Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Erotica: To Write or Not To Write?


Back in the day, writers were told that if you wanted to make a lot of money, fast, then you had to write pornography. They used the word 'pornography' rather than 'erotica' because back in the day there was no erotica! Well, maybe there was, but I don't think it was called that.

As the end of the month nears and I contemplate my back-balance being plundered as my rent cheque barely squeaks through, I wonder if writing about something other than urban fantasy would be more financially lucrative (hell, almost anything would be more financially lucrative!). I've gone so far as to try to calculate the average Amazon ranking for books in each of the categories (fantasy, science fiction, erotica, and so on) to discover which kind of books sell best, but, as far as I can tell, books with erotic content don't seem to do markedly better or worse than any other kind of book.

I will confess to putting some thought into the question of whether an unknown author of erotic romance has a better chance of selling their work than an unknown author writing in another genre. Personally, I doubt they do. Here's why: I think that, all things being equal, the key to an unknown writer selling a story is how easily the writer can define and write to their market for that story.

Let me try to say that again, only in another way. (Here we are stipulating that the stories we are comparing are equally well written.) A writer who knows more about what her audience wants to read, and who writes accordingly, will have a better chance of selling their story, provided they can connect to that audience. I think this counts for a lot of the success Harlequin has. They know the demands of their audience and they give their audience what they demand.

Of course the size of the audience matters. I imagine that the market for erotic stories is enormous (suddenly it seems all my words have a double-meaning!), but so is the market for urban fantasy, or just plain old romance stories. Also, as John Locke mentioned in his excellent book, How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months, it isn't just the size of the audience that matters, it is whether you can connect with that audience, as well as how engaged that audience is with you as a writer, and with what you write (that is, how likely they are to buy your work; the more likely they are, the smaller the audience needed). Or something like that.

I'm blathering. If anyone would like to share your thoughts on this, please do, mine seem to be running around chasing their collective tails. Also, what genre do you think is the most profitable?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Publishing With Smashwords


Smashwords is an ebook publishing and distribution platform for people, scribblers like myself, who publish their work in ebook form. If you are an independent author -- a writer who has chosen to publish their work themselves -- Smashwords provides a fantastic opportunity to get your book into the hands of readers while retaining control over every step of the process.

I have published two books through Smashwords and it has been a great experience. While I'm learning how to be a publisher, marketer and publicist, I'm part of an ever expanding community of mutually supportive writers and readers. What's not to like?

What Can Smashwords Do For Me As A Writer?
Smashwords will not only help you publish your book but will act as a distributor getting your work into digital bookstores. Here are a few of the retailers Smashwords has access to: Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Nobel, Sony, Kobo and the Diesel eBook Store. (For a complete and up-to-date list, click here.)

How Much Do I Have To Pay To Publish Through Smashwords?
Smashwords is free! This is from the Smashwords FAQ:
We don't charge for our ebook publishing, conversion and distribution services, and we don't sell publishing packages. We earn our commission only if we sell your book, and our commission is only 15% or less of the net, which works out to slightly under 10% of the retail price when your book sells at our retailers.
If I Publish Through Smashwords Does That Mean I Can't Publish Through, For Instance, Amazon?
Not at all! Smashwords allows an author to opt out of certain distribution channels, allowing you to publish your work to that channel yourself. For instance, although I'm using Smashwords to publishing my book, Until Death, to iTunes, Barnes & Nobel, Sony, Kobo and the Diesel Book Store, I chose to publish my book through Amazon myself, without help from Smashwords.


My Experience With Smashwords
When I first heard about Smashwords it sounded too good to be true. I've published two books through Smashwords so far and -- while formatting my first book was tedious -- I found formatting my second book, Until Death, to be relatively painless. At the moment it only takes me about half an hour to format and upload a file. Speaking of which, here are some formatting tips and tricks:

- Styles. When I was formatting my book files I found it worked best if I used styles based on the normal template when I did any formatting. This saved me, oh, so much work. The last time I did this my manuscript went through the meatgrinder with zero errors. Yay!

- Table Of Contents. This is what I do, I know other folks do it differently, but this works for me. I number each chapter simply with "Chapter 1", "Chapter 2", and so on, and I don't bother typing out a listing of the chapters in the beginning of the book.
The first time I formatted a book file I spent half an hour just formatting a fancy table of contents and put links from the chapter headings in the manuscript to the TOC entries and back again, but I kept getting errors when the manuscript went through the meatgrinder and the epub file wouldn't display properly in Adobe Digital Editions. After I removed my lovingly constructed table of contents, everything worked perfectly.

Recommended Reading For Publishing on Smashwords:
When I first formatted my book file for Smashwords I knew nothing, absolutely nothing, about the process. Here are a few links to resources. I've read every one of these books and they helped me enormously.

1. Smart Self-Publishing: Becoming an Indie Author, by Zoe Winters.
I can't recommend this book highly enough. When I bought it I was hoping Zoe would give some advice about marketing, but she did very much more. I stepped through her description of how to publish on Smashwords the first time I went through the process. Her advice was great and it made me feel as though I had someone someone experienced with me each step of the way.

2. Smashwords Style Guide, by Mark Coker
When someone first recommended that I read the Smashwords Style Guide my eyes glazed over; it sounded too much like something I'd have to read for school. But I read it anyway and was glad I did. The Guide is well written, nicely organized and easy to understand.

3. Smashwords Book Marketing Guide, by Mark Coker
This is a must read. When I decided to become an independent author I knew nothing -- and I do mean absolutely nothing -- about promoting or marketing myself. A writing acquaintance of mine with a background in advertising recommended the Book Marketing Guide to me I am very glad she did. For instance, most of my sales have been generated through my Twitter contacts but I wouldn't have joined Twitter if it hadn't been for Mark Coker's urging. He's great! :)

I'd like to end this blog post with a few links to blogs that I've found enormously helpful:
- Joe Konrath: A Newbie's Guide to Publishing
Joe Konrath is the unofficial spokesman and leader of the indie publishing movement and he seems like a toughly nice guy. When I first started reading Joe's blog I knew nothing about the independent publishing movement. He was the one who showed me that there was a big difference between the vanity press movement of yesteryear and the independent publishing movement of today.

- Dean Wesley Smith
Dean Wesley Smith has written over, probably well over, a hundred books and has been part of the traditional publishing industry, both as a writer and a publisher, for many years. His series of articles contain essential information about where the industry is today and also give the beginning writer encouragement. I highly recommend this blog to anyone starting out who wonders if they will be able to make it as a writer.

- Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Kristine Kathryn Rusch has been in the writing and publishing industries at least as long as Dean and has won many awards for her truly incredible writing. Like Dean, Kristine doesn't mince words when it comes to talking about things -- gottya clauses -- to watch out for in a publishing contract as well as warning about trends in the industry that could harm a writer's career.

- The Passive Voice blog
The Passive Voice blog is written by an attorney who practices contract law and who has the uncanny ability to explain contracts in a way that a layperson can understand and even enjoy. A must-read for anyone who thinks they may sign a contract one day.

I hope that I've given you at least one piece of information about Smashwords that was helpful. Smashwords is a great publishing and distribution platform that I would highly recommend to anyone considering self-publishing their work.

Good luck!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Urban Fantasy & Paranormal Romance: The Difference


When people ask what kind of stories I write I don't know whether to say Urban Fantasy or Paranormal Romance because I'm not sure what the boundaries of each category are -- and also because I think I write both. That's my motto: If you can't pick between two great things, don't! (Buffets are my nemesis. ;)

Larissa Benoliel over at herosandheartbreakers.com has written an excellent post on what exactly Urban Fantasy & Paranormal Romance are, how they are defined, and then goes on to give examples of books she feels fall into each category. Folks, this is an amazing post! I agree with her 100%, but even if I didn't I would admire the thought behind her blog post as well as the clarity she has brought to a difficult subject.

