Friday, May 30, 2014

Publishing Industry News

This week's publishing news post covers 5/17-5/30. It's been a busy couple of weeks this time around!

Publishing News

In the Amazon vs Hachette battle, Amazon posts a blog announcing they are in fact officially purchasing fewer Hachette titles and do not see a resolution coming soon between the two companies. To mitigate the effect on authors, they offer to help pay 50% of an "author pool" to go to affected authors if Hachette pays the other 50% (similar to what was done for Macmillan authors in the past). Amazon further escalates the battle by removing pre-order buttons from Hachette novels, substituting e-mail sign-ups "for when the book is in stock." At first they claimed this was a reation to Hachette's been slow filling orders, but the blog makes it official that it's a negotiation tactic. Hachette responds to Amazon's blog with a comment that Amazon's actions aren't for the common good, and they will negotiate with Amazon afterward when the actual damages to authors can be evaluated. Both companies couch their exchanges in positive descriptions of their previous interactions. The Washington Post (disclosure: owned by Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO) also reports some authors have mentioned raises in the prices of their books.

In the DOJ vs Apple lawsuit, US attorneys argue that the ruling against Apple should be reaffirmed and the verdict should stand and not be appealed.

Self-publishing online platform Smashwords and digital library Overdrive reach an agreement to help put self-published books in libraries.

In the Open Road vs HarperCollins case over the e-book rights to Julie of the Wolves, HarperCollins seeks an injunction barring Open Road from continuing to sell the e-books. The trial ruled that HarperCollins owns the digital rights to the book, but Open Road is seeking an appeal and for now continues to sell the digital book.

Goodreads adds an "Ask the Author" feature through which readers may submit questions to authors.

Publishers Weekly integrates reviews for self-published books into their regular reviews. They also start BookLife, a self-publishing platform.

Target pairs up with Librify to begin offering e-books for sale with in-store displays.

Industry Blogs

QueryTracker's Publishing Pulse for 5/16, 5/23, and 5/30.

On QueryTracker, Sarah Pinneo discusses what an author should do when her (or his) publisher merges.

Editor Jordan London explains how editors go about making offers on books--what happens between them first being interested until they make the offer.

Agent Janet Reid gives advice and answers questions. If a rejection from an agency without a submission pool uses "we," does that mean it's been rejected by all the agents? (Sometimes agents use the "royal" we for rejections. It may be find to query a different agent.) If your manuscript is rejected, is it a good idea to publish it on FictionPress for critique? (No, Reid thinks it's a terrible idea.)

And Reid advises that you do not call your novel "a literary product," do not use incomprehensible sentences, and do not compare yourself to the greats. Also avoid overly formal introductions, don't describe women solely by looks and men by actions, and don't tell the agent you like to read.

Agent Rachelle Gardner talks about what happens when an author strongly disagrees with the editor. She also offers 11 tips for crafting the perfect pitch.

Agent Kristin Nelson shares the top culprits for why agents stop reading manuscripts.

On the Editor's Blog, a checklist for cleaning up a manuscript. Also, a list for spelling interjections and common onomatopoeias.

8 tips for writers using Pinterest on Social Media for Writers.

On the Futuristic, Fantasy, and Paranormal Blog, Elysa Hendricks discusses plot, what it is and what forms it comes in.

A new site offers poetry read by famous people, available for listening to online for free, or downloading for a fee.

Publishers Weekly documents the speculation at BookExpo America on if anyone in the current market can stand against Amazon's powerful influence, and the fears that there may soon be few brick-and-mortar retailers. Smashwords CEO Mark Coker also weighs in with his opinion.

Trying to decide between indie or traditional publishing? Erik Wecks has a nice infographic comparing them.

Time Magazine looks at the growing numbers of interracial romance novels in recent years, reflecting a diverse society. Time also reports on the dropping of American books from the UK curriculum.

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

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The animals of the Lost

What does the fox say...before it becomes a fox?

In the Broken Powers series, people with Powers who run into concentrated amounts of wild magic are transformed into animal-like creatures that are cold to the touch, called the Lost. Kelly and her friends run into a number of Lost in their journey.

What animal a person becomes is based on their emotional state when they're being changed, and the location in which they changed. The mental state is preserved, and most people they can interact only with other Lost of the same species. Here are just a few of the animal types, and what these Lost were feeling before being transformed:

Butterflies are understandably common--they were panicking. These were mostly people who saw the magic disaster approaching, so those who would have a had a good view south. They had the run-in-circles-screaming kind of reaction to seeing the magic.

On the other hand, raccoons were also afraid, but less so than the panicking crowd. Many of them had enough rationality to try taking shelter in the closest sturdy-looking location, or were afraid for a reason less threatening than the magic.

Foxes are people who were, right before being hit by magic, feeling socially competitive, such as in a team sport. Many either were inside, or so focused on what they were doing they didn't see the explosion of magic that swallowed them. Robins would have been feeling individually competitive, focused on being a single winner in a competition.

Beavers would have purposeful: people engaged in work or study or such, doing a task that required full attention but was not overly exciting. Bees would have been irritable, feeling grumpy and out-of-sorts. Herons, meanwhile, would have been downright angry.

Cats were people who were engaged in artistic or creative pursuits. They were "in the zone," so to speak, and passionately creating something. Rats would have been methodically creative, less artistic fugue and more methodically outlining or plugging away on a necessary but less-loved part of an overall enjoyable project.
Hm, I wonder what that--

Squirrels were feeling cheerful and energetic, most likely spending time with their friends. They were calm, content, and energized, fully engaged with the people around them.

Ants were bored, while deer were confused about what was happening, just slightly afraid but mostly wondering what was going on.

Dogs would have been feeling responsible for others, but calm. Geese would have also been feeling protective about others, but also determined and a bit afraid.

Otters would be those who were confused but curious, investigating something odd.

Mice would have been those who were romantically-minded, while snakes would have been sleepy and comfortable.

