Category Archives: Books, Writing, Publishing

Getting published: See Yourself in Print #1

Because books are my bread and butter folks occasionally ask me how they might get into the business of being a writer. There are a lot of things you can do to get your polished prose in the hands of booksellers. Note that this isn’t about self-publishing, but getting your book printed the old fashioned way.

 

This Week’s Tip to Becoming A Bad-Ass Author: Establish Yourself as An Expert

The more you can do to convince the publisher that you’re an authority in that area, the easier it will be for them to sell you to Barnes & Noble.

 

The simplest way to do this is to start a blog. A lot of potential author’s worry about “giving away” too much info on a blog, so that there is nothing left for their book. Unless you write poetry, this is a non-issue and obsessing over it only looks unprofessional. It turns out people have no problem buying a book that reproduces the content of a blog they can read online for free. Go figure. And if consumers will buy it, somewhere there’s a publisher who will publish it. Sites like Stuff White People Like, XKCD, and the Oatmeal don’t worry about giving away too much. 

Of course, once you’re a blogger you have to start worrying about SEO and keeping up with other people’s blogs and all kinds of HTML nonsense that has fuck all to do with writing your manifesto. Starting a blog is in some ways like joining a virtual, global community. If you’re not interested in the existing community that exists around the glockenspiel, why would you expect anyone to read your potential book, Stop, Drop and Glock: How the Glockenspiel Will Set Your Roof on Fire? So while it is a lot of work, that work is seeding potential fans of your obsession (It is an obsession, right? If not, why bother?). 

Another way to establish expertise is to write guest posts on other people’s blogs, or articles for local newspapers. However, this is easier to set up if you already have a blog in the first place. Otherwise, what can you point them to that shows you have something to say on the subject? 

Local organizing can be useful as well, but remember publishers are looking to sell your book all over the country. A monthly meet-up of thirty people isn’t going to impress Simon & Schuster. 

Building expertise is less true with fiction, but it is still true. Many writers now are experimenting with keeping up a blog about their process. This can include research notes, advice, and inspiration. There are sites like Urbis.com where writers upload pieces of their draft to be critcized by other writers. This is another way of joining communities and building a fan base. 

This seems like a lot of work, doesn’t it? It is. But if you’ve chosen your subject matter wisely it turns out to be just another way to immerse yourself in a subject you are passionate about.

Posted via email from Future is Fiction

TODAY IS TOWEL DAY!

Image thanks to http://markbult.com/2007/05/towel-day/

But why a towel? Because, as the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy informs us:

A towel, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitch hiker can have. Partly it has great practical value:

you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta;

you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours;

you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon;

use it to sail a mini raft down the slow heavy river Moth;

wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat;

wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindboggingly stupid animal,
it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you — daft as a bush, but very ravenous);

you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course

dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc.

Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost”. What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth f the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

via havecoffeewillwrite.com but actually a quote from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Posted via email from Future is Fiction

Why did I title the Crystal Castles review “A Pixie in A Blender”?

Imagine the delicate pattern of her wings fluttering frantically. Imagine her screams for help distorted by the glass. Imagine the occasional throb of her tiny fists on the glass. Imagine the vicious never-ending whir of the blades. It goes on and on and yet you know the music of it will change in moments when the pixie runs out of tricks and breath. Now hear the interruption of those blades, the gutteral whipping and whirring, as she uses whatever magic her wand can muster. Imagine the dreadful glittery blood, her tiny bones shaking against the glass. This is what Crystal Castles sounds like.

Posted via email from Like Dancing About Architecture

Neologisms

As part of the ongoing crusade to remove trite words from my speech, lately I've taken to using the word "puppycock." This is not to be confused with poppycock. Or rather, it is too be confused so that I may delight in making the correction. I use this word in situations of surprising dismay, such as stubbing my toe or discovering a parking ticket. "Puppycock" is a perfect curse word. It captures something real that civilized people would rather not think about in the space of nine letters. It conveys a clear image of this thing. It is disturbing enough to furrow the brows of my fellow citizens, so that they may join for a moment in my unhappiness. But it is not so disturbing that polite ladies will not sit next to me in the dining hall.
Christopher is a dog lover (considering the context of the curse, I beg you not to read into that) and he does not approve of my use of the word "puppycock." In retaliation, he has taken to using the word "kitty poon." Alas, his blade has reached a tender spot as my psyche wishes I had never heard him utter that terrible phrase. I am not even convinced the phrase existed before he coined it. I suggested he google it to be sure, he declined—a first for the man who, at the whim of an offhand query, spent an hour on Wikipedia last night learning about the Statue of Liberty. I believe he has outdone me. Because no one wants to think about the vag on a kitten. He pointed out that a cat in heat is all too happy to spread the notion but I responded that kittens do not go into heat—only fully mature, womanly cats. Serendipitously we made the discovery that just as "puppycock" sounds like the word "poppycock" "kitty poon" has the benefit of being easily mistaken for "kiddie porn." We look forward to having a conversation that goes something like this:

