Monday, September 28, 2015

Video Game Icon

When I think of video games as a medium, I flash back to my girlhood days of Super Mario Brothers. It's not my favorite all-time game (although I did really enjoy it), but it is one of my most fundamental memories of video games.

If I were to choose a symbol to represent video games as a whole, including all video game genres, it would probably be Mario. To me, the Mario series is pretty much the icon of video games, and Super Mario is the block on which my video game memories are built.

If you ask me what I think of when someone mentions playing video games today, it'd be more along the lines of the most recent BioShock or Halo or Final Fantasy or some other modern iteration of a popular series. But as an icon, a symbol that represents video games? Super Mario Brothers.
If FFVII isn't someone's icon,
I'd be pretty surprised.

For others, video games go farther back than that. Some people consider Tetris their symbol of video games. Others, Halo.

What do you consider the your video game icon, the video game that is the very first thing you think of when someone says "video games" as a generic noun?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Publishing Industry News

This week's publishing news and industry blogs post covers 9/4-9/25/15.

Publishing News

The Authors Guild conducts a members survey an discovers that writers are apparently earning far less now than they did six years ago, on average (using the median, not the mean). This and the Fair Contract Initiative are apparently part of the AG's new approach to more actively represent and support its members.

Another class action suit against Author Solutions has been dismissed.

E-book subscription service Oyster is shutting down. Google has hired some of their staff.

Apple and the Big Five could be facing another price-fixing lawsuit, this time from retailers whose startups were unable to thrive without the bundles and discounts they'd been relying on, after judge Cote decides the case could proceed. On the other hand, Judge Cote also warns the plaintiffs their claim will hard to prove.

Meanwhile, Apple considers appealing Cote's verdict to the Supreme Court. If they don't, consumers could be seeing the payment soon of the $400 million in refunds, as per the liability judgement.

Copyright holders will have to consider fair use before filing DMCAs, according to the US Court of Appeals.

A number of well-known authors advocate for freedom of expression in China.

Goodreads will soon be available in UK via Kindle Readers and tablets. And Amazon is also expanding Kindle Scout internationally.

Industry Blogs

On QueryTracker, 7 things your query must have. Also, how to edit your synopsis.

Agent Jessica Faust advises writers create career plans and revisit them at least yearly. Also, go update your Amazon Author Page.

Agent Janet Reid answers questions and gives advice. If an agent read a full but rejected kindly, is it still a no-go to mention the rejection at the conference? (Depends.) Which awards are worth mentioning in queries? (Ones with independent judging and that don't have more winners than entry slots.) If you've self-published a novel, how do you mention this in a query? (Simply. Also, be sure you self-published for the right reasons.) And how NOT to ask for a review.

More from Reid: If you won't take a deal unless it offers big-mega money to prove they're serious, and are worried about giving away your manuscript to those who won't market it sufficiently or maybe even not publish it at all, should you mention that in your query? (Yes. That way the agent knows to skip you and doesn't waste her time or yours.) And what does "previously published" mean, and does it really hurt your publishing chances? (Agents can negotiated "previously published" clauses; also, 50 Shades. But probably best not to publicly post your novel.) And how to do you vet an agency? (Research--look at what they've actually published.) Also, how to evaluate a small publisher.

Got extra clauses in your sentences and not sure how to handle them? On the Editor's Blog, "Interruptions," from parenthetical phrases to parentheses to em dashes. And learn about Either, Neither, and their correct Verbs. Also, details that make your setting seem like it's written from a native's POV--important little things that make your story seem more real.

Agent Kristen Nelson shares a story of an out-of-print book that sold film rights and became a success... because that's the world we live in, where digital means out-of-print never really has to happen. And another piece of advice on choosing an agent: go with one who is financially stable doing her (or his) agenting job, because if the agent needs the paycheck, you might wind up with a less than stellar deal. Also, some hints on how to tell, because don't think agents are going to go around announcing their bank balances to the world.

On Publishers Weekly, 10 Tech Tools for Writers.

The AP Stylebook is now available as an e-book.

Pew Research Center finds that library attendance has dropped in the past year. America Library Association counters that libraries are a lifeline and most communities feel their loss would have a major impact on the community.

