Thursday, January 12

Seth's Big Ideas

I love Seth Godin's blogs. I may not always agree with him, but I usually come away with at least one tantalizing idea.

Here are Seth's big ideas:

* The launchtime for books is measured in years, this is often longer than the selflife of the ideas it contains. *

* Most book publishers do not effectively promote most of the books they publish. *

* That said, it's not easy selling books. It's difficult to get folks to read ANYTHING because reading takes time and, usually, it costs money. *

* Being a publisher is like being a venture capitalist. *

Publishers INVEST in writers; they give them an advance, spend time creating and selling the book and give printers money to produce the book. After doing all this, of course the publisher wants a large return on her investment.

Do you, as a writer, need the advance to live on? If so, then it makes sense for you to go the traditional route. If you don't, though, and if you're primarily interested in spreading your ideas, then self-publishing is something to look into.

The above is a paraphrase of some of the points in Seth Godin's article, Advice For Authors. So, what, according to Seth, is a poor author to do?
Build an asset. Large numbers of influential people who read your blog or read your emails or watch your TV show or love your restaurant or or or...

Then, put your idea into a format where it will spread fast. That could be an ebook (a free one) or a pamphlet (a cheap one--the Joy of Jello sold millions and millions of copies at a dollar or less).

Then, if your idea catches on, you can sell the souvenir edition. The book. The thing people keep on their shelf or lend out or get from the library. Books are wonderful (I own too many!) but they're not necessarily the best vessel for spreading your idea.

And the punchline, of course, is that if you do all these things, you won't need a publisher. And that's exactly when a publisher will want you! That's the sort of author publishers do the best with.
Isn't that always the way? The minute, the very second, you don't need something it will flutter into your hand.

Now if only I could think of an idea ...


(By the way Seth's article, Advice to Authors, was the first in a two part series. The second part, an article ALSO entitled Advice to Authors, can be found here.)

Saturday, January 7

Evernote: the everything app

Passive Guy writes:
Passive Guy likes Evernote because it helps him never to forget anything.

If you’re not familiar, Evernote is like a giant bucket into which you can pour anything from almost any device and find it when you need it.
. . . .
For writing purposes, Evernote can easily become your writing notebook. You might start a notebook for a new book with tags like Character Sketches, Settings, Jane, Bob, etc. If you see a photo of someone on the web who would make a great Jane character, you can clip it, drop it into Evernote and pull it up to help when you write Jane’s description. If you’re stuck in traffic, you can dictate notes into a smartphone and send those directly to your notebook in Evernote.
- Evernote: The Application That Becomes an Obsession
Honestly, I hadn't seen the need to use something like Evernote but after reading PG's article, I'm reconsidering. One thing that I wasn't clear on was the difference between Dropbox and Evernote, so I did a quick Google search. Apparently, and contrary to what I had thought, the two apps do not seem to be in direct competition.
These two great applications seem to have a lot in common. They both save information in the cloud and synchronize the information for you seamlessly on all your computers and mobile devices.

They serve very different purposes though.

Evernote is perfect if you want to easily capture ideas and things you see while you are online or out and about and access them from any computer. It is different from Dropbox in that it is a much more a note-taking application. It is also for syncing docs, notes/txt and webclippings, and photos of things. The OCR (optical character recognition) of Evernote makes finding the information back very easy. Even text found in photos will be recognized and thus found!

Dropbox is superior for syncing files, backups and storage. It creates a local folder on your harddisk of your PC or laptop, and synchronizes it with the online folders of Dropbox. This makes it easy to access by your mobile devices. Dropbox acts as if it is part of your computer, while Evernote really acts as program. This gives Evernote the advantage for finding stuff, categorizing them with tags and notebooks.
- Dropbox vs Evernote
Although I'm not going to quote from it, another interesting article is: Evernote and Dropbox: Why I Use (and Love) Both. Great reading for anyone interested in the topic.

Friday, January 6

Let your readers subscribe to your blog!

Jane Friedman has a great post on how you can set up email subscriptions to your blog and why you would want to. If you have a blog and haven't done this already, it's worth a read!

Jane Friedman: Why you should add an e-mail subscription service to your blog

Thursday, January 5

My Dad

A few minutes ago I wrote my first email telling my friends and family that my father passed away last night. It was the strangest experience, to write of him, to THINK of him, in the past tense. His life is now final and complete.

I don't mean to be maudlin, but I am filled with a strong sense of appreciation and thankfulness for all the support I've received over the past months, much of it from folks who I don't know well. Doctors, nurses, home support workers, my fellow bloggers and writers, and of course my friends. 'Thank you' seems anemic, but it is heartfelt.

