Monday, October 31, 2011

First apps for your new iPad, 2011 edition


Dwight Silverman from TechBlog writes:
A few months after the first iPad was released last year, I posted a list of apps that new owners should consider installing first. It has become one of the most popular posts on TechBlog, but it was written almost 14 months ago. That’s eons in Internet time, and it’s already out of date.

With that in mind, here’s an updated version of the list. It includes many of the original items, but others have fallen off and new apps have been added. Some of the additions came from solicitations I posted to Twitter, Facebook and Google+. (And thanks to everyone who made suggestions!)
Dwight's list is both awesome and extensive, and I'll give you the link to it at the end of this article, but I thought I'd highlight a few apps I've found particularly useful.
Beat the Traffic HD – Traffic and weather for the iPad. If you’ve got an iPad 3G, it will also tell you how fast you’re going.
This app makes me wish I had an iPad 3G!
Dictionary.com – Dictionary & Thesaurus – The popular iPhone dictionary app is reformatted for the iPad. It’s a large download (grab it via Wi-Fi if you have a 3G iPad), but once it’s installed, it won’t have to connect to the Net to download definitions.
I love Word Of The Day feature on this one. It's intuitive and the advertising isn't too intrusive.
Dragon Dictation – Excellent voice recognition from the folks who bring you Dragon Naturally Speaking. Say what you want to write, then paste it into any application, including e-mail. No, it’s not as amazing at the iPhone 4S’s Siri, but it will make text input on your iPad a lot easier.
I've been playing around with Dragon Dictation for the past week or so, but I find it a bit lacking. In order for it's accuracy to approach something I'm comfortable with I have to talk very slowly and take care to enunciate clearly. (Yes, this is probably something I should do all the time!) That said, for a free app it is amazing and well worth the time it takes to download. It's a fun app, just not as useful for a writer as I'd like.

On the other hand, I've heard nothing but great things about Dragon Naturally Speaking and plan to buy the software. I'll keep you updated on how it goes. I'm interested in whether it will help me write more by allowing me to record sound files on, say, my walk to work and then using the voice recognition software to transcribe the file. (My 6th grade teacher talked about how in the future this would be possible but we rolled our eyes and him and thought he was nuts! Sorry Mr. Schmidt.)
Epicurious Recipes & Shopping List – A beautifully designed, smartly organized recipe and grocery shopping application that includes user reviews of the recipes.
The recipes look scrumptious and I was excited by the prospect of having a grocery list on my iPad, but it seems that the list is linked to the recopies and you can't add items on a whim. If I'm wrong about that, please let me know. For me, this isn't a keeper.
Facebook – At long last, Facebook has updated its iOS app to be iPad-friendly. If you’re on Facebook, you’ll want it.
I'm on Facebook, but I'm a reluctant Facebooker. I love all my friends on Facebook, but some aspects of the site puzzle me.
Feeddler RSS Reader for iPad and iPhone – The best RSS reader for the iPad. It’s particularly good if you have a lot of feeds to manage.
I'm always on the lookout for RSS readers, and after fiddling around with this app for about half an hour, I'm in love! This is the RSS reader I've been looking for.
Find My Friends – Get your friends to install this free Apple app on their iOS devices, and you can see where they are. They, of course, can see where you are, too. It’s also great for families, allowing you to keep track of where your kids’ locations.
I haven't downloaded this app and I don't plan to. The whole idea seems creepy to me, but I see the utility for concerned Moms and Dads so I'm including it.
Flipboard – Feed this app your Twitter and Facebook streams and it extracts links from your friends’ updates, displaying the results in a magazine-like format. This is one of the most innovative iPad apps you can install, and probably the best way to view the information flowing into your social networks.
What he said. I use Flipboard daily and love it. This is a must-have app.
iMovie – Did you think the iPad’s touch-based interface was too limiting for video editing? Think again. It’s $4.99.
This is an awesome app. I've been using to edit videos I've taken with my iPad and it's wonderful. Sometimes the touch interface gets the better of me, but that more of an iPad thing than a limitation of iMovie. I'm almost read to upload my first movie to YouTube and make it public, so I'll let you all judge for yourselves!
Kindle – Amazon’s book-reading app is so much better than Apple’s own iBooks e-reader. If you’ve got a Kindle or a smartphone with the Kindle app, you can pick up where you left off on any of those devices.
I like iBooks, but there's no question: Kindle is great. I do most of my reading on it. No complaints.
Pages – The iPad doesn’t really come with a decent word processor, so if you’re planning on writing anything beyond a quick note or an email, you’ll want this well-designed app from Apple. It’s full-featured and is $9.99.
Pages is excellent, especially since it's now possible to put files in folders.
Speedtest X HD – If you’re compulsive about checking your connection speed, you’ll want this app. The one downside: you can only choose from four testing locations.
After downloading Speedtest and running it I'm underwhelmed. Apart from a rating out of 5 stars it doesn't give much of an analysis of your score.

I encourage you to read the entire article: First apps for your new iPad, 2011 edition

My App Recommendations (all these apps are free):
- Dragonvale. Hugely entertaining and addicting. Beware.

- SmartRecord. You can use this app to record lectures, or post sound files to your twitter account. It also allows you to imbed images. I haven't tried out posting to Twitter yet, but it's a cool idea. Easy to use and free.

- TED: Ideas worth spreading. You all know about TED, right? Folks with something worth saying are invited to say it.

- Yelp. Find restaurants near you and read reviews from people like you.

I love technology posts! I hope you found something new and neat. Cheers.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

My Birthday, NaNoWriMo and Dragonvale: a warning


Okay, I've spent a couple of hours doing things like answering emails and reading posts and now I have half an hour to compose a blog post. Can I do it?

Yes I can! By talking about three things that seemingly have nothing to do with one another.

It was my birthday last week and thank you to everyone who said happy birthday, I really appreciate it! I worked on my birthday -- I'm talking about my day job -- so my friends are taking me out today to celebrate. I'm going to Society.

That's later, in a few minutes I'm heading off to a NaNoWriMo luncheon and information session. I'm excited! As I've said too many times, this is my first year doing NaNo and the 'bright shiny' hasn't worn off. I talk to other, veteran, NaNoers and they look at me pityingly with memories of beery, bloodshot eyes and waking up at their desk, gripping a half-empty can of Red Bull.

I'm time-starved right now so I know something is going to have to give. Sleep, of course. Showering ... hmmm, probably try to keep that one. One thing that's probably going to fall by the wayside is Dragonvale, a delightfully addictive game featuring ... er ... dragons. You get to mate them and build them houses and feed them. Okay, it doesn't sound super addicting but, trust me, it is.

Okay, gotta run!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Technorati: Listing your blog


What is technorati.com? According to Wikipedia it is a massive search engine for searching blogs. Okay, that doesn't sound exciting, but apparently getting ones blog registered with technorati is a very good idea. The first I heard about all this was at the last Surrey International Writers' Conference. I took a workshop conducted by none other than Vancouver's own miss604.com! (Yes, my notes will be posted shortly!)

If you'd like to register your blog with technorati, here's what you do:
1. Create an account at http://www.technorati.com
2. Confirm your account by clicking an emailed link
3. Go to your account and enter your blog URL in 'Start Claim' - at the bottom of the page.
4. Enter your blog details (including RSS feed URL)
5. Create a blog post with your verification code.
6. Click on 'Check Claim' and then 'Verify Code' once your blog article is posted to complete the process
7. Your submission will then be checked by the Technorati faeries and if they like it, you'll be added.
- What is Technorati all about?
A few minutes ago I took the first few steps to registering my blog with Technorati and I got my code, VSWRUMW5B2JK, so in publishing this post I will have (hopefully!) finished my registration. Yea!

I wonder, has anyone else heard about Technorati? Has anyone else registered their blog? I'm curious, because the workshop at SiWC 2011 was the first I heard of it, but it seems like a great service.

