Friday, February 26, 2010

Google Reader Roundup





  • Dang! Jessica Faust recaps the kinds of queries she's getting (and rejecting) this year. The stats are pretty sloppy-looking. This is good, because none of you reading this are that sloppy, I know this in my heart.
  • For when you get your dream agent, bookmark this post on how to communicate with him or her from Rachelle Gardener.
  • Lynnette Labelle continues her manuscript formatting series with this discussion of the synopsis -- that hated, dreaded bit of writing that you must have ideally before you start querying, and which no one ever does.
  • Tips and tricks for managing your social networking from Roni at Fiction Groupie. She's good, people. Real good. I find myself leaching off her topics because they get me thinking.
  • I love Amber Tidd Murphy's TMI Thursdays, in which she usually posts a bunch of great things about herself that are very personal and always hilarious. Here is last week's, and then here's this week's, which is, um, well, there's poo involved. You've been warned.
  • And last, but sooooooooooooo not least is easily the best thing I saw all week: the Shady URL shortener. Oh yes. "Don't just shorten your URL, make it suspicious and frightening." Go on, roll yer mouse over the link there. See what it is? See what that says? It says bad things about eating dogs and tracking you and the like. But it isn't that. Click it and you will see it takes you to shadyurl.com. Is it wrong that I am getting so much pleasure from this.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Elusive Agent Just Got More Elusive

Today's usual Thursday Five post is being eclipsed by something Gemma Noon alerted me to via Twitter yesterday. It is five ways of confusing, so perhaps it counts.

UK agent Kirsty McLachlan, with David Godwin Associates, had some very real things to say about how authors get agents in a guest blog post, and her list of how writers can grab an agent's attention were these (I paraphrased and condensed):

  • Knowing someone who knows an agent
  • Building an author platform (this didn't preclude people from the slush, but still)
  • Breaking rules by ducking under guidelines
  • Doing your homework and looking for hungry agents (again does not preclude slush)
  • Stalking your favorite agent - go to events where they'll be
  • Getting involved in a writer's community – presumably this leads to agent networking
  • Making noise about your book in the hopes that someone, somewhere just might overhear the conversation and will help you get your manuscript to the desk of an agent

I don't disagree with those although I think you have to do them all in moderation (i.e., don't be a real stalker and don't do things that make you look unstable.) But what I had a hard time with was the way Kirsty's post started out: by saying that her agency has not typically found their slush pile to be lucrative. Instead, they've found authors because the authors did other things. The comments for the post supported this! The basic, and worrying, message here was: slush piles don't work. Slush piles have not produced the agency's authors.

Edit, April 2010: Based on the comments this post received, I'm adding a clarification here. The original guest post said that the agency was thinking of getting rid of the slush pile altogether because it hadn't yielded finds for them like the other methods had. And that bothered me only because it's very hard to get those other methods. No doubt it is better, but not always possible.

According to Kirsty's list, I see nothing in there that you couldn't do while still being in the slush pile. You can have a platform, network with agents so they remember you when you query, and make noise -- and some of those efforts will pay off because, presumably, you'll be noticed when they get to your query. But that isn't really what Kirsty was saying. She said: "Look for the gaps and you might just bypass the slush pile completely."
WTF does this mean? Is this just a difference between the UK and the US agents? Kirsty does say that her agency has only accepted snail submissions and that "they talk about going digital." I can see where if you still do things that way, it's harder to get in, but a slush pile is a slush pile.

I honestly don't believe that you'll be forgotten on the (virtual or real) floor just because you didn't have a platform or know someone who knows an agent. I really, truly don't believe that. I think that those things all help a lot, but because the internet has changed the way we communicate, the vast majority of new authors aren't going to know an agent and be BFFs with them before submitting.

Am I missing something here? I believe strongly that things can (and for me, should) be done largely through the tinterweb. I don't believe that I should spend $500 on writing conferences to fleetingly meet an agent whom I can then query and remind him or her of meeting them. I don't disagree that this is helpful, mind you, but none of the things above make you a better writer or your story a better book.

Right? Help me out here, folks. What is your take on this?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Word Up Wednesday: Oxytocin

What is this Word Up, you ask, and isn't the painkiller Rush Limbaugh went all addicty on? I shall tell you: no, it isn't a painkiller (that was OxyContin). Oxytocin is a "mammalian hormone" and it does all kinds of things, but what it really does is make men and women happy. It's a love hormone of sorts, and it's been shown to decrease heart disease and all kinds of other nasty afflictions. It isn't appropriate for me to go into how we release it, but you can Wiki it and read it yourself.

