category.

The Nook moves into to the U.K. The Kindle moves into India.

In the Google case, the judge first says there will be no delay, but then says there will be a delay due to the plaintiff's health issues. Opposition briefs are now due Oct. 24. Meanwhile, Google has been granted the chance to appeal the decision to allow the Authors Guild class status.

MacMillan picks up start-up publisher Page Street Publishing in Massachusetts.

What do you think about selling used e-books? ReDigi plans to do just that, opening a digital used e-book store--assuming they can get through the litigation first, that is, because many publishers aren't so hot on the idea. As an interesting twist to the case, ReDigi offers to be a line of defense for the publishers against e-pirates, keeping an eye out for filesharing sites offering pirated e-books for free.

Georgia State University has also been embroiled in litigation, in which publishers accused them of having professors deliberately infringe on copyright in order to reduce class costs using the university's e-reserve system. The judge not only awarded in GSU's favor (in all but 5 of 75 claims), but also forced the publishers to pay GSU's court costs. One of the final points the judge made in the decision was that GSU operated at the tax payers' expense already, and the system proposed by the publishers to keep track and prevent overuse of copyrighted materials would be extremely expensive.

Scribd gets a makeover, moving the social media toolbar to a less prominent area.

And Nook gives the Kindle back some of its own--Nook Tablet drops price to $179, undercutting the Kindle Fire.

Industry Blogs

QueryTracker posts its Publishing Pulse for 8/17 and 8/24.

Writing nonfiction? You're probably looking for comp titles (comparison titles) to put in your query. Janet Reid talks about what to look for, and what's considered good. Someone finally request your full, and you're wondering what to write in the letter (or e-mail) that you send with it? Terse is okay. And if a notorious agent who goes by the moniker "the Shark" gives you praise, don't pretend she's just being nice--believe it!

If you're a member of a mailing list, she also advises us that the size of mailing list doesn't really matter if you're not a regular contributor. Just because you're on a large list doesn't translate to lots of sales. If an agent asks for revisions, protocol is to send the revised version to that agent first before shopping it elsewhere.

Writer's Digest posts the 21 traits of best-selling fiction.Then it summarizes them up with three points: Appeal to the intellect, the emotions, and the soul.

Angry at rejections? Look at them from the agent's side. What's it like to be an agent trying to find the perfect fit? Michael Bourne gives us a glimpse.

If you're afraid of the risks you're taking, that's okay. Agent Kristen talks about her experience feeling that fear, and how you should take those risks anyway.

Are you in the RWA and trying to figure out the myRWA website? FF&P hosts a 3 part series on how to navigate myRWA, Part 1, part 2, and part 3. Writing cross-genre romance, such as science fiction romance? Award-winning author Linnea Sinclair drops by with advice on how to deal with dual expectations.

QueryTracker breaks down types of backstory and how to successfully include backstory in your novel without weighing the novel down. Your readers must care about your character, which means your character needs a history. But sometimes, just handing them a bat and an old leather glove is all you need to explain that history.

Also on QueryTracker, how learning about screenwriting can help writers of other genres. Subtext, subtext, subtext!

Agent Suzie Townsend shares what goes through her mind as she reads (and rejects) queries. Does your query make her think these things?

Rachelle Gardner gives us 8 tips for promoting your book. Getting people talking about the theme of your book is one of her great ideas, right along making a hashtag of the theme (not the book name). She also brings in a guest blogger to offer tips for hiring a website designer.

Nathan Bransford tells us not to send our Tweets to Facebook. They're two different social networks with different strengths, and tweeting to Facebook isn't making good use of the Facebook platform. And he talks about the last revolution the book industry faced: Paperback books. This is not the first time the entire industry has been rewritten.

On Publishers' Weekly, a webcartoonist talks about how the new, affordable POD color comic format has made POD comics a viable and profitable option.

*EDIT* Added late: Nathan Bransford's These Past Few Weeks in Books for 8/24.

Google records show book scanning project was aimed at combating Amazon.

Random House Canada launches e-magazine Hazlitt.

The DOJ defends its settlement, comparing publishers to railroads and other companies.

