Thursday, March 28, 2013

Goodreads-Amazon deal: Why it isn't a surprise

Shall we talk a moment about the whole Amazon buying Goodreads deal?

When it hit, my Twitter stream exploded. Tweets like "I can't BELIEVE THIS" and "I never saw this coming!" and "I. Am. In. Shock."

I couldn't understand the shock. I saw it coming a long time ago.

You see, Goodreads had no way for users to buy recommended books with one click. This was even more of a problem on a tablet like Kindle Fire, which you can load apps like Goodreads on. So, the logical steps are: in the Goodreads app on your Kindle, you like a book, mark it as a to-read. But, since you're on Kindle, you've got no way to actually purchase that book without a tedious retyping of the title (if you can even remember it) in the Amazon shop.

I thought to myself many times, Amazon and Goodreads should play nice and give me a way to buy the books I'm marking.


It really is a simple case of knowing and understanding the way your audience works. Amazon clearly excels at that. And they discovered that this was an issue. It's a no-brainer -- for Amazon.

As another example of a company knowing their audience well, Adobe Systems has done a nice job of forcing its software users into paying them a monthly subscription  You see, they knew that a large portion of designers would buy design software and then, in order to save money, not update it for two or three years. Well, that's two or three years of no fresh money for Adobe. So they've made it so that if we want to update, we have to go on the cloud monthly sub plan. And you can't update your old software unless you do that.

They know us. They know us well.

Does it make it nice? Not always. And it remains to be seen what this means for people who don't use Amazon to read books.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Do Unpublished Writers Need an Editor?

Do Unpublished Writers Need an Editor? An Interview with Editor Denise Logsdon

Today I'm pleased to introduce my friend, editor Denise Logsdon. Denise is a fantastic, thorough editor who edits all kinds of material from technical reports to novels.

You might be asking yourself, do you need an editor if you're unpublished?

The answer is a resounding yes.

Most literary agency websites say to potential queriers, "Don't submit your work until it's in the best shape possible." They shouldn't actually have to say this, but clearly there's a need to. Submitting work that needs a copy edit, or a substantive edit, or an overall plot edit, isn't going to help you. In fact it'll get you a rejection.

I can honestly say I've queried projects before that hadn't been properly edited. And by properly edited, I mean typos, style issues, and inconsistencies were rife throughout. I don't know if they garnered me rejections by themselves, but it wasn't my best foot forward, was it?

Through a stealthy combination of sugar, a friend in common, a shared experience of annoying children, and bribery with a custom website, Denise edited my novel. Her result wasn't your average critique group edit or beta reader edit. Those edits are very valuable, but Denise is an editor with an eye to what sucks and what doesn't. And she gives it to you straight.

And writers need that.

Denise's edits were sensible and logical, and her copy edits saved me from looking like a bumbling idiot. If I hadn't swindled her into editing my novel, I would have paid for it. It's the best money you'll ever spend if you're serious about publication. I can honestly say that now if I query, I'm putting my best foot forward.

Denise gives a run down of editing services on her website, where she'll also be blogging about how to do things better (you'll definitely want to check for her posts if you want to improve your writing).

Better yet, below is a Q&A with Denise herself! 

I think you'll get a sense from the discussion below of Denise's sense of humor and methodical approach.

Sierra: What kind of editing do you offer novelists?

Denise: I offer basic proofreading, which is just fixing what is unequivocally wrong: typos, grammar errors. The next step up and what most novels really need at the final draft stage is copyediting or line editing, which includes proofreading but goes further. I will point out errors of consistency and logic and everything from plot holes to awkward phrases. Every writer has a handful of favorite words; if I see an unusual word repeated I will mark it. I also provide a critique service; this is part of the copyediting package, but I am willing to do just a critique if a writer wants it. This is generally a few pages listing the strengths and weaknesses of the manuscript, what works and what really doesn't. If you tell me you have certain concerns or you're trying to address a problem someone else has mentioned, I will pay attention to those areas. I have a fairly good idea of what agents are looking for in a first novel, and if I don't think your first five pages are going to capture an agent's interest, I'll let you know that and what you might do to fix it.  (Emphasis from Sierra to call out attention that very valuable service!)