Update: I'm Listed on Technorati.com!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Bedbugs and Star Trek


On Saturday, Vancouver resident Brian King was reading in his living room when a bedbug crawled out of the book and onto his hand.
"Out of the spine walks this little red creepy-crawly thing and I said to my wife, 'Hello what's this?'" King told CBC News on Wednesday.

King said a Google search informed him it was a bedbug, and a quick search of the book turned up several more.

"So I squished two or three of them. I caught a couple of them live and put them in a pill bottle securely, and there were also in the spine maybe two or three already dead."

. . . .

Vancouver Public Library spokesperson Jean Kavanagh says it's the first report of a live bedbug in the Vancouver system. Staff are in contact with Vancouver Coastal Health and continue to monitor the situation.

But because of the size of the Vancouver Library system, they haven't decided yet whether to mount a full-scale inspection for bedbugs, and they have no plans to close any library branches, said Kavanagh.

"We have over 10 million items, so I think we have to look at the situation seriously, but also practically."

Meanwhile, King said it appears his home is bedbug free.

"No sign of any bug infestations at all. There hadn't been and there still isn't," he said.
- Bedbugs found in Vancouver library book
When I read this article my first thought was: Of the list of positive things about ebooks I would never have have thought to put "bedbug free" on the list!

Reading this over I'm worried that I come across as being rabidly pro-ebook or, worse, against paper books. I love books of any description, but I must admit I think ebooks are cool in a way that paper books aren't. Perhaps it's the Star Trek dweeb in me (Trekkie? Trekker?)

When I first watched Start Trek: The Next Generation the idea of a holodeck and the portable hand-held computer/readers Picard used captivated my imagination. "One day humanity will have things like this," I thought, but it never occurred to me that I'd be alive to see it happen.

Okay, we don't have a holodeck (yet!) but my iPad seems pretty close to Picard's hand-held tablet.

I remember watching the episode, from the original series -- I think it was called Court Martial -- where Krik is falsely accused of negligence in the apparent death of one of his crewmen, Ben Finney. It's a great episode, one of my favorites, but what stayed with me was Kirk's lawyer's refusal to use digital books in his law practice.

In one scene, Kirk walks into his lawyer's office, one Samuel T. Cogley, and looks around. Bookcases laden with dusty tomes line the walls. I remember feeling that if I ever had an office, that was the kind of office I wanted. Kirk is surprised by all the paper books. He says something like, "You can have all these books on your computer, why keep them around?"

His lawyer replies that books, real books, have soul. I loved this! "Yes!" I thought. It was wonderful to think that people in a technologically advanced future world would think that in some ways our society was better. I know, I know, it was a fiction, a fantasy, but still.

I still think Kirk's lawyer's speech was magnificent. That said, my skin tingles when I think about my iPad being able to hold thousands of books. Think about it! Any electronic reader or tablet can hold an entire library and it's weightless. Portable. It's like having the library of Alexandria in your hip pocket! If that's not some kind of spooky magic I don't know what is.

I guess this rambling post has been a stab at an explanation of why I am enamored of ebooks, why I write about them, why I'm tickled by unexpected new qualities (for instance, immune to bedbug infestations). It's not that I want to put down or belittle paper books -- I still love paper books -- it's just that the geek in me thinks that ebooks are so darn cool.

Paying for first

Seth Godin:
Here’s a bit of speculation:

Soon, there will be three kinds of books on the Kindle.

$1.99 ebooks. This is the clearing price for virtually all ebooks going forward.

$5 ebooks. This is the price for bestsellers, hot titles and books you have no choice but to buy because they were assigned in school.

$10 ebooks. This is the price you will pay to get the book first, to get it fast, to get it before everyone else. There might even be a subset of books for $20 in this category.

For example the new Steve Jobs book. The only reason it wasn’t onsale two weeks ago is that the publisher needed to move tons of molecules from the printer to the store. That means ebook readers have been waiting so that the paper readers could get their copy.

The analogy is paperback and hardcover. You paid extra for the hardcover because it was first and because it was a classy thing to display on the wall. A year later, the very same book is half the price or less as a paperback.

One of the unused features of digital ebooks is that the price can change easily, daily, by volume and by demand.

Starting soon, you’ll pay extra for the hot, fresh ebook (at $20, the publisher can do quite well for two weeks while we wait for the hardcover, thanks very much) and you’ll pay a lot less when it’s on the clearance rack.
- Seth Godin, The Domino Project, Paying For First

I've been working on my bedbug post for the last bit (yes, bedbugs! I'm going to post it in an hour or so) so when I came across this post I thought it was interesting because it talks about how the form of a book -- electronic versus paper -- changes things. And it's Seth Godin, everyone loves Seth Godin!

SiWC 2011 Day One, Part Four: The Inner Journey, Donald Maass


Over the years I've been told countless times that Don Maass is a great teacher, so one of the workshops I looked forward to attending at SiWC was Donald Maass's The Inner Journey.

Donald Maass did not disappoint. I'm sure I'll use every exercise he discussed during NaNoWriMo!

(By the way, when I use the word "hero" in my notes, I mean the protagonist of a story, whether male or female.)
Why do we keep reading a story? What keeps us interested? Micro conflict. Line-by-line conflict. Resonance. Associative devises: reverses and parallels.

Write with a theme. Write what you care about. Write with a purpose. What is it that moves our hearts as we read? What is it that keeps us in its grip as we read? The emotional side of the story. The inner journey of our heroes. This inner journey can even change us as we read.

To open our characters emotionally we have to open ourselves emotionally.

There are two things we're going to talk about today:
1) The emotional landscape of the story. What are your characters feeling?
2) The journey of the character, the character arc. The character arc is the sequence of changes a character goes through, the series of changes that transforms them.

Part One: The emotional landscape of the story

What story are you working on? What is your favorite place to write? See yourself there, see the computer screen. What feeling are you afraid to put on the page? Write it down, right now, write it down.

What will leave you feeling raw if you write it down? What would be too truthful, too painful, too true? Too angry? What might end your relationship with your special person? What are you hiding from yourself? What is it that you don't want to admit? What is it that you know you have to do but you haven't? What aren't you telling yourself?

To whom in the story does this feeling belong? Who owns that feeling?

When is it, in the sequence of the story, that the character feels this way? Who is going to hear about this feeling? What is going to happen when they do?

This is what I mean by writing emotionally. You need to open yourself up to do this.

In your life, what makes you blissfully happy? Write down the first thing that comes to mind.

Put this happiness into a physical container. What is the most surprising thing about this object? What is it about this object that is wonderfully familiar? Delightfully strange? If you were to give this object, this happiness, as a gift to someone else, if they were to take it into their hands what is the first thing they would say?

Is this object fragile or is it unbreakable? Is this object one colour or is it many? What is its surface like? How big is it? How heavy? When others see it are they curious about it, or are they afraid of it? Do you want to share it, or hide it and keep it for yourself?

Craft a paragraph or passage in which you describe this feeling without naming it ("happiness"). Tell how this emotion looks and feels to others and yourself.

Remember, this emotion exists independently of you. What do you want to do with it? What have you discovered about yourself because this object is in your hands?

When is the moment in your story where you character experiences this happiness? This bliss? Can you put this into your story? Have you? Does it work?

This is a way of writing about primary emotions. "He froze in fear" does not make anyone freeze in fear. Big emotions like blissful happiness are very difficult to communicate so that THE READER feels it.

You can do this with fear, rage, humiliation, lust, etc.

Let your readers feel a feeling without naming it. What is the dominant emotion felt by your protagonist? A certain dream? A certain drive? An emotion? What is it?

Your protagonist needs to express this feeling, she needs to get it out. The story god strikes a character mute. What is the one thing the character can do to let everyone know how they feel? What can the character DO to express this feeling?

These exercises provide a way of working on the emotional landscape of the story. How do we make the reader feel what we want them to? By turning emotion into ACTION.

Example:
"He stood mute with rage."
versus
"He used a sledgehammer to turn the car that had killed his wife into a useless mass of twisted metal."

