Friday, January 29, 2016

Publishing Industry News

This week's publishing news and industry blogs post covers 1/15/16-1/29/16.

Publishing News

Smashwords CEO Mark Coker, AuthorsUnited founded Doug Preston, and others throw down the glove at Amazon at an event sponsored by Authors Guild, American Booksellers Association, Authors United, and the Association of Authors' Representatives, the event aiming to address Amazon's business practices and the company's effects on the industry (hint: the event was not pro-Amazon, if you didn't guess by the sponsors, all of whom are on record protesting Amazon's business practices and extreme market dominance).

 Three former retailers sued Apple and the Big Five following the DoJ's price-fixing suit on the grounds that Apple and the Big Five's actions forced them out of business; the lawsuit has now been officially tossed.

Apple responds to the DoJ's request that the Supreme Court deny Apple's bid to have the DoJ vs Apple price-fixing case reviewed, reiterating that Apple's motives were pro-competition.

Harvard Law's digitizing its entire collection of US Case Law and making the files available to the public.

Industry Blogs

Agent Janet Reid offers advice and answers questions. Avoid and other query services, especially if they work by asking agents to pay to get queries that they would get for free anyway. Also, she suggests strongly that being a literary agent and an author at the same time is not good for either career, and a path she does not recommend. And be sure to check your website and make sure it's looking presentable--don't make a bad first impression. What if your agent leaves you after submitting to 10 editors--what next? (Write a new book and find a new agent who doesn't do this.)

Agent Jessica Faust reminds authors that if they have an agent, make sure to include time for talking about how to grow their careers with their agent. She also reminds us that there are indeed times to break the rules of grammar--but know why, and how, and do it for a purpose. And if "When did you quit reading?" seems like a reasonable question to ask an agent to learn about a manuscript's weak points, remember, it's not usually a single thing the author did, but an accumulation of things.

Agent Nephele Tempest has writing-related links for 1/15 and 1/28. She also writes a post about social media for writers.

On QueryTracker, thoughts about and links for editing. Needing edits doesn't make it bad; but it might be the difference between really good and great.

Author Kristine Kathryn Rusch posts warning to authors to read their contracts--YES, even a contract from a small or indie publisher, even if it's owned by a friend, even if the person is 100% well-intentioned: because sometimes the person who owns the company now won't still be the owner in a few years, and a bad contract is a bad contract. And many of those contracts these days have some awful clauses in them that weren't put in maliciously, but that in the wrong hands could be used very maliciously.

It's no secret that diversity in the publishing business isn't where it should be. A study for 2015 looks at the current state of diversity in employment at the major publishing houses, with an infographic as well as text analysis to analyze the findings.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Tea site: Adagio

Adagio Teas website
I've been wanting to do another tea review for a while, but today I'm doing something a little different: a tea site review.

There's a site called Adagio Teas that sells, you guessed it, tea. It's got a wide variety of teas offered, lets you get points for ordering tea that you can redeem for more tea, and allows you to order sample sizes and small sizes if you just want to try a tea. The tea is about the same value as most teas offered at the stores in my area, if not a bit better in terms of quality vs cost (though how much you order affects this as well; the price is cheaper when you order more). Oh, and, uh, if you find you're spending too much, you can also temporarily ban yourself.

Adagio also has a cool feature (besides selling tea) that lets you blend your own teas. You are "limited" to a list of certain blends and flavors, but it's not a short list, and you get up to three, plus a scoop of flavor (raspberries, dried cherries, coconut, rose petals, etc). You can also adjust the percent of each tea used. And since you can order it in the same quantities as the rest of the teas, you can order yourself a sample to make sure you like what you blended. The blends are saved, you can name them, and they can be edited later.

That alone is a pretty nice. But then there's the fandom feature--because when you name your blends, you can also give put them in groups (or fandoms) and share them so others can enjoy them. This way, you can see what other people think phoenix down might taste like, or what tea blend they think Navi from Ocarina of Time would drink.