Weird Tales, popular speculative fiction magazine, faces backlash for publishing a story readers found to be racist. The editor responsible considered the work as a whole to be denouncing racism, but only an excerpt was published. Another magazine, Shimmer, raises its rates for authors to "pro-rates," meaning $.05 per word, to cover the gap. For a nice collection on the Weird Tales fiasco and reactions, Shaun Duke has put together a list of links.

What industry news have you encountered in the last couple of weeks?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Guest Blog from Tea Reviewer Nyssa Mehana

As you may remember, I've got a thing for hot tea. After having a few lessons on How to Learn to Like Tea (lesson 1, lesson 2, and lesson 3), the next logical step seemed to be tea reviews. I've kept most of my terminology simple for those who are new to tea, but I also wanted to offer something for experienced tea drinkers, too.

Therefore, welcome to Nyssa Mehana, my tea-reviewing partner who will be doing 'expert' tea reviews to go with my 'intro to tea' reviews. In this guest blog, she'll give you reviews using the terminology common to professional tea reviews, while I'll review in laymen's terms for those just beginning to get into tea. As my resident tea 'expert,' she'll also tell us about different types of tea, such as where they come from and how they're made, and give advice on the tea-making practices that will bring out the best of each brew.

But first, a quick look at who she is, and where her love of tea comes from.

Tea: An Ongoing Obsession

My love affair with tea had an awkward start. When I was very young, I knew tea only as a bagged brand called “Red Rose” that my mother drank. The dark, bitter beverage that bag produced was altogether unappealing to me at that age. Back then, the boxes that “Red Rose” came in contained small ceramic figurines of animals that I loved to collect and play with, so despite my disinterest in the beverage itself, I was very keen on my mother drinking plenty of it so she would have to buy another box and score me another figure.

At some point, I learned to appreciate weak, herbal teas--usually something fruity or very mild, like Celestial Seasonings “Lemon Zinger” or “Sleepytime.” I did not enjoy the bland, weedy taste of “Sleepytime” as much as I enjoyed looking at the picture of the very sleepy bear in its armchair on the box. That bear looked so very peaceful, and I craved that kind of feeling in my life, so I drank gallons of that tea thinking it might help me achieve it.

Once I hit middle school age, I was drawn into a fascination of Asian culture, and suddenly tea became much more intriguing to me. The role of green tea in Asian culture had me quite suddenly smitten. I probably tried all kinds of thoroughly crappy bagged green teas, until thank the gods, my mother began a continuing obsession with the TRUE art of tea, and that obsession was quickly adopted by myself.

Types of Tea

Don’t feel bad if all you know of tea is that it comes in a bag and has a little square bit of paper attached to it on the end of a string. Most Americans have grown up expecting no more of tea that that. Still others assume that when I say “tea,” I must mean “iced tea,” or “sweet tea.” I can’t tell you how many restaurants have served me sweet tea in a tall, icy glass, misunderstanding my true request. I suppose I should know to give more explanation to waiters, given that I do live in the South.

In actuality, all tea comes from a singular plant, called Camellia Sinensis. The various different types and flavors of tea result from processing the Camellia Sinensis leaf in different ways, or blending it with other things (such as herbs, flowers, and fruits). There are many types of tea, including white, green, oolong, and black.

“Red” and “herbal” teas do not actually contain the Camellia Sinensis leaf, and are technically not teas. They are more properly categorized as “tisanes,” or “herbal infusions.” Red tea, also called “Rooibos,” comes from a bush called Aspalathus linearis in Southern Africa, and contains no natural caffeine.

Other herbal infusions (also lacking caffeine) are really just mixes of dried fruits, herbs, and flowers, and are sometimes blended with tea. Common herbs, seeds, barks, and flowers found in tisanes included chamomile flower, peppermint leaf, hibiscus flower, dandelion leaf, nettle leaf, red clover, blackberry leaf, rose hips, cardamom seed, licorice root, sage leaf, cinnamon, lemon verbena leaf, red raspberry leaf, ginseng leaf, and many, many others. Fruits I commonly see in herbal infusions included orange peel, lemon peel, various dried berries, apples, pears, pineapple, and more!

