Monday, December 30, 2013

Playing around with art!

Screaming Aaron Leid
As I've been getting ready for my book release on January 5, I've been playing with pictures!

I'm thinking of starting a CafePress site for Tides-related gear. Maybe it's just my pre-release mania, though...

But as I finish up my final edits, boy have I been having fun!

The Empty Tides
The first picture, oh-so-creatively titled "Screaming Aaron Leid" (you'll get it by the end of the story, I promise), is a collage of butterflies from the cover, tinted and assembled with Photoshop Elements. I used Pixlr to create the face, starting with a photo of a long-past person screaming (wow, that seems morbid...) and generously applied the smudge and blur tools, and then added and played around with colors to get the right surrealistic look. (Yes, there was may have been some giggling and references to the joys of finger painting. What of it?)

The second was done with a generous application of the magic wand tool to my cover in Photoshop Elements. It looked pretty cool, so I figured I'd keep it around... There may be a few tweaks before it's ready, though!

Okay, maybe I'm not the next Da Vinci. But it was fun, and it kept me motivated to finish my edits on time.

Now I just have the formatting to go. Wish me luck!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Publishing Industry News

Publishing news and industry blogs for 12/14-12/28.

Publishing News

Pennsylvania joins the states that collect sales tax on Amazon and other online purchases, and its legislators announce their support of the Marketplace Fairness Act, designed to make all online retailers collect sales tax. Whether or not the MFA will get enough support to pass is still up for debate.

Indie booksellers are carrying more and more self-published books, particularly as the quality of self-published books rises, and if the author is local. This may soon extend to e-books as well. Booksellers report the partnership with local authors helps them compete with larger book chains.

The Independent Book Publishers Association passes an official code of ethics for its members.

Bob Kohn is appealing the publisher settlements in the DOJ vs the Big Six and Apple case, on the grounds that the publishers' actions were in fact pro-competitive, and Amazon's role should have been considered in the trial and settlements. Kohn specifically is not seeking any delay in injunctions and refunds already agreed upon (and will be fined if he does), but because Apple is not involved in the publisher settlements, and the publishers not likely to appeal themselves as they are already in the settlements, he states that the settlements will not have sufficient scrutiny on behalf of consumers if no one appeals.

Meanwhile in the DOJ vs Apple suit, the DOJ is dismissing Apple's complaints about the monitor as being a negative PR campaign, and claims that Apple has not been willing to discuss appropriate terms of conduct for the monitor or the legal fees the monitor would be able to charge.

Smashwords signs a deal with Scribd that will make Smashwords books available on Scribd's subscription service.

For a while major retailers had a lock on e-reading habits discerned from tracking reading trends on e-readers (in non-identifying ways), now start-ups are making the information available to subscribers, meaning self-published authors can now discover what readers spend the most time on, when their books are abandoned, what gets highlighted, etc.

Industry Blogs

QueryTracker's 12/20 and 12/17.

Nathan Bransford's The Last Few Weeks in Books for 12/26.

Victoria Strauss on Writer Beware offers advice on navigating crowd-funded anthologies, including what to look for and how not to lose out on rights and other aspects. And if you've heard of Quill Shift Literary Agency, think twice about joining--it may sound interesting, but the agency's premise is rather shaky.

Rosie Genova on QueryTracker points out the lessons we can learn about writing from soap operas, pointing out just how incredibly popular soap operas have been, and how loyal their fans are, and how we might gain some of that loyalty and staying power with our own works.

And a couple of questions are answered on QueryTracker during a call for questions. When changing agents, do you have to start the whole query process over? (Yes, and terminate with your first agent before you begin, and don't query a work your first agent has been working on.) Does an agent who turns down 3 manuscripts, and then accepts #4, have no interest in 1-3? (Ask them. Maybe yes, maybe no.)