Here are the highlights:

Urban Fantasy:
- "... Urban Fantasy is all about the paranormal embedded in a modern setting. There might be romance, but the romance is not the primary focus and a happily ever after is never guaranteed."
- Stories that fall into the Urban Fantasy category, "usually include a love interest and even a boyfriend or another, but the focus of the series is the action, character development, and the plot."
- Narrating Voice: Heroine narrates in first person. (Not always perhaps, but most of the time.)

Examples of Urban Fantasy:
- Kat Richardson’s Greywalker series
- the Hollows series by Kim Harrison
- Charlaine Harris's Southern Mystery series
- Stacia Kane, Unholy Magic

Paranormal Romance
"... the first thing that comes to mind when we talk about Paranormal Romance is the happily ever after, in a PNR series or novel, you can absolutely expect that there will be a HEA [Happily Ever After] for a couple in each of the books in the series."
- Narrating voice: "Paranormal Romances are usually written in more than one point of view and all in third person. We constantly get to get into the leading lady’s head along with the leading male and sometimes even the villain and other side characters as well."

Examples of Paranormal Romance:
- the Black Dagger Brotherhood series by J.R. Ward
- Gena Showalter’s Lords of the Underworld
- Lara Adrian’s Midnight Breed
- Larissa Ione’s Demonica series.

To read the rest of a truly excellent article, click here.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Kristen Lamb: 10 Reasons to Become a Writer


I love Kristen Lamb's blog, and her latest post shows why. Witty and poignant, she talks about that most dreaded of questions: What do you do?

Although I have a day job, I consider myself a writer. Whenever I tell people that either their eyes glaze over with disinterest or their next question is: Are you published? Then I have to go through the whole song-and-dance of explaining that I'm an independent author. Usually -- and understandably! -- they don't have any idea what it means to be an independent author and occasionally, horror of horrors, they associate it with vanity publishing and look at me as though I've sprouted a third eye.

Suffice it to say that the question, "What do you do?" has begun to seem ever more unfriendly and I'm seriously considering replying: "I'm a gynecologist. You?" That should end the discussion pretty quickly!

In any case, here is Kristen Lamb's humorous defense of the profession:
I still remember the day I told my family I was leaving corporate sales to become a writer. I think what they heard was something akin to, “Leaving any feasible way to make a living and feed myself. Joining a cult. Kool-Aid.” Or something close to that.

If you are a writer, then you know we share this collective pain.

People ask, “So what do you do for a living?”

“I’m a writer.”

“No, I mean what do you really do? What’s your job?”

Sigh.

So, to repay you for your pain, here’s a laugh at our collective expense.

Top Ten Reasons to Become a Writer

10. Therapy is getting too expensive

When you become a writer, the first thing that becomes clear is that if you are at all interesting enough to be able to write good fiction, then you are seriously screwed up. As in years of expensive therapy screwed up. Writers are not normal.

So why not take all those notebooks filled with letters to your Inner Child and turn those babies into cold hard cash? I say, it is time for us to demand Inner Child Labor. Instead of letting that ungrateful punk float around in our limbic brain, it is high time we make the little twerp pull his weight.

Have anger issues coupled with violent fantasies? You are a born horror author.

Attend sex therapy to deal with a porn addiction? Erotica author.

Have “Mommy” issues? Memoir author.

9. Revenge, Duh

What better way to get back at that jerk who stood you up for the big dance? Or the toad who slept with your best friend? You got it. Become a writer. Surely you can think of a story that is in need of a pathetic cross-dressing hermaphrodite who gets killed by an inflatable doll. Slap the ex’s name on him. Just change the first letter of his last name. Heck, use your newfound power to help out your friends. Surely they can give you lists. Find a need for a character who has a tragically small penis or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Become a writer and no one will cross you again lest they be found wearing hot pants while soliciting prostitution from sheep at the petting zoo in your next story. And hey, with the Internet, EVERYONE can be published.

8. High School Reunion Coming Up

So maybe you have done nothing with your life in the past 20 years. Who cares? All you have to do is find some out of print author and borrow his name for a bit. Hey, not like he is using it. Just tell those jerks you wanted to impress that you write under a pseudonym, and now you are “in between books.” Think of it this way, you can hold your head high that “you” accomplished something they never did, and, since you won’t have to see those jerks for another 5-10 years, no one will be the wiser. If you do get found out, it is just free publicity for the struggling dope you impersonated.

7. You drink a lot and it was either become a writer or attend AA

Enough said…

6. Can hang out with our friends somewhere other than the Renaissance festival

Renaissance festivals and Trekkie conventions can get expensive, especially when you work at the last Barnes and Noble left in your city. And while living with Mom does help off-set the cost of rent, World of Warcraft isn’t exactly free. Form a critique group with your pals and all vow to become famous writers. Hey, you still get to hang out and talk about elves and wizards and what you would do if you were a vampire, only now it is considered “work.”

5. Because what other job comes with a dress code of thrift store jeans and juvenile T-shirts?

Do you just love Superman, Mickey Mouse, or even Mr. T? I pity the fool! Feel like expressing yourself on 100% pre-shrunk cotton? Hey, if you were a 37 year old accountant or airline pilot, others might think that an entire wardrobe comprised of Xena, Firefly and Battlestar Galactica T-Shirts meant you were emotionally immature or “touched in the head.” Now that you’re a writer, you can be…eccentric. Hell, throw in a beret just to be extra annoying.

4. Because “writer” sounds so much more glamorous than “unemployed” or “Starbucks Hot Beverage Consultant”

Refer to Number 8.

3. Because it is the next best thing to having your own reality show.

Have a whacked out family or embarrassing habit? Write about it. The great thing is that now EVERYTHING is a tax write-off. Have an insatiable coffee, book and movie addiction? Then you are writer material. So go ahead and collect action figures, souvenir shot glasses and rare comic books. Do a “Tour of Pubs” and get plastered as you sample every beer under the sun. Or take that trip to Texas and ride the mechanical bull at Billy Bob’s. Just make sure you write about it, and then it is all deductable “research”…and the pictures your so-called friends post on their Facebook page of you being hauled away for Drunk and Disorderly Conduct are less “mortally embarrassing” and more “priceless promotion.” Just make sure you ask Denny’s for a receipt before they throw you out.

2. Because your family told you that you should be a doctor.

Don’t get along with your parents? Hey, go big or go home. What better way to insure your status as black sheep of the family than announce that you are giving up everything to become a writer? Short of announcing that you just converted to Scientology or that you sold all your stuff and are moving to a commune in New Mexico, telling the folks that you want to be a writer is guaranteed to make you the definitive pariah. And the plus side is that there is no studying chemistry or staying up all night to memorize Kreb’s Cycle. Just think of it this way, they will forgive you once you’re published anyway.

1. Because you can be….GOD!

Yeah, now you get a glimpse of how it feels to be the Big Guy. What other job, short of an IRS agent or a meter maid gives the raw power of being able to make or destroy lives with ….a pen?

Did I miss something? Do you guys have a reason you would like to add? Put it in the comments! Just think of this as group therapy without the privacy :D . What’s your favorite of the top ten posted? Can you relate? Share and we promise to laugh at yo-….um, be compassionate and supportive.
Read the rest of Kristen's post here.

Do you remember your very first story?


This is my 200th post! I thought, to celebrate, I would do something a little different.

As near as I can recall, my first story was about a Gothic mansion that was painted red inside. All the rooms, the hallways, every interior surface was painted red. The twist was that the red paint wasn't paint at all, it was blood!

I'm chuckling as I type this. I was in grade two when I wrote that story -- it was for an in-class assignment -- and I know now that dried blood is brown, not red, but that wouldn't have been nearly as dramatic!

My story came back from the teacher a couple of days later covered in red; not blood of course, but red ink. Apparently my skills as a writer needed some improvement. ;)

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote? What was it about?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Stephen King on his new talk show: We're a little to the left, but we're right


Stephen King is one of my favorite writers so this bit of news caught my eye. I'm going to see if I can't tune into the station using one of my nifty iPad apps.
BANGOR, Maine -- Stephen King is offering an antidote to what he sees as the biases of right-wing radio talk shows by hiring a former Green Party vice presidential candidate to co-host a morning talk show on two stations he owns.