Of course, there are many more, and Lost in different locations might become different animals despite feeling the same. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Blog hop: Sucker Literary volume 3

This morning I'm participating in a blog hop to celebrate the release of Sucker Literary, volume 3
Bullied and alone, Ainsley seeks refuge in the arms of a strange boy. Time is slipping away for overachieving Sadie Lin, but reigniting an old flame might help. Scarred by a pressuring ex, Alexandra finally faces the rain. “Pasty and chubby” Charlotte makes a public play for the “Tan and Smooth” king. The beautiful girl in the black, lacy push-up bra says that it’s time for Brenn to stop lying . . . at least to herself. A halfway house is no home for Dawn—or is it? How will Dana survive knowing everyone at school thinks she’s a monster, when they just may be right? JJ and her crush finally get a moment alone—at his girlfriend’s hottest party of the year. Sixteen-year old Sarah prepares for her first day of school by chaining up her Mamí in her bedroom. Alyssa’s life is a well-rehearsed ballet until a tragedy sends her hurtling towards a fall. Loving a boy is as simple as chemistry . . . unless that boy is an unstable element.

Eleven stories that delve into the depths of our experience—driven by fierce and untouched love that makes us seek, lose, fear, desire, long, reflect, survive, steal, protect, fall, and confess.
Sounds interesting to me!

I'm in on this thanks to Margaret S. McGraw:
Margaret S. McGraw’s imagination draws on her lifelong love of science fiction, fantasy, and anthropology. Her education and experience range from anthropology and communication through web design and IT management. Margaret lives in North Carolina with her daughter and an array of cats, dogs, Macs, and PCs, and too many unfinished craft projects. Her writing includes a daily blog, several short stories currently in circulation for publication, and two novels in progress: Mira’s Children is a YA science fiction adventure, andOceanSong is a fantasy begun in the NaNoWriMo 2012 challenge. For more details on her writing, visit her daily blog at

So here I'm going to tell you a little more about my own work!

1) What am I working on? 

I'm working on the second book in my Broken Powers series, Into the Storms (working title). You can find the first one here, called Into the Tides.

In the second book, rock star Trax struggles to master his newly acquired magic, because if he can't, he'll never be able to sing on stage again. But his magic threatens more than his beloved career: as the only person to ever acquire magic mid-life, he's the target of rogue scientists wanting to steal magic for themselves, and they'll do anything to get him for experimentation--putting his family and his beautiful new friend Elizabeth on the line. Trax's magic is all that stands between his loved ones and evil--but he'll have to learn to control it to save them.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre? 

The Broken Worlds series is a contemporary fantasy with romantic elements and a touch of geekery!  While most urban and contemporary fantasies these days have vampires or shifters or other supernatural creatures, the Broken World features humans with specific types of magic called Powers. Each Power type, from strength magic to music magic to illusion magic, has certain unique abilities determined by genetics and strength of magic. While magic itself might seem like a huge advantage, culturally this version of Earth considers magic to be a blue-collar ability, and limits the political influence of magic users, making it as much a curse as a blessing.

 Wild magic carries its own danger, as it can change people into animal-like creatures--but instead of shifters or werewolves, these creatures are monsters enslaved to the magic. It's a humans-only world with magic that works by its own rules.

In addition, as a lover of video games and other geeks, I delight in working references to my favorite fandoms into my books, in ways that won't distract non-fans from the story. As the story is set on an alternate modern-day Earth, Trax and Elizabeth are both gamers themselves, and their love takes shape over video games and other geekeries.

3) Why do I write what I do? 

I love it! I've always loved fantasy, in all its forms. And I love a good love story, so I knew relationships had to play a role in my own books. Plus I've always been frustrated by the lack of regular family relationships in many traditional fantasy stories (ever heard the "everybody's an orphan" sydnrome?), and those that have good family stories are some of my favorites. These are the books I always wanted to read: set on modern Earth, with geekery, love, family, and magic. What's not to love?

4) How does my writing process work?

I'm more pantser than plotter, but I do plot out a vague outline of my story begin. Then I start writing, and the characters change the story on me, so I re-plot. Repeat ad infinitum, or until the book is finished. Then I go back and seed in extras, like foreshadowing for plot developments that appeared later, or bonus developments for the plot that you won't notice until the second read. I'll usually add more details and smooth out plot holes, and then get various beta readers to find plot holes I missed the first time through!

Of course, you'll also probably find a mug of tea by my elbow as I write. I just can't write without a good mug of tea!

 Thanks for dropping by, and I hope you'll take a moment to check out Sucker Literary, volume 3!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Choosing to plot or pants

Deciding if you're a plotter or a pantser (short for seat-of-the-pants, or unplotted, writing) is a trial-and-error process. Doesn't matter how much research other people do, you'll have to do your own trying, and your own erring, to figure out which is better for you.

That's okay. Writing isn't a fast process. Authors write hundreds of thousands of words before they ever publish. Not all of these are novels, or things that are ever publicly shown--they might be journals, letters, fanfics, science papers, legal papers, school essays, or more. But it takes time to learn to write well. So if you're at the point of trying to decide which is best for you, don't be intimidated by the amount of writing you'll need to do. Like becoming good at a sport, writing a good book requires practice.

Everyone should try plotting, and everyone should try pantsing. Do it more than once. But I don't recommend writing 6 failed novels--try short stories, try character sketches, try roleplaying. Find out if you prefer performing improv or memorizing scripts. And know that most of us are happiest somewhere in between.

You'll do a lot of writing before you're ready for publishing. Much of it may happen while you're still a teen, or even a pre-teen. Or, it may all happen just after you've retired, or while you're struggling to balance single parenthood and a dead-end but secure job that has you in front of a computer, babysitting a seldom-used help desk and mostly just watching people sweat. No matter how it happens, no matter the reason we start, we all start the same--we start writing.

And find it's fun.