But I’m here to talk about TEA. How can so many different types of tea all come from the same tea leaf? It all has to do with how the leaves are processed. Let’s quickly review some of the more well-known types:

WHITE TEA: The tea leaf is wilted and unoxidized. White tea has a faint, delicate flavor, and the least amount of caffeine.

GREEN TEA: The tea leaf is unwilted and unoxidized. It has a grassy flavor, and contains more caffeine than white tea, but less than Oolong and black tea. Green tea is most commonly associated with Asian rituals and tea ceremonies.

OOLONG TEA: The tea leaf is wilted, bruised, and partially oxidized. Oolong tea has slightly more caffeine than green tea, but not as much as black tea. Oolong teas are full bodied in flavor and aroma ranging from green and floral to dark and roasted with many notes between.

BLACK TEA: The tea leaf is wilted, sometimes crushed, and fully oxidized. Black tea contains the most caffeine of all the tea types, but still much less than your average cup of coffee. Black tea has a robust flavor and strong tannins. It often pairs well with milk and sugar, if you want to reduce the “bite.” I typically think of black tea when it’s “tea time” and I want something to accompany a sweet cookie or scone.

Go shopping and find a type (or several types) of tea that intrigues you (or just smells damn good!) and then stay tuned for my next blog entry in which I’ll go over how to brew the perfect cup! :)

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

Monday, August 20, 2012

Letters to Tech Support

Dear Tech Support,

I sincerely apologize if any of you have come down with a case of hemorrhoids. There is nothing wrong with my WiFi. It was just my cat walking on my keyboard.


(Fix: Find the WiFi button. Looks like a little cell tower.)

Find the disable/enable icon
Dear Tech Support,

If anyone has developed a sudden and horrible case of whooping cough, I am certain it was not my fault. I never learned how to correctly curse people. Also, you will be happy to note that there is nothing wrong with my touchpad. It was just my cat walking on my keyboard.

A clearer image of the icon

(Fix: Hit the touchpad able/disable button.)

Dear Tech Support,

For the record, I have never actually studied voodoo. Therefore, if someone broke a leg within the past 24 hours, it was probably just coincidence. My screen is just fine; it is not locked forever sideways. It was just my cat walking on the keyboard (again.)


(Fix: Ctrl+Alt+up arrow)

Dear Tech Support,

I am not actually telepathic, telekinetic, or pyrokinetic. Therefore, the mysterious incidence of chairs flying randomly around your building and exploding into flame during our last phone call is probably a sign that you have a poltergeist. You should get that checked that out. Also, as luck would have it, my monitor display is not experiencing a slow but inevitable demise as the fuel cells power down into nothing. It was just my cat walking on my keyboard.


(Fix: Brightness up.)

Dear Tech Support,

If I may have insinuated that I was in contact with the forces of weather during our last discussion and had convinced them to demolish your previous facility (congratulations on the move, by the way) with a tornado wrapped up by an electrical storm, it was an honest mistake of hyperbole. I have no influence on weather patterns, and a freak storm unlike any that has ever been seen in your area before is certainly just an unfortunate coincidence. I tried hooking up an extra monitor to my computer, and discovered that the laptop monitor is neither broken nor inhabited by demons--it was just my cat walking on my keyboard and stepping on the monitor display button (projector only).


(Fix: Since you can't see what's happening on your screen, either hook your monitor up to an external monitor (which should automatically send the screen back to your normal monitor) or restart. This is what you would see if you could see anything.)

Dear Tech Support,

I don't know why the boogeyman is after you. Maybe you offended him when you implied his most recent technological mishap might have been the fault of his cat.


There's a computer in this picture. Somewhere.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Print On Demand (POD) FAQ: What is it, and who is it right for?

I’ve heard of self-publishing, vanity publishing, and traditional publishing. At this point, I think I’ve got a decent handling on the three. But where does Print-On-Demand (POD) fit in? Since I knew very little, I decided to interview someone who has worked in the POD industry and find out (and, of course, share with you.)