So how do you get some of that oxytocin? Through luuuuuuurrrrrve. That's right. It's the hormone that sets your teeth on edge and makes you want someone to all distraction.

What you need to know is the effect oxytocin has. This article in The Economist talks about oxytocin's role in the attraction between people. Basically, it makes you crazy for someone. It overrides your head that tells you he's no good, it's not going to work. Oxytocin is like "Whatevs! Let me at him!" (Or her as the case may be.) It's what makes people do impossible things in order to be with that one special person.

Pride and Prejudice and Oxytocin
A good love story will give some kind of reason for the attraction between characters -- it should, anyway -- but sometimes it really is down to oxytocin. What initially attracted Elizabeth Bennett to Mr. Darcy? Well, his money and looks, presumably. But we all know they had some serious oxytocin reactions going on. And then, because Elizabeth was a smart cookie, she overrode her oxytocin levels because Darcy acted like such an uppity bastard. But then! She couldn't deny in the end that their oxytocin levels were running the show after all. Yes! Oxytocin overcomes pride and prejudices! It's that powerful.

How to Use
Using oxytocin specifically in a story probably isn't the best idea. You don't want, "He was unsuitable for her in every way, but that damned oxytocin made them gnash their teeth at each other!" But knowing that this base driver is what's behind some of the attraction helps one understand that sometimes it really is just a chemical reaction. Whether that reaction turns into something longer-lasting...well, that's for you to decide over the course of your story, with other factors coming into play such as whether he can hold down a job, whether she screams like a shrew, and whether his back is covered in fur (a detail she couldn't see when she met him and which probably overrides a good deal of oxytocin. Apologies to my male readers who have furry backs, although I'm not talking a little back hair, I'm talking gorillas in the mist.)

At the root!
I bet if you look, you'll find oxytocin at the root of the romances in your stories. In my novel set in Santorini, my character is attracted to a tricky fox who is totally unsuitable and no good. My writing group had a problem with why she would be attracted to him. Oxytocin, of course. Duh! In my current work in progress, I have two characters who have an instant oxytocin explosion upon meeting, but they are very sensible people who deny that such a thing could happen and they require all the formal courtship to take place. They don't yet know that it's pointless because their oxytocin is firmly in the driver's seat. Silly characters!

How about you? Is oxytocin at the root of your character romances?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Privacy and Blogging

Last week, Carrie blogged about the juxtaposition of maintaining privacy while also putting yourself out there on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. The topic of privacy is fascinating, because I am inherently paranoid. Putting out my bloggy thoughts for all and sundry to see is really alarming. I mean, I am someone who bought a copy of How to be Invisible.

Then Roni posted about making sure you act nicely on your blog. We already knew that agents will Google you and possibly reject if you're really nasty or unclever on your blog, and Roni linked to evidence of this. My thinking is that you really must treat everything you put out on the tinterweb as a writing sample, if you hope to market yourself as a writer.

Naturally, after reading Carrie's and Roni's posts, I became more paranoid than ever. How badly written have my posts been here? How arsey have I been? What about my posts about certain New york Times Pulitzer Prize-winning reviewers, whose opinions I disagree with? So I went through posts and re-read a few months' worth, and was relieved to see I hadn't been badly behaved. (Whether I write like a monkey is a different subject.)

The tinterwebs are fast, peeps. People find you. Companies you mention in your blog find you, often immediately. Sometimes sweet, smart authors whom you provide links to contact you privately. They know. Everyone knows. So be careful and follow these guidelines (unless you blog anonymously, in which case you already know you can say what you like):

  • Remember that everything you write is a writing sample. Go back and correct your typos on published posts. Don't smack talk publishing professionals and authors. This doesn't mean you can't be personal or informal. Just don't be rude and sloppy.
  • Resist posting overly personal information. The scale on this can range. I would never post pictures of my whippersnapper, but some feel more comfortable with this. The one time I bent my rule on this is last Monday when I posted about a fairly significant life event. And as it wasn't harming anyone else, I felt it was safe.
  • Post with people in mind. Post with agents in mind, your mom in mind, and your ex in mind. Mind what I said above--people and companies that you mention on your blog find it and read it.
  • Don't be afraid to be real! But just think about the way you say it. If you post that you are having a really hard time with your current WIP, or that your search for representation is tough, those are not bad things to say! Just don't be stinky about it.

What else can you add?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Personal Query Arsenal

Today I present my personal query arsenal. (And I'm not talking about Arsenal FC. Why would I? I am not a fan.)

Last week I tiptoed up to the reality of submitting a query for a novel. That means I thought seriously about it. I've queried before, for an old, first novel, and was roundly rejected on account of the novel resembling a pile of stinky diapers. I learned a lot, and will never make those mistakes again.

