Monday, July 30, 2012

The Morning Pages: 07/30/12


Random House is looking to expand its brand by creating its own TV channel.

After 125 years of publication, the Writer Magazine is going "on hiatus."

Many authors fear going into self-publishing because it could "kill their career." Dean Wesley Smith explains why this is a misconception, not to mention a baseless fear. He makes a good point: getting published traditionally is a shot in the dark, and you have a better chance of building a career by taking a chance on yourself, even if some of the established publishing houses look down on you for it.

In the future, there will be no more professional writers. I think "authors" would be a better term. After all, Tv and script writing isn't really going anywhere.

Stuck? Try asking your characters for help.

How to make a living writing.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

'Royal Jelly': The Stories of Udonis Haslem and Jim Butcher (Part 1)

How to Give Yourself 'Royal Jelly': The Stories of Udonis Haslem and Jim Butcher

Despite being a high-school basketball star and a Hall-of-Famer in the NCAA, Udonis Haslem couldn't get a job. While his game was fabulous in college, he was too heavy and too short to succeed professionally. He gave up on his dream to make the NBA, assuming he simply wasn't talented enough to make it - until he was introduced to coach David Thorpe, and his theory of Royal Jelly. Today, he's a two-time NBA champion.

Royal jelly is the food that turns a normal bee larva into a queen bee. Queen bees are not born - all bees in the same colony have the same DNA. Rather, they are made, as one bee is fed an exclusive diet of royal jelly, and the rest are condemned to drudgery. It's the diet and development of a queen bee that makes it unique, not the genes it was born with. Of course, I don't mean that you should literally douse yourself in the stuff.

Because I read too much sports literature, I stumbled upon David Thorpe's brilliant analogy on royal jelly and the development of athletes:

In most cases, players are largely the same. You've got your extraordinarily gifted players [...] guys like Kobe [Bryant] and Lebron [James], and then you've got players who just aren't very good. But most players are largely the same. And what separates them is the coaching aspect - where you get them to really believe they are able to accomplish whatever they believe in.
Thorpe goes on to describe how this theory of royal jelly can be practically applied:

I knew that he had a lot of things that the other NBA teams didn't see. And I had I had to get Udonis to believe that these things were enough to make it.
In other words, Thorpe knew Haslem wasn't going to be the best player in the league. But he also know that Haslem had strengths that, if emphasized and strengthened, would make him a valuable player in the NBA. So he focused purely on those.

I think the same thing applies to writers. Like it or not, not all of us have a Lord of the Rings in us. And while trying to build an epic fantasy that breaks down the established borders of fiction might be possible for you one day, it might not be what you're destined to do, even if it has always been your dream. Consider the story of Jim Butcher.

Jim Butcher wasn't always an urban fantasy writer
Jim Butcher wasn't always an urban fantasy writer
Butcher is most famous for his best selling Dresden Files series. It's a serial urban fantasy about Harry Dresden, Chicago's only professional wizard, and his struggle to destroy everything from vampires to weregoats (yep, like werewolves, except with goat). It's a fantastic series that's carved a great niche for Butcher.

But that wasn't what Jim Butcher set out to acheive. The Dresden Files started out as a diversion from Butcher's true passion: swords-and-horses epic fantasy novels. Later in his career, wrote about how the Dresden Files actually came about.

When I set out to become a writer, I spent years writing swords-and-horses fantasy fantasy novels—ands seemed to have little innate talent for it. But I worked at my writing, branching into other areas as experiments, including SF, mystery, and contemporary fantasy. That's how the Dresden Files initially came about—as a happy accident while trying to accomplish something else.

What's the link between these two people, and what were the common keys to their successes? What can we learn from their failures, struggles and successes?

What they tried: Each started off trying to be something they weren't: Udonis Haslem an All-Star, Jim Butcher then next in line after JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis and Terry Brooks. And neither was suited for the task.

Why they failed: Haslem went undrafted and Butcher was unpublished.

What they changed: They abandoned their original dreams and tried different paths in their professions: Haslem lost weight, refocused his energy on defense and rebounding. Butcher started writing short stories in different genres.

How they succeeded: And finally, each reached the height of their target professions: Haslem is a two-time champion, and will likely win at least one more. Butcher became a best-selling author, and has established one of the most consistent brands in literature.

The difference between failure and success for Haslem and Butcher was how they gave themselves Royal jelly - how they chose to develop It's the key for anybody who feels like they're struggling to find their own path to success.