Write down a moment when your hero feels numb. Overwhelmed. Burned out. Exhausted. Confounded.

Write down, in addition, what someone else does as a result of the hero expressing this.

Do you see a place in your story where your character is just going to let go and say, "I don't give a f**k"?

Open an emotional landscape for your protagonist.

Part Two: Emotional Change

What is your protagonist's worst habit? Their weakness? Their blind spot? What would your hero like to change about themselves? What do they know needs to change?

What is the moment, early in the story, that your protagonist tries to change what needs to be changed and fails? Why does she fail? Why can't she do better?

What is the moment in this negative characterization when your protagonist causes embarrassment? Who notices? Who says nothing? Who turns away and tries to pretend that didn't happen? When in the story does this negative trait actually HELP her? Why does it help her? BE SPECIFIC!

As your story continues this negative trait continues. Your character can't stop it. Who does the character alienate? Offend? Disgust? Who tells off the character? Who rejects the character? Who just can't take it anymore?

Having bottomed out, what is something your protagonist does differently? Reader must be able to see that your protagonist has changed.

Working backwards in your story. How could you make this action something your character would never do? Make them highly resistant to this action. Have them dislike it or hate it. They find it to be a flaw/weakness in others. Then, at the end of the story, they have the weakness.

Some people would call what we're talking about here the character's flaw. I like to say that it is solmething the character is powerless to change but does.

Think of three or four ways this thing that needs to be changed is made evident to the reader.

Change involves: a) healing and b) reconciliation

What is your character's deepest childhood hurt? What incident scared her the most? Which detail of this moment does your hero remember clearest? Which part hurts the most?

Write down one place where something identical happens but in the current day.

In the course of the story there will be something ... an obsession ... that your hero can't let go of. There is a deeper reason why the hero can't let it go. What is the deeper psychological reason?

What other character in the story sees that hidden reason before your character sees it? What will your hero say to that character when that character confronts her? Will she deny it?

Reconciliation
Who in the story does the hero most need to forgive? Who do they hold a grudge against?

What would have to happen for the hero to forgive that character? What would it take to make it okay? Let that happen if you can. If it is a change for that character that you can include.

OR

Is there some way your protagonist needs to change. Something they need to let go so that what hurt before doesn't hurt anymore. So that they say, "That's okay. I understand".

Grand Arc: Inner Journey, Inner transformation
What is the most important thing that your hero needs to know about herself that she doesn't?

Write down three reasons your protagonist has not to care about the thing they need to know. Through the story find a way of tearing down each of these three reasons.

What is your protagonist's greatest hope? What is her greatest dream? What is the idea? What is it that they wish for or dream about?

Is there a way for your protagonist to taste what they hope for? Can you put it within their reach?

In what way is your protagonist naive? Is what she hopes for impossible? Childish, unrealistic? Not going to happen? When is your protagonist going to realize this? What will replace that hope or that dream?

I want to challenge you. I challenge you to enact this in the manuscript without exposition. No thoughts or feelings. Dialog only: What truth or principle does your hero cling to the hardest? About the world in general. What do they believe, foundationally, is true? Write down three or four ways you can crush that truth. Three or four ways that you can show that this foundational belief is wrong, flat out wrong.

When does your protagonist have to admit they were mistaken? What does she come to believe instead? What will she do or say to someone else to show this new truth?

End of novel: What will your protagonist see or understand about themselves? Work back and find five places to direct your hero away from what they will learn about themselves at the end. Something OUTWARD, CONCRETE and EXTERNAL. Something keeping them from where they need to be, from where they need to go as a human.

What is the biggest thing that is different about your protagonist because of this change? Remember, this change should be something that the character is seemingly INCAPABLE of doing.

This is opening an emotional landscape, building profound change for your hero. This is NOT plot.
Twitter: @DonMaass
Don Maass mentioned that he tweets weekly breakout prompts.

Wow! I walked out of that class wanting to buy all Don Maass's books. One book everyone has recommended is: Writing the Breakout Novel. That's one book I am definitely reading.

Earlier posts in this series:
SiWC 2011 Day One, Part One: Don't Flinch: Robert Wiersema
SiWC 2011 Day One, Part Two: Don't Flinch: Robert Wiersema
SiWC 2011 Day One, Part Three: The Psychology of Plotting, Michael Slade

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

SiWC 2011 Day One, Part Three: The Psychology of Plotting, Michael Slade

From my notes:
What is the worst thing that ever happened to you and how are you using that to power your fiction? You don't have to use this event in your plot, but this has such a high emotional sentiment that it can supercharge your writing.

When you draw from a traumatic event in your life you are INSIDE your characters psychology, not trying to figure it out. This will show in your writing.

You've heard that you need to draw on universal themes in your story. What do people want? What do people fear? These things are universal, but for your story to be interesting it has to be unique. How can you do this? How can you write about universal themes and yet make your story unique? Here's the secret: Infusing your story with your experience will make it unique and it will lend it verisimilitude.

After you've exhausted your own material, phone up a police crime lab, they will tell you all sorts of grizzly stories. Don't be shy about contacting folks and asking them to talk to you about their experience.

Remember, rule number one is: Write what you know.
Well, that was a lot shorter! I guess I was exhausted after all my note taking from Robert Wiersema's workshop.

Hmmm, should I continue on and post my notes from Don Maass's workshop, "The Inner Journey"? I'm turning the pages of my notebook -- I had left my notebook in my luggage but by this time I'd retrieved it -- and I think there's too much material here to post right now so I'll save it for Wednesday. (I'm writing this at 11:30 pm Tuesday. I'll set this post to be automatically published early Wednesday.)

Till then. :)

Earlier posts in this series:
SiWC 2011 Day One, Part One: Don't Flinch: Robert Wiersema
SiWC 2011 Day One, Part Two: Don't Flinch: Robert Wiersema

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

NaNoWriMo: Why write a 50,000 word manuscript in a month?


Why go through the insanity of NaNoWriMo? Here are the answers according the MuseInks:

1. It's invigorating.
It gets you out of the not-so-creative rut you may be in.
2. It's just what the doctor ordered. You know that manuscript? The sick one? The one you've been meaning to make some chicken soup for, take to ER, and rub its back till it feels better? NaNo gives you a whole month to indulge the headachy, snot-filled, fever-ridden work-in-progress. After 30 days of caregiving, you'll know beyond the shadow of a doubt whether or not the patient can be saved.
3. It will force you to look at things from a new vantage point. With NaNo, there's precious little time for second-guessing. Or editing. Or proofreading, for that matter. It's a write-like-your-life-depends-upon-it undertaking. Which makes you overlook things that may have slowed you down in the past. Every new NaNo day marks uncharted territory. There is no time to revisit what you did yesterday. Get ready to be bumped out of your comfort zone!
4. Try something daring. Has your writing become rote? Complacent? ~ahem~ By-the-book (pardon the pun)? NaNo gives you permission to throw away your crutches and safety nets. Try something you'd never normally do. Go ahead: it won't kill you!
5. You discover your personal writer's work ethic. No matter how supportive your cheerleaders, no one can write your book for you. (Technically, that's not true. Ghostwriters can. But that kind of negates the whole "I'm going to write a novel this month" thing...) NaNo shows you exactly what it takes to shoulder the book-writing load and git 'r done.
Sounds good to me! :) Read the entire post here: Top 5 Reasons You Should Do NaNoWriMo This Year. The original post has wonderful photos; I love the one of the dog trying to eat water.

SiWC 2011 Day One, Part Two: Don't Flinch: Robert Wiersema


Sorry for the fractured nature of this post (you can read part one here). I don't work for a few hours, so let's do this!

The first workshop I attended was Don't Flinch and was taught by Robert Wiersema.

Now, when a writer goes to a workshop it's a good idea, a really good idea, to have something to write on. But in the confusion of registering I had left my notebook in my luggage and of course I'd checked that in at the hotel!