Now, admittedly, last week I wasn't really up to much at all except getting myself physically on track. I had some complications that nothing on the tinterwebs could explain, but luckily a quickly arranged doctor's visit did give me answers and I'm much, much better now, and feeling the best I've felt since, well, all that happened. So that would be a note to self: don't think about querying until you are free physically and mentally to put energy into it.

But as I snuck up to the whole query process and looked at my query letter, I realized that in order to query a project, you need a few things, and I'm not talking about the actual letter.

Confidence
I really think querying requires thick skin, optimism, and confidence. If you're not confident in your writing or your project, I think this will come through in your query in a variety of ways. Maybe your query is professional and hits all the elements, but something is missing...you're holding back a bit, maybe. Or maybe you didn't make it stand out enough. Having confidence is a real challenge because many unpublished writers, moi included, would like validation in our writing by agent/editor approval and acceptance. Essentially, we want to be told we don't suck.

If you're lucky, you'll have had people tell you you're brilliant and your writing is top notch and you brought them to tears with your prose. But if you're like me, you'll have people read your book and give critiques, but never give you the ego-stroking you crave. The worst thing someone ever said to me (about my current novel) is "You might have to self-publish." Oooooh that burned. You can feel the burn, can't you? That is bad, bad, bad. Luckily, I have a healthy sense of denial and I chose not to hear the implications in that.


The Right Amount of Marketing
You are selling your novel, and in particular, you are trying to entice the agent to read more based on your pitch. This is so, so hard to do, and it is why people make whole careers out of copywriting and marketing communication. I should know. I am a marketing communications person, and I have a hard time writing enticing copy. It's just not easy to find the best wording, the most succinct sentences, all to appeal tothe specific person reading it.

But I believe that you have to have it, otherwise a perfectly good query will NOT stand out and will appear much duller than intended. Remember, most plots have been done. You HAVE to show them why yours is different and good.


Personal Fortitude
Rejection is like a smack in your face, every time. It doesn't matter if your skin is like a komodo dragon's--it stings every time. You must learn to brace for the smack, turn your face away, and then look forward again. That is so, so hard.


What else do you need? For those of you who have been wearily and doggedly querying, what do you do besides drink a fifth or more of Laphroaig to cope?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Google Reader Roundup





Before I start the Roundup, just wanted to say thank you for all your support this week.

  • By way of a good question someone asked at Bookends, see this awesome collection of tips for formatting manuscripts (and other things) in the comments.
  • Carrie Heim Binas has a great post that is near and dear to my heart: privacy and the author. I may have said before, it was a HUGE persnal effort for me to put my name out here and face (to some photoshop filtered extent) and blog, as well with having people read my drafts.
  • For those of you who have had a frustrating week, with writing or querying or things Sarah Palin says, please see here for some relief: http://www.nooooooooooooooo.com/

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Thursday 5: Query Dos and Don'ts

This week's Thursday 5 is going to be based purely on my own opinion. I've made these up based on what I've come across, but of course you may have found that other things work better for you--and often, the unconventional query is the one that catches the eye. First let's start with the good.

Five Things to Do in a Query:
1. Call the agent by their last name and not "you," "to whom it may concern," "bro," or any other impersonal term.

2. Include your genre, title, and word count up front. I believe that agents and editors weed submissions out based on this information first.

3. Be brief. Keep your bio short and keep entire letter to less than a page long.

4. Talk more about the book than yourself.

5. Be professional. This is business correspondence while at the same time a sales letter.


Five Things NOT to Do in a Query:
1. Have typos or misspellings. For the love of kitties, be careful with this letter! Proofread!

2. Query a series rather than a single book. The advice on this seems to be consistent--query a single title.

3. Try that Arrogant Salesman approach that goes "Call me at the number below so we can go over my qualifications and my book in more detail" or "I know that I will wow you, so reply back and we can get started." No, no, no, no.

4. Summarize your book instead of describing characters, stakes, and plot.

5. Begin with a rhetorical question. Oooooooooooooooooh I know you want to! But you must resist. This seems to be universally frowned upon and with good reason: the answer to your question is never a good one. (Example: Have you ever wondered woken up to discover you're covered in fur and your arse hurts in strange ways? No, as a matter of fact, I have not, and I do not want to find out what happened just there.)

Anything to add? Agree or disagree?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Word Up Wednesday: Obfuscation

This week's Word Up is one I got off the back of one of my husband's shirts. It's a shirt for a local softball team and the back says "Champions" and then the next line says "Obfuscators." I could never figure out whether the team were champions as a result of, or despite, being obfuscators. And anyway, shouldn't it be "Champion obfuscators"? But most of all, what does obfuscator mean? And in what way is a men's softball team using obfuscation to win? Well, that had the making of a Word Up if any word ever did.