Agent Janet Reid also doles out advice: Is it possible for a query to be too good? (No--If the query is setting too high expectations, polish your book more.) Is writing fan fiction considered a publishing credit? (No, don't mention it in the query.) Will agents throw me away if I have italics in the first five pages? (No; if one agent said that, it's their own personal quirk, and certainly not an industry standard. And if your "how to query" book is 13 years old, update it, because the industry--and querying--has changed.) Should I query my dream agent first or last? (Don't choose a dream agent.) Does digital publishing stop me from getting print-published? (The question refers to traditional publishing digital-first lines: You're still with a reputable publisher [hopefully]. This counts as being published with a publisher. The format does not make a difference in your credits.) If I enter a contest, should I be worried about someone stealing my idea? (No. If you are, don't enter contests. But it's the execution that counts, not just the idea. And besides which, most authors aren't looking to steal others' ideas--they're too busy with their own.) I'm a pre-published novelist doing a blog. What should I blog about? (Go Facebook and make friends, and talk to people. Or blog about your life.)

At the Daily Dahlia, ten blunt pieces of advice for writers.

One of the largest trade publishers in China, Beijing Mediatime Books, operates a branch in the US; the CEO compares Chinese publishing with American publishing.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch continues a post about the Old Ways of Discoverability and why they may not be the best in this digital age, and what would be better (part 1 here). She also talks about the giant paradigm shift authors need to make--to switch from thinking of copyright/manuscripts as things to sell, to thinking of them as assets that will earn revenue over time.

A collection of places and journals accepting submissions and entries from the Aerogramme Writers' Studio.

Ever wanted to know the sleep habits of famous writers?

Gift cards are now available on, for those who need a late holiday gift.

Reddit's book community is huge--so if you're an author and looking to reach people, it may be worth your while to check it out.

Belated day

Random pretty picture
Publishing news will be belated this week, courtesy of a 6-hour drive in holiday traffic. Hope you had a lovely week!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

I've got visions of sugarplums dancing in my teacup... or, er, Sugar Plum Spice tea, one or the other.

Perhaps it was one too many cups of tea that brought this to mind, a holiday short from the Lost, who live in my novel Into the Tides:

Three cats huddled under the snow-laden limbs of a blue fir tree. A tabby wrestled six purple pine branches, fallen courtesy of last night's ice storm, into a more-or-less circular shape. There, a wreath.

Is it really Christmas? one asked, a small grey female.

Who knows? another said. The tabby licked her paw and then stretched, claws digging into the cold earth. It's cold, and I want to celebrate.

The yellow tomcat yowled in a passable g, a c, and another pair of c's, and kept going through a mostly-recognizable first stanza of "Oh Christmas Tree."

On the next round, the little grey and the tabby joined in. Their yowls may not have been identifiable as notes, but they had never been trained musicians, unlike the tomcat, and really it was the thought that counted.

At the end of it, the tabby purred. Wasn't that nice? 

I miss my son, the little grey said. He loves caroling.

The tomcat licked her forehead. My kids. I miss them. They're adults, but they still liked to come home for Christmas. Like to? Liked to. When is my wife going to get here? I think she's late.

She curled her tail around her paws. What were their names? The kids?

He sneezed and shook his head. Names... Laying down, he batted at a branch of the 'wreath.' What was the question?

The tabby began to groom her shoulder. And then the little grey decided her tail was in need of some straightening, and licked it a few times.

After a moment, the tomcat looked up. Oh, it's you two. You know what? It looks almost like Christmas. We should sing some carols.

Her ears twitching, the tabby stood up and stretched. That's a lovely idea. My grandson loves carols. Maybe he'll come by if we sing one and join us.

Minutes later, a pair of deer plodded through the forest, trying to find the source of the horrible noise. The doe nudged her companion. Over there.

What are they going on about? the stag asked.

Who knows? They're cats. It's not like we can ask them.

He shook a dusting of snow off his shoulders. It almost sounds like a song, a Christmas carol.

Raising her head, she swished her tail in irritation. Why would they be singing Christmas carols? It can't be any earlier than March. It never snows like this in December, not around here.