On Saturday, I interviewed Amy Howard, who started out at a traditional publisher before moving on to work in the online POD business. Amy was able to tell me about the business in general and how it fits into the picture.

Let’s start basic. What is POD, or Print-on-Demand?

POD is basically where you upload your file onto a website, which converts it into a format that can be printed. When someone buys your book (including you), the company prints a copy and sends it to them. The company only gets money when this book is bought. You do all your own marketing; they take and print the order.

Though this is profitable, many POD companies have started offering ancillary services to increase revenue. The POD companies don’t require you to purchase these services before printing you; you can sign up for as much or as little as you want. The only ones I really think offer any real value are the editing and cover design services; I wouldn’t pay for anything other than that. And, honestly, you’re usually better off finding these services on your own. It’s cheaper to cut out the middle man, which is what the POD company becomes. We’ve all got the internet; there’s no reason you can’t find good editing and cover design services online. Mostly it’s just convenient to go to one of the sites offered through the POD company, but in general, I suggest that you take a moment and ask yourself, “Is this something I can do myself?” If the answer is yes, then I suggest you do so.

Another thing POD services do is help authors set up an ISBN number. This is something, though, that I don’t think we really need anymore. It makes you seem legitimate because it gives you a bar code, but it’s unnecessary unless you’re selling in a bookstore that won’t take the book on consignment.

If I had to suggest a path for the most profit using a POD company, I’d say you should find your own editor and cover designer, buy a bunch of your own books without ISBN and sell them yourself through Amazon and local bookstores. This is the path that also gives you the most control, because you get to entirely set your own prices, do your own marketing, and decide how, where, and when to sell your books.

Who is POD right for?

If you want complete control over your business, and aren’t afraid to do your own marketing, it’s great for you.

And if you’ve got any kind of limited-run type of work, such as family memoirs or journals you just want to hand down as heritage books, it’s perfect for that.

It seems like, in my writers’ group, the people who would most benefit from POD would be self-published authors who sell mostly online, and whose fans have begun to ask for print copies. Would this be a good tool for them?

Yes, absolutely. That’s perfect for POD.

Who is Print on Demand not right for?

If you don’t want to do your own marketing, POD isn’t right for you. If you don’t want to do your own legwork, or you’re not good with computers, it’s not right for you. I once had a lady who wanted to do a POD service, but she didn’t have an e-mail account and didn’t want to get one. We couldn’t work with her; online POD companies require e-mail!

Also, a quick and pretty important note: a lot of POD sites will not allow you to publish fan fiction, because of copyright infringement issues.

What about e-books?

Well, I left the self-publishing side of the business right before the e-book boom, so I’m not quite up to date on the e-book side of things. But I know some sites, probably all these days, will convert your file into e-book format and sell it that way.

What’s the difference between “vanity” publishing and POD?

They’re pretty similar in a lot of ways these days; POD provides a lot of similar services. But POD won’t force you to buy a gazillion of your own books; it’s mostly about volume, really. The author investment for POD is lower.

That’s the major difference. For a vanity publisher, you have to pay the company to print your book. You pay them up front. For a POD publisher, they make money off each book sold. Basically, the price to print the book includes the mark-up from which they make profit; whatever additional “royalty” you add on top of that goes straight to you.

(Note: Royalty is slightly different in the POD business than in traditional publishing. In POD, the publisher charges you $X to print a book; you list it on their site as $Y, and $Y-X is what goes to you. So, let’s say it costs $7 to print your book. You want the price to be $12.99. On the POD’s website, it’s listed as $12.99; you get a check for $5.99 when it sells and the POD company keeps the rest. This $5.99 is called your royalty, and the $7 the company keeps covers their costs and includes a little profit for them. They send you the check, not the other way around, unless you’re the person buying the books!)

Some POD services will offer you a PCN, or a Library of Congress number. Skip that if it’s offered; it’s not really needed these days.

Tell me more about ISBN.