Unfortunately my husband didn't play on the softball team; his brother-in-law gave him the shirt for some man-reason that I don't fully comprehend. But anyway, the term obfuscation turns out to be great. It means "the concealment of intended meaning in communication, making communication confusing, intentionally ambiguous, and more difficult to interpret."

Nice!

Wikipedia claims that doctors are accused of obfuscation often, "using jargon to conceal unpleasant facts from the patient." The mean girl in me thinks that the legal profession enjoys obfuscation in its communications, mostly so that those of us not trained in law will not understand things and therefore need legal interpretation (sorry, Carrie, sorry). I also suspect that the academic crowd fond of rhetoric enjoys it because you can writer longer papers and sound more snooty when you use big obfuscating words rather than simple language, but that's just me having read way too many of those types of papers in grad school, and resenting each one of them.

Can you think of any examples where obfuscation in writing is appropriate, and can you think of any examples where you've seen it (appropriate or not)?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Look at the Query Letter

I think most writers are very careful about query letters because we hear so much strongly-put advice about them. How to write, what to write, what to include, what not to include. And when I say query letters here, I'm really only talking about the one or two paragraph-long book synopsis (aka the pitch), because the other parts--your bio and your reason for querying--are up to you (but make them short and sweet). Lookit, it's not easy to capture your book's essence in one or two paragraphs. Because you're too close to it! Ideally, yes, you'd understand everything there was to know about the themes and emotions and tropes of your book, but I think most of us are emotionally involved with our novels, it's really hard to see them.

Disclaimer: I have a query, but I haven't sent it out yet because my book's not quite ready. So while I think I've hit on most of the important things, it hasn't been tested. Take my blatherings below for what they're worth.

Pitch Length
There are so many posts that I've read that have been helpful in one way or another. Most recently was one on agent Caren Johnson's blog. Caren Johnson advocates short query letters--as in, keeping your pitch to 100 words if possible. That's like one measly paragraph! After I read this, I turned to my pitch and played with it, trying to cut it to 100 words. I could only get to 131 but MAN it was a useful exercise! I cut so much crap!

What I realized, however, that the shorter the pitch is, probably the better. Agents are busy. If you can give them some great story meat in a short paragraph, they love it.

Elements of the Pitch
Apart from that handy shortening exercise, here are the elements that I personally think you need to hit on in the pitch portion of your query letter:

#1 Introduction of character
#2 What happens to that character
#3 Introduction of antagonist/villain (does not need to be person, can be a force)
#4 Dilemma or problem for the main character, with stakes
#5 Hint at resolution

Now, let's look an example. This is a version of my own query, because I couldn't in good consciousness post someone else's here. I have changed several elements out of probably unwarranted and excessive paranoia, so this is not my final query. (And remember that this is the women's fiction genre.)
When Stanky McStankstank has the best idea of her life (#1) and [does something hideously inappropriate which causes her boyfriend to dump her], the results are volcanic rather than romantic—and she knows she’s to blame. Frustrated and upset, Stanky snaps and decides to move the fabled lost island of Atlantis, better known as the Greek island of Santorini. (#2) There, she meets Villain Man, who is [some identifying characteristic like "a right bastard" or something] (#3) But having her toes-tingled by Villain Man smacks of a passive pattern that Stanky knows led to the meltdown with [boyfriend], and remaining with Villain will perpetuate what Stanky wants to change. [ (#4) note: these stakes are very generic. You need to really make your stakes specific. Mine are more specific in the real query but this gives you an idea.] By the time [boyfriend] rears his head, no one is more surprised than Stanky to find she's not as [stanky as she once thought]. (#5)

Now, what I'm really trying to say here is that here are the elements I think make a good query. What do you think?

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Different Monday

I am writing this post over the weekend actually, because blogging provides an interesting diversion from my troubles. Monday I will be in the hospital to undergo a D&C, or in other words, a procedure that will remove leftover um, stuff, from a failed pregnancy, which I found out about (the failure) on Friday. I'm mentioning this here because this is a fairly huge life event for me, and well, this is my blog. Miscarriages are interesting beasts because they're a death and deserve grieving, but you don't really know how to grieve because you never met the person and indeed the person was not so much a person as it was a mass of developing cells with a heartbeat that cruelly teased you on the ultrasound machine before fading out.