I miss Christmas, the stag said. Maybe they're on to something.

At his nudge, the doe turned away. You go. I'm going somewhere quieter. 

Don't go. I'm lonely.

Pawing at the snow, she flicked her ears back and forth. You never even told me your name.

Something up ahead caught the light, a rock of some kind. It was sort of pretty. He inched over to investigate. Seeing her companion move, the doe followed, not willing to be left alone.

A few feet later, the stag stopped, gazing at a trio of felines in a clearing to the left. What do you think they're doing?

She looked up. Who knows? They're cats.


Monday, December 23, 2013

Editing, line by line

Editing is an important part of writing. Right now I'm working in final edits--proofreading for grammar and typos and making minor wording changes for easier sentence flow.
Editing: much like this.
(Image: "Leser mit Lupe"
painted by Lesser Ury
public domain in the US)

For this part of editing, it's generally considered best to check your document in a different format.

As for me, I've created a Nook version of book and have been reading it on my Nook. Editing like this is my day job, so this is pretty effective for me. It's a different enough format that my eyes catch things they missed previously. Plus, it was good practice figuring out how to format an e-book.

Other authors I know do things such as read the entire story out loud (ouch--I'd be hoarse for a month!), find a program that will read the story aloud, or read the book backwards sentence by sentence.

What are some of the proofreading methods you've heard of, or tried yourself?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Self-Publishing, Traditional Publishing, and forcing yourself to edit

When I tell other writers I plan on self-publishing, I get an interesting array of responses: "Oh, I'm thinking of that myself" to "Your book isn't bad. Why?" Mostly the former, but still some of the latter.

I expect this variety. The world of publishing is changing so rapidly that writer culture is being left behind--our collective memory is filled with the experiences of people who published several years ago; our mentors are all traditionally published; even the few people who are famous for having made profits self-publishing did so in a system that's already outdated. The only truth is that no method of publishing is a good get-rich-quick plan.

The most common question I've heard is this: "If you're not going traditional, how will you be able to force yourself to take feedback and make the changes your editors suggest?"

I hear authors asking it of themselves as they try to decide between paths. But it's a very misdirected question, and an insidious one. Are you considering self-publishing? Have you asked yourself that question? You shouldn't. Let me rephrase it, and you'll understand why: "How are you going to be able to behave like a professional if there's no one around to force you to act professionally?"

Also, a good cover is a book's suit and tie.
(image by Kristian Bjornard,
from Wikicommons)
Being professional means being able to improve yourself, to seek advice and implement it, to study your field and follow the best practices within. In the case of authors, one aspect of professionalism is accepting feedback, from beta readers and critique partners and writing groups. It means getting an edit, either from an assigned editor or, in self-publishing, an editor you hire.

Do you need the extra push? If no one twists your arm to take their advice, can you make the good judgment and take it anyway?

Let's look at the assumptions behind this question:

  1. There is nothing holding self-publishing authors accountable.
  2. A person will only behave as a professional if forced to.
  3. Traditional publishers will force you to make the edits suggested.
  4. Traditional publishing forces people to act like professionals.

To be professional as an author, you must be able to listen to critique both grammatical and developmental, and to decide with good judgment which feedback will improve your book. You must put your ego aside and make changes. You cannot assume you know more than everyone else around you, and you must trust that the people giving you feedback genuinely want your success. This means you cannot take offense to the feedback you have asked for (note: this does not include situations in which the person is being genuinely offensive and unprofessional themselves--although in those cases, it's usually a bad idea to let them see you being offended). Whether you publish traditionally or independently makes no difference in this attitude.

The first assumption is that there is no one holding self-publishing authors accountable for their product, no pressures to provide highest-quality product (i.e. well-edited content) in self-publishing. That is untrue--the stakes are higher, actually, as the final judges are the readers themselves. There are no middlemen giving you stamps of approval (/publisher names) on the spine of your book, and so there is no one else between you and the consumer (the reader) that the reader will trust to vet you. Thus, the readers become the experts; they may give a traditionally published book a little leeway (well, I don't like it, but it's traditionally published, so I guess someone does) that they won't give you (well, I don't like it, so it must be a bad product). So if you produce less than a professional work, you're hurting your own sales, and your reputation.