Part 2: How to Give Yourself 'Royal Jelly'


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Morning Pages - 07/25/12


Amazon has used its Kindle products to spur software sales, to much success. Time's Ben Bajarin questions whether Amazon should be in the hardware business at all.

Forget the story of "The Dark Knight Rises." It's Batman himself who can teach you to be a better writer.

Seven ways you can tell if you're a good writer. #1: Somebody said, "You're a good writer!"

Somewhere in the world, a book company made profits. They said only academic books and that "somewhere" was Asia, but still.

"Transmedia" has become something of a buzzword in the writing industry. As we look for potential new streams of income and relevance in a world of declining books sales, authors look for more balanced and innovative ways to create. Jan Bozarth tells us of her experience on Publishing Perspectives.

Also, are transmedia stories better for kids than adults?

When we think of agents, we think of professionals trained to market and promote authors. But what if the situation is actually the other way around?

E-books: Not just for mommy porn anymore. Now they're also for Jesus.


Monday, July 23, 2012

The Morning Pages: 07-23-12

Apparently, copying Jack Daniels' design for your book will get you a the most polite 'cease and desist' letter of all time.
David Farland's Daily Kick in the Pants continues to be the best writing blog on the internet. One day, one day.

Penguin bought self-publishing company, Pearson, for $116 million. In other words, the marketplace is changing.

Amazon is growing and shrinking at the same time. They're reportedly adding mobiles to their e-reader and tablet Kindle brands. Their entry into hardware manufacturing is fascinating to watch.

Five Mistakes Killing Self-Published Authors



Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Morning Pages: 07/19/12

E-Books outsold hardcovers in 2011. That's hardcover books specifically, not paper books, but it's still impressive.

Editing. Is it too tough for women? (Hint: the answer is no.)

Authors have been criticizing Harlequin for a long time. Now, they're suing the publisher for royalties, among other things.

Thank God for Amazon! (And thanks to Passive Voice)

Pearson To Buy Self-Publishing Firm Author Solutions For $116M

21 Articles on Fonts in Book Publishing


Monday, July 16, 2012

The Morning Pages: 07-14-12

Time - Will Amazon Take Over the World?: "Amazon is already a behemoth of American business. It’s the 56th largest company in America by market capitalization. It’s the 15th biggest retailer in America by revenue and by far the largest Internet retailer. And in a country that seems already dominated by ecommerce, the company has a lot of room to grow. After stripping out things like gasoline sales that can’t migrate to the web, Raymond James analyst Aaron Kessler estimates that ecommerce represents roughly 12% of retail sales overall, and that that figure could double in the next ten years. And Amazon is not just growing along with internet retailing. It’s actually gaining market share in that category – by growing at three times the rate of ecommerce overall."

Publishing Perspectives - Should Agents Be Blamed for Stealing Authors?: "Agents who don’t have a roster of heavy hitters are in a much more vulnerable position. They must deal with the same publishers time and time again, likely negotiating on much more modest terms, and deliberately moving one successful author from one house to another might have long-term consequences."

The Miami Herald - 'Serious' Writers Green over Fifty Shades of Grey: "The trilogy, which was launched with Fifty Shades of Grey, has owned the top three spots on the bestseller list for more than two months, accounting for one in five adult-fiction physical books sold in the U.S. this spring. It took The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy more than three years to do what Fifty Shades has done in less than five months."

SFGate - Yelp's Trust at Risk from Phony Reviews: "Judging from recent reviews on Yelp, the Center for Counseling, Recovery & Growth was the place to go to turn your life around. The center in Torrance (Los Angeles County) racked up 14 coveted five-star ratings on the popular review site for its "warm and friendly therapists" and "beautiful offices." Many of the testimonials made similar points, sometimes in nearly identical language. That was no coincidence. Acting on a tip, Yelp uncovered what it dubbed a 'review-swapping ring' composed of members of a Los Angeles-area business networking group. Yelp said it was a coordinated effort by members to boost their ratings by posting glowing reviews about one another's businesses." via The Passive Voice

Write to Done: 10 Books for Writers - "Voice has become a buzz word in discussions of modern fiction; it is what every writer wants to have and what every reader wants to enjoy. Most writers struggle to unearth voice, not only because it is too familiar but also because it means confronting your world. You will find your voice by speaking naturally – by being yourself and not trying to be a great writer. Your voice is your most powerful tool. Your voice is how you write when you don’t have time to be elegant. Most writers infuse themselves in their work. When you read a good novel or a book, you leave with a sense that in addition to the characters, you have met a particular writer."