I have been watching lots more television than I ever have to zone out a bit, catching up on BBC America's InBetweeners, Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, and paying off my mortgage in Animal Crossing on Wii. I've been reading. Not so much writing, but a few surprisingly clear-headed edits here and there. Taking it easy, trying not to question why (because we'll never know) and trying especially not to philosophize. Trying to acclimate one's mind to a sudden state of non-pregnancy after 8 weeks of acclimating oneself to it. Making sure that the type of miscarriage I've had is normal (where nothing um, comes out, but it is confirmed by ultrasound; I could wait if I wanted to for things to come out but it would likely be a few weeks and that seems horrifying for lots of reasons, one of which includes certain pain).

Sunday we spent time in the garden, doing pre-spring cleanup of clover, dead leaves, and other plants that didn't make it through the winter. Clearing and leaving room for spring growth and new plantings, if we want. It was nice and appropriate.

Today I was going to talk about query letters and in fact have a post written on them, but that'll come tomorrow (and it's a good one). Once I started the first paragraph of this post, it became apparent that even I, who tries to keep things professional around here, couldn't make such an abrupt transition. If I need (and I kind of do) a tie-in to writing process for this post, then I would say that when you're writing and something powerful comes out, just run with it. Don't shelve it into another scene or situation.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Google Reader Roundup





My God what a crappy week for the blog. I lost a follower (!!!), I discovered Comcast watches me, and there were very few comments on the posts this week. I'm losing it, people. Losing it! Good thing there's the Google Reader Roundup:

  • This interview with YA author Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich is inspiring in its richness of how she recounts her reading experiences as a teen, and also this smart, vibrant woman's way with words. Olugbemisola is one of those people who write elegantly and wisely--every time I read these authors I curse my own rotten avocado brain. Also, she mentioned Wallace & Gromit in reference to cheese-eating, and in my house, that is a frequent reference. BFF!
  • Roni at Fiction Groupie sears a heinous Lifetime TV movie with plot problems after plot problems. (The first link is about characters who are too stupid to live; the second is about contrived coincidence.)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Thursday 5: eReader Pros and Cons

This week's Thursday 5 is actually a list of 10 - 5 pros and 5 cons for eReaders (I gave a kind of roundup of eReaders on Tuesday).

5 Reasons to love eReaders
1. Instant downloading of books. You can finish a book in bed and then download a new one, just like that (with wifi enabled devices).

2. You can store lots and lots of books on them, so you don't have to clutter your bookcase with books you may not read again.

3. Take more books with you in a smaller package. This means that you can take 10 books with you on vacation. What, you don't do that?

4. Are cool electronic devices, therefore giving yourself the impression that you are technologically hip.

5. Can store other documents on them too, even your own novel draft, so you can look at your novel in almost final printed form with a few clicks.



5 Reasons NOT to love eReaders
1. No way to share them with your friends and family.

2. No way to display them on your bookshelf, thereby saying something about your personality.

3. Can't feel them in your hands or smell their papery smell.

4. Not all books are available on them.

5. Expensive.


What are your pros and cons for eReaders?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Word Up Wednesday: Expulsion

I'm a wee bit annoyed as I write this post, which sets up this week's Word Up nicely. I'm annoyed because I looked at my Comcast cable internet bill and saw a $27.99 fee from them under the mysterious title of "service call charge." WHAT. WHAT. Oh yes, that was the technician I had to have come out here after FOUR DAYS of no internet access and fix something on their wire. Oh yes. Totally their fault, and then they charge me that outrageous fee. And not just charge me--they tricked me. Yes. They never told me that it would cost that, or I would have canceled my service with them. You might think that is a bit harsh, but I think $27.99 in this economy is exorbitant and I will never pay that for a service fee. So, Comcast is on the verge of expulsion from my house, and that's your Word Up.

The problem with the expulsion of monopolistic services like the cable company is that there aren't many alternatives. I'm on online chat with the phone company right now as I type this (multitasking!) asking about DSL services (which apparently just sucks compared to cable; no contest. The representative on chat won't give me a straight answer about speed even though I've asked point blank three times). This is a good way of defining expulsion--it's sort of absolute and complete. Although not a rule, the expulsion of something seems final. So if I expel Comcast, I may suffer the consequences of a slower internet connection. (Which doesn't bear considering, either. Quandary.)

There are so many ways to use expulsion and right now I can't get away from the finality of the act of expelling, and I tend to think of expulsion as a fast, almost violent act. As you can see from the image above, the artistic rendering of the expulsion of Adam and Even from Eden is a popular and oft-painted subject in classical art. This particular painting is a detail from the Sistene chapel by Michaelangelo, "Expulsion from Paradise." And certainly that was a finality, and rather traumatic I would think.