As my life (hopefully!) settles down into more predictable patterns, I look forward to blogging on a more regular basis and re-joining this wonderful community.

Thursday, December 22

Buyer Beware: Hephaestus Books

Robin Hobb writes about a new scam. Hephaestus Books, and others, are selling public domain articles ABOUT an author's books, but marketing it so it looks like they are getting the books themselves. Clear as mud? I'll let Robin explain it.

If you go to, or or and do a search for a book titled Novels byRobin Hobb, you will find one published by Hephaestus. In the description it lists my books, and even adds (novel), just like that, in parentheses, after some of the titles. So one might get the impression that for $12.29, you are getting a nice collection of my novels in a paperback format. After all, there is no detailed description to tell you otherwise. The astute buyer will look at the stats on the book and possibly be astonished to discover that all my novels will fit in a 42 page paperback.

Or they may immediately discern that this is a deceptive description. These are not my novels at all. These are a selection of ‘free to read’ articles about my novels gathered from the internet and put into a print on demand format.

Hephaestus Books is listed as the author. If you do a search for Hephaestus books, you will find that my readers are not the only ones they are luring to buy. There are ‘novels of’ books for readers of Ray Feist, Kurt Vonnegut, Diana Gabaldon, E.M. Forster, Sylvia Plath, Lloyd Alexander and, well, you get the idea. Each 42 pages long, and being sold for $12.29. Ouch. $12.29.

So, I’ve done what I can. I’ve posted a ‘review’ on each of those sites letting people know that Hephaestus is not my publisher, and those publications are not a collection of my novels. I hope I save a few readers from making a $12.29 plus shipping and handling mistake.

If you have bought one of these books, I urge you to post your own review, and to let Amazon and Barnes And Noble know how you feel about Hephaestus Books.

Click here to read Robin Hobb's entire article: Caveat Emptor! Hephaestus Books

Sunday, December 18

Brushing off the dust: Kinds of writers

I've been -- and still am -- caring for my dad, but I couldn't stay away from my blog any longer. I miss you folks!

It might be old news, but Zoe Winters has a fantastic blog post about her writing process. I love reading these kinds of posts and found this one particularly inspiring. She said she writes for 5 or 6 hours a day but when she edits she only works for 3 or 4 hours. I'm glad someone else finds editing harder than writing!

Here's the link to Zoe's article: The 10,000 Word Day.


Monday, November 21

Don't censor the internet, stop the Protect IP Act

Hank Green writes:
By attempting to control the internet, Congress can't help but do anything but screw it up. They want to create a system whereby any website in America could be turned off at a moment's notice. And if they can do it, don't worry, they will.
This information caught me by surprise, Hank's video was the first I've heard of it.

If you'd like to sign a petition to stop this, click here: Save the Internet

Have you heard of the Protect IP Act before? What do you think of it?

Interview With a Curmudgeon

Not too long ago, a charming Scottish writer emailed me with questions about book promotion. I hope I said something vaguely helpful. Since then he has begun blogging (Report From A Fugitive) and tweeting (@RLL_author). He even did an interview with me! RLL did most of the work. I emailed him a few questions and he did the rest. How marvelous!

Canadian writer Karen Woodward, author of Until Death, thought it would be a great idea to interview me. Wild horses dragged me to tame horses. Tame horses carried me to room 102. Room 101 was taken. Shining her spotlight on the face of the innocent dupe I’d hired to impersonate me, Karen began the interrogation…

KAREN WOODWARD: Please tell me a bit about your book.

RLL: Neon Gods Brought Down by Swords is my commentary on a disease-raddled, drug-addled, country known for its prominent blade culture. That country is a thinly-disguised Scotland. Drugs are plentiful. Violence is everywhere. Justice is in short supply. Lives are cheap. Alliances and allegiances are even cheaper. I try to ensure that my overly-optimistic view of the nation doesn’t get in the way of a rattling good story.

My approach was to squash the sorcery element of the standard sword and sorcery tale, placing science in its stead. Not a new notion. On top of that, the war fought out in the book’s pages was a Cold War. The icing on the literary cake was always this idea that old heroes, from legendary tales, would pass through the modern stuff. Old heroes, and old villains.

The strangeness of the mixture makes for a decidedly odd cake. That’s the beauty of self-publishing electronically. Every type of story is up for grabs. As author-publisher, the e-book writer can tackle a setting that might have limited appeal in a diminishing paper marketplace. So what. Appeal to that limit electronically, then publish the next story. Build a following. Or build several different followings. It’s all on the table, and it’s all to play for.

