The Writer’s Table

Scott William Carter, the guy who came up with the WIBBOW test (Would I Be Better Off Writing?) did a post about a metaphor he created, looking at writing/publishing activities as a table. The four legs are four activities you do as a writer, or actually any kind of creator, if you substitute art or music or whatever for writing:

Leg 1: What you write
Leg 2: How much you write
Leg 3: How much you learn
Leg 4: How you market

It’s not complicated, but it’s an interesting, and I think useful, way of thinking about what you want to do, how to focus, and how to balance your writing-related activities. Scott discusses each leg, how they support your work, and how it fits together. Check it out. (Scroll down a bit once you get to the page, about half way. Start at the paragraph right above the table diagram.)

Angie

PS — one of Scott’s examples cracked me completely up 😀 You can tell he’s not into romance, like, at all. [snicker]

Starting Over

So, it’s January first again — a new beginning. To a lot of writers, it’s a time to heave a sigh of relief and reset your counters to zero. That’s exactly what I’m doing, and it feels pretty good.

One or two of you might’ve noticed I stopped updating my wordcount counter several months ago. My writing crashed, and I never got it back, despite trying a few times. My real 2014 wordcount is a few thousand greater than my counter was showing yesterday, but not enough to sweat over. I made a little over 200K words last year, when my goal was 300K. That’s a pretty huge failure.

Back in 2012, my year-end total was a little over 80K words. I considered that to be a huge failure too. And coming into the last month and the last week of the year, I felt about the same in 2012 as I felt in 2014 — depressed at failing, and eager for a new start. The difference this year is that my horrible, huge failure in 2014 produced about 2.5 times as many words as my horrible, huge failure in 2012. That’s a pretty great failure, if you think about it.

Aim high, miss high.

I have a goal of 300K new words of fiction again for 2015. Hopefully I’ll make it this time. With luck, I’ll pass it. But even if I fail, so long as the failure is up in the six digits, I’ll have done a decent chunk of writing. I’m good with that.

I finished eleven stories in 2014, and no novels. I’m going to shoot for a goal of an even dozen shorts and at least one novel in 2015.

I have stories coming out in four anthologies this year. I’ll finally have a significant (relatively [cough]) number of publications on the SF/F side, and that’ll be cool. I’d like to have at least as many next year, but that’s just a wish; I can’t force someone to publish one of my stories, so all I can do is keep writing and submitting. Putting myself into a position where editors and publishers can decide to accept my work is all I can do on the tradpub side.

I also want to indie pub at least six short stories this year. It’s not a lot, but I’ve been wanting to get into the indie side for a while now. It’s time to take some action, so those six indie shorts are a goal. If I can do more, great.

I’ll be starting up the Anthology Market posts again this month. I apologize for going on hiatus for December; I should’ve announced that. I’ve noticed that a lot of publishers take a vacation in December too, though, and a lot of writers back off to do holiday things. Hopefully we didn’t miss much, and everyone’s ready to dive back into the pool this month.

I started a new blog for Angela Penrose, my SF/F writer persona, at http://angelapenrosewriter.blogspot.com/. It’s meant to be a resource point for readers, rather than a place for writers to chat. The Anthology Market posts are not cross-posted over there, and I’m keeping that blog very low traffic. That’s where I’m talking about new SF/F releases, and similar things readers might be interested in. I’ll probably mention major milestones here as well, but I wanted an uncluttered place where a reader could find my work without having to take a machete to a lot of writer talk and general blathering.

[Yes, I have a Gmail account for that name. I don’t check it very often. If you need to get ahold of me, angiepen at gmail dot com is still the best general address, or angiebenedetti at gmail dot com if it’s for something romance-specific.]

I had a decent holiday, with some ups and downs. I got a lot of books for Christmas, which is always a good thing. 🙂 I hope everyone else had a great holiday too, and is ready to get back to work.