But no outside person is forcing you to listen to your editor--indeed, to even get an editor. It's up to you, as a person, to choose whether or not you want to be professional. Most of the successful self-published authors you see? Like most of the successful traditionally published authors, they've chosen to be professional. Readers are attracted to professional-quality books, and the more professional a self-published author is, the more likely the author is to be successful. (Of course there are no guarantees, just an improvement of statistical odds).

From traditionally published authors I've spoken to, life isn't much greener on the other side of the tracks. Yes, they are assigned editors. But many note that not all editors are the same, that some traditional publishers can or choose to only provide minimal editing (and why not? The publishers would rather only accept books that don't need much editing in the first place), that sometimes editing windows are so narrow that the edit will be rushed into being sub-par, and that often the company relies on the author's best judgment in terms of applying edits, with forcing authors to make all edits being relatively uncommon (and typically involving contracts that are not favorable for the author). And since editors make mistakes, too, that's for the best.

Publishing houses prefer making contracts with authors who act professionally. They have professional authors not because they force their authors to be professional, but because they choose authors who already are professional, and end relationships (contracts) as quickly as possible with those who are not. Thus, they expect their authors to exercise good judgment without arm twisting, and as such rarely need to twist arms.

If you have a professional attitude, you are more likely to be accepted by a publisher, because they will prefer to work with you over someone who is unprofessional,and you are more likely to succeed as a self-publisher, because you will probably put out a higher-quality product.

If you decide to self-publish, there is no contract holding you accountable--just your own ethics, your own desire to establish a career and gain readers, your own good sense, and possibly your peer group of fellow self-published authors, your beta readers, and your support network. 

Meanwhile, traditional publishers still do occasionally twist arms, because you know what? It's not possible to force people to act professionally. The choice, in the end, up to you.

So if you ask yourself if you're capable of accepting feedback, you're asking yourself if you have confidence in your ability to have a professional attitude towards your writing career. It's a self-undermining question. The answer, if you plan to succeed, is yes

If the answer is no, you should probably stick to writing just for the fun of it, instead of trying to make a career of it. You'll have more fun, and you won't waste years of your life getting rejection after rejection, or seeing near-zero sales. Writing is fun. There's nothing wrong with writing for joy, with saving stories and sharing them with family and friends who enjoy them, with creating elaborate worlds because doing so is just plain wonderful. Don't ruin that by making it "work."

What does being a professional mean in your other careers? 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Word Lengths of famous books

My novel has about 84,000 words. When you're working with e-books, word count is more important than "page length," as the latter can change due to different font sizes on various e-readers. We're more used to asking about page length, though, when we talk about how long a book is with our friends.

Which left me wondering, where does my novel fall in the terms of word lengths, compared to some of the classics (and, uh, Harry Potter, which I guess we'll call a "new classic" for now)?

So I found this old Publisher Weekly post.

Ethan Frome is just over 30K words. But it's pretty short.

Lord of the Flies is about average, at around 62.5K, and Brave New World comes in at 64.5K, right at the 50% mark of the "average" book length.

According to this excellent list, my book also outweighs The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Scarlet Letter, and The Picture of Dorian Gray.

My manuscript's pretty close in length the second Harry Potter book, The Chamber of Secrets, which falls in at 85K--and which is longer than the first Harry Potter book, at around 77K.

On the other hand, I'm a long ways away from the top word count, War and Peace, which is over 587,000 words.

And even Bram Stoker's Dracula leaves me behind at 160K.

About how many words are some of your favorite classics? Do any of the word lengths surprise you?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Author Website!

With the release of Into the Tides coming up soon, I've begun working on my author website!