ISBN is a code used by bookstores to identify your book, pretty much a book-specific UPC. It’s a 13-digit code, used to be 10 digits about eight or nine years ago, that consists of:

The first few numbers identify your country. Each country has its own ISBN number, and each country has only one ISBN agency. In the U.S., it’s Bowker.
The next few numbers are your publisher name.
And the last few numbers are determined by an algorithm.

To get an ISBN, you first need a publisher name. Most people just use their real names; you can put the earnings on your taxes and file normally if you do this. However, if you want a different publisher name, maybe to seem like a more legitimate company or something, you register the publisher name with your state, much like setting up a small business. The method for doing so varies by state, so look up your own state’s rules.

Bowker doesn’t really like giving out just a single ISBN. It gives you a better deal if you register a bunch at one time; the more you register, the better deal you get. For one, it’s like $150. But if you go through a POD and let them bulk file, they get a great deal, and they will usually offer you an ISBN for cheap or for free. The downside is that it’s their name listed as the publisher (those middle digits!) instead of your name.

Since the ISBN is your barcode, you need a different ISBN for each version of your book: hardcover, softcover, trade paperback, etc. Once you get the ISBN, you can still edit the book. But, most POD companies won’t let you change your title, author name, or type of binding such as hard or soft cover.
It used to be, and I’m not certain if it still is or not, that you could register your ISBN with Bowker Books in Print. That way, whenever someone scanned your ISBN, information about your book would show up.

Who needs ISBN?*

If you want to be a long-term success using only print books through brick and mortar bookstores, you do need ISBN. But, if you’re hoping a traditional publisher will pick you up, you probably don’t want one; they usually want to give you one of their own. And if you’re making the majority of your sales through e-books, you really don’t need one, because no one’s scanning your book.

What’s the advantage of POD?

It’s great if you want complete control over your book. It lets you set your own rate, make all your own decisions. If you’re willing to put in the work, it can be very profitable for you.

Any parting notes?

POD is a type of self-publishing. The air of illegitimacy around self-publishing, the one that used to be there, is quickly disappearing. Many people consider self-publishing to be a legitimate entryway into the business.

Thanks so much, Amy!

What other questions do you have about POD? Are you likely to use POD for any of your projects?

*Update Note: It should be noted that ISBN is needed for e-book sales. (2013/03/07)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Completely random EiC picture.

Today's writing exercise is a short questionnaire, because I'm curious and want to pry:

1. What's the conflict in your story (you get 20 words!)?
2. Where does your story take place?
3. When is your favorite time of day to write?
4. Who do you imagine as acting your main character?
5. Why #4?
6. How did you choose your main character's name?

Monday, August 13, 2012

A little geekery with old games

Okay, so I like video games.

Also, I'm not rich, and what money I don't spend on paying off student loans, usually doesn't go towards upgrading to the best and brightest game systems.

Which is why I'm only just now playing Final Fantasy XII (on the PS2 that I bought secondhand from a friend of a friend when he upgraded to a then brand-new PS3... don't judge me; I finished both Kingdom Hearts on it first, and played Twilight Princess on the Gamecube in between now and then. Also replayed Chrono Cross and FFVII.)

But I have to admire the game, and not just for its gorgeous graphics, but for doing something that authors struggle with - creating a world so immersive and consistent that it draws you in and never lets you out.

Okay, so I don't have a team of designers behind me to double-check my work and make sure nothing goes against a previously stated principle. I don't have beta-testers to make sure my magic works (although why not?)

But I do have the ability to create a world from the inside out. Its rules are whatever I decide. Its people dress, act, and eat like I want them to. And as long as I remember that they're still people at the core, readers will still be able to connect to them.

FFXII? A princess seeks revenge for her conquered country and murdered father and husband, and then finds that revenge gets in the way of her people's well-being. She struggles with the desire to fight, reluctantly agrees not to encourage a revolt when she wants it the most, yearns for her dead husband, and starts to question her own sanity.

An orphan tries to find purpose in his life after the murder of his brother, trying to escape the relentless anger that pursues him and falling prey to ennui, resorting to thievery as the only revenge he can survive taking. He latches on to the first distraction that comes through, and finds himself swept away in an adventure much bigger than he can handle. But he goes along anyway, because maybe if he's in a purpose so large, he'll be able to find his own. If it doesn't kill him first, that is.