Angie

Workshop and Sales and Business

So the first chunk of the year was pretty hectic, and I’m just getting back to normal. I wrote six stories in six weeks starting in early January, for Dean and Kris’s anthology workshop. The way this works is, there are six professional editors, each editing an anthology that’ll be brought out as part of the Fiction River line. Writers who’ve signed up get guidelines (book title, length requirements, theme, sometimes more info depending on the editor) and deadlines. The deadlines were one per week for six weeks, each Sunday, midnight Pacific time, no late subs accepted, no excuses, period. A lot more students got all six stories in than any of the instructors expected, although considering how Dean pounds the pulpit of getting your butt in the seat and your hands on the keyboard and doing the work, about how writing faster means spending more time writing not just typing faster, of how to make it as a pro you need a good work ethic (see previous about spending more time writing), I’m not sure why they were surprised. 🙂 Personally, I was kind of afraid to sub fewer than six stories and then show my face at the workshop, so I didn’t. Anyway.

The workshop was pretty awesome, although hectic. We all read all the subbed stories, which totalled about 250. So between writing for six weeks, then frantically reading up to and through most of the workshop, I did very little else for the first two months and change of this year. Once we were all settled in Lincoln City and got rolling, the way it worked was that the editors sat up at the front of the room, with the students in rows, sort of like a college classroom, but with rectangular two-person tables instead of those awful little desk-chair things. Lots of laptops and notebooks for taking notes.

We did one book per day. All the editors commented on each story, with the editor who was actually editing the book going last. Other editors either pretended they were editing that particular anthology, or in Kris’s case she pretended she was still editing F&SF, and in Dean’s case he pretended he was still editing Pulphouse Magazine. They went through the stories one at a time, each editor saying whether they read all the way through and why or why not, whether the story hit any of their reader cookies or anti-cookies[1], and whether they’d buy it. The final (actual) editor did the same, but if they said “Buy” they actually were making an offer. Or sometimes they held a story to the end, then looked over all the held stories and made final buy/no-buy decisions while building their TOC on the white board in front of the class. That’s always fun to watch, and instructive.

The point of having all the editors talking about all the stories is to show us that editors disagree. I think we all know this on an intellectual level, but still, there’s a strong tendency in Writerland to assume that because a story gets a form rejection right off the bat, the story must suck. Some writers send a story out once or twice and never again, convinced it’s garbage because it didn’t get bought right away, or because it only got form rejections. (Kris, a bestselling writer, an award winner in multiple genres, got three form rejections just that week. Which is a pretty rude thing for an editor to do to a name writer, but still, it happens to everyone.)

Actually seeing the editors not only disagreeing but actively arguing with one another makes quite an impact, though. Three editors tried to convince Dean to buy the story I’d written for his book. They failed, but they all (including Dean) were pretty sure I’d sell it somewhere else. (It’s sitting in an SF magazine editor’s queue as I type.) Three editors tried to convince Kris to buy the story I wrote for her book. They failed, but again, everyone agreed it’d probably sell. (And it’s sitting in a mystery magazine editor’s queue.) People were still needling Dean about the story of mine that he’d passed up days later. Kris said they’d talked about it at home while they were reading submissions, but she couldn’t convince him, and neither could all three professional editors when they ganged up on him in class.

Now, all this was a wonderful balm for my disappointment at not making this or that sale, but the point is that three professional editors would have bought that story if they were the one editing that particular anthology. We all know that different editors produce different anthologies, that two editors doing similar books with the same or similar themes will put together books that feel different, have a different theme or a different point of view, and therefore a different list of stories. We all know that. But seeing it playing out in front of you, sometimes with raised voices or pointed jokes or annoyed scowls or incredulous expressions? That makes you feel it, not just know it, and I think that after watching the editors arguing over stories one is less likely to think, Yeah, I know a lot of stories just had to find the right editor after fifty submissions, but MY story sucks.

Watching an editor narrow their holds down to the final roster is instructive as well. I imagine most of us have had the experience of being told in a rejection letter, “I had enough great stories for four books, but unfortunately I can only publish one,” or something similar. It’s easy to think, Yeah, but my story wasn’t quite great enough, or maybe, The editor’s just being nice, letting me down easy. But actually watching an editor agonize over the decisions makes it clear that this is hard. One of the editors, I thought she was about to start crying a number of times, and particularly when she was letting down people whose held stories didn’t quite make it.

One difference I noticed from last year was that there weren’t as many invites. Last year each book was at least half full by the time the workshop convened. Name writers were invited to submit, presumably to get some names on the covers that’d help sell the books. (How to Save the World, the book I sold a story to, has David Gerrold and Laura Resnick on the cover, among others.) That makes sense; anthologies are a tough sell anyway, and it’s clear why Kris and Dean, as the series editors and owners of the publishing company behind Fiction River, would want to give their new anthology series the best launch possible. I was expecting the same thing this year, actually, but there were very few invites this time.