Then we try crafting. It's like writing, but it has intent. An idea. Sometimes we plot it from beginning to end, intending a masterpiece, and instead find ourselves holding a soulless abomination with all the first-effort pride it deserves. Other times we start from our hearts and pour out hundreds of hand-written pages with soulful, well-rounded characters and less plot than the average raisin, and find ourselves filled with all the first-effort shame it deserves. (Pride and shame are the concurrent souls of creation, and neither comes alone.)

After you've gotten your first efforts aside, try both forms, plotting and pantsing, more than once. Try them in different forms, be it the snowflake method, outlining, or notecards; be it barely-there outlines, flash fiction, prompt-of-the-day, or character backstories.

Interchange them. Experience will improve your writing quality, and if you do all one and then switch to do all the other, the other will inevitably begin to look better. But it won't tell you if the new method is really better for you.

So switch it up.

It's like a trip: Maybe you'll have more fun mapping out
your route first, or maybe you'd prefer  flying
as the wind takes you.
Write longer things. Write shorter things. Revise. You'll discover whether your hatred of revision outweighs your hatred of contrivance (and you'll do both before learn not to do them). You'll learn if you are capable of creating deep and intricate characters within the confines of a pre-set plot, or if your plot must evolve as you write to reflect the deep and intricate characters who refuse to be confined. Both are okay, but you'll find only one is true for you.

You'll know because the words come, if not easily (writing is almost never easy), then easier. You'll know because you'll spend slightly less time frustrated and slightly more time in that delightful zone of creation, where scenes pour from your fingers and you can barely be bothered to go back and correct minor typos, because there is so much more in your head and you must get it down.

That is where you belong. When you have chosen which you prefer, begin writing something longer. It doesn't have to be a novel, just something long enough to play with.

But you're not done yet.

Because all you have is a preference backbone. You have one thing that works. Write this piece, beginning to end, but add a little more of the technique you don't use. Lightly plot a chapter ahead if you're a pantser. Choose a single scene further in and set everything to work towards that goal. If you're plotter, give one scene only the bare-bones plot. Leave a section blank and fill it in at the end, no plot, no instructions.

Maybe that scene will be the hardest you've ever written. Maybe it will turn out badly, and you'll go back and redo it with your preferred method. But still, you need to try. Because most of us aren't fully one or the other, and if you don't try, you won't know.

And even after you've tried, and decided yes or no, still take time every now and then to learn more. Read an article every few months about a way different from yours. Don't be afraid to pepper in something different if you're stuck.

But now, now you know if you're a plotter or a pantser. Now you can start writing that book you wanted. Now you know which method is best for your creative process.

Just don't be surprised if it slowly changes over time. You'll change, too. You'll keep learning. Even after sitting on the New York Times Bestseller list for a year, you'll still be learning, and still be changing.

But now you know where to start.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Into the Tides Book Bonus: Mechany's

In Into the Tides, Kelly often refers to her old school, Mechany's School for the Magically Disabled. As a woman with the genes for music magic, being tone-deaf meant she couldn't use her magic as intended. As Kelly puts it:
The school courtyard might look something like this. It's a
very nice place, as the staff and students have to reside
there 24-7 during the school year, and as it does have
private corporate donors who can afford to make it
a desirable place to go.
Dad had tried to tutor me, at first, but not even he could fix the fact that I’d inherited Mom’s complete tone deafness. So while Trax had been taking full advantage of his lack of Powers to do what Dad never could, selling his first record at 17, I had been getting shuttled off to Mechany's, a super-intensive school for “fixing” magical learning disabilities in students of all ages. I wasn't powerful enough to be dangerous, but I was powerful enough that I could have been useful—if I could use my magic.
While Mechany's, located in the South, became trapped in a bubble of magic with the rest of region three years before the start of the novel, Kelly spent much of her young adulthood there. Magic tends to develop with puberty, and so although Kelly describes the school as "all ages," mostly it's grades 6-college, with many of the college courses open to students of all ability levels, including non-magical students. Courses in grades 6-high school include standard maths, literature, history, and science; but there is also a great focus on magic theory, and magic practicums are required for every student. The school day is 8 hours, but this includes activity time, study time, and meal breaks.

While, like with learning disabilities, magic disabilities cannot actually be "cured," students can learn to use their magic fluently. The focus of the school is finding ways to allow students whose magic functions abnormally to achieve normal, near-normal, or alternatively functional* magic usage.
(*Magic abilities are determined by genetics. Each type of magic is called a Power. Frequently variations are minor and specific to the individual. Occasionally, significant variations that are highly unrelated to the parent Power may occur. If the individual exceeds a certain strength of magic [is third class or above], and/or if the capabilities are fully passed on to descendants, the new abilities are considered to be a new type of Power. The regeneration Power, which allows for healing wounds, for example, originally branched off from strength Power, which increases the rate at which muscle develops and causes muscles to heal more quickly.)
Students with unusual impairments may (and usually do) agree to be paired with tutor-researchers, who study magic developmental abnormalities and magic in general. These tutor-researchers give them one-on-one aid, and in return collect data on the abnormality that is shared with the college and eventually with the scientific community as a whole (through papers in peer-reviewed journals). The process by which students' issues are resolved are shared freely among the tutor-researchers and among similar schools across the world, although as much of the student's personal information and the researcher's conclusions and data as possible are kept private.

Students with common magical disabilities for which there are known or effective methods of solving, or students whose magical disabilities seem easily resolved and who are in particularly large classes, may not have their own tutors. They get their aid solely through the magical practicum courses, which often involve up to fifteen students in one-hour courses each day. The teachers are highly experienced, with new teachers serving as apprentices for several years with more experienced teachers. In addition, larger classes usually a teacher aide, and students in the college studying magic often spend semesters helping out in the classroom. Because the school is privately funded, teachers and aides are paid far more than the national average teacher salary.

Students in lower grades are either students who develop magic early, physically develop early, or are the children of school staff. Since the school is a boarding school, sometimes children with normal-functioning magic or no magic at all will accompany their siblings. These classes tend to be very small.

Mechany's College is a private college dedicated the study of cognitive sciences and magic, including the majors magic (general), magic development, magic research methods, magical abnormalities, and other magic-related majors; as well as majors in standard cognitive sciences such as developmental and education psychology. Students without magical abnormalities are encouraged to apply for full tuition (minus whatever student aid they can get, of course). Former Mechany's students who have mastered their abilities and returned to regular high schools (or graduated from Mechany's, in the case of those who mastered their abilities but elected to pay full boarding school tuition instead of transferring) may enter the college for half in-state tuition. Current Mechany's students who have not fully mastered their magic by the completion of high school are encouraged (or in cases of public safety, required) to attend the college free of charge until they and their professors are confident of ability mastery. In some cases, this may include graduate and post-graduate courses.

A very few individuals with particularly unstable abilities have been extended "lifelong fellowships," and are given positions in the schools, where researchers continue to try to help them achieve control while allowing them the dignity of full-time employment and keeping them in a location prepared for and capable of dealing with magical mishaps.

The major types of common magical disabilities, and some strategies for overcoming them:

Mismagica ("Magical dysgraphia"): a student attempts to use one magical ability, but uses a different one instead.
  •  Some treatments: holding a different 3D shape when using each ability, so as to physically give shape to ability. Practicing thinking of each ability as a different color, and "casting colors" instead of using the separate abilities. Using gestures specific to each ability. Say the name of the ability to be used.
Misaccuria ("Magical inaccuracy"): Student attempts to use magic on one subject, but uses it on an unintended subject instead.
  • Some treatments: Implementing a target-identification routine, where student gets in the habit of consciously verifying the target before using magic. Adding visual markers to targets. Encouraging targets to give audible markers. Saying the name of the target. Establishing physical contact with desired subject (for some abilities wherein distance is a factor in determining ability level, this method causes the individual to receive a lower class designation). 
Misquantia ("Magical dyscalculia"): Student attempts to use magic at a certain strength, but actual amount of magic used is different from the amount intended (i.e., planning to light a candle and setting the desk on fire instead, or planning to float a stack of books but only picks up one instead, or fails entirely despite total weight being within technical capabilities)
  • Some treatments: Exceptional levels of practice. Using visual reminders or hand signals (e.g., pinching fingers for smaller amounts of magic and holding them further apart for more magic). Practicing regular meditation. Only using magic while meditating. If linked to emotions, practicing emotional control. Listening to classical music or music with strong, regular beats when using magic. Removing distractions and using magic only in distraction-free environments. 
Mislexia ("Magical dyslexia"): (Specific to physical sense-enhancing abilities) Student senses incorrect data through magic (e.g., travel Power senses a tree a foot further away than it is and runs into it; a telekenetic Power senses a book to the right when it is really to the left; a music Power hears notes in a song in the incorrect order)
  • Some treatments: Avoid relying on single sensory input from magic (open eyes and look around when moving; look at object being moved, or stop using magic for 5 seconds and then re-verify location of objects; record music and listen to three times). Extend senses slower and focus for longer (students may experience sensation of objects "shifting" into actual place under extended focus). Hold breath when using magic. Listen to repetitive beat when extending senses. Tap a beat when using sensing ability.
Physical-based impairments (such as a tone-deaf student with music magic, or a blind student with illusion magic): These students' magic normally takes a slightly different than usual form to compensate for the physical handicap (the physical handicap must be present at onset of abilities for this to occur). The magic differences may or may not be genetic, but 90% do not show up in descendants without the physical handicap, and those abilities that do often fade within 2-4 generations.
While the magic adjusts to the student's physical form, the adjustment is not always perfect. Many students are only be able to make partial use of their abilities, and are designated as a lower class level based on the skills they can use.
Other students are incapable of some standard abilities for their technical class level, but those they can perform are much stronger than usual; the student may therefore be classed higher than their technical level. It is also not uncommon for a student to actually fully develop a higher or lower level of magic than would be expected based on family history (e.g., a telekinetic Power with motor impairment and two parents of fourth class developing into a second class telekinetic Power). However, individuals in the former situation, once their abilities are fully tested, are considered stable and would visit an institution such as Mechany's only for identification of available abilities and strengths of those abilities. Individuals in the latter situation are not considered to have a magical disability, and would not attend Mechany's for specialized instruction or testing at all.
  • Treatment: Helping the student discover the alternative form and realize how to access it, and best use it. This may take a long time of trial and error, or may be intuitive. Treatments and strategies vary per student and usually depend on student's Power type and physical disability.
Powered individuals with certain cognitive-affecting disorders, such as individuals with autism, brain injuries, Down Syndrome, or limited cognitive development, are also served at Mechany's, even if their abilities are normal for the Power type, especially if the traditional school systems' services and the local Power Licensing office's services are insufficient for the student's abilities. Students with special needs are included in normal class settings to the greatest extent possible. If needed, staff may train the entire family in helping the affected family member control and deal with magic. Usually this is sufficient and in most cases, the family returns home to implement these strategies, staying with contact from local Power Licensing offices if they need additional minor assistance.
In some cases, complete control may not be possible, and (as with students with uncontrollable abilities), the family members interested in doing so and (if capable) the individual may be offered full-time employment as possible. However, the government also has several programs to help families in this situation, and many elect to take advantage of those instead, as those are frequently closer to home.

Being tone deaf, Kelly always considered her music magic useless. But when her neighbor Derik invites her on a salvage mission in the magic-devastated American South, she discovers she can hear the voices of the people lost.

Now, hoping to save the family she lost, she'll seek out a way to collapse the bubble of magic drowning most of the region. But Derik and her only surviving relative--her twin brother--aren't about to let her face being trapped forever in the magic herself, or death by its monsters.

Trying to get back everyone she's lost might just cost her everyone she has left.

Available on:

Monday, May 19, 2014

Geekery: Cooperative games worth playing

So I love a good game. Yes, even board games. My favorite are cooperative games, in which you battle against the board game, and either win as a team or lose as a team. Here are three games I'd recommend:

Pandemic: (You may have seen the app version of this) In Pandemic the board game, you and your cooperating players are tasked with stopping 4 virulent plagues. You "research" to find the cures for each. When all four plagues have a cure, you win... but while you're researching, the plagues are spreading, and if you don't devote time to preventing outbreaks, the whole world will be lost. Can you save the world?

You play as one of several roles, and each role has a special ability. There are special cards that cause outbreaks, or disease-splosions, and you can choose how many you want to add to the deck. It's a hard game, but a really fun one; and on this list I'd say it's the best to introduce someone to cooperative games. 30min-2hours, depending on the players.

Betrayal at House on the Hill: Mostly a cooperative game. You're exploring a haunted house, and weird things keep happening. Suddenly, something goes wrong! One player becomes the bad guy, and the rest of the players must work together to stop the evil before it destroys the party. A lot of fun, but with some creepy themes. It's more fun the more your evil-convert gets into their part. It can be pretty complicated, but once you pick it up, it's lots of fun, and a fairly quick play. 30min-1hour.

Arkham Horror: It's an awesome game, but it can get long. With three people we averaged 2-4 hours. You're living in the city of Arkham in the 1920s, and strange things are happening. Portals to other dimensions open up, monsters are appearing on the streets, and you and your allies--from tommy-gun wielding mafia men to the local mystery writer--are all that stands between Earth and the eldritch terrors trying to awaken.

I'd spare Arkham Horror for more advanced players, but it's one of my favorites. Worth a try, especially if Lovecraftian themes are your cup of tea.

Do you have a favorite cooperative board game?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Publishing Industry News

This week's publishing news and industry blogs covers 5/3-5/16.

Publishing News

Amazon's up to its elbows in another publisher-retailer scuffle, with Hachette claiming the "out of stock" and long shipping conditions are a result of Amazon deliberately discouraging customers from their titles. The Association of Authors Representatives informs Amazon that holding authors' livelihoods hostage is deplorable--although the AAR doesn't go so far as to claim to know all the details, or to side with Hachette in how things should play out. (This wouldn't be the first time Amazon played sales to force a publisher to give a better deal.) Books-A-Million, meanwhile, stocks up on Hachette titles, promises immediate availability, and offers customer discounts to boost sales.

Authors published by Ellora's Cave may have noticed royalty problems or delays--Ellora's Cave states that the problem comes from a software issue, and the publisher is now manually making royalty payments until the software problems get worked out.

A pre-trial schedule for the proposed lawsuit against vanity publisher Author Solutions is posted.

The Authors' Guild appeals a ruling that granted summary judgment to Google in the Google book-scanning case.

Apple wants to send the decision on the class-action case by the states to the Second Circuit--according to Apple, to spare the courts time and money; according to the states, to further delay the damages trial.

Schoolkids can now borrow e-books through their schools and libraries on the Kindle.

Industry Blogs

QueryTracker's Publishing Pulse for 5/9.

Publishers' Weekly looks at what issues play into the Amazon-Hachette quarrel, what the stakes are, and what the implications might be.

 Agent Janet Reid answers questions and offers advice. Is it okay to ask an agent for a referral in a query if you think they're too busy for you? (Agents are the worst people to ask, and have more confidence.) Can you hire an agent with an up-front fee? (Likely technically yes, but probably not the sort of agent you actually want. Steer clear.) If you're sending a snail-mail query, don't include extras. Janet also explains a contract clause in answer to a rights question--you should probably just read this one yourself. And, uh, read your contracts, even if it's for the second book in a series and things were great for the first book. And don't format your e-mail query like a business letter. The agent doesn't care what your physical address is.

Agent Rachelle Gardner describes the stages of the editorial process.

Acquiring editors in the UK describe what they're looking for.

The New Yorker takes a look at how Harlequin went from being synonymous with romance to being bought by HarperCollins.

On Writer Beware, Victoria Strauss updates us on Robert Fletcher, now required to pay author restitution after a settlement for, er, a lot of stuff. Also, Author Solutions is now expanding Singapore and Africa, so more people may soon find themselves dealing with the infamous vanity publisher.

The Editor's Blog discusses the choice between italics and quotation marks, and which is appropriate when.

Hillary Rettig on the Futuristic, Fantasy, and Paranormal blog guest posts on how to use non-linear writing to write more quickly. Gemma Juliana talks about world-building and how to make your world support your story, and Jessie Donovan adds more things to remember when building your world.

An old link I missed a while back, but Jami Gold talks about how to use macros to edit in MS Word.

Publishing Trendsetter offers an infographic of the "Life cycle of a book in translation."

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

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Book Bonus: Otters Up, Pollution Down

In the world of Into the Tides, a disaster that trapped the South in a bubble of magic seems to have originated from the coast. As a result, much of the population of coastal cities have migrated to inner-continental locations. The city of Madison, WI, has in particular seen exponential growth, and in the ensuing development the lakes became polluted and local wildlife fled the scene.

Local residents have been working hard in the past two years to clean the lakes and return them to their former beauty. Lately their efforts appear to bearing fruit. Reporter Sandra Collins writes an article on the success.


A clip from The Daily News, Monday, January 18, during the novel Into the Tides
Madison, Wisconsin:

Otters Up, Pollution Down
by Sandra Collins

Local lake ecologists hail the return of otters to Lake Mendota as a sign that recent environmental efforts are paying off. The first family is thought to have established permanent residence late last fall, in the form of a family of male otters having migrated for better food availability, as sign of the success of recent fish conservation efforts. Since then, more otters have moved into the area. Ecologists estimate the current population to be approximately 40 individuals in 3 families. None have yet taken residence in Lake Monona.