A little thing like not having anything proper to write on never stopped a writer. During registration I'd been given a folder containing sheets printed on only one side.

(For those of you interested in what folks were given, here's a list: a detailed itinerary of workshops (one for each day), the etiquette of conferences, information about the silent action, information about the blue pencil sessions and editor appointments, an advertisement for a writers' retreat, a double-sided two page sheet with short bios of all the editors, agents and presenters. The rules of the silly writing contest, an article welcoming us to the convention and last--but certainly not least--a map.)

Armed with my unconventional writing material I took notes, and more notes, and still more, until I'd gone through all the backs of the handouts and, in desperation, began to write on the back of my folder! This was fine, but for the rest of the conference I felt a bit like the killer in Seven, carrying around a manilla folder covered with close scribbling.

Okay, the class. Here's what Robert Wiersema said was the key to building suspense: You take a bunch of characters, make your readers care about them, set monsters loose on them and then don't flinch. You need to let horrible things happen to them.

(Important disclaimer: These are my notes so I could be mistaken about what Robert Wiersema said, so don't blame him if you read something startling or something that makes no sense, that's me. :)
You want a gun in the first act, this creates an implicit promise. This creates questions. When will the gun go off? Why will it go off? Who will pull the trigger? Where will it go off? This is true for any kind of genre. If you're writing a romance then the question is: When will they get together? Why will they get together? Where will they get together, etc. The techniques of building suspense, of building elevated tension, are the same.

What does "not flinching" mean?
1) HOOK. You have, at most, two pages to grab a reader. You have to grab them in the first scene, in the first sentence. How do you do this? You create a question in the readers mind. The reader must answer the question to understand the sentence. This is like foreshadowing, but it is less blunt/obvious. A hook is implicit foreshadowing.

2) PLOT. How does the plot build suspense? Imagine you're driving down the road and you see a car in the ditch. What is going to happen? That's right, everyone will slow down to look at the car and they'll wonder: What happened? It is part of our nature.

3) CONFLICT & CHARACTER = SUSPENSE
- frustrate your character. Which newspaper headline would arrest/grab your attention: "Man on the run" or "Man captured"?
- Have reversals. Character should be frustrated at most turns. Here's the trick: the plot should be inevitable but not predictable. The plot should not be the same thing you and your readers have seen dozens of times. How do you avoid this?
- THE KEY: The reader should always know slightly more than the character. Let the reader know an event is coming before the character does.
- In order to create suspense, the readers' expectations must be both met and undermined. What we are talking about here is shameless manipulation. You are telling people lies in order to get the response you want. This is blatant audience manipulation.

Writers who are great at audience manipulation: Nicholas Sparks and Dan Brown. These writers are good storytellers and their pacing is good. They have good pacing within each sentence, within each paragraph, within each chapter of their stories.

How can you affect the pacing of your writing?
- Short fast sentences increase tension.
- Description, long words, long sentences, lower tension.
Your story is like a pot of soup, you don't want it to boil and you don't want it cold. You have to keep adjusting the temperature to get it just right. This means introducing stretches of increasing, and then decreasing, tension.

Elmore Leonard was the writer he said: Leave out the stuff people don't read. Leave out the boring bits.

CUE YOUR READERS
- The rhythm of your story is dictated by what you need your story to do. Use the pace to cue readers as to what their reaction should be. Don't treat your readers dishonorably. Cue the reader, tell them what you want them to feel. For instance, if you want them to feel heightened tension then use short sentences and raise the tension.
- The sorts of things that increase tension: Showing as opposed to telling and dialogues.
- The sorts of things that lower tension: Telling as opposed to showing, description, long sentences, etc.

If you're going to focus on something, focus on it for a reason. Use it. You must only focus on what is important to the story.

CHARACTERIZATION
- The stereotype is that thrillers are plot machines. Story arises naturally out of characters. Plot is artificial. Everything: the story, the tension, etc., should come out of the characters. In order for this to happen your characters needs flaws and scars. For instance a classic flaw was pride. Pride is a great flaw to fuel tension and suspense.

Examples:
- Dr. Richard Kimble in The Fugitive. Kimble was arrogant. He was a surgeon. When he was falsely accused of his wife's murder that was the first situation in his life he wouldn't control. He doesn't plot his escape, it happens to him. Kimble needs to become innocent to reclaim his place in society. Throughout the movie he works to get back what he has lost.
- Hitchcock: Hitchcock was a master at using a person's flaws against them to drive a plot. He used suspense to drive a plot. Vertigo is an excellent example of this. Right from the beginning you know that the Jimmy Steward character is scared of heights and that he'll struggle with this fear at the end. You know this, but knowing it doesn't make the movie less interesting, it builds suspense. It increases tension. Rear Window was like this as well.

Protagonists and Antagonists
The reader must be swept along through the story because of their kinship with the protagonist. The antagonist must be as strong as the protagonist. The antagonist is the hero of their story.

Example: Silence of the Lambs. Hannibal Lector is the antagonist not Buffalo Bill, even though Buffalo Bill (aka Captain Stottlemeyer to all you Monk fans) is the murderer. (The instructor asked the class to name the murderer in Silence of the Lambs but it took a minute or two for any of us to come up with the answer.) We remember the Lector character because that character is well developed. We have questions. Hannibal was the protagonist in Hannibal. So, what I'm saying is: Make all your antagonists the heroes of their own story. The antagonist is the physicalization of the negative force.

Load up on your archetypes
People are afraid of the same things. They fear disease, the dark, public shame, loss of a child, death, injury, maiming. These are only a few of the things that make every single one of us shake in our boots. These are the things, the events, that populate our nightmares. Dr. Kimble in The Fugitive was being pursued. That's the fear. The fear of being caught, the fear of footsteps in the dark.

STUPID MISTAKES
- Unbelievability. Tension needs to be believable within the world you create. A good example of BELIEVABILITY is the universe Jim Butcher created for his series, the Dresden Files. This is a universe filled with wizards and vampires and witches and all manner of fantasy characters, but it reads like a matter-of-fact account of the day-to-day happenings of Chicago. How is this achieved?

a. Don't have characters do what you have established they wouldn't do. For instance, if the character is scared of crowds then when they escape through a crowd at the end of your book show that this isn't an easy thing for them to do, don't have them do it blithely.
b. Continuity and logic problems make a story unbelievable.
c. Don't treat your character or reader as stupid. Your questions, your situations, shouldn't have an easy answer that the character doesn't think of. That's the sort of plotting that makes a book airborne -- readers will hurl it against the wall and stop reading.

Example: In Hitchcock's Psycho there's a beautiful young girl who comes to a creepy hotel and, instead of taking one look at it and the macabre Norman Bates and making a run for it, she checks in and takes a shower! Would you do this? No! What makes it believable that she would? Well, she's just stolen some money and is on the run. This cuts her off from any help society could provide. Also, she is to meet her boyfriend at the hotel and they didn't have cell phones in those days, so she has to stay put.

d. Don't resolve the central question of your story too soon.
e. Don't cheat the reader. You want them to read your next book. If you cheat them -- for example if a chance meeting at the end of the book resolves the tension -- then your readers will loose interest.

Not making stupid mistakes, creating the right pace, etc., all these things are skills, we learn them by going through the process of creating and writing stories. Everything that I've said today about what makes a story good, you know this already.

Here's what I want you to do. If you've found a book that has kept you reading far past your bedtime then read it again. As I said before Dan Brown is great at this. Read and watch movies (movie soundtracks are shamelessly manipulative).

Another thing you can do to improve your writing is, when you give your story to readers, ask them to put a mark in the margin where they began to lose interest.

Point Of View
You can have more than one first person POV character, you can even have POV characters that have different points of view (e.g., first and third). Do what works for your story.