So, what are your thoughts and feelings about expulsion? I look forward to the comments -- you all always give me a well-rounded view of a word.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

eReader Reviews

I thought in the wake of the magnificent iPad, I should give a roundup of eReaders. On Thursday, we'll have a list of 5 pros and 5 cons for eReaders and traditional books.

Note that this list isn't exhaustive; there are what seems like countless eReaders on the market. I'm listing the most well-known here and am happy to research any you mention in the comments and go back and add to the list.

The Kindle
This was one of the first ereaders on the market. Early versions were hailed as fabulous. To be fair, I've only seen one once, and I wasn't terribly impressed only because I don't want a bunch of extra crap with it--I just want to turn pages and bookmark my place. But the Kindle I saw, you had to go into a menu to do those tasks. Pshaw! Still, it allows instant download of books. And since the attraction of an eReader for me is the instant gratification of reading a book RIGHT NOW, the Kindle is a still a good bet. (Or it would have been, had Amazon not turned off the buy buttons of Macmillan books, losing me as a Kindle customer forever. Right on, Amazon!)

Sony eReader
I have this. I love it. But it's page turning properties are just a split second slow, and you have to charge it via your laptop or else buy a pricey cord. And Sony was super duper slow in getting a decent eBook store going. That is to say, they had one, but it sucked. They're constantly revamping it but I question the competitive wisdom of not having a fantastic eBook store, immediately. And, worse, the number of titles in the Sony eReader store seems to be rather less than say, Amazon or B&N. Still, the Sony eReader is a solid entry in the eReader market. Later editions have the wireless feature, touch screen, and color. (Mine doesn't have any of that.)

Barnes and Noble's Nook
The Nook is supposed to be feather light in weight, or some such malarkey. It's wireless and taps into the AT&T network, and offers color. Pretty good! Bonus, they say books can be loaned to other Nook users. Wired magazine called the Nook a "Kindle killer." My guess is that the Nook is pretty awesome, but could be drowned out by the iPad.

Spring Design Alex
Kind of cool, this one. It runs on Google's Android operating system and is similar to a Kindle. Web surfing is enabled. The people who made it were former Intel and Sandisk engineers, and they seem a smart bunch. The Alex sure hasn't gotten the press that the other eReaders have--I mean, I wouldn't know where to buy it, for one--but I'd love to play with one, especially knowing it runs on the Android system.

Plastic Logic QUE
Supposedly this was pitched to business users in the hopes of being a niche product. It supports business documents like Excel sheets and PDFs, but I mean...come on. Is that working for it? I can't see executivey types pulling out their Que in lieu of their iPhones or Blackberries just yet.
If the Que manages to tape into newspaper viewing, then I'd say they have half a chance. And yet, I will admit that my Blackberry SUCKS at any kind of calendar or date book activity, and if the Que can efficiently act as one, then I would be vair, vair interested.


Apple iPad
Ok, the biggest and best for last. Were I to upgrade my eReader, I'd have to go with the iPad. It's got everything, and the ebook store through Apple promises to be as pleasurable an experience as iTunes is with my iPod. But that's just familiarity. You know with an Apple product, you're getting sleek, extremely good user design, functionality, and things you never knew you wanted. But like the iPod, five million versions at ever-decreasing pricepoints are sure to emerge over the next few years. I think my Sony eReader will tide me over for a while.

So, do you have any of these? More than one? What do you like or dislike about your model? (Note that this isn't a discussion on eReaders vs. real books. We'll get to that on Thursday.)

Monday, February 8, 2010

In Which I Discover It's Fun To Talk About Myself

This week I'm thinking about technology and how it affects our writing and reading process. But also, this weekend I realized that I do a lot less personal posting on this blog than I do about process and structure and all of that, and as it's my blog, I want to probably include more personal accounting of things. So I thought I'd start out by saying what I did this weekend in terms of writing. This is a slight compromise; it's still about writing but it's about me.

I did some pretty decent work on the ending of my novel this weekend. Now, the whole thing is written and has been for a while, but I've been revising and editing for um, oh let's say many months now. I set a deadline for myself for November to be done, thinking that I'd actually do more if I had a deadline (and after all, everyone says you should have deadlines), but November came and went and the novel wasn't ready. Then I set the end of January for myself thinking I'd get loads done over the holidays when in fact I did not. It's still not ready. Now I've set a deadline of September. By September, it should damn well be ready.