Oh, yeah, and you get points when other people buy your blends. So it's share and share alike.
And you can make your own labels
to go on your tea.

I've been planning to do a "Writing Moods" series, with teas to get me into certain moods to write. It'll be slow to grow, though, since I'll have to sample each one before sharing it. But there are plenty of fandoms to browse through, and lots of tasty teas of Adagio's own blends to try.

Find any good teas on the site you're excited to share? Or any fandom blends you think are particularly cool?

Friday, January 22, 2016

Bad weather days vs work from home?

A picture from our last ice storm.

It'll be an icy wonderland in NC today (wonderland??? Is that the best word?). One of those days where the forecast has changed six times in three days as to how much ice, when it will begin, and how terrible the weather will be. Not surprisingly, everyone plans on working from home if at all possible.

Do you have the option to work from home? Do you like it, or do you miss when an ice day was just a day off?

Monday, January 18, 2016

Game review: Xenoblade Chronicles X

 There are some things about Xenoblade Chronicles X for the Wii U that really impress me. There are also some things that are driving me nuts as I play the game.

The official Xenoblade website can be found here.
First, the great: The scenery is amazing. This is a very pretty world, and the incredible detail that went into planning it shows. It's also very large, and takes a long time to explore, in part because some areas only become reachable once you have a mecha called a skell. And then there are yet more places to discover when you install flight into your skell (not a standard feature!). The exploration factor makes the grinding much more interesting (it is a level-with-experience game), and in most areas, there are monsters of various levels, so you can be as challenged in the beginners' area at high levels as you were at low levels.

There's also the sneak factor: many areas are explorable if you're sneaky enough to get past the enemies (in fact, most of the planet is this way). So even if an area is guarded by level 39 enemies and you're a measly level 30, you can expect to be able to check the area out with some clever wall-jumping. This is both fun and challenging, and a great game mechanic, in my opinion.

In this world-exploration game, in which it is literally your job to explore the world and take miniquests (yes, really, it's your in-game job), you can choose what sidequests to take. Many of them take you to new areas, and you get a handy little helper called "followball" to help you find the way to get to them if the yellow arrow on your map isn't enough. There are also affinity missions that you can earn--story-quests that introduce you to each of the playable characters, help your characters bond, and let you learn about their backstories (if you can get them to like you enough).

There's a lot of story in this game, in other words, from helping multiple friendly races get along to learning why horrible people became horrible. The story is decently written, and unfolds at a good pace; the unlockable story content is amusing, and the world is interesting.

You also unlock a number of customization options as you play, allowing you to change everything from the colors of your home base to adding new features to weapons and even designing things from scratch. You get to choose your team for the most part, you can dress anyway you want (there is a fashion option so you can wear your strongest gear while looking like you're wearing whatever you want), and you can even choose your pet. Like most games you get to choose what combat skills you use (which vary depending on what class you are at the time) and you can switch it up as you go. The combat mechanics are pretty good, and on the whole, the game is enjoyable.

Now for the not-so-great warnings: The mechanics would be much, much better if you could read the writing. The text is tiny, and almost impossible to read without squinting. Heaven help you if your vision is as bad as mine. So trying to figure out what gear to wear, what missions to take, what you're supposed to be looking for, and what collectibles you've picked up is something of a continuous nightmare.

There's also the "collectible" part of the game: many of the miniquests are "gathering" missions in which you run around gathering things. The problem with this is that no real clues are given for where to find the things, nor--since all the things to gather look like identical crystals--is there a way to specifically search for them. You just run around picking up crystals and hope one of them randomly spawns what you were looking for. Much of these missions are, therefore, spent in the company of Reddit forums, researching where other people found the goods. It's frustrating and one of the more annoying game mechanics I've encountered, and yet is a large part of the game. If there were only a small percentage of missions making use of it, it would be far less irritating, but about half the missions on the job board are. The one bright spot to this is that if you spend a lot of time exploring, you'll often find missions where you've already got enough of your collectible to finish, which means it's instant money and XP.