Which isn’t to say there won’t be any “names” in the books. Aside from Kris and Dean, who write stories for all the anthologies, Lisa Silverthorne and Ron Collins are regulars at the anthology workshop; their names regularly appear on the covers of SF magazines. And I spent the workshop week sitting next to Cat Rambo. (I managed not to ever fangirl her, because I am not a complete dork one hundred percent of the time. [cough]) But they reported that the series is doing better than they’d expected, reviews have been good, and they’re gearing up for more publicity and some experimentation.

One of the experiments came about during one of the aforementioned sessions of agonizing over the final buy list on a book. There were three more stories Kevin Anderson, who’s editing Pulse Pounders — basically a collection of short thriller type stories — wanted to buy, but he didn’t have the budget. Mark LeFevre, the Kobo Writing Life guy, was also attending the workshop. He cornered Kevin, Kris and Dean during a break and made an offer on behalf of Kobo to help fund the three extra stories for a special expanded Kobo edition of the book. There’ll be an expanded edition of Kris’s book too, Past Crimes, a collection of historical mysteries. He was actually willing to do Kobo special editions of all the books, but Kris and Dean want to start slowly, with the two books that they think have the widest audience. The reasoning is that because this is something new, they want to give it the best chance to succeed. If they do special editions of all the books and some don’t sell well, it might be taken as a failure of the expanded edition concept, rather than just the individual books selling slowly. They want to give the concept the best chance to succeed, so it can become a thing that other editors/publishers and other e-book vendors would consider doing.

Another new thing is that they’re filling and scheduling books a lot farther out, so that they can get ARCs done and available in time to send them out to the major review sites the requisite 5-8 months in advance. For that reason, the two books I sold stories to won’t be out until 2015.

Oh, right, I sold a couple of stories. 🙂 John Helfers, who bought my story for How to Save the World last year, is editing a book called Recycled Pulp this year. It’s a cool idea — he created a bunch of ultra-pulpy sounding titles, and we had to write modern, non-pulpy stories that fit the titles. Each writer who wanted to sub for that book sent in three numbers between 1 and 250, and we got back three of the titles off the list. We could write to whichever title we wanted. My story is called “The Crypt of the Metal Ghouls,” and it was a lot of fun to write.

Kerrie Hughes is editing Alchemy and Steam, which is pretty much what it says on the tin. Kerrie really likes alchemy — it’s one of her reader cookies — and she wanted stories that were a blend of alchemy and steampunk. I wrote a story called “The Rites of Zosimos,” with plot points based on some actual concepts a Greek alchemist named Zosimos of Panopolis wrote about. She liked it a lot and it’ll be fun working with her. And I think I might get a series out of the setting/characters. [ponder]

Alchemy and Steam is scheduled for April of 2015, and Recycled Pulp is scheduled for December of 2015.

And I might have some work lined up for later this year — more info 1) when/if it happens, and 2) when I can talk about it. There’s awesome networking at these workshops, though.

Random notes from the workshop discussions, both during the week around stories and on the last day when we did break-out sessions with experts in various areas:

Kris told some stories about crazy-ass things writers do to get an editor’s attention. Everyone’s heard the story of the guy who sent his manuscript in a pizza box, with a pizza in it, right? With a note saying something like, “Thought you’d enjoy a snack while you read…?” I heard that online back in the 80s. Well, Kris had a better one. When she was editing F&SF, she’d head down to the Post Office regularly to pick up bins of mail, and she got a note to go pick something up at the window. The Postmaster came up holding an envelope dangling at arm’s length. The envelope was black and covered with actual (not fake) cobwebs, and had actual dead spiders glued to it. O_O The Postmaster asked her, “Do you want this?” Kris sort of stared at it and said, “No.” Postmaster said, “Good,” and went to throw it away. Seriously, who thinks that kind of thing is a good idea?

Writers are usually wrong about what genre their story is. If you have something out in submission or indie pubbed that’s not selling, and you’re pretty sure it’s a good, well-written story, that might be why. Have a few people read it cold, then ask them what genre they think it is. You might be sending it to the wrong editors, or have it tagged as the wrong genre/subgenre at the vendor sites. Genre is a marketing tool, so if you mess that up, everything else about your marketing of that story collapses.