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

Monday, September 21, 2015

Fall officially arrives Wednesday

It's the time of year when fall flowers proliferate in yards and roadsides, and wild asters and mums and solidago pepper the sides of paths and sidewalks.

It's the sort of damp, drowsy weather that requires tea-based hot chocolate, and speaks of shorter days and longer nights.

It's the promise of cats agreeing to curl up in laps in exchange for warmth, and books and tea piling up on side tables.

It's fog in the mornings and nights, and sun in the mid-afternoons; it's three layers of jacket to sweater to T-shirt in the course of a single day.

It's tantalizing hints of color in the trees, and the scent of cinnamon in the mornings, and the loss of warm summer nights. And this Wednesday, it will officially be here.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Finding and Working with Critique Partners and Beta Readers

(Publishing News will be next week)

Every writers knows the value of good beta readers and good critique partners. But how do you find them? How do you know whom to ask, and how do you know what advise to listen to, and how do know they're good?

Finding Beta Readers and Critique Partners

You may have to train your own. But if you are trying find good beta readers or partners, here's what to look for.

First of all, don’t ask close friends or family to be the ones giving you advice; that’s an emotional mine field you don’t want to play in. If you make exceptions, make sure, really sure, they’re ready to be that exception—either writers themselves used to giving and getting honest, good feedback, or readers used to giving good feedback. 

Find readers of your genre to be your beta readers. Listen to them. Don’t take all their feedback, but know where your story’s weaknesses are. Find people who read a lot and who are capable of telling you what they like/don’t like in a particular story, and ask/bribe/beg them to give you honest feedback on where they fall out of your story and why. Don’t demand flattery.

Find writers of your genre to be your critique partners. Learn to give a good critique yourself, because you won’t keep a good partner if you can’t give as good as you get. Don’t take all of their advice (unless it's all perfect for your story... but it rarely is), and when two or more betas/critiquers give contradictory advice, use your best judgement. Know your own story. Also, listen to them, and follow as much advice as you can without sacrificing your story—which may still mean you have to rewrite half your story to eliminate/add characters or subplots, because “lots of work” isn’t the same thing as “sacrificing your story.”

There’s a fine line between honesty with tact, honesty without tact, too-harsh because they want to feel like they’re doing a good job and think that’s what honesty is, and downright bullying. And sometimes bad advice is offered in full, honest earnestness. The only way you can know is through experience and having more than one form of advice, and keeping your own common sense first and foremost. And, uh, common sense is formed mostly through experience.

How to learn what good advice looks like

"I advise you stop writing and pet me." --Bad advice
"I advise you stick me on your lap so your butt stays in
the chair and you get lots of writing done." --Good advice
Joining a writing group that gives feedback on short pieces can be good training on what is and isn’t appropriate, if the group has good rules and does a good job of this. The established, open-membership critique group I'm a part of has 3 people share each meeting (and not the same people) and everyone gives them a minute of feedback. Although I rarely read, I learn a lot about my own writing from hearing feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of other works of fiction. It's also taught me how to better differentiate between useful feedback, good but not useful for me feedback, and criticism that's not appropriate (aggressive, not specific enough, good but not tactful, so "tactful" it doesn't actually pinpoint areas for improvement, etc).

If there's not a good group in your area, there are other ways to get an idea of what good criticism looks like.

Honestly, if you can afford it, paying a developmental editor for a first 50 pages (or first 10) can be good training on what good feedback looks like, should you have heard of a recommendation of a good developmental editor who is available and willing.

Some writing contests require judges to give feedback on entries along with scores. This is a crapshoot, because you could get a judge who gives good feedback or bad feedback, but I've found it worth the entry fee most of the times I've done it with various RWA chapters. It can also provide an example of what feedback could and should look like, from a more experienced author. 

There are occasionally also classes offered on how to give a good critique (again, I've seen them through the RWA, in which I'm a member). Consider taking one of those, or looking for classes from another writers' or editors' organization on this topic.

And look at whatever national organization your genre has, and what resources are available to both members and nonmembers. They may have advice, too.