People ride giant birds and cast spells. They wear strange clothes and wield swords larger than themselves. Armies fight in airships, and islands float in the sky. And at the end of it all-

The characters act like people, and so the player can buy into the world and find them believable.

What video games have the best characterization? What makes the characters believable?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Publishing Industry News

Publishing news and helpful industry blogs for the past two weeks, compiled for your convenience! This post covers 7/28-8/10.

Industry News

HarperCollins combines Thomas Nelson and Zondervan into a new, single Christian publishing division.

Theoretically, if the Author's Guild wins against Google in the Google Books Scanning case, Google could pay as much as $1 billion. That's based on the estimate that each count of copyright infringement would come with a minimum $750 fine, and the estimate that of the 20 million books scanned, 4 million of them were still under US copyright. Of course, that assumes all the copyright holders come forth with proof of copyright. This release comes as the parties prepare to go to trial in the fall of 2012.

On the DOJ vs. Bix Publishers, the DOJ files the settlement agreement with the 3 publishers (HarperCollins, Hachette, and Simon & Schuster) who have agreed to settle and asks the judge to approve them.

Want to link to all the major retailers at once from your website to sell your book? Check out this widget! (Yes, now there's an app for that.)

Tired of booksignings given to empty rooms? Now there's a program for that, too! Togather lets fans invite authors of interest, and when enough fans reserve seats, the author knows to come. Supposedly, this guarantees a full house.

Amazon offers a textbook rental program. Saving students money? Always cool! This move can save students hundreds of dollars each semester. The textbooks are still half the price of the originals for keeping them for only 6 months,but since that's as long as students usually keep them anyway, can't say it's lost value in most cases. Unless it's one of those textbooks you just like and want to keep on your shelf, in which case, maybe the money you saved on the last three you rented and returned will let you buy a new one for keeps.

And Smashwords adds a couple of new features, including the Pricing Manager that allows users to set their prices from the dashboard, and a features that allows libraries to buy in bulk the Smashwords books (called Library Direct).

Industry Blogs

QueryTracker's Publishing Pulse for 8/3 and 8/10.

Nathan Bransford's This Week in Books for 8/3.

Rachelle Gardner posts "The Top Ten Query Mistakes" (a reblog from 2010 that still apparently holds true.) She also reposts "Are you a rookie or a professional?" Hint: if you submit something incorrectly or refuse to make edits, the industry will probably see you as a rookie.

Feel like you're not connecting with your audience? You might not be. When you're blogging, are you really aiming for your target audience? Know who your audience is, and address them.

You know that inevitable moment when the novel has been written, polished, and repolished, and the queries have been sent, and the synopses are exactly as you want them? What next? Stop waiting and start writing book two. Blog. Take writers' classes. As QueryTracker reminds us, an author's work is never done! And when you get that rejection, look twice to make sure it's not a form rejection before following its advice. No use beefing up perfectly good characterization just because that's the standard response from that agent.
Also at QueryTracker, Arthur Plotnik tackles the question "how long should it be?" in regards to what the standard word lengths are for various forms of fiction, from short stories to novellas to novels. Published novels tend to run from 80,000 to 200,000 (depending on genre); the standard short story is around 2000-3000 words.

Shannon Donnelly gives us advice on how to alter your pacing. What are ways you can speed it up? Short sentences, conflict. Slow it down? Lyrical prose and backstory.

If memoir's your thing, you may want to check out Janet Reid's post on queries for memoirs: write them in first person! Your memoir should be completed before submission, and generally sold much like fiction, but unless you've taken to referring to yourself in third person, don't do it in your query.

And on her "Friday night at the question emporium," she answers a question about revising/resubmitting: an agent asks for a revision and resubmission, but passes. Does one resubmit to other agents, noting that the revisions were those suggested by Agent A? Resubmitting is fine, but pretend the revisions were your own idea.