There's also the lack of "can I actually do this mission" information on the job boards. Missions that involve killing things don't tell you what level those things are, nor does your supposed index of enemies usually tell you when you scroll through alphabetically to look them up. There's no way to know if a level 20 character is being assigned to hunt a guaranteed TPK level 36 monster without looking it up online. Again, poorly thought out.

There are also so less-than-wonderful parts of the perks, such as the storyline relying on cut scenes that go on for a long time. Usually I enjoy a good cut scene, but midway through the powerpoint-like presentation of the eight different divisions you can join, I was about out of patience. And while the wide variety of weapons you can choose from is fun, there's not really a good sorting system, so you have to scroll through a bunch things you can't equip to choose what you do.

Compared to the good things about the game, the problems don't take center stage--the world is too beautiful and it's too much fun to keep discovering new areas for these relatively minor irritations to make me stop playing. 

On the whole, I'd rate game as a 7/10: Good, but there are too many game mechanic features that downright interfere with gameplay for it to be great. I would still recommend buying it, myself; I do love a good world exploration game. Be sure to play it with a computer or phone within arms' length for minimizing frustration, though.

Have you played? What are your thoughts on the game?

Photos for public domain

You may have also noticed a lack of blog post last Monday (oops!), wherein work grew (as it occasionally does) and I lost track of day, month, year... So, as my usual apology, some more photos for public domain:

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Publishing Industry News

This week's publishing news 1/1/16-1/16/16.

Publishing News

Author Solutions was purchased by a private equity firm, Najafi Companies.

After the lawsuit with Open Road (in which Open Road published an ebook edition of Julie of the Wolves, and judges ruled this violated HC's copyright), HarperCollins publishes an ebook edition of Julie of the Wolves.

The Association of American Publishers teams up with UNCF to increase diversity in the notoriously non-diverse traditional publishing business.

The Authors Guild begins a campaign to raise author income, starting with an open letter to the Association of American Publishers to offer better terms in publishing contracts.

A number of Hong Kong booksellers have gone missing after working in shops that publish books criticizing China's government. Publishing associations speak out.

Industry Blogs

On Writer Beware, Victoria Strauss notes the sale of Author Solutions, making it now a privately held company, not that it's improved the company's reputation any. And she then explains exactly why the company has such a poor reputation. She also points out an organization with lots of red flags, an author behaving poorly, and a plagiarizing spam site.

Agent Janet Reid answers questions and offers advice. Go ahead and build your website. She gives an example of ineffective promotion (Twitter spam) and how to fix it. And who should be on your mailing list? Also, if you wind up in a bad anthology, is it going to kill your career? (No, but it should teach you to be more careful about which anthologies you contribute to.) Should you disclose that you have and use an established pen name that sounds non-Caucasian, but you're white? (No; what people assume about you is their business, and you don't have to disclose your pen name in your query, anyway.) And buying book reviews is terrible.

Agent Nephele Tempest offers links for writers on her Friday Links for 1/08/16 and 1/15/16. Of particular recommendation is the Opportunities for Writers for January and February.

Interested in querying a BookEnds agent? Find out what they're looking for! Also, just because an agent gives you a line of feedback in response to your query, doesn't mean they're you're critique partner. Plus she gives a query critique.

On the Editors Blog, a warning that if you're self-publishing your own book and doing your own formatting, you might find you wind up tweaking your work once again.

Author Jim C. Hines posted his 2015 writing income.

Author Kristine Kathryn Rusch reflects on the Authors Guild letter, what parts of it she suggests taking with a grain of salt, and how the Authors Guild isn't truly representative of all authors.

On the Futuristic Fantasy and Paranormal blog, three posts on how to keep your writing resolutions.