Writer's Digest - Lee Child Debunks the Biggest Writing Myths: "Show, Don’t Tell. Picture this: In a novel, a character wakes up and looks at himself in the mirror, noting his scars and other physical traits for the reader. 'It is completely and utterly divorced from real life,' Child said.bSo why do writers do this? Child said it’s because they’ve been beaten down by the rule of Show, Don’t Tell. 'They manufacture this entirely artificial thing.' 'We’re not story showers,' Child said. 'We’re story tellers.'"

Friday, July 13, 2012

Writing Advice from JRR Tolkien

Writing Advice from JRR Tolkein

I'm not one who thinks that advice from successful authors is the only advice we should listen to, for the same reasons that star athletes don't always make good coaches. We all think differently, especially the geniuses among us, and the skill of writing is different from the skill of teaching about writing. A mediocre writer might give great advice, while a great writer might give terrible advice - even if the inverse is more likely to be true.

At the same time, it's wise to listen to people who've had great success, if for no other purpose than insight into the mind of a success. With that in mind, I'm going to start looking at lessons from some of the great authors I'd like to imitate (read: steal from).

From JRR Tolkien (Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit):

"I find it only too easy to write opening chapters--and at the moment the story is not unfolding. I squandered so much on the original 'Hobbit' (which was not meant to have a sequel) that it is difficult to find anything new in that world."

Lesson: Hold Nothing Back. It's amazing to think that Tolkien finished The Hobbit, and thought there was nothing left to write in that universe. But more poignant is the idea that he never planned to do so in the first place. When Tolkien wrote The Hobbit, he wasn't thinking about writing sequels, or about leaving anything left in the universe for future novels. When he wrote his first novel, he was simply writing the best book he could manage.

"Every writer making a secondary world wishes in some measure to be a real maker, or hopes that he is drawing on reality: hopes that the peculiar quality of this secondary world (if not all the details) are derived from Reality, or are flowing into it."

Lesson: Write Your Dreams. One of the most seductive aspects of writing is your ability to play God. It's unique to writing as an art form that you have the ability to create your own universe, and to manipulate it as you see fit. The greatest writing comes from our ability to fully flesh out our greatest ambitions.

"If you're going to have a complicated story you must work to a map; otherwise you'll never make a map of it afterwards."

Lesson: Outline, Outline, Outline. I know from my own experiences that this is an important tip for beginning writers, and especially for novels. A lot of people think they can wing a novel without an outline. Unless you're a savant, you really can't. Even if you are a "discovery writer" you need a plan to pull off the more complex plot elements in your writing.

"I am dreading the publication, for it will be impossible not to mind what is said. I have exposed my heart to be shot at." ~On the pending publication of Lord of the Rings

Lesson: Fear Not Failure. We're all scared that our dreams won't come true. That the story we've been slaving over for months or years has actually been a complete waste of time. And that might be true. But it's better to have tried and failed; the payoff could resonate longer than your lifespan.

Source: Arwen Undomiel

The Morning Pages: 07-13-12

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”
—George Orwell

Writer's Digest - Money Is All that Matters in Marketing: "As a consultant and author, I’ve found that marketing represents the fast-lane to making more money. If you develop a good product or service, promote it to the right audience, and empower them to spread word of mouth, you can be rolling in dough before you know it. But, new technology seems to be acting like a strange pied piper luring people away from this business reality. Social media is causing too many authors to let their marketing efforts get hijacked by numbers and measures that are inferior to money."

Publishing Perspectives - iDreambooks Promises "Rotten Tomatoes-like" Site for Books: " promises to collate reviews from 'reputable sources,' thus helping readers make the correct purchasing decisions. Just as Rotten Tomatoes has its fresh/rotten rating, so iDreambooks has its equivalent, a 'must read' which occurs when a book scores at least 70% positive reviews on the Readometer. Simha defines 'reputable sources' as 'All the major papers and magazines — The New York Times, Washington Post and so on. We accept new magazines also, but they need to have been around for at least one year. On our site we have the criteria we use to define professional critics.'"