Civilized fellow: My word! Did you just say "kiddie porn"?
Christopher: No, no, of course not! What kind of gentleman do you take me for! I would not utter such blasphemy as a simple declaration of displeasure!
Civilized Fellow: Thank goodness! There are women and children present! What did you say then?"
Christopher: I said "kitty poon." KIT-TEE POOHN.
Civilized Fellow: [blank stare]
Christopher: You know! as in the immature snatch of a wee baby kitten!
Civilized Fellow: Come along Margaret. We're going back to the first train car with no air conditioning and the writhing hobo.

Posted via email from Future is Fiction

Some Predictions About Books By Way of Some Predictions About Music

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the “future of publishing.” After all, books have never had as much cash to spare as the recording industry, and look at the mess they’re in. Already it is not so difficult for a self-published manuscript to sell itself on Amazon.com. What will happen when everything goes digital? The suggestion is that there will be an opening of the gates, and the latest best-seller will stand on the same virtual shelf with thirty self-published manuscripts. The optimists claim that this is where the great unpublished books will be discovered and pessimists point to the unleashed masses of poorly thought-out, half-written tomes filled with spelling errors. But it doesn’t matter if fantastic self-published books are available if they’re drowned out by countless other books vying for the consumer’s attention.
I’m thinking of this issue again because Chuck Wendig just wrote a post on this very subject. I must requote a quote that he included in his piece from a Salon.com article (“When Anyone Can Be A Published Author“)

Furthermore, as observers like Chris Anderson (in “The Long Tail”) and social scientists like Sheena Iyengar (in her new book “The Art of Choosing”) have pointed out, when confronted with an overwhelming array of choices, most people do not graze more widely. Instead, if they aren’t utterly paralyzed by the prospect, their decisions become even more conservative, zeroing in on what everyone else is buying and grabbing for recognizable brands because making a fully informed decision is just too difficult and time-consuming. As a result, introducing massive amounts of consumer choice leads to situations in which the 10 most popular items command the vast majority of the market share, while thousands of lesser alternatives must divide the leftovers into many tiny portions.

Chuck says in response, ” that doesn’t sound like what will happen when the FUTURE OF PUBLISHING is made manifest. It sounds like what happens right bloody now.”
As it is, there are about 100,000 brand new titles published and printed every year, and it is fair to say that even the most devoted readers may touch 1/100th of that. If you include self-published books, the number of books published is 600,000 to a million. That doesn’t take into account the thousands of reprints of absolute classics that exist. I am pretty sure that if I devoted my entire life to reading I would not get through every book on my imaginary wish list before I breathe my last breath. Now imagine compounding this with an onslaught of unpublished manuscripts, from gorgeous to garbage, that would land on the market place if the result of this revolution were a totally leveled playing field. What would happen?
Continue reading Some Predictions About Books By Way of Some Predictions About Music

Overcoming Writers Block: Tickling the Muse II

In last year’s TED Talk speech the author of Eat, Pray, Love explains how she is able to handle the terrible pressure to make something genius after having a huge breakout bestseller. Her solution is to do as folks did before the Age of Reason, and think of your genius as something outside of yourself (the bonus is a great Tom Waits story).

This has been unbelievably helpful for me lately. If you are a creative person who has been haunted any kind of creative block, I highly recommend you watch it.

Don’t worry, the rest of my post will still be waiting below…

To open in a new tab: Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk on Personifying Your Genius

Finding Your Genius

In short, she suggests that artists need a way to “create a safe distance” between ourselves and the anxiety we feel about our work. Thinking of genius as some kind of separate entity frees us from our fears that our brilliance won’t match our expectations.

It also means I get to have a new imaginary friend, a Puckish deity that hops like an invisible monkey around my computer desk, taunting me with unfinished sentences and half-baked ideas.

After I began to think of my own creativity as this impish being it assumed a greater importance in my life. My art and my creative space was no longer a task to be mastered or even a puzzle to be solved. It was demigod as revered as Dionysus (I suspect they’re cousins). It was also my oldest and dearest friend. In both cases, the measure of time and respect I had to give to the creative process increased dramatically, as it would if the Macy’s window mannequin came to life and offered to be your sweetheart.

So I would like to take a moment to speak to you about your demiurge, the fiery creative beast who lives in your belly, showers you with presents, abandons you for another woman, only to wake you from a dream as if she’d never left.

You know you, your muse. Let’s talk about her.

Have you been treating her right? Or have you been resentful? Avoiding her calls? Talking trash about her to your friends? Putting off quality time so you can watch telly, play Spades, or other trivial nonsense where she’s clearly not invited? Do you really think a Goddess, no matter how lonely, wants to hang out while you update your Facebook page? And if she did, you’d likely be annoyed that she showed up at such an inopportune moment.