In a rare public appearance, the horror writer held a news conference Tuesday in Bangor, Maine, at the headquarters of his three-station Zone Radio network.

"The Pulse Morning Show" will be co-hosted by 50-year-old Pat LaMarche and 43-year-old Don Cookson, a former television reporter. LaMarche ran for vice president as a member of the Green Party in 2004.

During the news conference King said, "We're a little to the left, but we're right."

The show will begin airing on WZON-AM and WZON-FM at 6 a.m. on Sept. 12.
Read more at the Sacramento Bee, here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hootsuite for Twitter: 5 out of 5 stars


I'm stubborn, I like to do everything myself. So when I first heard about Hootsuite I thought, "Well, that's fine for some folks, but I don't need it."

Yea. Just like I didn't need a food processor. This is a true story. For years I put off getting a food processor because I didn't think I needed it. I mean, what does it do? It chops vegetables! I can do that. After I broke down and got one, I had no idea how I'd ever managed without it. It saved me a lot of time. Hootsuite is like that; for me, it is the food processor of the Twitter world.

Here's why:
1. Hootsuite shortens my links for me.
Before I used Hootsuite I would go to bitly or tinyURL to shorten my link and then copy and paste it in my tweet. When I started sending out more than a couple of tweets per day this process became tiresome. One of the features I love about Hootsuite is that it has a URL shortener built in. It works beautifully and I don't have to go anywhere else for what I need. For me, this is a big plus.

2. Hootsuite can schedule tweets.
When I decided that I wanted to tweet more than three times a day I started using Hootsuite's scheduler. Wow! Very nice. It doesn't work as well for tweets that are time sensitive -- breaking news, that sort of thing -- but for everything else it is a dream come true. Just cue up your tweets for the day -- or the week -- and you're done. Before there would be, say, three stories that I wanted to tweet about but I didn't want to do three tweets one right after the other. I would try to remember to do one every three hours or so, but I would usually forget. The scheduler is like my underpaid digital assistant who takes care of these things for me.

3. Hootsuite is Free!
There are a lot of other great things about Hootsuite, but one of the things I love about it is that it is free. Yes, there is a professional version which costs 5.99 a month but I have been using the free version and am very happy.

4. Hootsuite Hootlet
A couple of days ago I discovered a browser addon that will capture the title and url of a post and dislay it. Here's what the folks at Hootsuite have to say:

We call the Hootlet our secret weapon because it has the power to completely change how you use Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin. Want to share a link? Hit the Hootlet button, and automatically, the URL is shortened and text is grabbed from the site.

The Hootlet is truly great, I'm hoping they come out with something like it for Safari.

That's my review of Hootsuite. Other reviews I've looked at have given it four out of five stars and I'll admit that I only tried out two or three different programs before I settled on Hootsuite, but I am truly thrilled with the program and will probably at some point spring for the professional version.

Cheers!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Five steps to better proofreading


Have you ever read your book or short story after it was published and cringed at the number of errors that made it through the proofreading process?

Matthew Stibbe from Bad Language tells us five secrets of better proofreading:
1. Create a checklist. Organize your proofreading efforts by writing down all the areas you will need to cover. A checklist can cover things such as grammar, spelling, sentence structure, and punctuation. Simply check off each item on the list once you have completed it.
2. Do a preliminary read. Rather than diving right into the document, briefly read over it once before starting your actual proofreading. Make a note of what stands out and come back to it when you start. It will help guide your efforts so you know where to focus your energies when you proofread.
3. Work smart. Tackle each problem one at a time. If you try to fix everything at once, you will miss errors. Focusing on a specific area such as spelling or punctuation can actually speed up the process and enhance your proofreading skills because you will be able to pinpoint specific mistakes faster.
4. Allow for breaks. When you are working with longer documents, it helps to divide the time spent on proofreading into small time blocks. Attempting to carry out the proofreading process nonstop can deplete your energy and make it much harder to get the job done. Allow yourself time to take a break every 15 to 30 minutes. Working in short bursts can help you stay focused long enough to get through your document.
5. Perform a final check. Quick proofreading the first time through does not mark the end of the editing process. It is important to read it through a final time after you have finished the bulk of the proofreading. This is simply an insurance policy to ensure you catch any stray errors you might have missed the first time.

Read more here.

Monday, August 22, 2011

On the importance of joining a writers group


Whenever I talk to writers I ask if they belong to a writing group. I am amazed that, most of the time, the person responds with 'no'.

Sometimes it's a horrified 'no', and I feel as though I've asked them whether they run a dog fighting ring in their basement. Sometimes it's a guilty no, as though they're confessing to not eating their broccoli or reading the latest James Patterson thriller (I feel I should mention that I've read one or two; I tell myself it's research).

Being the curious person that I am (in both senses of the word) I ask them, 'why not?' The horrified ones are usually afraid someone will give them negative feedback and they'll get writers block and the guilty ones feel that they should belong to a writers group because all serious writers do and it would be a great way to make contacts but they don't feel their work is quite up to snuff yet. They want to hold off joining one until they're just a wee bit better, until they've had a chance to give their stories one more polish.

I realize that what a writers group does for me may be very different from what it does or will do for anyone else, and that different people want different things out of writers groups, but, still, I think that both these groups of people have missed the point. I think that the single most important function of a writers group for the beginning writer is to let them know that other people take your work seriously enough to not only spend their precious time reading it, but to give you their honest thoughts about it. In my experience honesty tempered by kindness is a rare thing but that is what I have found in my writers group.

To the horrified writers I want to say that seeing your story through the lens of another's soul is worth the occasional sobering comment, and to the shy writers I want to say that joining a writers group is about agreeing to work together to help each other become better writers -- or something like that. Please don't hold off until you feel that your work is good enough, a writers group is just what you need to help you hone it. In the end, we write for ourselves but we also write for readers. Knowing what other people think of my writing has been an enormous help.

So, if you're a writer near the beginning of your career and you're not part of a writing group, what are you waiting for? Join one!

Caveat: I'm lucky to belong to a writers group that is a good fit for me. Some say that belonging to a writers group that is NOT a good fit for you is worse than not belonging to a group at all. Personally, I think that -- especially with the internet -- there is a group out there for every writer, it just might take awhile to find one that is a good fit for you. Don't give up.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Seth Godin: If We Imprison Ideas, We Imprison Ourselves


Seth Godin writes, "governments and organizations are lining up to control ideas and the way they spread."

How is this control happening? Seth Godin gives three examples:

1. Nathan Myhrvold: Patent Troll
Myhrvold worked at Microsoft for 13 years, where he founded Microsoft Research in 1991. Intellectual Ventures, it is alleged, accumulates patents not in order to develop products and reward inventors, but with the goal acquiring licensing fees, often using shell companies.

Technology companies pay Intellectual Ventures fees ranging “from tens of thousands to the millions and millions of dollars … to buy themselves insurance that protects them from being sued by any harmful, malevolent outsiders,” says venture capitalist Chris Sacca.
There’s an implication in IV’s pitch, Sacca says: If you don’t join us, who knows what’ll happen? He says it reminds him of “a mafia-style shakedown, where someone comes in the front door of your building and says, ‘It would be a shame if this place burnt down. I know the neighborhood really well and I can make sure that doesn’t happen.’ “
2. BART: 1st Amendment issues mount over cell shutdown
In 1967, the California Supreme Court ruled that a city couldn't prohibit nondisruptive political activity inside a railroad station.

That was before cellular phones were invented and before the first BART train rolled down the tracks. But it's a precedent the transit agency may have to confront as it defends its decision to cut off cell service at the site of an expected trackside protest last Thursday, and its long-standing ban on "expressive activities" inside the fare gates.

BART says it might pull the plug on phone service again this afternoon to counter plans for a 5 p.m. demonstration at Civic Center Station in San Francisco, where a transit police officer fatally shot a knife-wielding man July 3.