Ever notice how SF in books and magazines is such a tiny genre compared with SF in movies and TV shows? SF is huge everywhere except in the books and magazines where it begain. Originally, SF stories all had basically the same endings — science triumphed and the good guys always won. Then in the seventies, SF sort of collectively decided to go all literary, and a story could have pretty much any ending, including negative or depressing or bleak ones. Genre readers like knowing approximately how the story is going to end, though, so SF has lost a lot of readers, both people deciding they didn’t like the new stuff and leaving, and older readers dying without being replaced by new readers. (I can confirm that the attendees at SF conventions centered on book/magazine fiction are greying; I’m probably on the low end of average age at most of those cons, and I’m 50. Whereas media SF conventions and comic book conventions are full of kids in their teens and twenties.) Literary fans expect their endings to be variable, so they read literary and like it. Most SF fans, though, expect science to triumph and the good guys to win, and since the seventies, fewer stories delivered that. So most SF fans watch the movies and TV shows but don’t read the books or magazines. Most fans of book/magazine SF don’t consider the TV/movie fans to be “real” SF fans, but come on, seriously? [sigh] There are still stories with that kind of ending, but you’re not guaranteed to find one if you pick an SF book at random off the shelf. In trying to be literary, SF is slowly strangling itself. (I’ve heard discussions on the convention side that in a generation or two, the traditional, fan-run convention for people who read SF will vanish as its attendees — and the people running the conventions — age and die. Same thing, from the readers’ perspective instead of the writers’.) The take-away from this discussion, IMO, is that if you want to build a good fan base with your SF, and attract younger readers, write stories where science triumphs and the good guys win. Or if that’s not what you’re into, that’s fine but be aware that your reader pool is shrinking.

Genre is moving toward being an author name rather than a traditional genre category. (Dean is pulling all his different genres, written under a pile of pseuds, most of whom nobody knows are him, back under his Dean Wesley Smith name.) You can make this work, especially going indie, but it’ll take longer to build your reader base if you’re writing all over the genre map. Although in reality, if you do want to write across various genres, it’s going to take you a while anyway. It takes a certain number of books/stories — individual titles — to hit a tipping point where your discoverability starts fueling itself. This number, which seems to be between 25 and 50, depending on a lot of factors including luck, is per genre/name. So if you write SF/F, romance and thrillers, for example, it’ll take 25-50 titles in each genre to get your sales and visibility in that genre to take off, if you’re publishing under three names. It’s looking like publishing three different genres all under one name doesn’t change that very much; a lot of readers still read only one genre, although that’s slowly changing.

(Related story — I was talking to a writer friend who knew a third writer who was complaining that his career hadn’t taken off, his sales were abysmal, he needed an agent because he had to have the career help. [sigh] I poked around and saw that he had three pen names, each with one book published. [headdesk] Well, no wonder he hadn’t taken off! Three books under one name would still make him a newbie and almost invisible so far as the readers are concerned. The way he’s been doing it, though, from the POV of the readers he’s three newbie writers, each of whom has only one book out. No wonder readers hadn’t noticed him. Same thing, though — visibility is about volume, about having enough titles out there that readers have a chance of tripping over one and then finding the rest.)

Speaking about short fiction, once an editor starts buying your stuff, show some loyalty to that editor. If you sell an SF story to a magazine, send that magazine all your SF stories first, give that editor first refusal on your stuff. Particularly if you’re writing a series, always send new stories in that series to the same editor who’s been buying the series. Offering a series story first to someone else, a different magazine or an anthology, is rude and unprofessional.

When you set up your business account for your writing income (you did that, right? especially if you’re indie pubbing?) refuse overdraft protection. If someone hacks your account and overdraws it by a few thousand, the bank will be happy to give them that money, then not only charge you that amount but also the overdraft fee.

Be careful about (book) contracts from British publishers, which are reportedly even worse than book contracts from American publishers.

John saw a contract which said that if the copyright laws changed in any way in the future, you automatically agree to it, in perpetuity. It’s unenforcable, but would still be a pain to deal with.

Some setting details are what Kris calls phony setting. So frex., if you say your characters are in “a renovated church,” each reader is going to have a different image in their head, which are all probably going to be different from the image in your head. Actually describe the setting so the picture in the reader’s head is at least close to the one in your own. That prevents sudden jolts later on when you refer to something that doesn’t at all match what the reader was imagining.