David Farland - Avoiding Cliché Openings: "In this past quarter, I came upon nine stories in a row where characters were opening their eyes and wondering where they were, who they were, and in some cases what they were. The tenth story skipped, and then I got four more. Unfortunately for the authors, I probably didn’t give those stories a fair shake. Literally, I saw a hundred of those openings in one quarter. In the same way, if you wrote a story about teens taking a journey to the center of the earth, that probably didn’t get you far, either."

Forbes - What Is the Future of Publishing?: "I get questions all the time from prospective authors who wonder whether it’s worth it to publish in the traditional way at all.  The quick answer is, for speakers it’s still important, for now.  For everyone else, it depends.  But everyone wants to know, where’s the book business headed?  Who’s going to survive, and what will the terrain look like when the battle is over?"

New Wave Authors - How the Kindle and KDP Helped Me Save My Little Girl: "You’ve probably heard from a lot of indie writers about the freedom that self-publishing in general or KDP in particular has afforded them. That’s all true for me, too. But what I will always remember most about my publishing experience in the winter of 2011-2012 was the surreal experience of receiving—on the same day—a packet of medical bills that scared me half to death and a royalty check that erased them."

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Morning Pages: 07-11-12


Pando Daily - MacMillan Planning for the Future: "The publishing giant has given Williams a sum greater than $100 million (he won’t say exactly how much) to acquire ed-tech startups that will eventually be the future of Macmillan. The plan is to let them exist autonomously like startups within the organization, as Macmillan transitions out of the content business and into educational software and services. Through the entity, called Macmillan New Ventures, Williams plans to do five deals this year and 10 to 15 over the course of the next five years. He’s buying companies that will help Macmillan survive as a business once textbooks go away completely."

Publishing Perspectives - Why Is Europe's E-Book Policy so Schizophrenic?: "VAT on print books and e-books across Europe varies significantly from country to country (see our chart below, in which the UK, with a 20% VAT on e-books is absent). Earlier this month, the European Commission have been issuing notices that seem to be at cross purposes. Yet earlier this month the Commission said it was launching an “infringement procedure” against France (France is currently at 7% on e-books with plans to again reduce it to 5.5%) and Luxemborg (at 3%) for offering lower rates on digital than print titles. This news came only days after top publishers met with the EC, and where Neelie Kroes, the European Commission’s vice president, responsible for Europe’s Digital Agenda, and advocated an open market policy for e-books."

Book View Cafe - The Amazing Story of Amazing Stories: "The history of this publication is fascinating to read and rife with conflict and change. It was often considered little more than a publication of pulp fiction, and yet such writers as Roger Zelazny, Isaac Asimov, and our own Ursula K. Le Guin published stories in Amazing. The magazine was declared dead in 1995, revived in 1997, declared dead in 2000, revived in 2004, declared dead in 2006. For five years Amazing Stories lay in its grave until 2011 when Steve Davidson acquired the trademark name and announced he intended to revive it as an online concern. Which brings us up to date. Steve Davidson has indeed launched an online version of Amazing Stories."

A New Kind of Book - What Readers Need vs. What Devices Can Do: "Most ebook experiments do a better job of showing off our devices rather than solving specific reader problems. We get video extras, web links, piped in Twitter feeds. Problem is, these “enhancements” often answer the wrong question: what can we add? In an age of Information Overload, readers don’t need more; they need help. A video of battle footage may be fun to watch, and a simple way to add what’s not possible in print. But what students of World War Two often struggle with is much more mundane: remembering key events for that upcoming test or prepping for an essay they’re writing."

Huffington Post - The Magic in Writing: "Many hesitate to record their journeys and muses because they feel their words are not eloquent, that their thoughts are not important enough to be recorded. Once again, I say there is a magic in writing. As a therapist, I encourage every client to write. This journaling need not be anything more than personal letters to ourselves, reminders and a witness of what we are experiencing. In this journaling we record and build bridges in our journeys, leading to pathways previously not traveled. It is one of the master keys to a puzzle that will reveal itself through time and review. Journaling is one of the most valuable therapeutic tools one can participate in. The bonus is there is no financial investment (other than a tablet and pen) and done consistently, its rewards will amaze you."


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How to Love a Cheater - Character Building

How to Love a Cheater

We like cheaters. Don't get me wrong, we hate being cheated on, and we might not like a cheaters as people. But in stories, cheaters create lies, subterfuge, and deception - drama. And we love drama.

The balance comes when it's your main character - a person who almost always needs to be liked - doing the cheating. To deliberately deceive and lie to a person that you're supposedly in love with is something that repulses most of us, and not many writers want their protagonists to be repulsive. So at the risk of being crass, how can you make cheating OK with your readers?