Don't expect established writers to be willing to take on a new critique partner unless they specifically say they're looking for a partner. It's nothing personal--a good critique takes a lot of work, and many writers already have partners to whom they have critiquing commitments. If they want to have time to keep writing their own novel, they'll have no choice but to turn you down. That said, don't be afraid to scoop up an experienced writer who is between critique partners (people move; lives change; partnerships don't always work out). Writers' groups are especially good for this, because they can help connect you to others looking for critique partners.

In any case, once you find willing partners and beta readers, you'll have to work with them--and this may include training those who've never done a beta read or a critique before.

Training and working with betas/critique partners

Working with someone who has never beta'd or critiqued before? Don’t get offended when people tell you your baby is ugly, or that your baby would be prettier if she had a second nose, or didn’t have three arms, or had brown eyes instead of blue, or if she wasn’t related to her ugly father and maybe you should just have had an affair with handsome Pool Boy over there; please splice out husband’s genes for the cutey’s. Because what they’re really saying is “I trust you to not get offended with the very advice you’re asking for, and if you do, I will never give you honest advice ever again.” (Actually, this is true for experienced beta readers and critique partners, too! Especially if they've not worked with you before.)

Sometimes it helps to arm a new reader/partner with a list of specific questions, asking for both positive and negative criticisms, to train them and help them feel more comfortable giving feedback. Respond positively to all the feedback, no matter how off-base it seems. “Thank you” is key. Never argue or verbally/in written word disagree, even if you don’t take the advice.

Don’t take advice from anyone who is just abusive. Because that’s not helpful and there are, indeed, people who go on power trips when “editing.” There are also those who really think they're being helpful, because they've been paired with bullies before and therefore think this is how advice should be given--but the result is 'advice' that isn't truly helpful.

Ignore advice that eliminates your voice.

Never say anything to feedback other than “Thank you.” That’s the number one rule for keeping partners. Don’t offend them by defending yourself, not even if the advice is bad advice.

When the trust has been built and well-established, then you can do more of the bounce-ideas-off feedback, and ask advice on feedback. But I never recommend doing anything until at least 3 days after reading a critique, because no matter how thick your skin, good advice still stings—even though your baby really would be prettier with Pool Boy’s eyes. It usually takes a few days to be fully objective about that.

Learn the difference between good advice and bad advice. Tactfully find ways to explain to beta readers/critique partners why you took some of their advice but not all of it. Find critique partners who know not to get offended when you take only some of their advice, and don't get offended when they don't take all of yours. Don’t change things in your story that shouldn’t be changed, but do change things that should.

Expect that you will have to make serious edits on a manuscript you thought was perfect. Expect that you will see some great ideas from your beta readers and critique partners that you will ignore, because they would have weakened the story (or perhaps not the story, but the series you plan).

And somehow already magically know all these things, without training, or experience, or knowing whom to ask.

Oh, and learn good (or at least decent) grammar. Nobody’s going to want to work with you for long if you don’t.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Video Game Music

Also, book your seats early if you want a 
good one; they sell fast.
If you ever get the chance to see Zelda Symphony of the Goddesses, and you're a fan of the Zelda series, then I highly recommend it. (By the way, you can find their schedule here.)

Video game music is a tricky balance of inspiring interest and setting the mood without distracting the player from the game. Sometimes it even becomes a theme of the game. And there's a lot of classic games whose scores are downright amazing even despite being produced with limited materials and sound abilities. Of course, with the advances in game tech, sound limitations aren't an issue anymore.

What game has your all-time favorite sound track? And what new games really raise the bar for the next generation of games?

Friday, September 11, 2015


It's been 14 years since 9/11. Thousands of good people died.

Remembering the people who died, who were hurt, is important. But I have to admit that I didn't think of the attacks when I woke up this morning, or went about my day. I remember them, though, and salute the heroes.

I moved today's original post to yesterday for a different time stamp, because maybe a post-apocalyptic post shouldn't be dated for an eleventh of September.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Three years of emptiness--fantasy setting

What would your town look like three years after being abandoned?

Writing Into the Tides made me think about what happens to places when they're left uninhabited for years. In the Tides, magic traps all the people of the South, leaving their homes behind. Three years later, Kelly goes to visit, and finds the slightly-creepy remains of empty cities and towns.

So what would your hometown be like? Would it be overgrown, would pieces of it have fallen apart? What would have survived untouched?