The legality of such a decision may soon arrive in court.

"This is new territory in the United States," said Gene Pilicinski, executive director of the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University. Although courts haven't addressed a government cell phone shut-off, he said, "historically we have kept our hands off free expression. ... The government has a very high ladder to climb." [Read more here.]
3. How the Legal Fight Over 'Y.M.C.A.' Could Change the Music Industry (Analysis)

Does an artist have the right to terminate copyright?
In 1976, the U.S. Congress lengthened the copyright term, but as a fig leaf to artists who had created works at the early stage of their careers but handed their rights over without much bargaining power, legislators thought it wise to give artists another bite of the apple. So they allowed artists to enjoy the benefits of the latter stages of a copyright term by terminating a copyright grant.

However, in doing so, artists need to adhere to a strict protocol, including sending out precise termination notices during a short few-year window. Artists are allowed to terminate a copyright grant 35 years after first publishing, and since the Copyright Act amendments went into effect in 1978, it means that 2013 is the first year where musicians such as Bruce Springsteen and Victor Willis can effectuate a termination. Since these notices have to go out in advance, it also means that these artists are now under the clock to send out their termination notice or forfeit the right for the foreseeable future. [Read the rest here.]
What should we do about these cases? Wyhat can we do?

A good first step would be reading the rest of Seth Godin's article.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Google fined for refusing to reveal bloggers' identities


Google Brazil had $141,000 US frozen from its bank account for, first, refusing to remove three anonymous blogs accusing the mayor of Brazil of corruption and embezzlement and, second, for refusing to pay the fine the court levied against them.

Go Google!

After the news broke recently of Google's true name policy many, myself included, starting looking at Google differently, they were no longer the good guys. In fact, one or two bloggers used the word "evil" to describe their actions. What Google did here though, protecting dissident bloggers, was a great thing.

Perhaps Google is a bit like most of us, neither good nor bad, evil or a saint.

Read more about this story here: Google fined in Brazil for refusing to reveal bloggers’ identities

10 Science Fiction Books That Changed the Course of History


When I saw this article at i09.com I thought the title was a bit ambitious but after seeing the books they picked, maybe not! What do you think?
Here are 10 seminal science fiction novels that changed the world as we know it.

1) The Tom Swift Series
First appearing in 1920, Tom Swift, the teenage homeschooled genius inventor and protagonist of over one hundred stories — ghostwritten by a bullpen of authors under the pseudonym "Victor Appleton" –- inspired innumerable children to take an interest in science, including futurist/writer/inventor Ray Kurzweil, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Steve Wozniak, who credits the character directly for his becoming a scientist. Jack Cover, inventor of the Taser, was inspired to create a less-lethal alternative to guns after reading about a similar device Swift had created, and then decided to name it after the character: "Thomas A. Swift's Electric Rifle".

2) Neuromancer
William Gibson's classic novel that popularized the cyberpunk subgenre is often cited as an indirect influence in the development of the Internet – in the words of fellow SF writer Jack Womack, "What if the act of writing it down, in fact, brought it about?" More concretely, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web, cites Arthur C. Clarke's short story Dial F. for Frankenstein, in which a network of computers linked together learn to think autonomously, as a childhood influence.

3) Gladiator
Philip Wylie's 1930 novel, about the excellently named "Professor Abednego Danner", who invents an "alkaline free radical" serum that imbues those who ingest it with insectile powers, served as the inspiration for the modern superhero. In the story, Danner uses the serum on his unborn child, Hugo, giving him the proportional strength of an ant, the leaping ability of a grasshopper, super speed, and
bulletproof skin. As Hugo grows up, his parents teach him to use his powers responsibly, causing him to be bullied at school, but he finds relief by cutting loose in the wilderness surrounding his rural hometown. Sound familiar? It doesn't end there – Hugo later becomes a star quarterback, but after accidentally killing a football player, he quits in disgrace, joins the French Foreign Legion, and fights in World War I. After the war, he returns home and gets a job as a bank teller, though is fired after ripping off the vault door while rescuing a suffocating employee. He then continues on to two other short-lived careers in politics and Mayan archeology before the story's tragic finale. Although Hugo never dons a costume or sets out to fight crime, Wylie's brief novel managed to predict nearly every classic superhero origin, impacting 20th Century pop culture like nothing else — and now, ninety years later, real-world superheroes are taking the streets, and though none of them have super powers like Hugo, Grant Morrison posits it's only a matter of time and expense until one does.

4) The War of the Worlds
The grandfather of the modern alien invasion story, H.G. Wells' novel has a cultural impact that's staggering, but is also responsible for at least one planetary molding feat: Robert H. Goddard, inventor of the liquid-fueled rocket, decided to dedicate his life to the subject after reading the story as a teenager –- his research eventually culminated with the Apollo program, and man's landing on the moon. It's also believed the Robertson Panel held the legendary fallout of Orson Welles 1938 radio adaptation as evidence why the existence of UFOs should be downplayed, and extraterrestrial evidence withheld from the public.

5) The World Set Free
Another, lesser-known H.G. Wells novel is also responsible for a cataclysmic development: the invention of the H-Bomb. In the story, Wells predicts atomic energy, and the development of a new kind of bomb based on a nuclear reaction, resulting in a "continuing explosive" that would detonate repeatedly for days. Physicist Leo Szilard — another incredible name – read the story in 1932, and the neutron was discovered later that year. In 1933, inspired by the story, Szilard developed the idea of a neutron chain reaction, patented the idea in 1934, and eight years later, we saw the development of the Manhattan Project.

6) Brave New World
Aldous Huxley's novel indirectly helped snuff out embryonic stem cell research in the United States –- cabinet member Jay Lefkowitz dissuaded president G.W. Bush on the concept by reading him passages from the novel describing humans born and bred in hatcheries. Bush, according to Lefkowitz in Commentary Magazine, "got scared". When he had finished reading, Bush responded, "We're on the edge of a cliff. And if we take a step off the cliff, there's no going back. Perhaps we should only take one step at a time."

7) Shockwave Rider
John Brunner's 1975 novel about a man on the run from a networked society who uses a "worm program" to rewrite his identity and escape, proved to be a remarkably prescient text, accurately predicting
large-scale networks, hacking, phreaking, genetic engineering and the computer virus. The book's description of a destructive, self-replicating program capable of eliminating secret bonds inspired Xerox PARC researchers John F. Shoch and John A. Hupp to create their own version – a program designed to seek idle network CPU cycles, but would expeditiously grow beyond the intentions of its programmer. In
turn, Shoch and Hupp named their creation a "worm", and the modern virus was born, leaving untold misery and Super Human Samurai Syber Squad in its wake.

8) Snow Crash
Neal Stephenson's popular novel and its virtual Metaverse inspired both the creation of the MMORPG Second Life, and the popularization of the term "avatar", a Sanskrit word meaning "to cross over" (though was actually first repurposed to mean "digital manifestation" in the 1986 video game Habitat.) As in the Metaverse, Second Life allows users to interact through personal avatars and create communities following agreed upon systems. (Former Microsoft VP J. Allard uses the name Hiro Protagonist- the hero and protagonist- as his handle) Snow Crash's Earth program also presupposed (and according to a cofounder, directly inspired) both Google Earth and Bing Map.

9) 1984
George Orwell's novel shaped forever the ways in which we view Totalitarianism as a system of government. But it also changed the ways we think about institutional brainwashing and ubiquitous surveillance. Orwell gave us a whole arsenal of new words to talk about oppressive systems, including "Big Brother," "Room 101," "the Thought Police," "thoughtcrime," "unperson" "doublehink" and "memory hole." Where would the blogosphere be without Orwell's lexicon? Whenever you end a word with -speak, you're indirectly quoting Orwell.