Honest Mistakes Happen - We can accept when people make mistakes, but only when they behave like adults and own up to them. Not to say cheating is, or isn't forgivable. But as outsiders, we're more likely to forgive and forget if a character treats his mistake as such, and does what he can to make the situation better.

It's Her (or His) Fault! - Show us that this person is in a truly miserable relationship, and that it isn't their fault. After all, if your partner is an evil, jobless leech who treats you like dirt, but you have to stay together because of kids/mortgage/lawyer fees, wouldn't your be tempted?

Make It Sexy - Then there's the temptation itself. Don't just tell us that your character wanted to stray, and did. Show us the person they're cheating with. What makes them appealing and irresistible to your character? In doing this, you not only show us more about what makes your character tick, you do the job of putting us in their shoes. After all, if reading about the new flame turns us on, how can we blame your character?

Nobody's Perfect - Everybody has a weakness. Some people eat too much, some are emotionally needy, and some people cheat. Adultery is a sin that has some dark consequences for the people who get hurt, and that struggle and pain can add real depth to your story. Instead of explaining it away as a one time mistake, explain to us why your character has this issue. Did something happen to him as a child? Does he have commitment issues? Is he just always surrounded by temptation? Use your protagonist's philandering to help us define him, and those around him as people.

Cheating is one of the real "show, don't tell" situations in writing. It's often treated fairly casually by authors, but in most situations, it's anything but. Whenever your characters stray from their relationships, (even if it doesn't culminate in sex) it's important to give the readers concrete and enticing reasons for it. It doesn't have to be explicit - our relationships with people are among the most powerful and emotional experiences in our lives. Dig into their depths and they will deepen your prose.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Morning Pages: 07-09-12

To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.”
—Allen Ginsberg, WD

How Penelope Trunk Got a Big Advance and Self-Published Anyway: "More than 85% of books sales are online, mostly at Amazon. It used to be that a print publisher could look at the data about which stores are selling the book and which are not, and then they’d have a good handle on who is buying the book. Suburban people or city people. Northern people or Southern people. Business book stores or gay and lesbian bookstores. It was decent demographic data. But Amazon tells the publishers nothing. So the publishers have no idea who is buying their books. Amazon, meanwhile, is getting great at understanding who is buying which book. The person who has the relationship with the customer is the one who owns the business."

Book View Cafe - The Fine Art of Faking It: "But what happens if the writer really isn’t paying close attention, and really doesn’t realize how little she knows about a subject, and chooses a subject that’s a bit more fraught than a farriery schedule? What if she chooses a real setting, either contemporary or historical, and writes about real events, which living people may remember, or may have heard about in detail from their elders? What if she’s convinced that she’s researched enough to write with authority about the setting and the events–but she’s in fact missed significant details? Can she still claim the 'it’s just a romp' defense?"

The Wall Street Journal - Your E-Book Is Reading You: "In the past, publishers and authors had no way of knowing what happens when a reader sits down with a book. Does the reader quit after three pages, or finish it in a single sitting? Do most readers skip over the introduction, or read it closely, underlining passages and scrawling notes in the margins? Now, e-books are providing a glimpse into the story behind the sales figures, revealing not only how many people buy particular books, but how intensely they read them."

Publishing Perspectives - DRM, Publishing, and How We Can Help Privacy End Itself: "Nevertheless, it also raises one of the big three issues which is causing consternation and confusion in the publishing industry - whether to DRM or not to DRM (the other two issues being the agency model and territorial rights). It’s already difficult enough for customers to find, purchase and read e-books in the manner in which they would like, as the Open Road issue above illustrates. If independent retailers hope to compete in an online marketplace, and publishers hope to continue to work with a wide variety of retailers, we must not construct any extra barriers such as DRM."

L.A. Times - Neal Stephenson Kickstarts Video Game Career: "Neal Stephenson, author of science fiction novels such as “Snow Crash” and “Cryptonomicon,” wants to swap his pen for a game controller. The 52-year-old writer, whose work has been honored with a Hugo Award,  the Arthur C. Clarke Award and multiple Locus awards, has come up with a concept for a  fantasy sword-fighting game called Clang.

But as the author followed an unfamiliar industry’s path, he learned how difficult the terrain can be for independent game developers who have a fresh idea but not a track record or reliable brand name."