Docks might fall apart--but then again, they're pretty sturdy, so you might have some that were just fine. Or maybe your inland farms now grow more dandelions than wheat. And without human management, is anything still growing in your backyard garden besides mint and rosemary?

Roads would be cracked and timeworn. Kudzu would eat most of the roadsides and exposed powerlines, trailing up and over as it is wont to do. Maybe wild animals would be nesting in your bed--although if you're in the Broken Powers universe, there may be something nesting there, but it's probably not a wild mouse.

Old buildings are a great clue, buildings that have been abandoned and left unattended over the years. Plus they're pretty gorgeous to look at, even if I'm not keen on going into them and trying to stand on those crumbling floors. Although three years isn't all that long, it really takes less time than most people think for age to weaken an uninhabited building.

Have you ever wondered what your hometown would look like in a post-apocalyptic scenario, be it book or movie? What do you think would age well--and what ones wouldn't? Where would you go to seek shelter if you came back three years later?

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

What TV shows get better over time?

Oops... Those long weekends make it hard to remember to post!

While my friends taunt my Facebook feed with glorious DragonCon pictures, I've been enjoying a lovely weekend at home, which is... actually, also nice. Chores and writing and relaxing and tasty food and walks with a camera. And watching the side bit of Netflix as I write.

There tend to be three kinds of TV shows, I've noticed: episodics, those that improve with time, and most common--those that decline as time goes on. You have a great first season, and then a second season comes through and just... fizzles. Sometimes a third season follows up and tries to reverse the errors of season two, with everything from deus ex machina to time travel.

Sometimes the problem is that the scriptwriters change and the second season no longer follows the plot laid out in the first. Whatever story had been posed, the plot becomes erratic, and the story loses coherency. Other times, the problem is that the story outlives the writer's original arch--a series expanded and renewed beyond its original plot's capabilities. It takes quite a bit of creativity to fix a series that gets more airtime than the original plot supports, although some series can handle it with adequate new stakes.

In fact, some series improve with time through that very same method. The first season's premise runs out, but a better premise moves in. Even better are the premises that are built open, made to be write years' worth of seasons. Episodic series tend to be able to survive just about everything (think monster-of-the-week or anything else where a plot rarely lasts more than a single episode). But dramas made to last, they rise or fall.

What TV shows hold up best over multiple seasons? Which series go from decent to great?

Well, more pictures for the public domain, for my lapse in timeliness.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Publishing Industry News

This week's publishing news and industry blogs post covers 8/22-9/3/2015. As is often the case with late-summer news, it's been a bit slow these past couple of weeks.

Publishing News

The class-action lawsuit against Author Solutions has been settled out of court.

The University of Arkon fired all its editors from its press, a move that prompted so much backlash, they reversed the decision and rehired them.

Ellora's Cave (an erotic romance publisher) CEO and founder filed a defamation suit against Dear Author blogger last September. Both parties have filed motions requesting a summary judgment on their claims.

Red Hen Press's managing editor published an article in the Huffington Post that caused turmoil in literary publishing for a number of stereotypes, and the press is now feeling some of the fallout.

The Hachette Book Group is taking over Hachette UK distribution and sales in the US.

Scribd has updated its audiobook portion of its e-book subscription service, offering a rotating catalog of audiobooks, plus one free other book a month for monthly subscribers.

Industry Blogs

Agent Janet Reid answers questions on her blog (just a few b/c she was on vacation). If you've written a book in another language than English, how do you go about finding a bilingual American agent? (You don't.) What do you do if your publisher's going out business? (Check your contract. If you can, get your rights back. A lot depends on your current status. Save all your communications and don't panic.)
Agent Nephele Tempest offers some basic, common-sense tips for querying.

On the Editor's blog, introductory clauses, commas, and when and how they go together. Also, she writes about how to show (and punctuate) interruptions correctly.

Author Kristine Kathryn Rusch talks about changing tastes over time, and how it affects people's view of things written.

On the Futuristic, Fantasy, and Paranormal blog, J. Cheney reminds authors to keep their magic consistent (thereby avoiding those annoying plot holes).

Airline JetBlue has set up a number of book vending machines to get books into the hands of kids in Washington DC.

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