10) Frankenstein
Mary Shelley's seminal 1817 novel about a mad scientist who creates artificial life has helped to inspire the real-life science of synthetic biology. Scientist Craig Venter and other innovators have created synthetic organisms in the lab, including a complete M. capricolum organism. People regularly refer to the creation of synthetic life forms as the "Frankenstein moment" for biology. And it's easy to see why — Shelley's novel gave us the first instance of the idea of creating artificial life forms.

Friday, August 19, 2011

How to build a Villain, by Jim Butcher


Jim Butcher's series, The Dresden Files, is my favorite. I'm re-reading it in preparation for his latest book in the series: Ghost Story. Time and again I marvel at his well constructed characters, his terrific fight scenes, the way he works in sequels and makes them some of the best scenes in the book. Also, and perhaps this is his greatest feat, he weaves in backstory in a way that is entertaining. Now that's my kind of writer!

Given that lead-in, you can understand why I get excited whenever I find an article Jim Butcher has written on the craft of writing. Today was a very good day. I found, "How to build a Villain," on a site called Magical Words: Writing tips and publishing advice for aspiring novelists.

So, how do you build a villain?
One of the most critical skills an aspiring writer needs is the ability to build a solid villain. Even the greatest protagonist in the world cannot truly shine without an equally well-rendered opposition. The converse of that statement isn’t true, though—if your protagonist is a little shaky but your villain absolutely shines, you can still tell a very successful story.
Here is Jim Butcher's ingredient list for a good villain:
1) Motivation. Your villain has to be motivated even more strongly than your protagonist, to move in a direction that is opposite to your protagonist’s goal. The drama and tension of the entire story is based upon those two opposing forces. Buffy versus vampires. Sith versus Jedi. Spy versus spy.
2) Power. Your villain has to have enough power, of whatever nature, at his disposal to make him a credible threat to your hero. Personally, I believe that the more the villain outclasses the hero, the better. David wouldn’t have gotten nearly the press he did if Goliath had been 5’9” and asthmatic.
3) Admirable Qualities. Every serious “big bad villain” you write ought to have facets of his personality that are desirable, even admirable. Perhaps your villain is exquisitely polite and courteous, extremely perceptive, remarkably intelligent, or possessed of a skewed sense of honor that makes him something more than a simple black-hat. In point of fact, a villain might be loaded down with admirable qualities, all of which should serve to only make him even more dangerous to your protagonist. Think of the Mayor of Sunnydale in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Except for the part where he was trying to turn himself into a giant demon and devour the graduating class, he was a great guy!
4) Individuality. A good villain needs to be instantly recognizable to your reader, so that even if he hasn’t appeared in a hundred pages, your reader will recognize that character instantly. You can achieve this pretty effectively using Tags and Traits, identifiers for a character which reserve particular props, personality traits, and words to associate with any given character. You can find an article that goes into them in greater depth on my livejournal at jimbutcher.livejournal.com.
Above, Jim Butcher mentioned an article that he posted on his Livejournal site. He's actually put quite a few up there and they are all excellent. I found them a few years ago and did a happy little Scooby dance.

Jim Butcher goes on to say that
I have a standard operating procedure for creating characters. I keep a dossier on each of them. When the character is created, I open a new file and fill in name, goal, description, tags, and traits. I write down a brief summary of what their capabilities are, and more fully describe their goals and motivations. If it’s a recurring character, I keep a running log of their development: how have the events of the story world affected them? How have they changed as a result? What are they likely to want in the future?

If you’re going to take anything away from this post, it’s this: Villains are even MORE important to build well than are heroes.

Spend every bit as much time and effort crafting your villain as you do the hero, and make sure that you motivate your villains every bit as thoroughly as you do your protagonist, or your story risks a lack of depth and contrast. In other words, it’ll be the one thing a fiction writer cannot afford to be: boring.
That is the end of the article but in the comment section Jim Butcher continues to give good writerly advice.

Question: “I’m intrigued by this idea of Tags and Traits. I’m guessing these are like the natural evolution of Homeric Epithets?”
Jim's Answer: I haven’t heard them described in those terms, but yeah, that fits, though the goal is to use it with a little more subtlety. Tags are words you use to physically describe any given character. Traits are aspects of their personality.

For example, the tags for Karrin Murphy in the Dresden Files are words like “tiny,” “cute,” and “blond.” Her traits are words like, “tough,” “smart,” and “fierce.”

The goal is to create a kind of mental signature for any given character, so that the reader need not consciously labor to identify who is speaking, and so that a very clear impression of the character is created when that character is introduced.

It all feeds into the idea that the goal, as a writer, is to create a kind of virtual reality in the head of the reader. That works best when the actual mechanics of words and sentences are as transparent as you can possibly make them. Part of making them transparent is to identify a few words or phrases so strongly with a given character that the reader doesn’t really notice the words themselves–they only see the character to which you’ve connected those words and phrases.
Question: “I wonder how important it is to reveal outright the villain’s weakness? Or is that revealed by the demise of the villain in the story process?”
Jim's Answer: Who says the villain has to /have/ a weakness? Though if you are going to go for a villain with a 2-meter exhaust port vulnerable to photon torpedoes, you can certainly do that. I did it with the Loup-garou in Fool Moon, after all. But most of the villains in the Dresden Files don’t have a silver-bullet weakness. It makes their takedown (if they’re going to be taken down) a little too simple and predictable.

“But there are plenty of great villains that don’t have anything admirable about them. They’re just freaking monsters. Like The Joker, or Darth Sidious. I do prefer admirable villains, but i’d be lying if i didn’t enjoy the occasional complete monster. Are they just the exception that proves the rule or what?”

The Joker is crazy brilliant, literally, and he has style. It’s a bombastic and cartoony style, much of the time, but it’s still style. And Darth Sidious just wasn’t all /that/ great a villain, at least in my opinion–but even so, he was intelligent, eloquent, and a capable administrator. I mean, he conquered a whole galaxy. You don’t do that without at least a little talent. :)

“when I write a villain character, I seem to get so into “it” that I sometimes find it hard to not keep wanting to take it further and further (great for future books), but once I get to the point where “hey, it’s time to end this book”, how do you cut yourself off an say enough!”

Just remember that the end of your story is the answer to a question: will your hero succeed in his goals when the villain gets in his way? If your hero has achieved his goals, you’re done, that’s it, wrap it up and start on the next story.

“Is it dangerous to spend too much time with the villain/antagonist up front like this? I have a strong and familiar archetype for the protagonist and I keep saying “ah, he’ll be no problem when I get to his part”, so I keep putting off the details of his development. Conversely, the antagonist, being an immortal, figures heavily into the state of the world and the trials that will be put before the hero. Am I falling into a noob-trap here?”

Possibly, but it’s not one that can’t work out well for you. I mean, look at how well that one went for JK Rowling. When you think about it, Voldemort shaped absolutely EVERYTHING that happened in the Harry Potter books, right down to the scar on the hero’s head and his mysterious ability to speak with snakes. Why did it work? Because Voldemort, with his own actions, forged Harry into the means of his own demise. Harry, meanwhile, is sort of unremarkable as a hero, in a personal sense. He’s brave, but no braver than many other folk in the HP universe. He’s smart, but not the smartest around. He’s not even the best at magic. Voldemort made everything about him that was truly remarkable.

That said, I think it’s /far/ smarter to build your hero with every bit as much attention as your villain. Batman versus the Joker works so well precisely because they were designed with one another in mind, as champions of order and chaos, respectively. More importantly, it gives you double the audience appeal potential. I’ve read books where I just couldn’t stand the heroes, but loved the villains, and so continued. But the books that stay with me the longest are the ones who are solid all the way across the board, who fully engage me with their entire cast.
Question: “What is your approach, or rather your thoughts so I don’t make you feel all spoilery, on hinting at the big bad’s fingerprints in the early parts of your story arc without jumping the gun and revealing too much about them and their agenda?”
That’s mostly a matter of taste, but do yourself a favor and assume that the readers are smart. They are. Drop hints without being too overly dramatic about it, if you’re going to keep the identity of your villain hidden for a while, and make sure that you’ve got a villain to defeat in effigy before the end of the story. Think of, oh, Darth Maul and Palpatine. Palpatine may have been briefly stymied by the Jedi, but Maul got chopped up and thrown down a killin’ hole. His death was symbolic of Palpatine’s demise–literally, since Palpatine got thrown down a killin’ hole too.