Not publishing related, but we've also lost famed and excellent actor Alan Rickman.

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

Friday, January 15, 2016

Friday, January 8, 2016

Semi-Super-Powers of Fiction

Go away monsters; I'm sleeping.
Has anyone else ever envied how easy it is for characters to get up in the mornings? Whether it's books or movies or TV shows, the main characters always seem able to pull themselves together, ready to leap out of bed to adventure at any second. And let's not talk about video game characters, for whom sleep is required only when HP is low... I'm not sure they even really know what sleep is.

Then again, if a character is shown waking up in fiction, they're probably being woken up in a situation that requires adrenaline. So maybe "hopping to go" isn't such an exaggeration, as they might get eaten if they don't.

Still, characters in fiction seem to have a number of semi-super-powers as a matter of fact. What semi-super-power do you most envy from fiction?

Monday, January 4, 2016

Speculations--Tech in the new year?

Pictured: Once cutting-edge technology.
We live in a world where communication is instant, and everpresent, so much so that when we lose our primary contact with the world, we still have backups in the form of computers, TV, and even friends' and strangers' phones (ever forgot your phone and asked the world at large if anyone could look something up for you? Never been disappointed yet).

So what's next? Here at the beginning of a new year, it's a great time to speculate on what the future will bring. What new technology do you think is just around the corner to make our world even more strange and convenient?

Implants that couldn't be lost seem like an easy next step, but I'm not sure most people will want them. So maybe smart watches will expand to become smart jewelry in general, or shirts will come pre-wired for easier connection. We like screens; I don't see those going away any time soon, so ways to make screens of things that aren't should be pretty close. So how about bringing out flexible phones, or screen extenders?

Google Glasses didn't catch on, perhaps because the world has too few guards against misuse for most people to be comfortable with them yet. But what about ways to integrate your phone into three-dimensional games, turning your Candy Crush fix into a 3D Indiana-Jones adventure? Just attach an Oculus-Rift pair of goggles (steampunk-style, anyone?), the more obvious the better, and start playing.

What do you see right around the corner? And what technology do you thing won't happen as soon as people predict, because we're just not read for it yet?

Friday, January 1, 2016

Publishing Industry News

This week's publishing news and industry blogs covers 12/19/2015-1/1/2016. Happy New Year!

And yes, after a little rest and recovery, I'm back on my feet and ready to catch you up with what's been going on while you were celebrating.

Publishing News

The Authors Guild petitions the Supreme Court to hear the DOJ vs Apple case. Meanwhile, the DOJ petitions the Supreme court to turn down the case.

Shelfie is now also offering audio book editions for those who own print editions of certain books.

Industry Blogs

Writers and agents speculate on the coming year and reflect on the last year. Jim Hines. Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Janet Reid. Nephele Tempest.

A reflection on 10 years of graphic novel publishing from Publishers Weekly, interview-style with several industry professionals.

Agent Janet Reid answers questions and gives advice. How do agents feel about present tense? (Write well enough that the agent doesn't notice the writing.) What's the best thing to do with a lightly shopped but rejected manuscript: give it up and work on the next, self-publish, try for a new agent, or keep shopping it on your own? (It depends on what you want most.) If you're writing in English but based outside the US, can you get published in the US? (Yes; you don't have to mention in your query that you don't live in the US.)

More from Reid: a spreadsheet of her recommended books on the craft of writing. An agent you'd like to work with has an assistant read your work and the assistant sends an R&R, but you disagree with their comments: what do you do? Remember that even your author bio is important promo; make every word you write good. Also, yes, cleaning up your website and writing your author bio is your job, not a traditional publisher's: the difference between promotion and marketing. And some advice on the timing of promotion.

On the Futuristic, Fantasy, and Paranormal blog, 5 social media myths are busted.

And on Writers Write, the benefits of reading!

Seems like most people were out celebrating the holidays, so not too much this time around. What other major publishing news have you encountered in the past two weeks?