But just in case, I won't beat myself up in case it's not ready. I really feel strongly that you have to intuitively feel that it's right and ready for it to actually be ready. The worst thing to do is query or put the novel out there when it's not ready. When I've mentioned my deadlines to people who've read my novel, none of them have said "Wow, cool." Instead, they've said, "Ha ha better put some hard work in between now and then," or something to that effect (I'm sure I was reading between the lines). This did not help matters. At all.

Anyway, this weekend I felt great about the last four chapters of my novel--great as in, no niggling feeling that something is off. How cool is that? Now I only have to get that feeling about 23 other chapters!

Anyway, technology. Well, I'm pretty thankful that we're not banging our hearts' desires out on typewriters because man, it would take years more than the ones it's taken already.

So, how do you know if a section (or the whole book) is finished? Are you querying on projects that you think still has a little room for improvement, but is as good as you can stand?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Google Reader Roundup






This week's list is chock full of good stuff, me mateys!

  • There's a ton of great posts regarding the whole Amazon-Macmillan smackdown, but I find myself agreeing with author John Scalzi quite a bit, especially where he says "If nothing else, this bit of asshattery on the part of Amazon has well and truly cured me of any desire to ever get a Kindle." And I'll just add for my own part, that I really think Amazon acted unethically and quite inappropriately on this whole thing. For shame, Amazon. FOR SHAME.
  • Great commentary from Richard Bowes via The Swivet, who speaks on the relevance of Catcher and the Rye with some thoughts I never considered before. For a long time my husband and I have disagreed on the greatness of Catcher, and I was pleased to read Richard's reasoning for why it did capture so much teenage attention.
  • Le Rejectionist, who is engaged to Carrie, with whom I am having a torrid affair, posted an amusing post about an obnoxious agent in her office, Cretinous von Poopypants. Read it.
  • Via Lt. Cccyyyxxx, we have this um, not so photogenic (see Carrie's post above) climate scientist writing a racy romance novel. It's nice to see a respected climate scientist who is consumed by fantasies, but smart enough not to pull a Tiger Woods and ruin everything he has, and instead taking this very respectable way of giving flight to the fantasies. I say, well done, gross sir! Well done! (The effort, not the novel.)
  • The day after Rejectionist posted the thing about the cretinous agent, she posted about a fab font fail. I really enjoyed the article she linked to. By chance, I went back to that post yesterday only to find that the comment section had EXPLODED. Oh deary me! Take a wee look and judge for yourselves: another author who has publicly lost the plot (pun!).
  • And finally, one thing that never fails to amuse me is the videos people make of Hitler's reaction to various things. This time it's the iPad. I love that Hitler is a laughing stock on the tinterweb, repeatedly and in so many ways. I'm guessing he never foresaw that. This is a classic. (Bonus link: also see Hitler responds to the Oasis split, mui funny.)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Five Helpful Bloggy Links

Today’s Thursday Five is a collection of helpful bloggy links for you.

1. First up, a list of 15 must-read blogs for those who write them.
This is more about reading them than writing them, but there you go.

2. Technorati. I have a Technorati account for this blog and everyone says you need to ping Technorati in order to get more blog exposure but I can’t for the life of me understand why. Nevertheless, if you use Blogger than I think it has an automatic thing for this (just select search engines in the settings).

3. If it’s search engine rankings you’re after, then try these 25 Link Building tactics to Improve Blog Search Engine Rankings. For what it’s worth.

4. Christian publishing CEO Micheal Hyatt, whose company sees no problem with a self-publishing arm for aspiring writers that smacks of the whole Harlequin thing, but I mean, hey, has this list of Do you make these 10 mistakes when you blog.

5. Lastly, a great automatic blog prompt generator, for those days when your brain is a rotten avocado.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Word Up Wednesday: Defenestration

I started seeing the word fenestration all over the place this week--in posts, at work...like it was haunting me. So this week's Word Up must be this odd word.

So what does fenestration mean? It can mean any of the following:

1. The design and placement of windows in a building.
2. An opening in the surface of a structure, as in a membrane.
3. The surgical creation of an artificial opening in the bony part of the inner ear so as to improve or restore hearing.

Or, it means the spatial arrangement of windows. And yet, defenestration means the act of throwing something or someone out of a window.

Well!

That was vastly more interesting to me, and so defenestration is your Word Up today. According to Wikipedia, the term was coined "around the time of an incident in Prague Castle in the year 1618." An INCIDENT! Wow, now that smacks of conflict, doesn't it?

I mean, I've seriously just given you a novel prompt, haven't I? How awesome would it be to not only start a story with defenestration occurring (of a person, please; a cup and saucer isn't interesting), and then using the word! My mind immediately goes to castles, specifically Stirling Castle in Stirling, Scotland. I visited this castle in the foothills of the Highlands years ago. There was a great story the tourguide gave my friend and I about how someone was defenestrated right out of a window and splatted in an ugly and probably messy heap on the ground below. I tried to get my dear friend to lie down on the grass in the splat spot, as if she had been defenestrated, but she was well used to my antics and refused.