The Cricket magazines (which pay wonderfully well) have a horrible contract, but if you tell them you can’t sign it, they’ll send you the good one.

Hard fantasy is like hard SF, but the fantasy is the tech — it’s explained, works consistently, and has the nuts-and-bolts feel that hard SF has, if the world actually worked on magic. (I actually write a lot of hard fantasy and didn’t know it. 🙂 )

We talked some about how Audible was lowering its royalty from 50% to 40%. Dean says that’s a good thing because their business model is sustainable now. Also, they’re dropping the dollar per sale that they paid directly to the writers — circumventing the publisher — whenever an audiobook was sold. They did that to force the publishers to clean up their accounting. A writer who got $X whenever they sold X audiobooks knew that they’d better see X audiobook sales on their royalty statement from their publisher. I wish the e-book vendors would/could do something similar and force the publishers to clean up their e-book accounting the same way.

We talked some about manuscript formatting, and how italics has replaced underlining in modern manuscript formats. Although if a market still demands paper submissions, assume they’re also old-fashioned in their formatting, and use underlines.

The choice to quit the day job and go completely freelance is usually made at a point of crisis — a lost job, frex. — rather than because a reasoned decision has been made. Start thinking about what you’d do and how you’d do it. What if you lose your job next month? And can’t find another one in a month or two or six? Do you know how to gear up to get your writing paying more of the bills, or any of the bills? Having some idea of what to do and how to do it if you have to transition over to full time writing Right Now will make a horribly stressful life roll a little easier.

If/when you do go full time, cut expenses as much as you can. Protect your writing time; that’s what pays the bills. If you’re selling regularly, a cleaning lady can be a good investment. If you make $30/hour or $50/hour on your writing, it’s totally worth it to pay someone $15-$20/hour to wash dishes and vacuum and do laundry. Also mowing the lawn, pruning the trees, cleaning the pool, whatever. Protect the writing, and spend that protected time writing.

Don’t let the publishing overrun the writing; one suggestion is to set aside one day per week for doing your publishing work, formatting and covers and uploading and updating the accounting. The rest of the time, write. New words of fiction. Research isn’t writing, outlining isn’t writing, editing isn’t writing. Marketing/promo is most definitely not writing. (One of the worst things you can do is write and publish one book and then spend the next year on marketing and promo. Don’t do that. Write the next book. And the next and the next.)

One way to protect your writing time is to stay organized. Checklists are good. So are systems you can implement over and over again. Have a long-term plan so you know what you want to accomplish (including non-writing tasks, like learning to do covers, learning to format POD paperbacks, setting up and starting to collect sign-ups for a newsletter, learn/implement a more comprehensive business accounting system, take a class — larger one-time goals you want to hit) and in what order you want to do them. That way, when you find you have time/money for a larger task, you can look on your list and see what’s next, rather than have to dither around, doing “research” and making the decision over again every time it comes up. Your goals and ordered list can change, if there’s a reason, but making that list in the first place is part of your long-term planning.

Have similar plans month-to-month. List deadlines for any trad-pub books or stories you’re doing, plus goals for finishing writing on Book C, formatting on Book B, a cover for book A and uploading it to vendors P, Q and R. Monthly goals should be realistic, based on how much time and/or money you have to spend, but treating it like a business with goals and deadlines makes it that much more likely things will get done. (No, I’m not this organized yet myself.)

Schedule time to learn stuff. There’s a lot to learn if you’re going freelance, especially if you’re indie pubbing. The learning is going to take time, so plan that into your schedule. Protect the writing, but make learning something that’ll help your business a strong second priority.

You need at least 15-20 titles up, per pseudonym, before it’s worthwhile to do any marketing. (Yes, there’s a pattern here.)

Whew. That’s just hilights from what I wrote down in a notes file. There was a lot more, and I absolutely got my money’s worth. I felt the same last year when I only sold one story, and the year before when I sold none. This is an awesome workshop, and Dean is taking sign-ups for next year right now. The workshops on the coast are invitation only, but you can write to Dean and ask for an invitation. Explain your experience and your goals, and why you want to attend. I had no pro-level sales when I wrote and asked for an invite, and I got into the anthology workshop that year. It’s doable, and it’s absolutely worthwhile.