Stakes
Suspense is always a matter of stakes. You want to let the reader know, early on, what the stakes are. Kill or maim someone adorable early on. For example, The Firm with Tom Cruise. What are the stakes for Cruise? If he stays with the firm and the feds show it's connected to the mob then Cruise looses everything: his money, his job, his freedom. On the other hand, if he cooperates with the feds then he won't go to jail, but sooner or later the mob will catch up with him and he'll be dead. Nice choice!
- You can know the outcome and still create suspense. There was a movie where the story was told by a drowned person. You know the narrator dies at the end, but the stakes were still raised.

Summing Up
Stakes, consequences. You've created a situation with potentially tragic results. There will come a time when you will want to save your character, to protect them. Don't. Don't flinch.

This moment is terrifying. If we were decent people we would protect our characters. You want a happy ending, but you can't cheat to get it.

You've created characters with flaws and turned the monsters loose on them. You have to be brave and unflinching. You have to do horrible things to nice people.

You don't need to beat your reader over the head with gore and lots of ugly details. You can leave these implicit. Readers have great imaginations, they will fill in the details.

If you do it right then it will hurt. It hurts us to hurt our characters, it hurts us to manipulate the reader. One thing you must realize: We also manipulate ourselves. Ultimately, we do all this manipulation because we are building truth.

We must have courage and strength and you must realize that, yes, you are cruel but here's the real truth: truth hurts and it is crucial that you don't flinch.
So, those are my notes! I had no idea this post would be so long. Yikes! I must be able to scribble pretty quickly.

I guess I'm not going to be able to get to the other Friday workshops today, "The Psychology of Plotting" by Michale Slade and "The Inner Journey" by Donald Maass.

Stay tuned!

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Secrets of Good Blogging

From Jim C. Hines:
Here’s the thing. Blogging is basically self-publishing, with all of the advantages and disadvantages that come with it.

. . . .

So how do you stand out? Just as with self-publishing, it can help if you’ve already got an audience. When Frederick Pohl began blogging, a lot of people immediately added that blog to their reading lists, because … well, he’s Frederick Freaking Pohl. But for the rest of us, the secret seems to come down to two words:

Be interesting.

Just as with fiction, you can get away with almost anything, as long as it keeps readers interested.

A lot of people have said they aren’t very good at blogging, that it feels awkward or uncomfortable or unnatural or whatever. And that’s fine. I don’t personally feel like writers have to do this.

But I also think blogging is a learned, practiced skill, just like fiction. My first short stories bit the waxed tadpole. So did my first blog posts. In both cases, I had to learn what I was doing. I had to practice, to study other examples, and to write a lot of crap. (I like to think that neither my fiction nor my blogging bite as much waxed tadpole these days, but I’ll leave it to others to judge whether that practice paid off.)

Be interesting. Be you. I’ve never met an uninteresting person. The trick, as I see it, is learning your own strengths. Your expertise, your passions, your experiences.
. . . .

To quote Neil Gaiman, “Use your blog to connect. Use it as you. Don’t ‘network’ or ‘promote.’ Just talk.”

It takes time. Like any self-published author, you’re probably not going to get 10,000 daily readers in your first month. Or even your first year. But if blogging is something you want to do, then trust yourself. Don’t worry about being Neil Gaiman. Be you. Because believe it or not, you’re every bit as interesting as Gaiman. (Okay, maybe you don’t have the accent, but that doesn’t come through online anyway.)

And try to have a little fun while you’re at it.
- Jim C. Hines, Science Fiction & Fantasy Novelists

Here is a link to Jim's blog post: The Secrets of Good Blogging. Thanks to @jazz2midnight for the link.

SiWC 2011 Day One, Part One: Don't Flinch: Robert Wiersema


I've decided to go through my experience at the writers' conference day by day, beginning on the first day, Friday.

Of course I was excited to be at the Surrey International Writers' Conference. This was my second time at the SiWC. The first time was last year and Robert Dugoni (see pic, above) sent us all off into the world with his rousing adaptation of Aragorn's speech at the Black Gate entitled: Today we WRITE!

Best. Speech. Ever.

Usually writers aren't the most demonstrative folks but we didn't just give him a standing ovation, we stamped our feet, we hooted and cheered. The speech was amazing. It was so good, in fact, it was so inspiring, that the organizers took Dugoni's speech as the theme for this year's conference.

Anyhow, that was last year, but it gives the background of our collective expectations, out thoughts. The mood of the conference.

For my first workshop I was going to attend, "The Military for Writers" by Bob Mayer but a friend mentioned "Don't Flinch" so I read the handout:
"Robert Wiersema, whose Bedtime Story is described as an exquisitely plotted blend of supernatural thriller and domestic drama, guides you though building suspense and raising the states when ANYTHING can happen."
I ask you, after reading a description like that, how could I not go?

I just looked at the time, ack! The rest of this post will have to wait till I get back from work. I want to write about the workshop and what Wiersema had to say about not flinching and tell you something about the other two courses I attended that day. Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Surrey International Writers' Conference


The conference has ended and I've just settled down in front of a computer. I have one word for you: Wow! To call the conference awesome would be to slight it. It was amazing and stupendous!

This year friends and I reserved rooms at the Sheraton hotel so we could stay for late night events such as Michael Slade's Shock Theatre (the photo, above, is of Michael Slade, but it wasn't taken at the conference. I have a GREAT video for you from the conference, stay tuned ;). Saturday night we went to our rooms early, opened a bottle of wine, and talked about writing.

I want to tell you all about the great workshops I took, all the wonderful things I've leaned, but I need to unpack, do laundry, and catch up on my email. My deepest apologizes to the folks who emailed me and I haven't gotten back to you yet. I want to and I will sometime in the next couple of days.

The conference was great, but it's good to be back. :)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Using speach to text software for writing


I've tweeted about this article, but it is so good I wanted to post about it too. Here are Karen Ranney's tips for using Dragon Naturally Speaking:
Buy the best microphone you can afford. (I’m currently using a Plantronics DSP400 Foldable Multimedia Headset which is soft, comfy, lightweight, and folds up and fits in a pouch.)

Always back up your User Profile. I’ve had to restore mine twice, even with this new version of Dragon.

If you’re having a problem with Dragon recognizing your speech, and you’ve used the tools under Audio, create a new user profile. Make sure you select the available accents if they’re applicable.

Train Dragon for words that are uncommon. For example, I write both Scottish historical romance and murder mysteries, and have a varied vocabulary for each. I use the Vocabulary/Import List of Words and Phrases command, which also allows me to train Dragon.

Train Dragon for your writing style by going back and having it analyze documents you’ve already written (Vocabulary/Learn from Specific Documents.)

Dragon is a tool, one that I’ve found to be very helpful for three reasons:

I’ve never had the dreaded blank page syndrome with Dragon. I’m forced to start talking about the book and before I know it, I’m writing it. (Besides, if I remain quiet for too long it picks up the sound of my breathing.)

It also enables me to maximize time. Granted, there are places I can’t use Dragon – for example, standing in line somewhere. But there are more places where I can use it, and I take advantage of those.

Using a speech to text program forces me to know what I’m about to say/write. Dragon helps me stay on target.

And, yes, this was dictated on Dragon.
Here's a link to Karen Ranney's article as it appears on The Passive Voice blog.

Indie writers and Internet dependency

I am internet-less. I have been without Internet access for coming up on 24 hours. 

I'm sitting in a coffee shop an hour before i have to work peck-typing on my iPad. (Have I mentioned lately that I love my iPad?) 

Having had constant access to the Internet for years I was completely unprepared for ... Well, for the silence. It may seem odd, but I'm experiencing a sense of dislocation. I know that's an exaggeration, but I wasn't able to blog last night, or schedule tweets, and my personal emails lie in my inbox neglected and unsent. It is like my life is in stasis -- on hold  -- until I get my connectivity back.

An image just flashed through my head: a member severed from the Borg collective. I shudder. Surely not.

Has anyone else gone without the Internet for a significant period of time?

Edit: Problem fixed! Turns out my router was dead. Ah well.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

10 ways to get more views and traffic to your blog


I found a great post over on Wordpress.com called, "Getting more views and Traffic". The author's points are what my Grams would have called common sense, but I find I occasionally need reminding.