Remember, time devoted to your genius need not be a two-way street: she is a demigod, and under no obligation to hang out with the likes of you in the first place. Know that there are many whose shrines to her greatness far surpass yours, that there are those who have devoted whole temples to her—and so many of these devotees with their trinkets and their affirmations have only seen the brightest glimpse of her visage. She owes you nothing, wretch.

Is your shrine tidy and free of cobwebs? Do you offer her gifts? Do you meditate daily on her awesomeness? If you hesitate (as I do!) to offer anything but a resounding “Yes!” to these queries, consider yourself lucky, chump. Lucky that she comes to you at all. Considering your petulance, she probably has a thing for you.

Don’t make that face, I’m sure you’ve had your suspicions. You wouldn’t have gotten into this whole creation thing in the first place if you hadn’t suspected the Muse pays more attention to you. Admit it, she makes you feel special. All those nights facing off with the keyboard to create something that will likely never put a penny in your pocket or a lover between your sheets were only fun when she was there.  And when she didn’t show up you resented her. Who the hell was she, besides a Goddess, besides the very thing that makes humans beautiful and inspirational, who the hell was she besides the reason we have libraries and museums and video games and Cathedrals—so what to all that, you could have gone drinking with your friends, both of them.

No matter that when you’re swilling Cosmos at cocktail parties you slur that her creative spark is your goddamned reason for living.

Here’s what I believe: you like her; she likes you. When you are ready to settle down and put her first in your life, she will be there for you. When you are a monk in your devotion and a lover in your ardor, when each day begins with an act of devotion to your creative urge, she will reward you with all the brilliance of your ego’s fantasies. You know, and I know, she will be waiting.

Better Than A Rubick’s Cube

On Tickling the Muse

[Part I]

pieces of the Grand Canyon

I enjoy writing. Sometimes I write a blog comment on some random blog because I am looking forward to stringing the words together. Connecting ideas like a Lego castle. I have to remind myself of this when my novel is broken down into chunks that look a great deal like homework assignments.

When you have writers block, it’s about not being able to find the words to match your ego. Unfortunately, you need a hefty ego to write a novel. It’s a huge fucking task and you need the possibility of greatness as a carrot on the end of the stick. The problem becomes that we let the ego frame the questions we’re asking. Instead of just telling a story or writing a sentence, we ask the pen to produce the most brilliant and witty thing ever written. No wonder we spend so much time staring at blank paper.

I have to remind myself that this is all just a game and I write the rules. The game is not “write the most amazing thing ever” because that would be a sucky boring game full of disappointment and everyone knows it. Instead I must see what little dance I can get the words to do. A much more fun game would be “Let’s see if we can make the rhythm and cadence of the paragraph match the intensity of the characters’ current emotional state” or “Let’s see if we can make a really off the wall pop culture metaphor.” How’s about: “Let’s see if we can find a way to make an allusion to Jorge Luis Borges.” It’s a puzzle with a practically infinite number of solutions. You can always solve it one way and come up with a more elegant solution later.

Of course this is easier said than done.

I have a lot of “talking head” scenes, where I’ve come up with the dialogue but the descriptions are *weak. I would edit such a scene and it felt like playing “fill in the blanks” with description. This stifled my creativity as I had a preconceived notion about the length of each passage. I was asking myself the least creative questions (“What does the furniture look like?”), thinking inside the box.

And when I am producing this kind of blanks and boxes drivel, it helps to remind myself of the game. I do this—I write—for fun. Despite any bitching about “writer’s block” in some ways I can’t help but play this game.  If I’m going to write a sentence, I’m usually going to take the extra time to think of the best possible way to say it. I will not hesitate to ask myself if there’s some way I can throw in a joke, a bold visual,a  fresh metaphor—yay, even a pun. It may even be second nature, but I’d hate to say so because I know I lose points for allowing a cliché. Every tweet, every grocery list, every note in the margins will be scrutinized and scored, as fast and sure as any Yatzee roll.

From here on out, I’m not allowing myself to think of writing as a chore. Sodoku is a chore. Farmville is a chore. Word search? A chore. Character, story, dialogue: Not chores—challenges. Some things to wrap my mind around. If some beauty happens, so much the better.

 Pieces of the Grand Canyon

Something I’ve been listening to: Just Jack – Writer’s Block

*which is weird because when I was young I always prided myself on writing descriptions but felt very insecure about my dialogue.

We Burn Books

Burning the library in slow motion: how copyright extension has banished millions of books to the scrapheap of history Boing Boing.

