Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, October 25-27, 2012

Apologies for missing you yesterday: 3 hours on the road for a 2 hour meeting will chew up a big portion of a day. So we’ll catch up with a 3-day post today and Monday’s will cover just what’s left of today plus Sunday and early Monday.

Interestingly, the best posts of the last few days have either been about the business of writing, or just plain fun pieces. Nice contrast. Let’s get the work done first.

BUSINESS

We’ve all heard about (pun fully intended) audio books—they’ve been around a long time. Jordan Dane (@JordanDane) writes about her experiences in Self-Publishing in AUDIO on The Kill Zone. She worked with an organization called Audiobook Creation Exchange, so other sites and companies will be somewhat different. For Your Information.

James Watkins (@jameswatkinscom) provides seven reminders/warnings to follow to ensure you Don’t Sabotage Your Writing/Speaking Career on WordServe Water Cooler. Many of these cautions are against having “unprofessional” e-mail addresses, business cards, web presence, social media posts, and so on. Having a bad reputation is, of course, bad. And so is having taken advantage of “free” publishing opportunities in ways that brand you still an amateur. Remember: writing is, at the end of the day, a business.

Along that desperate-amateur line of thinking, Victoria Strauss (@VictoriaStrauss) has put up a couple posts on Writer Beware ® Blogs warning of Two More High-Entry Fee Book Awards and a dodgy America’s Next Author Contest. Strauss goes into detail on why each of these programs are ones you should stay away from. Far away. Desperation to be published is one of the worst reasons to give up your rights as an author. Don’t.

In that same vein, Kristine Kathryn Rusch (@kriswrites) discusses Rights Reversion in her weekly Business Rusch column. What is “rights reversion?” It’s getting back certain of the publication rights (part of your overall set of copyrights) from a publisher after a certain period of time has elapsed or certain conditions have been met. In this very long post, Kris discusses how publishers can play games with authors to keep rights from reverting, and how authors can unwisely sign away any chance of having the publication rights to a given work ever come back to them. This post IS long, but if you don’t read any other one, read this one.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) writes a long post discussing the question Do Publishers Need to Offer More Value to Authors? The key word here is “need” and the underlying question is who has the need. To summarize the piece, Jane says that while authors would like publishers, particularly the “Big 6” publishers, to provide more author-centered service, publishers do not yet see the need to do that, and until they do—and she believes they never will—they won’t. Depressing? Maybe. A case for more and more self- and e-publishing? Probably.

OK, enough depressing stuff. Let’s have some

FUN

Could you write your own memoir in just six words? That’s Rachelle Gardner’s (@RachelleGardner) challenge to her readers in Too Much Coffee? No Such Thing, which, by the way, is hers.

Bad reviews are depressing, right? But what about, in the scope of history, they also turn out to be wrong—really wrong? Enter Robert Bruce (@robertbruce76) of 101 Books, excerpting some such reviews from a longer list on Flavor Wire, in “Mr. Scott Fitzgerald deserves a good shaking.” It’s interesting to note how many of these reviews come from the New York “Literary” circles. Guaranteed to raise a smile.

And finally, John Vorhaus (@TrueFactBarFact) complains about (with tongue planted firmly in cheek—I think), then engages in Verbing the Nouns on Writer Unboxed. This is all about playing with words to create our unique writer’s voice, and while it’s laugh-out-loud funny, there’s also a serious point to it. (I know, I know: how disappointing. J)

What Great Stuff have you discovered? Let us know in the Comments.

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Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, September 11 and 12, 2012

I have to start today’s post with an announcement: Great Stuff and Critique Technique will be going on a short hiatus. Later in the week I’m off for a non-writing conference and expect not to have the time it takes to put together these posts. I expect to return to the blogosphere and your computer screens no later than Monday, September 24th.

OK, with that out of the way, we can get to the reason you and I are here. The one piece on craft today is from Kim Weiland (@KMWeiland): Is the Cliffhanger Ending Overrated? Kim’s answer, as you might expect is, “it depends.” At the ends of scenes and chapters, cliffhanger endings can serve their purpose of launching the reader onward–so long as they’re not overused. At the end of a book that’s part of a series, however, there are other, better ways–Kim names four: strong plots, concepts, characters, and themes–to entice the reader to go buy, or be willing to wait for the next book.

In that transition zone between craft and business, we find P. J. Parrish’s (actually writing sisters Kristy Montee and Kelly Nichols) Kill Zone post, I get knocked down but I get up again. Much like the lives our characters lead, the writer’s life often seems to be a series of setbacks and failures with only the occasional success. Parrish offers three strategies for coping with the frustrations of the business: find support, focus in not out, and have faith. Easier said than done, maybe, but who ever said this business was easy?