Can you use this word? On a scale of 1-10, how much do you love it? (Don't even answer that because it's so obviously a TEN!)


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Who Are Your Blog Readers?

Yesterday we talked about where blogging leads for writers and today I want to ask the question: do you know who is reading your blog?

Of course we all hope an agent or editor comes across our blog and has a wee look and goes "Holy Krakow, this blog is not only well written, but funny and innovative, and I must have the writer, I must. Now!" and voila! We've got a six-book megamillion publishing deal. But let's return to reality for a moment. (Your reality at any rate; I'm still hoping). Sometimes, as with Carrie Heim Binas, you do get very visible people not only looking at your blog, but then getting engaged to you. Othertimes, as with myself, you get people arriving at your blog because they do random Google searches and one of your posts appears in the results. For some reason, I get a TON of hits on my old Silverfish are Disgusting post, from people typing into Google "What is the purpose of silverfish?" (A very good question.) I have also gotten lots of hits from a mysterious reader in the Netherlands. And I know a friend in Australia reads the blog, but doesn't comment. In fact, my hit ratio per day is about 20-25 (depending on the day of the week) and about 5-6 (average) comments. That's a lot of lurkers, which is okay since it's not possible to comment on every blog you read. (Although it would be nice if the lurkers would comment more.....hint hint). I also know which posts have proven most popular over time (so far, silverfish and the one about cats plotting to kill you win, which is rather disappointing considering the point of this blog! Or is it? Maybe I should convert to an all-animal blog?)

How do I know this? Because I use a free tool called Site Meter, which allows me to see where visitors arrive from (if they clicked a link to get here), the country, the town, the date, and overall visitor statistics. If you're at all curious as to who and when people are reading your blog, check it out. I know some useful things. I know that my Friday Google Reader Roundup posts have grown in popularity because a few months ago the hit rate for Fridays wasn't as high, although Friday traffic in general remains low compared to earlier in the week when we're all raring to go and reading blogs. I know that in general, my visitor rate has grown over the months, which is really cool. And I know that no one reads the blog on weekends, which is good since I don't blog then. That tells me that people come back because they know I'll have fresh content.

So, barring agents, who do you think is reading your blog? Are you aware that a variety of different people with different purposes are likely reading?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Blogging: Where Does it All Lead?

This week I'm thinking and posting about blogging as a writer. Today, I want to talk about where blogging leads for us writers--both published and unpublished.

A Platform
Agents say you need to have a platform before you approach agents. This is really true only for nonfiction writers. But for fiction writers, when you dip your tootsie into publishing, it doesn't hurt to have a professional web site and blog, and I would even say that having followers looks pretty good too.

Not everyone who is a writer blogs for a platform. Some do it as a personal journal of both their writing process or publishing journey. Here are the reasons I do it, straight up:
  • To establish my name and brand
  • To give outlet to further writing urges (I like blogging)
  • To work through various aspects of writing and publishing that I may not understand fully until I blog about it
  • To build community
Building Your Site
Because I work in marketing, marketing myself as a writer before I am published feels like a necessary and normal step. My friend Meghan Ward and I were talking about this a while ago. She's written a memoir and has different reasons for blogging but both of us are very interested in the personal marketing aspects of it. I know that it was a big step for me to build my own web site and get this blog started. I've been blogging since 2006 on a private blog for family and friends, mostly about my whippersnapper. Meghan said she knew a published writer who had three books out (or a three book deal, one of the two) and the writer didn't blog, have a web site, do Facebook, or any of it. We both agreed that writer was missing out on reaching readers and building community. How much was she missing out? We don't know. But we thought it was a heck of a lot better bet to do those things than not.

How public is public?
Some of you blog about your query trials and I'm pretty sure you don't use your real name. Perhaps you do this so you can maintain the freedom to say what you want. A good example of this kind of desire for anonymity is a certain self absorbed nutcase's blog in which almost all his commenters post as Anonymous. But when that hurts you is when your blog is really good, like the INTERN's. INTERN is publishing a book and judging by her blog writing, it's probably pretty good. She's smart and has a way with words. But she'd built up a huge audience and no one knows who she is! Will she announce her book and her identity when it is released? Who knows!

So here's what I want to know. For those of you who blog with your name all out there: what are you hoping your blog will do for you? For those of you who blog under an assumed name: do you do it for the freedom of speaking your mind and what will happen when your book is published?