Sierra: What are some of the most common problems you see with novels?

Denise: #1. Slow opening. Most draft novels start out with what a writer I know calls "throat-clearing chapters." These are fine to help you organize your characters and exposition, but usually they need to be severely pared down if not cut entirely. If your story doesn't pick up speed until Chapter 6, find a way to get the reader there within five or ten pages.

#2. Errors of scope and ambition. I hear from many writers who have just completed the first book in a series or a trilogy, and inevitably there isn't enough story to fill even one book. If you've just taught yourself to cook, don't host a banquet. Invite your best friend for dinner. When you've succeeded at making one small, exquisite meal, then you can move on to the next level.

#3. The autobiographical novel. Everyone has one to some degree. Write it and get it out of your system, but if you really want to get it published, be ready to slice out everything in it that is your personal history and not fiction. We can tell the difference.

#4. Dude, where's my B-plot? Novels often start out with a large, usually too large, cast of characters complete with back stories, and then they seem to disappear, one by one. Unless you're writing a murder mystery, this is a problem. A well developed story has at least two plots that work together like gears in a machine. If you can't keep the second plot going, your story will break down.

Sierra: Can you describe how you work?

Denise: Meticulously and often late at night. I like to read a work of fiction or literary nonfiction all the way through without even hitting the Track Changes button, then I go back and start editing. Some works require a third reading. I can do a quick turnaround, but the manuscript and the author benefit if I can take a little time and really think about the story and the best way to let it shine.  (Sierra: writers take note. Denise gives your work two or three pass throughs--now THAT is dedication!)

Sierra: Can you talk a little about the types of nonfiction you edit-- memoirs, etc?

Denise: I edit memoir and biography--my degree is in writing nonfiction, so I spent a couple of years immersed in life stories and learned to critique and edit them as works separate from their authors. I also work on other types of nonfiction, such as self-improvement and how-to books. I do academic articles and dissertations, and those can turn into mass-market books, which are exciting to do: translating arcane language into something that will grab the attention of the average layperson.

Sierra: What should writers do to their manuscripts BEFORE engaging an editor?
Denise: Finish them. I cannot stress this enough. Let your book rest for awhile--set it aside for a week or a month, then read it over before you send it to anyone else. Be absolutely and positively DONE with your story. This doesn't mean the work is done; you'll have revisions after it's edited and after your beta readers give you feedback. If you're lucky enough to land representation, your agent will probably want things changed, but you can't send an unfinished or uncertain draft out into the world. Please don't send something to your editor that is three-quarters done; it's a waste of everyone's time, especially yours.

Check out Denise's website!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

My desk

Look at that pile of fur. Even though he is taking up my mouse space, I love it.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Bad Storytelling

I have a little problem. I tell really crappy stories.

In person!

You see, I'm one of those people who really enjoys the backspace button and the delete button and the right click button that brings up universal spell check. Let's just say, I need those tools. All the time. So when I'm talking to people face to face and I don't have those editing tools, verbal vomit tends to come out of my mouth.

And there's just no backspace button for when I see eyes glaze over.

Obviously, this burns, because not only do I love telling stories, but I know how good ones are told. I know they must have conflict and drama and climatic points and all the rest. But all of that gets jumbled when I talk. Let's just say quick, sharp wit was never my strong suit in person.

Last weekend we went out to dinner with some friends, some of whom we've been friends with for nigh on 20 years. I figured I was safe in telling a few stories here and there.


My opening went well enough. We were talking about mothers and passive aggression and I told the quick story about how once when I was about 21 or so my mother was in the backseat of my car while I was driving, and she was taking the role a bit seriously, criticizing my every move and making a terrible nuisance of herself. I drove, teeth gritted, shoulders hunched high, and tried to bear it. At last, there was silence. A song had come on the radio, and she liked it. It was by the Cure.