Angie, getting back into the groove

[1] A reader cookie is something you just love to see in a piece of fiction. If you’re really into Cthulu stories, then that’s a reader cookie for you. If you love stories about soldiers, or cyberpunk, or grumpy protagonists, those are reader cookies. Something you seriously dislike, bad enough that it might prevent you from enjoying a story, might even prevent you from reading the story, is an anti-cookie. If you really hate stories with a child protag, or a lot of car-mechanic-jargon-babble, or spiders, then that’s an anti-cookie. Sending an editor a story full of that individual’s anti-cookies means the story will probably be rejected, no matter how good it might otherwise be. Unless it’s absolutely stupendously fabulous in every other way.

New Year

I’ve been pretty quiet for the last few weeks, so I thought I’d crawl out of my cave and say hi. I’ve been sick a few times, got to know more of the folks working the local ER. I missed holidays with my family because I’ve been afraid to travel; having to start from scratch to break in a new ER staff, convince a bunch of strange doctors that I know what’s going on and how to treat it, when at times I have to argue with the local ER staff who have my history in their records, just feels like too high a hurdle when I’m already feeling lousy. All together, my give-a-damn broke down about halfway through November, and I didn’t feel like getting it fixed. I’ve read a few million words, played a lot of solitaire, and generally vegged for a while. I’m actually feeling eager to get back to the writing, so I guess the downtime did me some good.

My 2013 writing goal was 250,000 words. Even taking the last seven weeks or so of the year off, I managed 304,169, which feels pretty awesome. It’s the most I’ve ever done since I started keeping track, and I’m pretty sure it’s the most words of fiction I’ve ever written in a year. I had two novels come out this year — Captive Magic and The Executive Lounge — and one short story in an anthology that paid pro rates, another first for me that I felt pretty good about. I finished eight other short stories, which are making the rounds on the pro-pay side. All together, I’m pretty happy with 2013.

My 2014 writing goal is 300,000 words. It’s obviously not a stretch goal, but I know myself; if I push too far and fall behind at some point, I’ll get depressed and it’ll be twice as hard to catch up. Almost a third of a million words is still pretty decent, and if I pass it, that’s a bonus.

I’m looking forward to the coming year, and I hope everyone else is too.

Angie

Trying This Google+ Thing

Okay, so what happened is a couple/few months ago (don’t remember exactly how long) I came across this add-on for Chrome that’d let you use the old Compose box with Gmail. I really hate the new one, and a lot of people seemed to like this add-on, so I added it on. It had a quirk or two (like adding space between the lines in your in-box right after you’d used Compose) but I could live with that to have the old Compose box back. And all was well for a while.

Then like a month ago, I suddenly couldn’t get into Gmail on Chrome. First it was just my desktop system, but a few days later it broke on my laptop too. I had no idea what the problem was. I could get into that Gmail account just fine on Firefox, or even [shudder] Internet Explorer, but when I tried to bring it up in Chrome, it just kept cycling and cycling forever, as though it were processing the page but couldn’t get anything to resolve. I logged out and logged back in — nothing. I logged out, restarted the computer, then logged back in — nothing. I tried approaching Gmail from different angles — nothing.

Now all this time, Chrome had been bugging me to “complete” my Google+ profile for my AngieBenedetti mail address and, like, get with their system. I wasn’t interested in another social network thing, so I ignored it. But eventually, after trying everything I could think of, I though, Maybe Google’s messing with me because it wants me to do this Google+ thing? It wouldn’t be the first squirrely thing some huge company had done to try to get folks to use one of their products, and Google’s been closing its eyes on its “Don’t be evil” thing now and again over the last few years, so I figured I might as well try. So I set up my profile on the angiebenedetti mail account.

Nothing.

[sigh]

I moved on, and eventually figured out that it was the add-on that let me have the old Compose box. 🙁 I turned that off and poof! I could see my in-box in Chrome again. I figured the most recent Chrome upgrade had hosed the add-on. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that Google did it deliberately, either, because they have major issues about forcing everyone to do things exactly their way. But anyhow.

So I had this Google+ profile floating around out there, with basically nothing but my name on it. Then someone added me to a circle. And someone else added me. So I guess I’m sort of there whether I planned to be or not?