On NovelRocket, a previous slushpile reader discusses what made her pass on a manuscript instead of sending it on for further evaluation. If the reader can't fall in love with your characters, or if the conflict doesn't appear in the beginning and last until the last page, it's time to edit.

Mette Ivie Harrison makes an intriguing list of the different types of plot, complete with drawings to illustrate each. (You know, the slow build to the climax, then the denoument... or the multiple climaxes leading up to a big one... or the plot that is so assorted you have to try to figure it out, like the first season of Lost...)

Published? Check your contract for the agent-clause. Does it give your agent part ownership of your book? Some do. Make sure you read the contract, and think about whether the agent-clause would be a deal-breaker for you in the terms it's written. Most writers sign it, but for Kristine Rusch, it was a deal-breaker.

What publishing news have you encountered over the past two weeks?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Wednesday Writing Exercise

Write an employee review for one of your characters.


Employee: Trax
Position: Recently recruited operative. Formerly rock star.
Possesses standard amount of common sense. However, possesses more than standard amount of enthusiasm, especially when given coffee or sugar. Enthusiasm occasionally exceeds ability of common sense to contain it.
Brilliant at writing songs and solving problems creatively. Does not, however, seem to understand concept of rank. Suggest keeping in "think tank" or as face of agency. Excellent for PR. Will be insubordinate on any case that requires endangering civilians or family.
Do not suggest allowing on unstructured missions. Barely trained; loose cannon in desperate situations. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

10 Tips for Life Learned from Buying Flowers

10 things to learn about life from choosing bouquets of flowers:

1. Choose flowers according to when you'll need them.
Use the language appropriate to your setting. Don't talk to your boss like you'd talk to your friends, and don't talk to your friends like you'd talk to a second-grader. The same goes for clothing (don't dress for the club when you're going to church), your writing (don't tweet an e-mail to your boss), and pretty much every day-to-day situation.
2. Choose flowers that are still closed. They will probably not look as pretty as those that are open.
Plan ahead. Also, sometimes the best option doesn't look like the most appealing option. Taking a job with a lower starting salary may give you better long-term pay if it has more room for advancement, or it might just have a better work environment. 
3. Expect to find dead bits inside the bouquet.
Nothing in life is perfect. Just because you argue, doesn't mean you're not really in love; just because the house has stains in the carpet, doesn't mean it isn't your dream home. But don't buy mostly dead bouquets, either.
 4. It really helps to know your flowers before you buy.
Do your research. Snazzy, brand-new company that just needs investors? Check out their business plan before handing over the cash. Trying to publish a novel? Look up the name of the publisher before signing any contracts and find out if they're reputable or not.
5. Purchase mixes that include greenery and at least one type of filler flower.
Make the extra effort to present a polished product when you're trying to sell something. It's much easier to sell a product than an idea. Likewise, put that extra edit on the novel before submitting it to agents.
6. Keep the color scheme simple.
When explaining something, keep it simple. Don't get off track. Don't confuse your audience. Know what they want, know where they are, and figure out the shortest way to go from point A to point B. You can tell them about scenic route later, after they know the basics.
7. Think about where you'll put the flowers.
Always know your audience, whether it's writing e-mails, teaching math, selling something, or writing a novel. Use terms that your audience can understand and identify with. Know their purpose for tuning in. If they want to be entertained, entertain them. If they want just the facts, they'll be annoyed if you try to dazzle them with rhetoric and wit instead of giving them the facts.
8. Flowers don't last as long without maintenance.
Neither do relationships, homes, or cars.
9. For roses, it's not what's on the outside that counts.
Strangely enough, same with people. Look for the people who believe in you and care about you for yourself, who will help you when you need help and who will stand back when you need to do it yourself. 
10. Rushing things causes problems.
Do it right the first time, even if it takes longer.
What other lessons can you learn from buying flowers?