“Having read all of the Dresden based novels, I am quite aware that your protagonist is deeply flawed and often those who act as antagonists display character traits that are admirable. Given this near equality, how does one avoid having everyone be candidates for “villian” status?”

Storytelling craft is not about making moral judgments of the relative values, ethically or otherwise, of your character’s actions. The readers will do that for themselves. For craft purposes, the protagonist is the one who is going after his goal. Your antagonist is getting in the way of that goal. “Hero” and “villain” are both separate terms which can overlap with protagonist and antagonist, but they aren’t absolutely bound together. Think of The Fugitive again. Sam Gerard is a perfect example of an antagonist who is, in fact, personally heroic. Artemis Fowl and Megamind are good examples of a protagonist who is personally a villain.

But don’t try to make the call for your readers. Just tell the story. They’ll do the rest on their own.

Previously Unpublished Writer Becomes Famous Overnight


What would it be like to go from never having any of your writing published, not even a short story, to signing a six figure contract with Doubleday? Pretty darn nice, I imagine! This is what happened to Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus.

Alexandra Alter at The Wall Street Journal writes:
Ms. Morgenstern has had an unorthodox rise to literary stardom. A 33-year-old Massachusetts native with pale skin and wide-set amber eyes, Ms. Morgenstern has never left the country and just applied for a passport. She studied theater and lighting design at Smith College; after graduating in 2000, she bounced around as an office temp.

She was miserable, "making photocopies for law professors who couldn't work the copy machine." After a few years, with her husband's support, she quit temping and devoted herself to painting and writing, spending long, solitary hours in their home in Boston. She sold her artwork for $20 to $30 a print. In 2005, she crashed out a manuscript during National Novel Writing Month, a kind of literary endurance race for writers who goad one another into completing a 50,000-word novel in four weeks. About halfway through, her project stalled.
"I got really bored with what I was working on, so I sent all the characters to the circus," she says.

Very little from that early draft survived, but she had an idea that excited her. She worked in bursts over the next several years, writing a sprawling, plotless series of vignettes featuring magicians, acrobats, and a pair of psychic twins. Thirty literary agents rejected her. "They very politely told me it was a mess," she says.

At one point she grew so discouraged that she considered destroying the book. Her husband hid a hard copy of the novel from her in a drawer. Finally, a few agents got back to her with more-encouraging rejections, suggesting that the book could work with major revisions.

Ms. Morgenstern added more plot and streamlined the circus vignettes. She delivered a more conventional novel centering on two characters: Celia, the daughter of a famous magician, and Marco, an orphan who was trained by a rival magician. The older magicians enroll their students in a magic-off, using a nocturnal circus as a setting for their tricks and illusions. Their creations include a magic carousel with mystical animals that come to life, a floating cloud maze and a frozen garden with delicate, magically regenerating blossoms of ice. Despite their handlers' warnings, Celia and Marco fall in love.
Ms. Morgenstern's agent, Richard Pine of Inkwell Management, sent out the completed manuscript and received bids from several publishers. He sold it a week after sending it out. Ms. Morgenstern was so stunned that she left the publisher's check on her desk for a month, unsure what to do with it.
....
Last month, Summit brought Ms. Morgenstern to San Diego for Comic-Con, a comic-book and pop-culture convention, and introduced her to "Twilight" fans in a press event leading into appearances by the stars of the movies. Summit distributed 50 advance copies of "The Night Circus" to "alpha" Twilight fans and bloggers and other teen taste arbiters.

Ms. Morgenstern finds the attention and hype overwhelming and worries about a backlash. In addition to the movie, there's talk of a videogame and a stage production. A Los Angeles perfume maker is developing a line of circus-themed scents based on the book.

Her Doubleday editor suggested she write a "Night Circus" prequel, exploring the rivalry between the two magicians who pit Marco and Celia against each other. She's not so sure she wants to write more about the circus. "It's putting a lot of pressure on me in terms of 'what's she going to do next?' " she says.

Ms. Morgenstern is settling into a new condo in Boston, where she lives with a pair of pale, otherworldly-looking fluffy cats, surrounded by an odd assortment of antiques and art objects. A black bowler hat sits on top of a bookshelf. One stalled antique clock hangs on a wall; another sits on the floor. Much of her artwork—which, like her writing, is pastiche-like and layered, with bits of paper, clock gears and sketches piled onto canvases and wooden boxes—is still packed up. She recently separated, amicably, from her husband of nearly five years, and is scrambling to unpack before a six-week, 14-city book tour.

Her office d├ęcor includes a Ouija board, a Harry Potter-themed Hogwarts throw pillow and a deck of hand-painted, black-and-white Tarot cards that she created while working on her novel. Ms. Morgenstern hopes to publish the deck, and it's already getting some exposure. One of the images, a black-and-white-striped hot-air balloon, was turned into a poster advertisement for "The Night Circus." Her publicity team sent 500 of them to booksellers all over the country.

Thanks to Passive Guy for positing a link to Alexandra Alter's article.

Harper Collins And The Great Bookcover Rip-Off


These covers look similar, don't they? LK Rigel purchased the artwork, named "City of Angels," used as the basis for her cover of Spiderwork from artist, Nathalia Suellen in 2009. HarperCollins contacted Ms. Suellen in May of 2011 and attempted to buy City of Angels from her for use on Alex Flinn's upcoming book, Bewitching.

Nathalia, the artist, writes in her blog (Wed, Aug 17th):
The story starts with Harper Collins (Illingworth, Sasha) inviting me to create a cover to Bewitching. They wanted something similar with "City of Angels". I remember I had refused it because this artwork had been already sold to another book and also because of my personal opinion about the theme. However it looks like they got angry with me and decided to copy my artwork. I have just received an email from LK RIGEL asking If I had sold my artwork "City of Angels". And sure I said no. I got crazy checking out the link she sent me [link]
I followed the link Nathalia gave but it seems the artwork has been removed.

Even though Harper Colins offered Nathalia 4,000 dollars (Jane, at Dear Author writes that this is a normal amount of money for cover art) she rejected the offer because she felt it was inappropriate for the artwork to appear on the cover of more than one book. Although Nathalia is obviously a gifted artist, her integrity is what made me bookmark her name on my site. Currently, I do my own covers, but if I ever want an artist to do custom work for me, she is someone I would want to work with.

Did the artist's refusal discourage Harper Collins? It seems not. In the image, above, you see the cover Harper Collins sent Alex Flinn  for her new novel, Bewitching. On the left is the image Nathalia created for LK Rigel. Yes, one could conceivably argue that the resemblance between the two covers is by chance, but that argument would seem more plausible if Harper Collins hadn't tried to buy the artwork used for the cover of Spiderwork. As it is, it seems that Harper Colins thought that if they couldn't buy it then they would just appropriate it.

I came across this story through The Passive Voice blog and PG has an excellent analysis as well as links to all the tasty little bits of the story. He, being a lawyer, talks about the legal issues involved in this situation. It is well worth the read.

Here are the articles I drew from in creating this blog post:
- Thursday Midday Links: What’s a Little Cover Art Copying Between Friends?
- Not a Good Week for Harper Collins – Cover Art Rip-Off
- Rip Off, Harper Collins Publisher

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Highest Paid Writers of 2011


The earnings below are from sales made between May 2010 and April 2011.