I decided to give in and at least try it. I filled out my profile a bit more, and added a couple of people to circles, but most of the folks it suggested to me to add weren’t people I know terribly well. If you’re active on Google+, even if only a little, and would like to add me or have me add you or whatever, let me know. I’m still woefully ignorant about how this system works — I’m not even sure if you’d look for me there as “Angie Benedetti” or “AngieBenedetti” or “Angela Benedetti” — so however you want to ping me about it, do that. 🙂

We’ll see how this goes. If it turns into a huge timesink, I’ll probably walk away. But for now, it might be fun. Anyone else playing?

Angie

Busy with Business

Wow, two anthology posts in a row! I’ve never done that before. I’ve been kind of busy, doing some cool things.

Early in May I attended a workshop on how to do POD books — covers, interiors, marketing and selling, with a lot of really shocking info on how the business has changed very recently. I spent the time between my April anthology post and the workshop itself fiddling with Photoshop Elements (which it turned out I didn’t need for the class 😛 ) and InDesign, which is an awesome tool — once you’ve learned even the basics of ID, it becomes clear why it’s the industry standard. Once you have your art (for about fifteen dollars off a stock art site — and yes, they have art art as well as photos) you can do the whole cover, beautifully, in InDesign.

Flowing the text in is easy. Front matter goes in first, then your story or novel text; ID will create as many pages as you need, and you use master pages to set the layout. The fiddly part here is making sure the formatting works at the line- and paragraph-level. Hunting for widows (the first line of a paragraph alone at the bottom of a page), orphans (the last line of a paragraph alone at the top of a page, and widowed orphans (the last line of a paragraph, totally alone at the top of a page, with no other text on the page) can make your interior look much better. Most of these can be fixed easily by using the tracking tool on a whole paragraph at once, tightening or loosening it enough to pull a lone word or two up onto the previous line (re-flowing everything up to close the space) or to push a word or two onto the next line (pushing everything down a line) while not changing the spacing so much that someone casually reading will even notice.

InDesign is an incredibly powerful tool, and there are usually multiple ways of doing just about anything, which means it can be overwhelming at first. Having personal classroom instruction, one-to-three instruction with Allyson in small groups, and people coming around to give us one-to-one help during lab periods, was worth the cost of the workshop, and then some. The workshop was taught by Dean Wesley Smith and Allyson Longueira (Allyson is the publisher at WMG), with help during labs by a couple of local writers who are old hands at this and came to help out. Lee Allred was particularly awesome in giving assistance to all of us newbie book designers.

And really, that’s what it comes down to: the design. You can achieve the same results with other tools, but what’s important is the design. Look at other books in your genre — professionally published books, not just indie books — and see what they look like. What elements are on the cover? How are they laid out? What’s large or small? What elements are associated together, and placed near one another? Notice those little tags — “Bestselling author of Popular Book,” or “Book 3 of Author’s Cool Series” — that are too small to read in thumbnail? You still need them on your e-books. Even if they’re unreadable in an online bookseller’s catalog, they’re design elements and readers are used to seeing them, even as a little line of unreadable text, on professionally designed covers. The cover will look naked and unfinished without them.

What’s included in the front matter, and how is it laid out? What do new chapter pages look like in a novel, or new story pages in a collection or anthology? What does the spacing look like, between the headers and the text, the footers and the text, the text and the margins? If your presentation is amateurish, potential readers (buyers) will notice, even if they can’t articulate what bugs them about a particular cover or interior. New York has conditioned us to expect certain things about a professional book, and if an indie book doesn’t have all those things, or they’re not laid out the way we’re used to seeing, that’ll ping our “amateur” alarm, even if we can’t put our finger on why. Learning how to design the book, and the cover, is more important than learning to use kerning tools or feathered gradients in a particular software package. (Although you really should learn those things in whatever software you’re using.)

So before the workshop, I was playing with the software and watching instructional videos online. Then I was in Oregon for a week and a half, and a lot busier than I thought I’d be. The day I flew to Portland, I met a writer friend [waves to PD Singer] at the airport, along with a friend of hers who lives in Portland, and we went and had lunch with a few other writers in our genre who are local to Portland. I love meeting internet people in realspace, so that was very cool. After lunch, Pam and I drove out to the coast, and we roomed together for the workshop itself. We sat next to each other in class, swapping help and opinions and angst. 🙂

After the workshop, we drove back to Portland and Pam dropped me off at my hotel. When I’m at these workshops, I like staying an extra night in Portland; not having to scramble to catch a plane that day means that I can flex my schedule to match that of whoever’s driving me. One of the writers we had lunch with on the way out came to my hotel that evening. [waves to Amelia Gormley.] We chatted, had dinner together, and chatted some more.