Fully into the business world, now, there’s:

  • Angela Ackerman (@AngelaAckerman) writing on The Bookshelf Muse about Building Suspense [by] Meeting Readers In The Middle. Suspense works best–for that matter, so does any story–when the reader is engaged and emotionally involved. You knew that already, of course, but Ackerman offers techniques for HOW to do it.
  • Over on Jane Friedman’s (@JaneFriedman) blog, Shirley Showalter (@shirleyhs) wonders Why Is There a Surge in Memoir? Is It a Good Thing? While I’m not only NOT a memoirist and have no interest in becoming one, fully a quarter of the Cochise Writers Group are, so I have an interest in the topic. Showalter suggests that memoirs have experienced a boom that may have already peaked, yet interest in them persists, perhaps because readers have a desire for–a “hunger” for, she calls it–a slice of reality, not the pseudo-reality of cheap-to-produce TV shows, and memoirs feed that need.
  • Joel Friedlander (@JFBookman) lets us in on The Biggest Secret of Book Marketing Success on The Book Designer. Two secrets, actually, one not-so-dirty-little or secret but one authors either don’t know or don’t want to hear–“No one knows in advance which books will sell and which won’t sell”–and the other, which comes in three parts: “write the best book you can and get an editor to make it better; make sure the book speaks to the audience you wrote it for, and let readers judge whether you’ve hit your target; and get your book in front of enough people who don’t know you to get the ball rolling.” If you need to hire a book publicist to help you do that, hire one. If not, be ready to do the work yourself.

We’ll close with two funny pieces.

  • The first, via Michael Swanwick’s Flogging Babel blog, is a promotional video clip for a documentary on science fiction writer Harlan Ellison. I first encountered Ellison in person waaaay back in the ’70s when I was in college. The years have not mellowed him. For comparison, Ellison was Joe Konrath before Konrath was Konrath–but with a sense of humor. That said, as Swanwick warns about The Writer Must Always Get Paid, “His opinion on this matter is intemperate, angry, obscene — and absolutely correct.” And, IMHO, LMAO funny.
  • And finally, Robert Bruce (@robertbruce76) introduces us to comedian Dan Wilbur’s Better Book Titles web site via a 101 Books post of the same name. What Wilbur does is retitle books with something that more accurately reflects their contents. No work is out of bounds. Shakespeare’s As You Like It becomes Crossdressing Helps Everyone Find Love. Ouch. But to tell the truth, cross-dressing was an element in many, if not all of Shakespeare’s comedies. (Robert’s right that the web site is a bit awkward to navigate: the retitled works are down the home page on the right, and you have to click on one to see all of them and their original titles.) There aren’t a lot of retitled works on the site now; let’s hope there will be more.

OK, that’s it for now. “See” you again in ten days or so.

 

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, September 6 and 7, 2012

Even though last weekend was a three-day weekend here in the U.S., it seems like it’s this weekend that my favorite bloggers are getting ready to take off for early. So, there’s not a lot of great stuff out there in the worlds of craft and business, but the fun and “that’s interesting” categories try to make up for them. Off we go, then.

In the craft world there’s just one post, from Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner): 4 Tips for Writing Your Personal Story by guest blogger Dan Miller (@48DaysTeam). While I’m not personally interested in writing memoir or other kinds of self-revelatory work, some of the members of my writers’ group are memoirists and I know some people feel driven to write such work. Miller’s tips have to do with being sure what you’re writing will be interesting to someone other than the author, a not-so-subtle point some would-be writers fail to get.

There’s more on the business side, starting with, unfortunately, a couple more tough pieces.

  • Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s (@kriswrites) very long, as usual, Business Rusch column, A Good Offense, deals with other slimy things traditional and electronic publishers and others involved in publishing have been doing and will continue to do. Kris’ fundamental point continues to be this: writing isn’t just a craft, it’s also, especially today, a business. If you’re not willing to learn how to operate, and especially, how to protect yourself, in a business environment where some actors are bad actors, you’re going to be hurt. GOING to be hurt. Kris offers examples of some of the scummy things people are falling for and offers tools and information on how to avoid them and protect yourself. Tough love for fellow writers.
  • Along the same lines, lawyers Sheila and Gerald Levine guest blog on Writer Beware! about Electronic Distribution and Control of Creative Material. WARNING: this post reads like it was written by lawyers. But at the same time, the examples they provide of how some “aggregators” of creative content (like your work!) can–legally!–get you to give up all control over it are chilling. Read, learn, and beware!
  • There’s another–different–group of people out there on the web who are if anything even scummier than the people Rusch and the Levines describe: “content scrapers.” These are folks who suck up others’ web-posted work and republish it for their own benefit (read, profit) without the original author’s knowledge, consent, or compensation. Robert Farrington of The College Investor (Google+ address) describes two relatively easy ways How to Hit Content Scrapers Where It Hurts on @ProBlogger. In short, the process involves filling out one or both of two Google forms, then sending a “Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice” to the offending site. As Kris Rusch notes, if you don’t defend yourself first on-line, no one else will.

WHEW! That’s enough of the heavy stuff! Let’s finish and head for the weekend with some MUCH lighter fare.

  • We’ll start with Kevin Kelly’s (@kevin2kelly) Sourced Quotes, 15 on The Technium. Perhaps my favorite is the “Understanding Online Star Ratings” chart, but the quotes are all over the subject map, going all the way back to a joke about the telegraph!

What If You Do?