1. Tell people in your social networks about your new post.
Dead obvious, but I don't do this. I post a link on Twitter and leave it at that.

2. Make your content visible to search engines
Fortunately, sites like Blogger and Wordpress do this if you've made your site visible to the public (look at your privacy settings if you want to check whether your site is visible).

3. Pay for traffic to your site
Apparently you can get visitors through StumbleUpon for the (I hear the deep base of the announcers voice) for the low, low, price of $0.05 per visit.

I can understand the utility of this, but the offer leaves me feeling indignant. I feel myself wanting to say: I don't pay for views!

4. Bug your real-life friends
I disagree with this one. I think it's common sense NOT to bug your real-life friends. It's easy to alienate people. You know that guy everyone pokes fun at, the one who is always trying to show his home movies? Yea, you don't want to be that guy.

My real life friends know I blog and if they want to read my posts they will. If they don't, that's okay too.

5. Use appropriate tags
Definitely a must. I've begun looking at the topics that are trending over at Twitter and mulling over whether I could do a blog post about one of those topics.

6. Read and comment on other blogs
Excellent idea, and something I do. Or try to do. It nelps grow your blog, but I've also met some mighty nice people that way.

7. Link to other blogs
I do this, but should do it more. It would be a good idea to put up a 'Best Of The Writing Blogs' list and include those blogs I read every day, the blogs I use as touchstones, that help encourage me and anchor me.

8. Let people know about your blog entries
Once I wrote a blog post that was inspired by a conversation I'd had with someone I had just met on Twitter. I tweeted him about the post I'd made. It worked out well, he posted a comment and retweeted my link to the article, but -- obviously -- one needs to be careful when doing this, I could see this going horribly wrong. Stephen King wrong.

9. Relax, it takes time
True, very true, but I want results NOW, dagmabbit!

10. Size doesn't matter
This is what the original blog post said: "Finally, remember that it's not the size of your audience, it's how much you care about them and they care about you."

I'm trying to think of a tactful way of putting this.

Nope, just cant.

If you're trying to sell your books and, hopefully, sell enough to to allow you to quit your day job, it is about the numbers. That's not to say that I don't get a special thrill when someone tells me they read my book, and I am humbly grateful to all those wonderful folks who reviewed my book, but for anyone who is hoping to use their blog to help them sell books, the size of their platform does matter.


A good 10 points, even if I didn't agree with all of them. Besides, if we agreed with one another all time, time wouldn't life be boring?

Here is a link to the original article: Getting More Views and Traffic

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Making a Vlog


For months I have been thinking about making a vlog post. What prevented me? I had absolutely no idea how to go about it. I knew I had to have some sort of camera and I had to get the footage onto a website, but that was the extent of my hazy idea. I've found out a bit more, thanks to a few vlogs I discovered, and I thought you good folks might be interested.

First, a video by Myles Dyer who has been video blogging since 2006.

Second, a video Hank Green: How to Vlog: From the Vlogbrothers.

Looks simple? I thought so, until I watched Hank Green's video on how his "How to Vlog" video was edited descriptively entitled: An Hour of Me Editing a Vlog. He also put up a copy of the script he used here: As Part of a Project.

I've used my iPad to shoot some video of me rambling about something or other and I'm currently editing it using Adobe Premiere Elements 9. I'll put up the grainy footage on YouTube when it's ready and you all can chuckle. ;)

btw, found an interesting article on the top five vlogs: The Top 5 YouTube Vloggers And Why People Love Them.

Cheers!

Seth Godin: Open conversations

A guy walks into a shop that sells ties. He's opened the conversation by walking in.

Salesman says, "can I help you?"

The conversation is now closed. The prospect can politely say, "no thanks, just looking."

Consider the alternative: "That's a [insert adjective here] tie you're wearing, sir. Where did you buy it?"

Conversation is now open. Attention has been paid, a rapport can be built. They can talk about ties. And good taste.

Or consider a patron at a fancy restaurant. He was served an old piece of fish, something hardly worth the place's reputation. On the way out, he says to the chef,

"It must be hard to get great fish on Mondays. I'm afraid the filet I was served had turned."

If the chef says, "I'm sorry you didn't enjoy your meal..." then the conversation is over. The patron has been rebuffed, the feedback considered merely whining and a matter of personal perspective.

What if the chef said instead, "what kind of fish was it?" What if the chef invited the patron back into the kitchen to take a look at the process and was asked for feedback?

Open conversations generate loyalty, sales and most of all, learning... for both sides.
-- Seth Godin, Open conversations (or close them)
I love Seth's blog. Often, after reading one of his posts, and I'll look at the world -- even if it's only one small corner of it -- in a new way. Take his post on opening conversations, above. He is right! Rather than saying, "Can I help you?" when someone comes into the store, say, "Hey, I love your handbag, where did you buy it?" That opens the conversation. "Can I help you?" gives the customer an obvious out, just say: No thank you. No further interaction.

It's common sense, but I'd never have thought of it in just that way.

Now, how do we apply this to writing?

Friday, October 14, 2011

My State of the Union


I haven't blogged for a couple of days, I'm sorry about that. Making at least one blog post a day is a priority for me and I wanted to let everyone know what's up.

My Dad is ill. I've shared this was some of you, usually I've just said I have a family emergency. After a decades long fight with kidney disease, my father's kidneys are failing. A week or so ago a nurse told me Dad's kidneys were very close to ... well, she just said that he would probably need to be rushed to the hospital sometime in the next two weeks. Hopefully, with the aid of a kidney machine, my Dad still has time left.

Obviously this is an emotional time for me, but it is also a busy one. My mother passed away in January and I have no siblings. My father is nearly blind -- I suspect he is legally blind -- and is hard of hearing, so he needs an attendant for his appointments. I do this gladly, but between taking care of my father and working, I have less time to write.


SO! Wow, I feel bad about dumping all that on you. Are you ready to hear my solution to my time problems? Here it is: Video blogging.

I'm a slow writer. I make slugs look like cheetahs by comparison. That was one reason I took up blogging; I figured I couldn't spend an eternity on a blog post and blog every day -- or even every week! And yet, I've managed to. Perhaps video blogging, as long as I don't read from a script, will help me to stop obsessing over every little thing. (A little voice is chuckling and saying, 'When pigs fly'. Whatev. ;)

My plan is to keep up with my links on Twitter, to keep posting about articles on my blog, and to begin posting perhaps a video a week. My videos will likely be sporadic and less than perfect, and I will deeply appreciate your patience as they improve.

I've felt guilty about not writing more personal posts, post like this one. Hopefully, video blogging will help with that. Also, I've discovered the Daily Post over at Wordpress. It's a blog that, each day, gives blogging suggestions for that day. I look forward to writing a couple of posts inspired by the topics of the day. And of course there's NaNoWriMo, I'm doing that this year; first time!

Reading over this post it looks as though I've explained why I don't have as much time as I used to and then decided to keep up with what I'm doing as well as add a whole bunch! lol Well, we'll see how that goes. Whatever happens, thanks for being understanding. :)

Cheers.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Passive Guy writes about monopolies


He writes:
Major publishers have worked themselves into much the same position that Microsoft has. There are separate publishing companies, of course, but in important ways, they act in concert like a single monopolistic company.

For example, each offers virtually identical royalty terms to writers. Each offers very similar contract terms to writers. The only way publishers compete for a particular manuscript is by the amount of the advance. They have tacitly agreed not to compete in other ways.

As others have observed, big publishers have a remarkably haphazard manner of finding what they need to survive – new books.

Generally speaking, big publishers don’t develop their own products. Each sits around and waits for someone outside the company to give them a good new product idea. PG suggests that only in a shared monopoly could such a bizarre business practice be sustained.

The big publishers work with highly monopolistic big book wholesalers. The big book wholesalers work with a network of bookstores that has become highly consolidated over the last 20 years.