#1 James Patterson: 84 million
- Alex Cross series
- Maximum Ride series
- Many, many, others

#2 Danielle Steel: 35 million
- Jewels, The Ghost, Matters of the Heart

#3 Stephen King: 28 million
- The Shining, Salem's Lot, It

#4 Janet Evanovich: 22 million

- Stephanie Plum

#5 Stephenie Meyer: 21 million
- Twilight Series

#6 Rick Riordan: 21 million
- Percy Jackson and the Olympians series

#7 Dean Koontz: 19 million
- Demon Seed, Strangers

#8 John Grisham: 18 million
- The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Runaway Jury

#9 Jeff Kinney: 17 million
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid

#10 Nicholas Sparks: 16 million
- The Notebook, Nights in Rodanthe, A Walk to Remember

This information is based on these articles:
- Highest Paid Authors of 2011
- James Patterson brand makes him worlds best-paid writer
- James Patterson tops Forbes list of top-earning writers

Simon Wood's Road to Writerly Riches


Simon Wood has written a guest post on JA Konrath's blog that details his long journey down the road to success. He writes:
I have to admit sales were slow at first, but to be honest, I wasn’t approaching it right. To use a Field of Dreams analogy, just because I built it didn't mean anyone would come. Success in the eBook market thrives on endorsements from trusted voices and you find them in the blogosphere . I sent review copies, essays and articles about my books to any and all blogs and websites with a good following. This helped get the word out and it showed itself in sales. With ten titles to my name, trying to promote them all at once was monumental and diluted my message.

In April, I decided to focus on title at a time. I focused on ACCIDENTS WAITING TO HAPPEN first, as this was originally my debut novel. The approach worked. I had some good feedback coming from a lot of sources. Then momentum took over, I started to see various eBook and Kindle blogs talking about ACCIDENTS or one of my other titles almost daily. Sales climbed from April to June and ACCIDENTS hit Amazon’s Top 100 titles.

Then in one of those serendipitous events, Amazon sent out an email blast about the book at the end of June. This catapulted ACCIDENTS to the #2 spot at Amazon over the 4th of July weekend, just behind Janet Evanovich’s latest.

Proving the adage that a rising tide lifts all boats, I saw incremental sales growth across the board as ACCIDENTS spearheaded the rise to the top. THE FALL GUY cracked the Top 100. I have six titles in the Hardboiled Top 20. WE ALL FALL DOWN looks to be the next title to go big judging by its rising numbers.

So what does this mean for me now? It means a few things.
Read the rest here: Guest Post from Simon Wood

Click here for a list of Simon Wood's books.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Janet Evanovich & Kathryn Stockett: The newest writers to sell a million Kindle Books


On August 16th Amazon announced that Janet Evanovich (Stephanie Plum books) and Kathryn Stockett (The Help) are the newest authors to sell over a million ebooks on Amazon.

Current members of the Kindle Million Club are:
- Stieg Larsson
- James Patterson
- Nora Roberts
- Charlaine Harris
- Lee Child
- Suzanne Collins
- Michael Connelly
- John Locke
“Kathryn Stockett is the first debut novelist to join the Million Club, and Kindle customers were highly engaged with her book right from its publication,” said Russ Grandinetti, Vice President of Kindle Content. “It’s as exciting to see Kindle readers propel a new author’s career as it is to see them add to the success of a long-time Amazon best-selling author like Janet Evanovich.”

"Wow! I'm thrilled to join such a talented group of writers who've also reached this million-copy milestone,” said Janet Evanovich. “I'm so grateful to my readers and look forward to reaching more milestones with them and with Amazon in the years to come."

Janet Evanovich is the #1 best-selling author of the Stephanie Plum novels as well as 12 romance novels, the Alexandra Barnaby novels and graphic novels, “Wicked Appetite” (the first book in the Lizzy and Diesel series,) and “How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author.” Her latest novel, “Smokin’ Seventeen,” has spent over 100 days on the Kindle Best Seller list.

Kathryn Stockett is the author of the #1 New York Times Best Seller “The Help.” After graduating from the University of Alabama with a degree in English and Creative Writing, she moved to New York City where she worked in magazine publishing and marketing for nine years. “The Help” is her debut novel, and on August 10, 2011, the movie adaptation hit theaters across the U.S.
Read the rest of the article here: Janet Evanovich and Kathryn Stockett Join the Kindle Million Club

The Key To Selling Books: Word of Mouth


David Gaughran writes that, "Word-of-mouth is the only thing that ever really sells books."
While a glowing review in the New York Times will undoubtedly shift some copies, if the limited amount of people that actually read the reviews (and then purchase the book), don’t then spread the word, the sales bump will be temporary.

The 21st century world-weary reader is a hard person to reach. Our environment has become so saturated with advertisements that we tend to tune them out. Broadcasters need to resort to tricks like raising the volume levels of the ads to force us to pay attention.

We ignore ads because we don’t trust them. Exaggerated claims of the merits of one brand over another have been with us for so long that our automatic disposition seems to be skeptical towards the alleged virtues of any advertised product.

However, we still trust each other. If your neighbor tells you about a new detergent that actually does get wine stains out of a white shirt, or an insurance company that really will be there for you when things go wrong, that carries more weight than anything the cleverest advertising company can come up with.
Read the rest here: Word-of-Mouth in Action

Amazon could sell tablet for as low as $249


Lance Whitney, writing for Digital Media:
Amazon could sell its upcoming tablet for less than it costs to make but still take home a profit in the long run, according to tech industry analyst Tim Bajarin.

Discussing Amazon's expected tablet in a column for PC Magazine last week, Bajarin derived an estimated cost for the device of $300 based on information from various sources. Assuming Amazon then discounts the retail price, consumers could pay as little as $249, projects the analyst.
Read more: Analyst: Amazon could sell tablet for as low as $249

Amazon signs self-help author Timothy Ferriss


The guardian.co.uk writes:
The online retailer's aggressive move into publishing has continued with its signing of bestselling self-help author Timothy Ferriss
...
Ferriss is author of the New York Times bestsellers The 4-Hour Body and The 4-Hour Workweek, which promise, respectively, to help guide readers "to rapid fat-loss, incredible sex and becoming superhuman" and to "escape the 9-5, live anywhere and join the new rich". The 4-Hour Chef will, said Amazon, build upon the "4-hour" philosophy "by transforming the way we cook and eat". It will publish the book in print, digital and audio formats next April.

Ferriss, whose previous books were published by Random House imprint Crown, said that his decision to move to Amazon Publishing "wasn't just a question of which publisher to work with. It was a question of what future of publishing I want to embrace.

"My readers are migrating irreversibly into digital, and it made perfect sense to work with Amazon to try and redefine what is possible," said the author in a statement. "This is a chance to really show what the future of books looks like, and to deliver a beautiful experience to my readers, who always come first. I could not be more excited about what we're doing."

Kirshbaum, vice president and publisher of Amazon Publishing in New York, said The 4-Hour Chef was "a watershed work, and an ideal way to launch our new publishing imprint in New York". But although Kirshbaum told the New York Times that "[Amazon's] success will only help the rest of publishing", mainstream publishers are nonetheless likely to be troubled by the latest show of dominance from the online player.

"Amazon's foray into book publishing ... is obviously a concern. They have very deep pockets and they are now a very, very powerful global competitor of ours," HarperCollins UK's chief executive Victoria Barnsley told Radio 4's The World at One yesterday. "They're this weird thing. We call them frenemies ... They are very, very powerful now – in fact they are getting close to being in a sort of a monopolistic situation. They control over 90% of physical online market in UK and over 70% of the ebook market so that's a very, very powerful position to be in. So yes, it is a concern."
Read the rest of the story here: Amazon strikes first 'major' publishing deal

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Why Your Site Needs An About Page


I didn't have an about page until I read Joel Friedlander's article, Why Your Blog’s “About” Page Matters.

He writes:
A look at Google Analytics tells the story of why we need to pay attention to the “About” Page. On this blog, over the last 30 days there were 370 visits to my main “About” page. When I was working through a course in blogging I put a fair amount of work into getting this page to work.

I have a secondary “About” page, my “Hire Me” page that performs a similar function. It got 523 visits over the same period.