"What's that song?" she asked me. "I like it."

"I don't know," I said. I knew every Cure song.

"Yes, you know it," she said. "What is it?"

"I don't know."

And to this day, I still haven't told her the name of the song.

My friend of 20 years laughed at this story. That was his fatal mistake. Encouraged, I launched into a frightful account of something else my mother did, and I slavered on for some time telling it until I saw that his eyes had taken on the gloss of a dead person.

I shut my mouth with a clap.

Later, I apologized to him for telling a really bad, disjointed  boring story that went no where. I admitted that it was a problem of mine. I went red in the face and felt very bad indeed, because I am supposed to be a writer who tells stories, who wants to tell stories for her main source of living, and who will never, ever stop telling or reading or watching or enjoying stories, so long as they aren't mine when I speak to people.

Do you have this problem? Please tell me it isn't just me. That your ability to weave a tale is limited to your fingers, and that when you open your mouth you're a village idiot. Please?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Writing Prompt?

Sometimes you see things that make no sense whatsoever. If you're a writer, you immediately start creating stories around it. (You probably do that with things that make sense, too!)

Here is one such thing. I snapped this photo with my camera phone. This box is located to the side of a valet parking area.

In case you can't read them, the box says "Emergency Storage Container." And on the bottom, "Broadway Plaza Personnel Use Only."

It's not quite the size of a garbage dumpster. I was too scared of finding gross things to lift the lid and look inside.

What do you think? What's the story? If you prefer to email it to me, I'd love to hear it. sierra [at]

Friday, March 1, 2013

Truth in Words Essay Contest

A good friend of mine is a lifestyle publicist and she handles PR for a lot of nonfiction books, including the really cool book, Nothing But the Truth. It's a collection of essays written by women and makes for a great gift/bathroom book/book to read while waiting for something, because the essays are short but pithy.

My friend asked me to pass on the following information about an essay contest. It's a pretty good deal because the essays are 1200 words or less.

Here's the info:

The winner of this year’s Truth in Words Essay Contest will rub elbows with big names in the publishing world, including ICM Talent, Random House and O Magazine. Notes & Words, along with its new partner, Nothing But the Truth, is serious about finding America’s next great essayist.

This year’s topic will be “transitions.” Organizers will be looking for 1200 words or less on stories ranging from starting a family, recoveries, graduations, aging, career changes/promotions, marriage and divorce.

Big Incentives: The Grand Prize Winner of the essay contest will receive a once in a lifetime opportunity:  one-on-one consultations with representatives from ICM Talent, Random House and O Magazine. In addition, up to 30 semi-finalists in the competition will be published in the next Nothing But the Truth anthology available in bookstores and online December 2013.

The essays are due on March 18th, the same day tickets go on sale for Notes & Words 2013, an annual benefit that puts authors and musicians on stage together at the historic Fox Theater in Oakland. This unforgettable evening of live entertainment benefits Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland, Northern California’s only independent not-for-profit regional medical center for children. Details of the event can be found at

Nothing But The Truth is a series of anthologies chronicling women’s stories and voices co-edited by Christine Bronstein. The first in the series, Nothing But the Truth So Help Me God: 51 Women Reveal the Power of Positive Female Connection, included well known writers such as Jane Ganahi, Joyce Maynard, Deborah Santana, and many more. You can learn more about Nothing But The Truth at

All essay submissions will be accepted at  See or for official contest rules.

Note from Sierra: The A Band of Wives website doesn't actually allow you to view the official contest rules without first registering, but Notes and Words has it. You should check that, but here are the salient rules:

Contest entries must be emailed to
 as a Microsoft Word attachment. Please attach a 100-word biography.

This year’s topic will be “transitions.” Organizers will be looking for 1200 words or less on stories ranging from starting a family, recoveries, graduations, aging, career changes/promotions, marriage and divorce.