The biggest bomb dropped on the workshop, though, was during the evening sessions, which were all business discussions. Remember Ella Distribution? I mentioned them a couple of months ago — they were set up to distribute indie books by small publishers to bookstores. Well, Ella is gone. It was well organized, with an awesome web site, and had great people working on it, but within less than half a year, the industry changed. Now, not only is Ella no longer necessary, but it can’t compete with the big kids on the playground.

Dean and Sheldon McArthur (Shelly’s one of the best known booksellers in the country) talked to us about what’d changed recently with the distributors. Basically, 1) Baker and Taylor no longer marks books as POD published, and Ingram and the others followed suit; 2) B&T (and the others) now offer POD books at a good discount to booksellers, about 45%, and more if they keep on top of their bills; and 3) B&T (and the others) now allow returns on POD books.

There are indie-pubbed books in bookstores right now. If you go through Createspace, and pay the extra $25 for extended distribution, your books are available to bookstores through their standard distributors, on terms that make stocking them attractive. The only barrier right now is your book’s presentation — mainly cover and summary blurb. (Again, does your cover look professional, or does it look amateur?)

The playing field between an indie-pubbed book and a midlist New York published book is now level when it comes to getting into bookstores.

Shelly talked about how he finds books to buy for his store, through the distributor, through publisher catalogs and promotional material, and through sites like Goodreads, where he’ll go to see what books people might be talking about that he hadn’t heard of. He’s been buying indie books ever since the distributors changed their policies. He doesn’t care where a book comes from so long as it’s a good book, professionally presented, and neither do the readers.

Dean and Kristine Kathryn Rusch are talking about this all month on their blogs, in much more detail. As always, there’s good stuff in the comments, too. I highly recommend you read their posts on the subject. (Actually, if you’re a writer I highly recommend you read their blogs all the time. Lots of great stuff there.)

During all this, I had a deadline on the 15th to get a story turned in for an event running in June on Goodreads, and the story I was writing was getting longer and longer and longer…. [headdesk] When I wasn’t futzing with InDesign during the workshop, I was writing, and after I came home I was still writing. I got it done, a 60K word novel that’ll be available on Goodreads some time in June, and as an e-book on Goodreads and ARe some time after that, depending on where it is in the very long list of books the group’s volunteers have to work on. I’ll be doing a paperback version some time after that. (I did a cover for it at the workshop.)

And now I’m back to writing other things.

The business is changing while we sit here. If we stay on top of the changes, and take advantage of them, they’ll work for us. This is a great time to be a writer, and a wonderful time to be indie publishing, or getting into it if you’re not yet.

Angie

Blog Moderation Techniques

Okay, this is awesome. 🙂 How does one handle jerkwad commenters? Sure, you can delete their posts, but certain practitioners of gluteal haberdashery are annoyingly persistent. What to do?

John Scalzi (a big-name SF writer, for anyone not into SF) has a ridiculously popular blog and doesn’t shy away from controversial topics. I generally agree with him, so in my world he’s a good guy, but there are folks out there who disagree with him strongly on various matters. If they’re willing to be civil then all is well, but certain individuals come sliming and frothing their way onto his blog, spraying putrid stupidity all over the curtains. His usual response is to delete them (using the Mallet of Loving Correction — some SF fans actually gave him a real one at WorldCon, like a fancy judge’s mallet but about three feet long) but some folks, when their comments have been malleted, just keep coming back over and over. Handling them is annoying and takes up time.

So he borrowed a technique from blogger Jenny Lawton, in a move one of his commenters called “setting the Mallet to ‘Kitten.'” It made me laugh, and after a couple of kittenings, a recent jerkwad couldn’t take it anymore and vanished, yay!

I only wish I had 1/100 the blog traffic Scalzi does. My current jerkwad visitors are all comment spammers; moving up to active asshats would be an indication that my blog had achieved a new level of readership, so I’d actually kind of welcome that, at least as an indicator of popularity. [wry smile] Right now, I don’t even need a Mallet, much less one with a “Kitten” setting. When/if I ever do, though, I’ll keep it in mind. [snicker]

Check out the Kitten setting.

Angie