Multiplied out for the year, it looks like this:

“About Joel” page = 370 x 12 = 4,440 visits
“Hire Me” page = 523 x 12 = 6,276 visits

That’s over 10,000 people who will click over to my “About” pages in the next year. I want to use that opportunity to my advantage, and that’s something you can do, too.

Check your “About” page to see if it:

- Communicates in a personal way to readers
- Contains information readers of your site would fine relevant or interesting
- Shows more sides of you than you usually show in your articles
- Uses photographs or videos to make the information more personal
- Links to other assets of yours or to contact information.

Read the rest of Joel Friedlander's article here.

10 tips to improve your about page
It never rains, it pours. I just found another helpful article on making an "About" page, so I thought I would include it.
Almost as important as your website’s home page is the about page. This is your opportunity to build rapport with your guests — a chance to introduce yourself and to explain the aim of your website. Here are 10 tips that’ll have your own page in excellent shape.

1. Offer your name. It’s a blatantly obvious addition, yet so many about pages don’t get personal.
2. Include a photo. People like to see who they’re dealing with. A smile can work wonders, too. If there’s a team behind the website, include them all (even the cleaner plays an important role).
3. If it’s just you, write in the first-person. If someone asks what I do for a living, I don’t say, “David’s a graphic designer.” Use “I,” not “he/she.” It’ll help make you seem more personable.
4. Think about your visitor’s needs. Sure, you’re talking about yourself, but imagine you’re a potential client reading about you. What does the client get from contacting you?
5. Keep it current. Check the content every few weeks or every month to ensure it’s up-to-date. Perhaps you’ve moved home/office, or perhaps you offer a new product or service.
6. Show your location. By including a photo of your office, your town or city, you let people get that little bit closer, helping build rapport.
7. Short and sweet beats long and sour. Ask someone to have a look at your page. It shouldn’t take any longer than a minute to read, and the reader should learn something new about you.
8. Keep it professional. Smiley faces won’t help you clinch that £10,000 deal.
9. Experiment with video. Letting your visitors see and hear you can have a hugely beneficial effect when it comes to building trust online. (If you’re too self-conscious, why not start with an audio podcast?)
10. Add a call to action. Where should visitors go after they’ve read about you? Your design portfolio? Your contact page? Make it easy — include a link within the text.
One more thing, don’t take yourself too seriously.

Read the entire article here: 10 tips to improve your about page

Terry Gilliam: Talent is less important than patience


I was reading a post on Kindle Boards and came across a reply by Bob Mayer where he quotes Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame. I loved it and thought I'd pass it on.
Talent is less important in film-making than patience. If you really want your films to say something that you hope is unique, then patience and stamina, thick skin and a kind of stupidity, a mule-like stupidity, is what you really need.
-- Terry Gilliam.
Mule-like stupidity ... I can do that! ;)

Amazon Launches Kindle Indie Store


Kindle recently opened up a store, Kindle Indie Books, for books that have been submitted by independent authors.

Authorlink writes:
AUTHORLINK NEWS/August 16, 2011—Amazon.com today announced the launch of the Kindle Indie Bookstore (www.amazon.com/kindleindiebooks). This page will provide readers a way to explore and browse some of the indie selection available on Kindle from KDP authors and publishers.

"We hope the Kindle Indie Bookstore will showcase top selling, popular and high quality books from independent authors and publishers. We are excited to highlight our growing selection of indie books to Kindle readers through the launch of the Kindle Indie Bookstore and provide this new avenue of exposure to KDP authors and publishers,” said Atif Rafiq, General Manager, Kindle Direct Publishing.

Those interested can find answers to frequently asked questions (FAQ) in the Kindle Indie Bookstore.
Read the original here: Amazon Launches Kindle Indie Store

Monday, August 15, 2011

IP Lawyer Restarts His Law Practise


For those of you who have followed The Passive Voice blog over the years, you know that Passive Guy has flirted with the idea of restarting his law practice. Well, he's done it!

This is a good thing for the writing community. I've followed PG's blog for the past year or so and have learnt a lot about the nasty surprises that contracts can contain. If I were ever going to hire an IP lawyer, PG would be that person.

You can read his post here: PG is Hanging Out His Shingle

What's An Author Brand?


What is an author brand? I've been asking myself this but haven't had much of a chance to research the question. One of my Google Alters sent me a link to Laurel Marshfield's article, What's an Author Brand?

She writes:
Brands are those vague but persuasive associations we conjure up whenever we think of any well-known product. Mac computers. TIDE laundry detergent. Nike running shoes.

Brands are also the far more complex associations that come to mind whenever we think of well-known authors. Often, they’re a flash of images mixed with a dominant feeling, or a scene from a particular book montaged with memory fragments.

Here’s a small demonstration. Does the name Stephen King conjure something different for you than the name J.K. Rowling? What about Dan Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert, Jodi Picoult? Or Malcolm Gladwell, Joan Didion, Seth Godin? What association appears for a second or so when you first see each name?

People Aren’t Products

Whatever that instant of recognition is composed of, it’s there because that author’s brand put it there. Each association is complex and meaningful — unlike the association you’d experience for a brand of laundry detergent.

In fact, it’s that much-ado-about-nothingness which characterizes many product brands that makes it easy to imagine authors rejecting the B word as too schlocky, too commercial, too huckster-esque. So let’s substitute the word “story,” instead.

Your Brand Is Your Author Story

The author story (aka brand) refers to the complex messages authors put out into the world about themselves and their books — which we then absorb and retain in a highly individual way.

Suppose that you, like author Michael Cunningham, were interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s “Fresh Air.” You talked about your struggles with writing, as well as your then-recent book, The Hours (later made into a movie starring Meryl Streep). You were articulate, charming, fascinating — someone any listener would want to know more about, because what you had to say was vivid and substantive.

So, you think, is that Cunningham’s brand?
Read the rest of What's an Author Brand?

10 Must-Read Fantasy Novels


I had someone (@AEMarling) ask me on Twitter yesterday, "What about fantasy most speaks to you?" Of course I took that as an invitation to reveal my inner cave man -- or cave woman in this case -- and replied, "All the cool stuff you can do!"

In fairness to me, I've been re-reading Jim Butcher's excellent Dresden Files series and what I like the most about Harry is his smart-aleck kick-butt ways combined with his, at times, irrational refusal to be bullied even if it means certain death. I then asked Marling how he would answer the question. He came back with:
Fantasy unhinges confining reality, manifesting age-old human dreams and desires. The early Homo sapiens might have paused in crushing each other’s skulls (30% of adults died of homicide back then OUCH!) and seen birds flying and imagined taking wing themselves, and this desire to fantasize, to daydream impossibilities may be written in our DNA. I suggest this tendency to entertain the absurd is our greatest adaptation. Without it, I do not for a moment believe we would have achieved air flight, learned how to restart a stopped heart, or cooked the Oreo pizza. (The last one proves fantasy can be used for evil…delicious, delicious evil.)
[Read the rest of the article here.]
I'd been owned. I had to laugh. That's a way better answer. Here's another one:
Fantasy of any kind tells us that the world we know is not the only one, nor the most enduring — and that truth can be anything but an escape or comfort.
That quotation was from David Orr. In that spirit, Lev Grossman has given us 10 fantasy novels that he says everyone should read. The first one is The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, one of my personal favorites. Click here for the others.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Google+ Forces Users to Reveal Real Names


At first blush, this may seem off topic for a blog about writing but what group of people use false names on a regular basis? That's right, we do. We call them pen names. Pseudonyms. We adopt them as part of our branding strategy, or because we want to keep our writing private from mother's and fathers, aunts and uncles, colleges and clients.

It seems that Google+'s policy of only allowing real names might make the service unusable for people who write under a pseudonym. That's too bad. Circles are great for sending information about ones different writing lines to only those people who would be interested in it.

Links:
- Google+ name policy 'frustrating,' Google confesses
- Use your real name or else. New social network will force Google+ users to identify themselves.. or leave the site
- Google’s Real Names Policy Is Evil
- “Real Names” Policies Are an Abuse of Power