I came across this nice article by Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing wherein he makes some interesting points on how current copyright laws have censored the majority of books.

the legal changes introduced in the years after Fahrenheit 451 did more than just extend terms. Congress eliminated the benign practice of the renewal requirement (which had guaranteed that 85% of works and 93% of books entered the public domain after 28 years because the authors and publishers simply didn’t want or need a second copyright term.) And copyright, which had been an opt-in system (you had to comply with some very minor formalities to get a copyright) became an opt out system (you got a copyright automatically when you “fixed” the work in material form, whether you wanted it or not.) Suddenly the entire world of informal and non commercial culture — from home movies that provide a wonderful lens into the private life of an era, to essays, posters, locally produced teaching materials — was swept into copyright. And kept there for the life of the author plus 70 years. The effects were culturally catastrophic.

This issue brings to mind the hardest part, for me, of working in publishing—seeing how many books are destroyed and being powerless to stop it. You would think that out-of-print books are worth more, since the moment it is declared out of print it is limited edition, i.e. those that exist now may be the only copies left in the world. The book industry in the only one where retailers are allowed to return the product if it doesn’t sell. But if they hold onto the book after it is out of print, the publisher will refuse the returns. Thus as soon as a book has been declared out-of-print book sellers nationwide box up every last company and return them to the publisher, who, having nowhere to sell them, has them demolished.

Naturally, you are wondering why they don’t just donante the books to libraries or other book-hungry institutions. The problem is again returns: they assume that a certain percentage of these would find their way back to the bookstores,  who will return it for full price. On each of these books the publisher, author and distributor are then paying the bookstore for the book and making zero profit—a risk they’re not willing to take.

So every time a book goes out of print, it is also removed from the shelves and incinerated. Yay, capitalism!

One Writer’s Process II

My apartment is a disaster.  There are dishes scattered about, paper strewn, twice-worn clothes in a heap.  My ass has been reshaped into the form of the cushion, and it hurts. My shoulders are killing me. I’m sick of listening to music.

“No! Take it back!” you say. For I am never sick of listening to music, as you, dear reader, probably know by now.

But I have been sitting in this same spot, listening to music and staring at this novel for the last twelve hours. I had determined that a four-day weekend  was plenty of time to finish the ten scenes that I haven’t been able to find the time to write for the last ten months.

OK, to be fair, I did write some of them. But writing scenes inspires a need to write more scenes, so no matter how much I wrote the conclusion of the novel seemed at least ten scenes away.

Believe it or not, in those twelve hours I got very little writing done. Hardly a page.

Instead, something even better happened. It was like a gift from my fairy godmother!

Where the writing happens, only much filthier
Where the writing happens, only much filthier

I had been miffed at myself of late. I had had plenty of good ideas for character, dialog, description (etc.) and not taken the time to get those ideas down. Then when I wanted to go write them later, of course the words didn’t take shape quite as easily.

I thought because I had been keeping up with entering the changes in my edited drafts, that I had most of the hand-written scenes entered.

I was wrong. I was so wrong.

Turns out those good ideas had been put to paper. I decided to go through every journal I have used since I started the novel and finally type in every last scrap of anything that I had hand-written but not entered into the draft yet.  We are talking eight journals and assorted random pieces of paper.  They were sentence fragments on legal pads, plotpoints in margins, conflict and dialog written sideways on notes from work meetings, whole scenes in journals I was sure would have nothing but diary entries cataloging various breakups…like the typical artist, my journals are as scatterbrained as my mind.

All together, in those twelve hours I typed seventeen pages, or roughly 8,000 words. I didn’t put them in their place in the story, just typed them straight through, separating them with useful headers.

You’d think it would be better for me to have written those enigmatic ten scenes, since this stuff would get entered at some point regardless.  You would think also that it would be better if there were several whole scenes rather than a ton of fragments.

Au contraire! I say in a terrible French accent.

Because the hardest part of writing is starting. It is much, much (much) easier to finish off a scene than put one word on a blank piece of paper. Now most of the scenes I need to write have already been started. I just have to fill in the gaps.  Even the two monumental mind-fuck *scenes that are going to be the hardest to rewrite had some significant edits hidden away that I had forgotten about.

Furthermore, this is tremendous validation that I actually did something in 2009 besides bite my nails, Blip, and fret over the aphids eating my tomatoes.

And plenty of what was written didn’t suck! That’s key of course.  I’m excited just to get this fresh content in because I am sick of looking at the same tired sentences I’ve been editing for ages. And those ten scenes smell a lot more like four scenes at the moment.

Moving forward: First step, naturally, is to stick all those scenes in the appropriate place in the draft. That may take the rest of the weekend. Then I will reprint the draft and continue editing it. This time I’m going to leave big spaces where I think there should be more content. Not sure whether I will start from page one or pick up where I left off.

Now to get off my ass and be unproductive!

_______________

*They entail describing pretty much the entire history of humanity in a touching, infuriating, frenzied dream. Exactly like that scene from Adaptation, actually.