As my wonderfully supportive writing buddies are well aware, I’m working on what I hope is the final revision of a memoir about the avian and human loves of my life. But I’m not sure everybody knows why the book got written in the first place.

Sure, I had the raw material–years of living with four small, unpredictable South American parrots whose love and acceptance redeemed me through successive heartbreaks until I found my husband, Dennis. Raw material is never enough, however. I needed to overcome my resistance to starting a long work in the first place.

This is where Beverly Claire Jones came in, a writer/photographer friend who visited from New Mexico in 2006 and asked me a key question: Did I plan to write a book about the parrots? Her timing wasn’t random or accidental. A couple of months earlier, Peaches–the first of the birds in what I called The Gang of Four–had died of a virus, possibly cancer.

I told Beverly I’d been thinking about writing a memoir but hadn’t started. Why not? Because I was afraid I’d get bogged down or wouldn’t see it through, and then I’d have another incomplete book sitting in a box, like the fantasy novel I’d begun when I got divorced years before. I didn’t need to mortar one more brick into the edifice of my self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy.

Actually, Beverly knew me well enough that I could give her the shorthand version: “What if I won’t finish it?”

She looked me right in the eye and said, “What if you do?”

“Oh,” I sputtered. “Well, uh . . . ”

I was busted. When we sat down to do writing exercises together, I wrote a scene for the book–the one where Maggie got stuck in a wall, and I had to take it apart to rescue him (yes, him). After that, I couldn’t stop.

Fast forward to the 2011 Pima Writers’ Workshop in Tucson, where an agent read my first chapter and asked me to send him the manuscript when it was done. What’s the connection? Having an agent ask for your work is a desirable outcome that you cannot get unless you have a manuscript.

Which means you have to start. And, heck, you might as well, ’cause what if you finish it? For one thing, even if you’re looking at a lot of revision work, finishing just the first draft means you’ve mortared a brick into the edifice of your self-confidence and feelings of adequacy. That that can carry you a good, long way.

Revision as Experiment

This spring, I began the final (I hope) revision of my memoir about my years with parrots and the search for the human love of my life. Rather than approach the manuscript willy-nilly, I wrote out a plan, plus a few general ideas I wanted to keep in mind as I worked. I posted these on my computer screen as Stickies. This is one of the most useful programs I’ve encountered, and it’s free. (www.zhornsoftware.co.uk/stickies/)

My list included reading through the entire stack of critiques from two previous versions of the book, from two different writers’ groups. When you’re talking about this amount of paper, you have to measure it with a ruler. My stack was a foot high.

Right away, I ran into trouble, and not just because of the sheer volume of paper and suggestions. In both versions, two critiquers–men who read science fiction and action novels–suggested that I needed to remove my personal backstory from the first chapter and weave it into later sections. They agreed that Chapter 1 needed to focus on the beginning of my relationship with the parrot I’d just brought home and that the bits of personal history slowed down the action and might keep readers from getting hooked.

The biggest problem I had with their comments wasn’t technical; it was neurological. I had read and revised that first chapter so many times without making any essential changes that it had become grooved into my brain. I couldn’t see how to make the suggested changes. And I wasn’t sure I wanted to. The women in the group thought the backstory and pacing were fine, and I believed that the majority of my audience would be female.

OK, Stephen King says that if you receive contradictory suggestions from roughly equal numbers of trustworthy readers, you can call it a push and write it the way you want. I was inclined to do just that. But there was another element: My ego had gotten involved. The chapter had won first place for nonfiction at a writers’ conference. Didn’t that mean it was good enough? If an agent or an editor at a publishing house–someone with a check in his/her hand–thought the backstory should come out, I’d do the rewrite.

Two questions kept gnawing at the back of my brain and finally shook me out of my complacency:

  • What if the way the book was structured kept an agent or editor from getting to the point of asking for revisions in the first place?  They might reject it with a casual “not for us,” and I would never know why.
  • What did it mean to win that competition?  I wanted it to suggest that I had written the most memorable prose the contest judge had ever read. What it really said, though, was that of all the work submitted, she thought mine was the best; nothing more.

With these insights, my ego finally yielded, and I saw a way to approach the revision: Think of it as an experiment to which I did not have to commit. I wasn’t burning any bridges. I could always revert to the original version–especially if my agent or editor wanted to see another approach.

The point of an experiment is to find out something. What did I learn?

  • Not to get too attached to a particular version of a piece–or to notice when that’s happened.
  • Try different approaches without getting too serious about them. Play with a variety of ideas. You’re just going out to coffee with the revision, not making any until-death-do-us-part promises.
  • Don’t let the resistance build up. If I’d tried this experiment the first time someone had suggested it, I wouldn’t have made the mere thought of revision so difficult to consider for so long.

Here’s the laugher: Once I found the right way to look at it, the whole experimental revision, including transitions and storing the parts I had cut in their own file for use elsewhere, took about two hours. This brought to mind my mother telling eight-year-old me that if I had spent half as much time and energy cleaning up my room as I had complaining about it, I’d already be outside, playing hide-and-seek with the rest of the neighborhood kids.