PG suggests the entire distribution chain from publisher the wholesaler to bookstore manifests classic features and behaviors of a monopolistic system – lack of innovation, lack of flexibility, narrow-gauge management and inbred thinking.

As one evidence of monopoly among Big Publishing, PG would point to what he believes to be a credible suit against all the large publishers for price fixing, one of the harms of monopoly.

While it is possible that Amazon may someday become a monopoly with all of the drawbacks that accompany such status, today, Amazon is primarily an Internet company. It is very close to its early history fighting its way up through a very competitive environment and is most definitely committed to innovation and very fast and flexible.

In your wildest imagination, can you conceive of Simon & Schuster or HarperCollins developing the Kindle? Elephants would flit back and forth among the clouds before that would happen.

A monopoly believes it is a permanent fixture in its industry. An Internet e-commerce company worries obsessively that it can be destroyed at any time if it doesn’t stay fast and smart. The contrast between Amazon and big publishing could not be more stark.

Big publishing is essentially unable to compete because its monopoly position has caused it to become inflexible and it has lost the ability to innovate. In the same way that Microsoft bumbles and stumbles when it tries to take on Apple or Google, big publishing is slow and oafish when compared to Amazon.
Read the entire article here: Will publishers be able to maintain primacy as ebook publishers?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Ebook: A book with no body?


Have you seen those old and marvelously cheesy sci-fi movies where someone is disassembled, digitized, and lives -- non-corporeally -- in a computer?
The other day I was musing that this is what has happened to the book.

Originally stories were written in pictures on walls, then on scrolls and, later still, the codex was developed. Stories were embodied in various physical mediums over the years and each new embodiment was considered a technological innovation.

Enter the ebook. With the advent of electronic books, the story has shed its physical, corporeal, form. Physical pulp and paper books have a shelf life and the story they contain has to be copied over to a new book, a laborious process, one that conjures up images of monks stooped over velum, quill in hand, painstakingly scribing words, sentences, into a new volume. Now the process is instantaneous and costs practically nothing.

It is an interesting thing to think about; at least for myself. But, then, I'm strange. ;)

For more weird and wonderful musings, check out Lev Grossman's article in The New York Times, From Scroll to Screen. (Thanks to Bob Mayer, and a comment he made on Kris Rusch's post, for the link.)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Joe Konrath: Hiatus Part Deux


In about 24 hours Joe Konrath received over a hundred guest posts! Unless Joe intends to be on Hiatus a long, long, time he's never going to be able to use that many. Joe's idea is to put together an ebook. As he writes:
Over one hundred ebook authors writing about their personal publishing journeys. We'd all want to read that.
This is how he'd do it:
I'd write the intro, and put a few pieces in there, so it would be an ebook edited by J.A. Konrath & Rob Siders. So far, no one has written the definitive tome on ebook self-publishing. This could be it.

Rob does amazing work, and he's going to put in dozens of hours on this project, and he deserves to be paid. I'm not going to pay him, because I'm not going to make any money on this. I'm just the figurehead.

So this is my proposal. I think this ebook should be priced at $2.99, and Rob keeps the money.

If you're a writer who sent me a guest blog, I'm sure part of the reason you did it was to reach my readers and publicize your ebook.

An ebook collection would work in the same way. You get the exposure and links to your titles, Rob gets paid for the untold hours he has to put in, and I don't have to disappoint anyone.

I don't pay people for guest blogs. And I've always allowed people to repost my blog entries on their blogs (or in their how-to books) for free, so I'm not asking you for anything you weren't already willing to give away.

I'll make zero money on this, but my name is pretty well-known, so you'll get your article in front of a lot of eyes. Your article, plus links to your ebooks and your websites and blogs.

Rob would be asking for non-exclusive rights, meaning you could use your piece elsewhere, and you could have it taken out of the collection at any time.
Sounds good to me! Read the rest here: Hiatus Part Deux

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Leader of the indie movement, Joe Konrath, goes on hiatus

I have screamed into the wind for a long time.
Screamed so loud, some have heard me.
But I'm tired of screaming.
I'm taking a hiatus from blogging for an indeterminate time. This indiestry (just coined that term) is sustainable without me.

- Joe Konrath, A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, Hiatus
Joe has earned a break and I wish him well. But he continues:
However, I am going to open up this blog to writers, and let other people do the screaming for a while.

If you'd like to write a guest blog, email me your piece.
I'm glad I wasn't holding my coffee, I might have dropped it!

What sort of guest blogs is Joe looking for? Here is what I've gleaned from his post:

- You must share what you have learned about publishing.
- You must talk about your own story, your own writing journey. What have you done to sell your book(s)? What were the results? What would you change, if you had the chance? What are you thinking of trying in the future? What have you learned? What advice do you have for folks who are thinking of going indie?
- Keep your post under 1,200 words.

In Joe's words: "Show me, and the world, whatcha got."

Although I eagerly await reading about what other indie authors have tried, I hope that Joe starts blogging again soon.

You can read Joe's entire article here: Hiatus

Friday, October 7, 2011

Amazon versus the big-6 publishers

Is it any wonder that Amazon isn’t too worried about competing with Big Publishers? It’s like the Army Rangers taking on the Des Moines elementary school crossing guards.
- PG, Why Publishing is Like Baseball and Politics
PG has written an excellent commentary on Kris Rusch's post, The Way We Were.
Datastreams can be very valuable. Lots of people are working to parse Twitter’s datastream these days.

Passive Guy recently read an article that said news of the big East Coast earthquake south of Washington DC reached New York City faster by Twitter than it did via official disaster warning networks. Researchers are watching Twitter for everything from who’s rising and who’s not in Republican presidential politics to how the latest revolution is progressing in the Middle East.

At this point, the most valuable part of Amazon is the proprietary datastream it receives from its sales each day. An enormous competitor with bazillions of dollars could set up an online store, regional warehouses, etc., but it would be blind compared to Amazon because it doesn’t have the current and historical data and the ability to predict what customers will want next.

Wal-Mart was the first big retailer to actively exploit the value of its sales data. That was one of the reasons it beat Sears, K-Mart and some store chains that don’t exist any more.

Before widespread internet access, each Wal-Mart had a satellite antenna that beamed daily, then hourly, then real-time sales data back to the mothership in Bentonville, Arkansas. Bentonville is a fine place to operate the world’s largest retailer. When you’re digital, it doesn’t matter where you are located. Being in Manhattan is becoming a less and less valuable business asset, but PG doesn’t want to fight with any New Yorkers. He agrees it has a unique vibe and enjoys his trips there. He never heard a cab driver speaking Farsi in Bentonville.

Wal-Mart began to rearrange its stores based upon its sales data, featuring different items on its end-caps (displays at the end of aisle) each day depending on what it knew would sell best on Thursdays. One illustrative story has Wal-Mart putting diapers next to beer on the weekends. Dad’s at home. When he is sent to the store to buy diapers, he decides he deserves a beer for his sacrifice.

Unfortunately, PG heard the Wal-Mart data guru speak at a conference a few years ago and he said the beer/diapers story is apocryphal, but confirmed that Wal-Mart knew about a lot of products that sold better when they’re placed next to each other. With today’s technology, Bentonville data gnomes can drill down to sales made at individual cash registers located half-way around the world.

As Kris points out, sifting through a datastream the size of Amazon’s or Wal-Mart’s to discover important information about where customers have been and where they’re likely to go was impossible before the tremendous boom in computing power. The area is usually described as business analytics or data mining and smart companies do a lot of it. When PG was an executive in a business analytics software company a few years ago, he negotiated contracts with every big and rich firm on Wall Street.

But no contracts with publishers. As we’ve read, Big Publishing is having problems getting ebook royalty reports from Amazon and Nook plugged into their ancient royalty reporting software, a trivial programming job. PG doesn’t see them moving into data mining very quickly.

People sometimes believe that Amazon’s major advantage over traditional booksellers is its willingness to aggressively discount. That certainly plays a role, but the folks in Seattle are also much, much smarter about what sells and what doesn’t.