It's still under development, but I've added a few features. Many more are planned, such as hopefully fan forums (if I can figure out how to add them, and arrange them to my liking...), deleted scenes, and bonus world information.

Do you visit author websites? If so, what are some of your favorite author websites? What sorts of things made those websites great?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Publishing Industry News

Publishing news and industry blogs for 11/30-12/13.

Publishing News

Apple is protesting having to pay the fee for the court-ordered monitor required by Judge Cote's ruling in the DOJ vs Apple case... and since the monitor is charging $1100 an hour, that's fairly understandable. (For our international readers, that's 6679 yuan, 9111 UAH, 800 Euro, 673 GBP, or 36,086 RUB.) There's also the monitor's supposed "fishing" for dirt, and the fact that the monitor can access employees without legal counsel present (which Apple objects to, calling it a last-minute illegal expansion of the injunction). Judge Cote tells Apple that according to the injunction, the complaint must be worked out with the DOJ first before coming to her; she does, however, reverse the ruling that allowed the monitor to communicate with her without Apple having a legal counsel present.

In the States vs Apple case, Judge Cote approves final e-book settlements for Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster.

Amazon, meanwhile, is not particularly happy with the Supreme Court's refusal to hear their appeal over the ruling that allows New York to collect sales tax for online sales.

Speaking of Amazon, there was a lawsuit filed against Amazon and the major publishing houses by indie booksellers alleging a conspiracy to limit competition through DRM and other methods. The judge tossed the case, though.

Quebec decides to set limits on bookseller discounting on new titles with a new law, coming to the compromise of not quite price-fixing.

If you were published with All Classic Books and you receive an e-mail basically holding your rights for ransom, check out this post from Writer Beware.

Digital retailers are taking advantage of the new rules on bookselling to offer steep discounts on e-books.

Industry Blogs

QueryTracker's Publishing Pulse for 11/29 and 12/13.

On the Editor's Blog, a discussion on using dialogue tags, why they should be used, how they should be used, etc. Most importantly, keep in mind the purpose of tags when writing.

A new member joins the staff of Writer Beware.

If you read QueryShark (and if you write queries, you should), the Shark is trying a new strategy: submitters get up to 100 words to explain why they broke the rules.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch talks about the "old ways" of traditional publishing advertising, why and when they're not for you--and when they are.

Apparently jobs involving intellectual property make up 6% of the GDP, according to the International Intellectual Property Alliance.

According to the Pew Digital Library Report, nearly 90% of people ages 16+ said the closing of libraries would hurt their communities.

On QueryTracker, Jane Lebak talks about what's necessary for finding a good critique--often, it's reciprocation, but you'll probably have to start off with a soft touch. Ask Krafton explains "deep" point of view.

Here's 25 literary journals and magazines that are accepting submissions.

Amazon releases a short fiction imprint. It also reveals an interesting feature called Kindle FreeTime, an app that allows parents to set limits on the content kids can interact with.

The GoodReads Choice Awards are out.

What other publishing news have you encountered in the past two weeks?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Inspirations: Blue Butterflies

Actually taken after I chose to use blue butterflies.
Butterflies are a major part of my upcoming release, Into the Tides. But where'd I get the idea?

I's always the innocent things that are the creepiest, that stay with you the longest, when they're portrayed as evil. There's a reason people find old dolls and small children speaking in perfect harmony scary. I wanted something innocuous, something that scares almost no one. And I wanted to make it terrifying, because I wanted my novel to come alive for my readers, and to stick with them after they'd finished reading.

I wanted to make an impression. A terrifying impression.

One day I was surfing the net and found a gif of a monarch butterfly migration taking flight in Mexico. I thought, "There's something beautiful."

So I chose butterflies.

Blue butterflies, especially. I had this mental image of swarms of butterflies in blue, which just feels more magical to me than orange and gold monarch butterflies. Although the first butterflies you meet in the story aren't color-specified, in my head they're blue and white.

What other usually innocent creatures have you encountered in a novel portrayed as something scary?

Monday, December 9, 2013

My Life as an NPC

Last week, I had the most admirable vacation to a lovely place known as Generic Video Game Land. I took on the relaxing role of a non-playable character (NPC).
Press "A" to talk.

Let me recount some of the high points. Actually, the only high points.

"Why hello, stranger. What an odd outfit you're wearing. Are you from outside?"

"Why hello, stranger. What an odd outfit you're wearing. Are you from outside?"

"Why hello, stranger. What an odd outfit you're wearing. Are you from outside?"

"Why hello, stranger. What an odd outfit you're wearing. Are you from outside?"

"Eliza has a remarkable collection of chickens. But they keep escaping."

"Can you help me find my lost kitten?"

"You found my kitten! Thank you! Here, have this. It's a lovely glass bottle!"

"My child would love a necklace of gold scales. I need five scales to make one for her, but I can't leave my fruit stand to get any."

"You found me a gold scale! If you find me four more, I can make that necklace!"

"You've found four gold scales! Just one more to go!"

"You've found four gold scales! Just one more to go!"

"Oh! Five gold scales. Now I can make a necklace. Here, have this worthless piece of junk I found laying around in my backyard. Surely trash will tell you how much I value your help. Er, I mean, take this dirty bronze medal. I'm sure it will be useful to you in your travels, if only you could shine it up."

After that they told me my vacation was over and I had to go home. But it was still a lovely week.

"No, don't leave. It's dangerous out there."

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Best Insults

Every Southern woman knows the best insults are those fit for polite company.

"Well, at least you're pretty." (Translation: you're dumb as a brick. Quite unisex these days.)

"Bless his heart." (Translation: depends on context, and sometimes even isn't an insult, but "what an idiot" in the most frequent insulting sense)

"My, isn't that precious?" (I mock your pain as your children do something horribly embarrassing/how pathetic that thing you've done is.)

 The British are also masters of the understated, polite-company put-down. From "That's interesting" (I'm so bored) to "How nice" (Why can't you see I don't care?), the civil tongue cuts sharper than steel.

On the other hand, when writing a story, one of my favorite things is coming up with fitting insults. In high fantasy this is especially delightful, as calling someone a "cow-brained son of a turd and termite" might be standard practice.

There's something satisfying about absurd obscenity. It's a fine tradition--Shakespeare one of the masters--and never fails to amuse. "If leaf-blowers held a convention in a garbage dump, it would smell better than you." "You're as lovely as the backside of an angler fish." "Learn to shoot a bow, you cycloptic, goat-fingered sea slug!"

Contemporary fantasy has more constraints, since the characters should sound like realistic modern-day people in their speech. But that doesn't mean you can't occasionally slip something interesting in.

What are some of the best "polite company" insults you've seen writers use?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Wednesday Writing Exercise: SASE

From writers sending out queries to students sending out school applications, almost everyone has heard of the dreaded SASE: Self-addressed, self-stamped envelope (yes, even today in the digital age!). It implies that something will be returned.

But what happens when you receive a SASE? Sometimes we get them in the form of bills, but what else might a character get?

Today's Wednesday Writing Exercise is to have a character receive mail that includes a SASE. What does the character get, and from whom? What must the character send back?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Settings real and fictional

One of my favorite real-life settings is fog, which seems to eat at the edges of the world until the only left is a tunnel around you (although it isn't quite so loveable when I drive...)

Another favorite is to see the clouds drifting through the mountains in summer, white wisps tucked away between peaks such that you'd never know it was there until you rounded the corner and found rain.

Twilight and gloaming also have a strange appeal, because that's when real life seems surreal, everything washed in semi-light that makes it seem like anything could be hidden in the corners, from elves to spies. 

And of course, I've always wanted to use a tropical island as a backdrop to a story, because then I'd have to go and do research. Oh, horror...

What's your favorite natural setting? Is there a setting you'd love to see in a book? One you'd love to experience in real life?