Is Neon Gods a series? Not in the conventional sense. It’s not a story about quests. I make this quite clear in my notes at the end. A second book would run in the same timeframe as the first, featuring some of the first novel’s characters in scenes witnessed from alternative viewpoints.

However, publishing a series is not my immediate plan. I have a small stack of unpublished novels and short stories sitting there, and I am formatting those for the Kindle before I return to the series. That doesn’t mean neglecting the story.

I’ve written more of book three than of book two, as I must keep a deathly grip on continuity. Yes, I could simply introduce unreliable narrators and leave the audience to sift through inconsistent debris. But I’m in this game to do the job properly.

The novel is an Amazon Kindle e-book. It was important to list story structure at the start, in a series of chapter links. A new thing for me. I want readers to see that the story ends with chapter 32. The book ends with the section ABOUT THIS BOOK.

It’s a warning to wannabe e-authors. If you end the story halfway through the overall page-count, and pad the rest of your book with articles and off-cuts, have the decency to warn readers of this. Aim for transparency. Don’t just dump that on readers as they hit the next page. Bad form. (My story takes up 95% of the publication.)

This peeve dates from all the research I did for a novel on comic books. Comic book readers judge the story by the thickness of the magazine. A sawn-off adventure featuring the main character doesn’t go down well if an unannounced back-up strip rears its head at the turn of a page. What happened to the hero? Who is this third-rate banana, drawn by a filler artist we’ve never heard of?

Bluntly, authors depend on the kindness of stranglers. If I generate a vast audience, I know that’s a vast audience I’ll never meet. Is it possible to respect all these unknown and unknowable people? At the basic level, in applying professional standards to the work.

I am reluctant to discuss the plot in an interview. Always leave ’em hungry.

KAREN WOODWARD: What is the best writing advice you ever received?

RLL: From the pen of C.S. Lewis. Read your work aloud. I must add that I do this in the voices of the characters I create. If they sound different as I’m typing, they will be different in the eyes and minds of my readers. Well, so I like to think.

One of the best ideas I ever absorbed from a writer came from Hans Andersen. He’d travel with rope, so that he could escape from a strange house in the event of a fire in the middle of the night. I’ve only used the escape rope once, thus far. That’s another story.

I’ll amplify on your original question, and give you the worst writing advice I ever received. This happened in school, no surprise, and was uttered by an English teacher. Again, hardly a shocker. “Never use and or but at the start of a sentence. It’s okay to do that in real life, but never in an exam.” The advice was seared into my mind, for all the wrong reasons.

Indicating that exams had no bearing on real life, as far as that teacher felt. A skewed view. Hardly the meaning she was attempting to convey. There is nothing wrong in using and or but at the start of a sentence. Avoid overuse, to keep your style from being nauseatingly repetitive. I live in a part of the world in which it is grammatically acceptable to place but at the end of a sentence. That’s just the way local grammar developed, but.

KAREN WOODWARD: I understand that you have written for many years, although you have just begun self-publishing. What advice would you give to a new writer?

RLL: You mean a writer of fiction. Writing non-fiction lies in the same solar system, though is one planet over – with its own local conditions. Some of this doubtless applies to non-fiction too. For new writers, the advice is obvious. Read. Discover what you like, and what you don’t like. Learn from both types of writing. I learned as much from crappy books as I learned from excellent ones. (Sometimes I think I learned more…)

Cut loose of the stuff you like reading. Be influenced by it, but don’t become it. Cut loose of the stuff you don’t like reading. Avoid spending your writing time hating that material. You have better things to do with your days. And tastes change, over time, in any case.

Learn beyond writing itself. If you look for inspiration in non-written material, whether painted or sculpted, then that’s a good thing. Have interests and pursuits outwith literature. Apply every piece of experience to your writing. Good or ill.

Read copyright law.

Enjoy what you do, though understand that some of your best material might end up being written while in a foul old mood, with the odds stacked against you, your back to the fiery wall, and time running out.

Be prepared to recycle ideas that fall apart. There’s no call to print a story, rip it up, and throw it away. (Unless it’s truly beyond saving. Even then, I’d think twice. And twice more.) I have stuff to get back to. Fragments. Snippets. Remnants. The ruins of stories. New writers should keep hold of everything. One rainy day, that neglected computer file will be dusted down…

Put the hours in. I know I’m always banging on about that. If stories really wrote themselves, I’d be in the Bahamas right now as this interview saw to itself. That takes me back to reading. Consider the size of a book you liked…

Calculate the number of words. Discover your typing speed. Work out how many hours you’d have to spend, to come up with a similar-sized book – based on typing alone. Now think about the number of hours you can spend a day, typing.