Amazon doesn’t discount everything every day. The people making pricing decisions know exactly how much money they make from selling a currently-available Kindle ereader. They have a very good idea of how much profit they’ll make from each Kindle Fire they sell for $199 even if Amazon pays more than that to buy the Fire.

Amazon is not just selling a tablet. They’re selling a tablet that will generate a stream of new purchases of ebooks, movies, music and almost everything else they sell. Whatever loss they take on the tablet itself is an investment in a future customer.

Is it any wonder that Amazon isn’t too worried about competing with Big Publishers? It’s like the Army Rangers taking on the Des Moines elementary school crossing guards.
Read more over at The Passive Voice.

Book Promotion Tips for Hardcore Introverts


Hardcore introvert, that's me! I just found Lindsay Buroker through twitter (@GoblinWriter) and I just had to share a few of her tips for how introverts can flourish on the web:
Ignore the people who try to be everywhere (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, every forum, etc.), using these platforms as billboards for their stuff, sending out grating sales pitches all the time. If they’re selling books, it’s in spite of what they’re doing there rather than because of it.

So, what do you do?

1. Start a blog (if you’re like me, you’ll be most comfortable sharing your thoughts, and maybe throwing in a post or two about your books, on your own site because it’s a place people have voluntarily chosen to visit — you’re not bugging anyone in a “public” venue).

2. Pick one or two social media sites to get involved on (I’ve been on Twitter for ages — I like it since you’re forced to keep messages short so it’s not a big time sink — and I’ve recently started doing more with Facebook, since much of my target audience hangs out there).

3. Use those sites to get to know your fans (or people who, based on their profiles, might become your fans!), and also use them to promote interesting posts on your blog. People are a lot more likely to click on a link to a possibly-useful-to-them blog post than they are to click on a buy-my-book link. Then, through your blog, people can get to know your writing style and what you’re all about. (I use affiliate links to track sales that originate from my blog, and I sell more than I’d expect, given that I write about e-publishing instead of fantasy or something specifically for my target audience.)
You can read the entire article here: Book Promotion Tips for Hardcore Introverts

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Experts making mistakes

Amazon had to pull, redo and reload Neal Stephenson’s latest title Reamde after readers complained about numerous errors costing Harper-Collins and Stephenson considerable money and causing bad publicity. Beta testers for JK Rowling’s Pottermore web site were so underwhelmed with it, the opening of it has been pushed back. Reading reviews on Amazon I find numerous books from the Big 6, like Dan Simmons’ classic, Hyperion, getting savaged in eBook reviews because of serious formatting errors.
In his latest article, Bob Mayer talks about Experts making mistakes in publishing. Here's a link to the rest of his article, Reamde, Pottermore, Hyperion and other mistakes from publishing “experts”

I'm excited! Later this month I'm going to be taking a couple of Bob Mayer's classes at the Surrey International Writers' Conference. I attended last year and had a fabulous time. Not only did I meet dozens are people like me -- people I didn't have to explain myself to! -- but I learnt an amazing amount about the art and craft of writing. The keynote speeches alone were worth the price.

Okay, back to my blog post. Although Bob Mayer came at it from a different angle, some of what he wrote reminded me of Dean Wesley Smith's latest blog post: The New World of Publishing: Traditional Publishers Are Getting What They Deserve. Well worth the read.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Night and the Music by Lawrence Block: 5 out of 5 stars


I thought I had read all Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder short stories, but I had missed one or two, and of course One Last Night At Grogan's was brand new. It was a joy to be drawn into Scudder's world again. It's one of those things you know is going to happen but is impossible to pinpoint the exact moment it occurs. One moment I was reading words and thinking about writing style and point of view and the next I was in the story, sharing Matthew Scudder's thoughts, alive in his world.

It was a thrill to read this collection of Scudder stories; this is Lawrence Block at his best. Here's hoping he never stops writing.

One more thing, at the end of THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC, is a section titled, 'About These Stories,' in which Lawrence Block writes a bit about each of the stories in the volume. For me, this was one of the best parts of the book since I love reading writers discuss their writing, what they were thinking, what influenced their craft, and so on.

All in all, THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC was a treat to read.

I know I've probably left a lot of questions about THE NIGHT unanswered, so here is a FAQ about The Night and the Music from LB's blog:
Far as I’m concerned, it’s not a real book unless a tree dies. How do I get The Night and the Music in real book form?

There’ll be print-on-demand trade paperbacks on sale at online booksellers, or through your local brick-and-mortar store, in two weeks or so. The price is $14.95.

You don’t understand. I want a signed copy.

No problem. At last count, there are thirteen top mystery booksellers who will be carrying signed copies. You can drop by one of their stores, phone up, or order online. The full list is on Matthew Scudder’s Page.

Or you can order from our own website operation, LB’s Bookstore. Our price is $15 plus shipping.

You only ship to the U.S. I live in Canada/Scotland/Tierra del Fuego. Don’t you care about your overseas readers? How can I get a signed copy?

I cherish my overseas readers, but stopped shipping out of the country because postal rigamarole makes it way too much trouble for an operation our size. The booksellers on Matthew Scudder’s Page are not thus constrained, and most if not all of them will be delighted to fill your order.

And, of course, the eBook is accessible just about anywhere. International prices may vary among online retailers, so you may want to shop around, but you’ll find it.

Will there be a hard cover edition?

Otto Penzler of Mysterious Bookshop has an upscale leatherbound signed-and-numbered edition of 100 copies that should be ready sometime in November. It’ll be gorgeous—and, at $150, it ought to be. (It’ll also sell out, so if you want one, better call: (800) 352-2840.)

It’s possible there’ll be a hardcover trade edition as well, sometime in the future, but at this stage I’d say chances of that are fairly slim.

What about an audiobook? What about foreign editions? Some of us like to read with our ears, and some of us prefer our native tongue. What are we, gehackte Leber?

I should have audiobook news soon. And my agent, the estimable Danny Baror (danny@barorint.com), will be representing the book at Frankfurt Book Fair. The Matthew Scudder books have been translated into a couple dozen languages, and I have every expectation that The Night and the Music will join them.
To read LBs entire post, click here: THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC--some FAQs.

Here are some links to THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC:
- on Amazon
- on Barnes & Noble
- on Smashwords

Eight time management tips for writers


I can always use more tips about how to manage my time! Most of them I already know, but I need reminding.

These tips come by way of Michael Haynes blog.
1. Have a goal. This may not seem like a time management tip at first, but it's an absolutely essential input to any time management planning you are doing for writing. Without having a goal, you don't know how much time you need to meet your goal. Another important input here is some idea of how quickly you compose. Be honest with yourself here. If you say "Oh, I can knock out 2000 words an hour" and that's wishful thinking, then your planning will be off. I would suggest starting with a goal that isn't a huge stretch for you. You can always choose to exceed your goal and/or increase your goal later on. If you set an overly-ambitious goal and don't meet it, you can end up feeling frustrated.

2. Have a way of tracking progress towards your goal. If you're doing a "word count per day" metric like I do, then the Seinfeld Chain which I previously discussed could be perfect for you. This gives you a way to track your progress which is easy and constantly visible. If you're more interested in tracking your overall progress towards a large goal (like completing a novel) then you can use a wordcount tracker. There's a very basic one which you can update by just changing one or two values (for words and target) in a link. The link/image reference

http://wordmeter.heroku.com/picometer/words=15000&target=55000

3. Make writing time a part of your schedule. This can be especially helpful if you've got a busy schedule of activities. If there are already a lot of things going on in your day/week, making a point to explicitly carve out some of your time for writing should improve matters. Once you've done that, make sure to commit to following through with using that time for writing. Naturally, every once and a while a true emergency will come up and you'll have to skip a planned writing session. But if you find yourself doing that on a regular basis then you're probably not getting value out of scheduling your writing time.
To read the rest of this excellent article, click here: Eight time management tips for writers