Local university students are credited with spearheading the efforts to clean both lakes. Sponsored by the marine biology department at the university, the Friends of the Lakes organization has solicited the cooperation of local businesses to reduce pollution through voluntary recycling programs, green packaging, drives to reduce waste, and other innovations. Furthermore, local residents prevented over-fishing the lakes through increased reporting of poachers and illegal fishing. Student volunteer organizations, in cooperation with the local residents, have continued the yearly Spring Cleaning to remove waste from the lakes and shores.

Thanks to the efforts of the community, the marine biodiversity is flourishing, even as the community continues its unprecedented growth. The Marine Biology department promises to continue to raise awareness on best practices through community education efforts. Meanwhile, legislators move to protect our valuable natural resources with new laws limiting acceptable construction runoff and the banning use of certain pesticides. As a result, Madison has been named "The Greenest Metropolis" in a local Times Magazine.

This subspecies of otter has shown a lack of fear of humans, and has a high sensitivity to magic. Joggers should be aware that they may be followed by otters. However, the otters should not be approached, as they are wild animals. Powered individuals are especially likely to be followed. Please do not feed or approach the animals, as dependency on humans may expose them to potential threats or reduce their viability should migration be necessary. City planners have begun setting up designated otter viewing points in Governor Nelson State Park and at various points around the lake. With conscientious use of such locations, Madison residents can ensure the otters continue to feel welcome and thrive within our community.

Being tone deaf, Kelly always considered her music magic useless. But when her neighbor Derik invites her on a salvage mission in the magic-devastated American South, she discovers she can hear the voices of the people lost.

Now, hoping to save the family she lost, she'll seek out a way to collapse the bubble of magic drowning most of the region. But Derik and her only surviving relative--her twin brother--aren't about to let her face being trapped forever in the magic herself, or death by its monsters.

Trying to get back everyone she's lost might just cost her everyone she has left.

Available on:

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Last call for kittens!

I posted part one of the kittens' journey. Edit: The babies have now gone to their new families--They all now have homes!

If you want to adopt a baby herd-baby, check out your local shelter. It's full of animals looking for loving homes, and they'll always know you as the human who rescued them. Or inquire at your local Second Chance, SPCA, or other animal rescue and adoption organization.

Here are the kittens:

One of our kittens had a stubby tail. I'm happy to say it's healed over nicely! Because of his tiny size, we couldn't get it operated on yet, but it seems to have healed on its own. He's just as active and spry as all his siblings--actually, he's one of the most playful kittens. He'll be a good companion, loves snuggling and playing both.

We also still have a tortiseshell kitten who needs a home. Her twin has been adopted, but this little sweetie is still up for grabs! Like her brother, she's a snuggler. EDIT: She's also been adopted! Yay!

To be honest, I can't tell the difference between her and
her twin from the pictures.

The one with white paws is definitely not her.

I'm pretty sure this is her. She's more shy than her sister...
though don't worry, she loves people!

Probably her sister Kiki. Probably.

I made a kitten ad.

Then there's the rest of the family:
Nymph has white paws and a white chin. Sorry, guys,
she's taken!

Mama lets us get pretty close these days. She's doing well, too.
The kittens are eating solid food, too... but they'll still grab a snack
when they can convince mama to let them.

Nymph being cute.
Oh, and also a video of the babies being adorable.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Monday Geekery

So I came across this the other day, and realized that maybe I need to include printed makeup in my near-future. Who needs to buy a compact when you can print one?

And then I came across the thought that maybe plastic could heal itself--drop your (future) smartphone? Don't worry; one day it might heal that crack in a couple of weeks.

I love science.

I've also just started playing Four Swords. Never got it before because I didn't have the company to rope into being 2nd player. Being a Zelda fan, this always grated on me, but not much more than any of the other games I didn't have the consoles for (Being a gamer on a budget: is there a crueler kind of love?). Fortunately, the "No 2nd Player for Zelda" problem has been solved, so play on! 

Graphics are very old-school in this particular game. It's a flashback to your 8-bit '90s. It took me a little while to get used to going between 3-D style game mechanics (most of the world) and 2-D style movement (in rooms and caves; think older Super Marios where you climb up the ladder and fall down). Needless to say, horse racing at Tingle's involved a lot of bouncing horses off walls... Link eventually figured out how to make the horse go forward, jump, and steal all the force orbs. 

Of course it's the standard "Defeat the dungeons and rescue Zelda" plot from most Zelda games, with this time the dungeons centering around rescuing six maidens. I kind of feel like they didn't even try when plotting this particular story out, which is disappointing. You pretty much walk in, hear Zelda ask her old childhood friend Link to go investigate those ominous clouds over there, watch 6 maidens get kidnapped and each taken to a different tower, and run off to rescue them with nothing more than a split-personality-inducing sword you pulled from a rock (and in doing so freed the Big Bad). The world development so far seems less than I'm used to for a Zelda quest. I'm hoping it's only the beginning of the story where the plot line doesn't pretend to be original.

Four Swords is a Zelda, though, and for most of them the most interesting stories are in the side quests and mini-adventures. I'm certain there will be more than enough to enjoy, now that we're past the first dungeon. The worlds of Link's various incarnations have been half the selling point for me. I love exploring the worlds, and since I'm more of a for-the-story player than a dungeon grinder, both the world and plot have to be interesting to really steal my heart. The Zelda franchise won me over for world and for story (in some editions, more for the side quests than the main plot) as much as (or more than) the game mechanics. 

What's your favorite side quest, game mechanic, or adventure from the Zelda games?

Friday, May 9, 2014

Trope vs cliche

Cliché things that have been overdone, concepts that are overused and on the edge of blasé. Hackneyed phrases, old sayings, the helpless princess in the castle can only be saved by the chosen hero... As a writer, being cliché is often the kiss of death for your dreams of selling your book.

Tropes are similar to clichés. They're concepts that reoccur frequently throughout literature (or a particular genre). But they tend to be less specific. The brave hero, for example, is a trope. She faces danger and saves the day. The hero's fatal flaw is another trope, some weakness that causes her to "fall" at some point in the story, and that she must overcome to save the day.

Tropes are integral to storytelling. We use the baggage that comes with them to set up expectations, to help the reader center themselves, to structure the plot and the series. Any time your hero faces an evil sorcerer, for example, you're using a trope. The reader knows the sorcerer must be defeated; how your hero does so is what makes the book unique and stops it from (or makes it into) being cliché.

Whose a widdle kitty?
(Actually, this is what the hero must save
the helpless dragon prince from)
Yet the difference between the two is fine, and often blurred. Tropes and clichés can be anything from a single word or phrase to an all-encompassing storyline. They both reappear frequently, sometimes too frequently, and people have pet peeves about specific ones and hate them on sight. They come burdened with connotations and implications, and conceptual and storyline clichés are almost always considered tropes (thought not necessarily vice versa). And there are certainly tropes that don't so much nudge into cliché territory as camp out there.

But in general, trope is a concept with more flexibility. For something to be cliché, it must be "played straight"--that is, used as expected. "Inverting" a trope--presenting it in an unexpected way, such as the chosen hero being a lady dragon instead of the cliched human male hero, or the fatal flaw being a purely placebo Kryptonite--usually results in making a story interesting, or at least humorous. Of course, playing a trope straight doesn't automatically make it cliché--if your hero has her child trapped on the spaceship with her, and the villain knows he can't defeat Super Spy Mom in a straight fight, but has the option of holding her kid hostage, of course he'll go after the wimpy kid--and of course Super Spy Mom is going to destroy him for it. Somehow. Sometime.

But maybe her destruction takes the form of letting him discover wimpy kid is actually a Baby Superhero with explosive diapers. Or maybe her destruction is a cold, calculated, intricate plan to get the baby back. Maybe she grabs a nearby hammer and smashes him to pieces in a barbarian rage. Or maybe the baby was an illusion, and the real baby is safe at home--it was all part of the plan for him to destroy himself if he chose to hurt her kid rather than surrender.

Effectively using tropes is knowing that how is more important than what. It comes with knowing the baggage behind a trope, and knowing that tropes are highly interconnected--a mother character could be any one of a dozen tropes (or inversions of those tropes), and you don't know which one until the story lets her reveal herself. Being able to combine tropes in unexpected ways is what keeps a story fresh and unique.

Of course, everyone has tropes they particularly dislike. Sometimes it's just a word; sometimes it's a concept; sometimes it's a particular plot point. But you can't avoid having recognizable points to your story. That's part of story writing.

If you want some ideas on how tropes are used, check out TV Tropes for some amusing reading (and be prepared to spend a week or so clicking through the articles...). You'll find examples of tropes played straight and inverted in all types of media (TV, literature, RPG games, and more).

What's a trope you've seen in a modern show that you enjoy?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Into the Tides book bonus: how magic interacts with various substances

Unfiltered Power: magic in its most dangerous state. 

Normally, magic exists under the earth, trapped in pockets in natural reservoirs. Gradually it filters up through the rock and sediment layers, diffusing and interacting with the lifeforms it encounters. By the time it reaches the surface, it's considered filtered, or ambient, magic--inert without direct influence by a creature (i.e., human) with the genes to use it. Below a certain level of density, magic spreads like gas, achieving through particle-like motion a level of equilibrium. The "particles" react to outside will only when it is focused on them, and do not react with each other without direction.

When magic is brought to the surface in its raw form, however, it stays dense enough for it to react with itself, amplifying its own reactions to thought. After higher densities it even becomes cohesive, a small pocket of concentrated chaos with liquid-like properties. This, "unfiltered" Power, is a highly reactive, highly dangerous substance. It generally maintains a density between that of air and water.

When cohesive magic moves, it permeates most materials. While moving through most types of matter changes its speed of spread (to differing degrees), it can occupy the same place as matter, and therefore few substances actually stop it. Most infused matter begins to be react as magic itself does, and the presence of magic may change (or "corrupt") the infused matter, to varying degrees.

Power cannot permeate oil-based substances such as petroleum. However, non-solid oils do not stop magic from spreading, and may be dissolved by Power; although immersion in liquid oils may protect substances if properly done. (Note: it is thought that the ambient lipids in living creatures are related to the reformation of the physical body after magic drops below cohesive levels.)

Most metals are vulnerable to the chaotic nature of Power. Copper attracts magic and conducts it efficiently, but the rate of corrosion is sped up when it copper is suffused with magic. Iron rusts quickly and also conducts Power, but far less efficiently than copper. Silver, tin, and steel are all slight conductors; gold, tungsten, and platinum neither impair nor impeded magic, and are not substantially altered by it. Lead and mercury both inhibit, but do not stop, the movement of magic.

Inert gases do not react to magic, and objects with strong bonds--such as diamonds and water--strongly resist corruption. Diamonds are also excellent insulation against the movement of magic. However, magic dissolves in water, and water with high magic concentrations becomes uninhabitable. 

Salt and other crystalline structures tend to not react to magic, and neither speed nor slow its movement. Organic materials, however, absorb it, as the instincts for life draw it, which has the effect of slowing the spread. Dead and non-living organic matter also slow the movement of magic; recently deceased organisms retain magic longer. Plant matter will absorb magic, but impact is minimal, with primary changes occurring in chloroplasts. However, animal life is highly reactive; most creatures absorb magic when it permeates them; within cohesive magic, the mind continues but the bodies dissolve entirely. Lower-order animals require densities of magic to be lower before being restored, having less self-awareness. 

Sentient creatures are strongly affected. Their awareness processes (such as may be) continue when immersed in cohesive magic, although the imprint is limited time, and will become a loop. Sapient creatures (i.e., humans) have the longest period for mind set, and the most resulting effect on the magic, which reacts to the conscious and subconscious thoughts and perceptions. 

Humans with certain genetic structures (i.e. Powers) that normally allow them to process the natural, ambient-level surface magic are also, as a consequence, capable of continuing to process thought while within magic. The thought processes, while strongly affected by magic, also affect magic; the ability to interact with others is limited but not non-existent. 

The relations between the physical body, ability to think, effects of magic on thought, and ability to move are poorly understood, and for ethical and public safety reasons, obtaining data for scientific analysis is difficult and rare.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Free e-books

As you know, I love to read.

If you haven't found it yet, there's a place where you can grab free fantasy and sci-fi e-books: The Baen Online Library.

Mmmm, tasty books.
Drop in. Download books. Read. It's that simple. No cash, nothing but book. Okay, so maybe the goal is to hook you on a series so you'll buy the next one. But who could say no to an entire free library?

Not me.

Especially not when I might have spent most of my weekend reading, instead of writing blog posts...

On GoodReads
The author's website
Speaking of which, I've really been enjoying Robin Hobb. I read her Liveship Trilogy last year, and just started Dragon Keeper. The books start off with a slow build, but the world is fascinating, and she's a master of converging plot arcs. The characterizations are heart-breaking but great, even the characters I wanted to strangle (and there indeed some of those). With the first trilogy, I wasn't at all sure it would end well (epic fantasy, not romance), so every time things went wrong I flailed, but the ending was satisfying. Now I can't wait to see how the Rain Wild Chronicles goes.

No promises you won't see me flailing and gnashing my teeth through this week and next, or however long it takes me to devour this set. They say writers should never stop reading, because it's good for discovering what we love in other books, and improving ourselves. I think they just can't admit writers are all too addicted to books to stop...

Friday, May 2, 2014

Publishing Industry News

This week's publishing news and industry blogs covers 4/19-5/2. (Links open in new windows.)

Publishing News

Apple requested a stay in all damages until after appeals were resolved, including a request to move the trial, but was denied across the board by Judge Cote. However, the Second Circuit Court has granted a temporary stay until they've reviewed Cote's decision. The States accuse Apple of stonewalling the trial.

Authors whose e-book rights were owned by MacAdam Cage Publishing before it sold those rights to MP Publishing and went bankrupt are being called to the Authors' Guild. While all agree that MP legally owns the rights, the Authors' Guild wants to offer legal help to authors who wish to fight to get their rights back. Former MacCage authors are saying they've not received royalties in years, while MP says they have.

Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, publishes an Indie Author Manifesto. Also, because it's 2014, he makes it into an infographic.

BookBub has just gotten its first external funding, in the form of $3.8 million.

Open Road and Harper Collins are back in court over Julie of the Wolves e-distribution rights.

Industry Blogs

QueryTracker's Publishing Pulse for 4/25 and 5/2.

On the QueryTracker Blog, Rosie Genova, daytime English teacher, explains why even she, grammar expert, needs a copyeditor (and you do, too). Stina Lindenblatt talks about choosing a POV character. Who's got the story tell? The character with the highest stake in the game should be the POV character. Sarah Pinneo explains how Amazon's new crackdown on reviews isn't sensible--it's taking down reviews because authors sent the readers a free copy of the book or a small gift certificate worth about the value of the book to purchase it to the reviewer (with no specific review requirements), which has long been considered perfectly ethical and allowed in the industry.

On Writers Beware, Victoria Strauss reports on the "publicist" Kerry Jacobson, who has taken authors' money and skedaddled. She also posts an update on the class action case against Author Solutions, Inc: Judge Cote has ruled that the case against Penguin should be dismissed; but ASI is still on the hook.

Agent Janet Reid answers questions and offers advice. If you don't want to show your (literal) face as an author, can you still get an agent? (Yes. They're looking for great writing, not photogenic ability.) Is it normal to get a rejection letter from someone other than the agent to whom you wrote it? (No. Definitely not!) If English isn't your native language and you live in another country, but you're mostly fluent except for a little grammar, will it completely stop you from getting an American agent to publish in America? (You can still get an agent, but you'll need to hire an editor to polish your grammar for you first. However, not being American isn't a huge problem.) Does the QueryShark format not mesh with the formulas you've seen? What should you do? (Janet Shark Reid suggests following the format that shows up on QueryShark.)

Reid also advises that platform isn't being on a wide variety of social media platforms. It's other people talking about you, not you talking about yourself. And if not getting feedback about your query bothers you, can you tell who does and doesn't give real feedback vs form rejections? (No. And get over it.) What if the request went to your spam folder for a couple of weeks--is it too late to reply? (Go ahead and reply!) What if you meet an agent in person who requests your manuscript, but you'd really rather query a different agent at their agency? (Query the agent you want. The first has no claim to it, just because they met you first.) Is it kosher to re-query the same agent with a book that's been massively re-written? (Yes, and you should probably mention that it's been massively rewritten right up.)

Agent Kristen Nelson posts her year-end stats for 2013 (first shared in a newsletter in January, but now on the blog for the general public.)

Author Jim Hines posts about writing diverse characters as a non-minority author... and why he's not the person to ask if it's okay, and gives a couple of links for doing more research.

Agent Rachelle Gardner does an interview via vlog about what agents want. She also answers the question "Is it important who you know?" in terms of being an author trying to get published (it does help to network).

On the Editor's Blog, all about nouns.

Publishers' Weekly estimates that it takes about 300 book sales on Amazon to make the Amazon Top Five.

The Fantasy, Futuristic, and Paranormal blog interviews agent Stefanie Lieberman and also interviews Penguin-Random House editor Sue Grimshaw.

Author Angela Quarles writes a set of posts on querying, from when you should write it, to what to write, to strategies for submission: Part 1, Part2, and Part 3.

How long should just about everything you post online be? Buffer shares, breaking it down by blogs, titles, tweets, status updates, and more.

GalleyCat shares a tool that allows authors to add soundtracks to their self-published books: Booktrack.

Bid4Papers puts together an infographic looking at what famous people read, from George R R Martin to Sheldon Cooper to David Bowie.

James Patterson gives advice on writing, and how to write a book people don't want to put down.

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