Friday, August 3, 2012

10 Tips for Buying Flowers

10 things I've learned about choosing bouquets of flowers:

1. Choose flowers according to when you'll need them.
Don't mix tulips and lilies if you plan on having your arrangement observed tomorrow, too.  If you only want your flowers for tomorrow's dinner party, tulips and gerberas are bright and gorgeous. This is what you get to impress your guests. Roses, and gerbera daisies all have short lifespans; don't plan on keeping them around for more than two or three days before needing to rearrange. If you want something long-lasting to cheer up your kitchen, go with flowers such as lilies and fuji mums, which both have longer lifespans. Purchase lilies earlier to give them time to open.
2. Choose flowers that are still closed. They will probably not look as pretty as those that are open.
Lilies? Boring until they open. Alstromeria? Positively hideous. Many flowers are less than spectacular before they're fully open, but purchase the bouquet with fewer open flowers, because it will last longer, and you will get to enjoy the flowers for their entire peak beauty, instead of allowing them to waste part of their best look on sales room floor. The open flowers are older, and will therefore die sooner.
3. Expect to find dead bits inside the bouquet.
Bouquets come tightly packed. When you unwrap them, the pressure on the stems has probably killed some of the leaves, and maybe even one or two of the flowers. On stems with multiple flowers (such as alstromeria), I usually expect to have to remove one or two dead blossoms. The bouquet will still look nice when the flowers are arranged. Remove the dead parts, clipping close to the main stem so you leave as little evidence as possible, and put into your arrangement accordingly.
 4. It really helps to know your flowers before you buy.
Tulips keep growing after they're cut. Not all roses open. Lilies will need tons of space when they do open, because they're large. Delphinium doesn't last long, but it's vibrant and beautiful while it does. Sunflowers need lots of water and start to stink if the water isn't changed frequently. Hydrangeas are gorgeous but prone to sudden wilting, and gerbera daisies often require props to keep their heads up.
5. Purchase mixes that include greenery and at least one type of filler flower (like baby's breath or caspia.)
Not only do filler flowers help the focal flowers (the large, main flowers) stay in place, but they also make the bouquet look more complete when arranged. Adding at least a leaf or two of greenery also completes the arrangement, and adds a surprisingly dramatic touch.
6. Keep the color scheme simple.
Two or three contrasting colors with lots of green in a large bouquet looks more elegant than a brightly colored assortment when arranged in a vase. Brightly colored assortments look good wrapped, or with lots of white filler flower or greenery, but a matching color scheme is more cohesive. Choose a main color, and then add one or two colors that look good with it.
7. Think about where you'll put the flowers.
For a bright room with lots of light, go with bold colors: reds, yellows, purples, anything bright and cheerful. For a dark room that gets less light, go with pastels and white flowers to bring the illusion of light into the room.
8. Flowers don't last as long without maintenance.
You'll have to change the water, clip the stems to keep the drinking surfaces fresh, and occasionally rearrange to get the most out of your arrangement. 
9. For roses, it's not what's on the outside that counts.
The outer-most petals, called the "guard petals," are often unattractive, but they can be removed. Ignore them when purchasing roses and look at the inner flower for damage, instead. Then take off the guard petals before giving or arranging. The most beautiful roses always seem to have the worst-looking guard petals.
10. Rushing things causes problems.
Pulling lilies open too soon will damage the petals and leave ugly-looking wilt along the edges. Flowers open on their own time, and trying to rush them rarely turns out well. If they do need to open more quickly, put them in warm water. But expect them to die more quickly, too.
What is your #1 tip for purchasing flowers?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Wednesday Writing Exercise: The Hidden Arts

Don't think I won't.
Back in another era, I won't tell you how long ago (and those who know, reveal at their own risk. That's right, bows and ribbons when you're not looking; don't think I won't do it), I student taught. I used to think that it was best not to have a personality, and that "teacher" was all my students should ever know about me. The idea was that they would respect a "teacher" but not a person.

This was a horrific failure of an idea.

But as I drove an hour down a mountain at oh-dark-thirty, I'd take out a camera and snap a picture of the rising sun. As the semester went by, the time the sun rose would change, so I'd have different settings of whirly headlights and steam rising off mountain streams. It was my hidden art, the beauty I spared myself that no one knew about.

Do your characters have a hidden art? What kind of art suits them best? How do they indulge, and where do they keep their art? Who knows about it?