You’ll see how many weeks it’ll take to work through a story similar in length to the one you enjoyed reading. I’ve made that sound like a mechanical process. Well, it is. Discipline is a cliché to writers. Often spoken of reverently, without further explanation.

Get into the numbers. Develop a sense of scale. Set a goal, in words. How many? Do the basic arithmetic. If you want to write 100,000 words at 1,000 a day, every single day, you’ll spend 100 days marching to the last page. Not counting research, editing, medical emergencies, and all the other stuff life throws your way. If you type 10,000 words a day, it won’t take you 100 days. Doing the same job in just over a week is no crime.

Discipline is all about the numbers. Nothing to do with quality, or art, or the creative muse. Discipline has no handy shortcut. I feel inclined to say the same to old writers, just in case you think I’m blaming youth for being young.

If you want to be a writer, write. Stop wanting. Be. (No, kiddies, I’m not a little green alien living in a swamp.) A writer is always on the job. Even asleep. Wake, write the dream down. Type it up. Stuck in a queue? Observe. Play the game of faces, as you shop. That guy’s a rocket scientist. She’s a spy. He’s the stranger, come to town with a grudge.

For reasons of space, Scheherazade-like, the interview ceases. Read the full interview on the blog, REPORT FROM A FUGITIVE.

RLL's book will be available in December, for more details visit his his website: Report From A Fugitive.

Friday, November 18

My first drive in the snow

I'm not sure if I should tell you this, it's along the lines of a confession. I got my driver's license last year and -- although I live in BC, Canada -- have never, EVER, driven in the snow.

And, trust me, I had NO plans on starting. We have a great transit system and I like taking the bus; it's fast and cheap and I don't have to worry about parallel parking. However, yesterday, I wanted to go see my Dad in the hospital and it was fastest, easiest, to drive to the skytrain station (Vancouver's version of the subway).

I borrowed a friend's car and went to visit my Dad around four in the afternoon; at that point it wasn't even cloudy. Sure the air was a bit nippy, but that was it. I parked at the skytrain station, got to the hospital around five, visited with my father until eight and then prepared to leave. When I looked out the door of the hospital the world was white. There was about an inch of snow on the ground and it was falling like a white curtain. Gah!

As I rode the skytrain back I looked out the window thinking/praying, "It's only snowing in Surrey, right? There's no snow in Vancouver. RIGHT?"

Um, wrong.

By the time I sloshed my way back to my friend's car (btw, I was wearing tennis shoes!) it looked like a snowball. I hunted in the trunk for a snow scraper but the only thing it contained was a hammer. A hammer? I ask you, who carries a hammer, and only a hammer, around in their trunk? I mean, why? Who thinks: 'Oh, I might get a flat, better bring a hammer'? I don't want to seem ungrateful, my friend was very nice to lend me their car, but I gotta say, I'm a bit suspicious.

Moving on. Okay, so there wasn't a scraper. That's fine, I just used my arms to sweep the snow off the windows. Easy peasy. I started the car, cranked the heat and sat there for about five minutes trying to feel my toes. Eventually, I steeled myself, eased out into traffic and headed for home. Driving in the snow was a bit anticlimactic, actually. I had a tougher time driving over icy roads last spring.

Everything was fine until I drove to Pine Street where I'm staying. Now, there's something you need to know about this street: It's one big hill. No one can get up that hill once its covered in snow and black ice and I didn't want to leave my friend's car at the bottom where oncoming traffic could play Bumper Cars with it.

I can't convey to you the happiness that surged through me, right to the tips of my frozen toes, when I saw that Pine Street was snow free.

The car now sits snugly in my friend's garage and I am, once again, a devotee of Vancouver's transit system.

I'd be interested in hearing from anyone else who has a scary, or not so scary, driving story to share. Thanks for reading!

Photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar

Thursday, November 17

Thank you to my friends: an update about my Dad

A few weeks ago I posted about my Dad's illness and you've all been so very supportive, I can't thank you enough. You've been great.

My Dad is in the hospital again and it doesn't look good. Strangely, he seems to be taking the news better than I am!

Anyhow, I wanted to tell you how grateful I am for the support you've given me in the past and to thank you in advance for your patience in the days to come. This is for you: