Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Happy Holidays!

We're all off this week but we wanted to wish you Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Reading Experience

This is going to be more of a description of my reading experience with Greer Gilman’s Moonwise. The basic story is simple, but experiencing the text is utterly magical. This is why fantasy is my chosen genre. Reading it transports you, the prose effects a wonder that strikes at my heart. And this book did that so well that I am going to talk more about that than anything else. If you want a book review go find one at Amazon. If you want to find out what it’s like to read Greer Gilman, read on.

Moonwise is Greer Gilman’s first book, originally published in 1991. It won the Crawford award in 1992, and was nominated for the Tiptree and Mythopoeic awards. It was released in hardcover by Prime books in 2005 and reissued by Wildside books in 2006.

I know she wrote this book over the course of 10 years on a typewriter with no outline, and no plan for it. For this, the work was well edited (though I did find a few line errors). I know going back through this much text and making sure everything is in the right place is difficult to say the least, and the business-savvy side of me screams of inefficiency, but I only have the most respect for a mind that can successfully wrangle with that.

I’d heard so many great things about Gilman, and I’d seen her participate in various panels at Readercon and Boskone. She is a brilliant folklorist and wildly creative woman. But after hearing her read, or more accurately perform (from another of her stories), I just had to read her books. But it was hard to find through my normal channels (used). So I was thrilled when I found it at Readercon last July and was able to have it signed.

So, with great anticipation I finally picked it up, appropriately, in September (the story takes place in fall and winter). But it’s December now. Yes, it took me a long time to read. The prose was just as dense and challenging as the literature I studied in college. I took my time with it, savoring the lines, references and double meanings like I savored those of Dickens. Even though I read it cover to cover and followed the arc of the story, I can’t help but think I’ve missed a lot of...something in the writing.

Suffice it to say, I wasn’t instantly in love with the book. It had a slow, kind of boring start with a few dead ends and little hope of clews. And I didn’t expect the story to be what Farah Mendlesohn describes in her book, Rhetorics of Fantasy, as a “portal quest” story, in which the characters go through a portal from the normal world to another. Moonwise started in contemporary times with two girls, Sylvie and Ariane, who see the same world I see.

I prefer my fantasy untouched by the modern world. I usually don’t like contemporary fantasy stories as much because the main characters are my filter to the world, and I’d rather see it through the eyes of a native than someone like me.

Yet, I can hardly say Sylvie and Ariane are like me. Although they are denizens of the 20th century, if I met one of them in person, I might describe them as otherworldly. They were a promise of what was to come: enchantment, folkloric references and skillful world creation. These things charmed me and kept me examining page after page.

After the story got going, Gilman always keeps the suspense and tension up. One way she did this was by making the world never comfortable. I’d pity the characters and wonder at their survival. They were always freezing and wet and sleeping on rocks, or even when they found a welcoming home, it was bad news and holding out the suspense and dread of what is to come.

I’ve finished this story once, but I know I’ll come back to it and go find her other books. With its wonder, it has wakened sleepy and tired spots in my brain that I had forgotten, it has opened up new parts of my brain, and it has filled them with possibilities--nature abhors a vacuum.

This blog entry is cross posted at Wandering Around the Words.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


I heard about the Calibre ebook management software before and decided this would be a good time to examine it. My main reason for reviewing this now is that I want a simple, easy to use piece of software to manage ebooks (mostly free ones I downloaded from Project Gutenberg). But now it's not just about managing my collection on Windows, Linux, and Mac, but also on my brother's Samsung NF210 netbook.

I feel compelled to start this review with a caveat -- I primarily use Linux. Even though Calibre is an open source, cross-platform program, things on Linux are inevitably going to work and look differently than on Windows. The Windows version of this program looks a lot different (and nicer) on Cindy's netbook. My experiences with this program are far different than hers because it appears the Linux version of Calibre is not very well maintained (at least not in Fedora or Ubuntu repos).

Features and Metadata

If nothing else, I figured this would be a good program to manage metadata about my book collection. Simply put, this program has a lot of features. What I like the most is that it supports every ebook format that I know of -- I can add PDF files, epub files, mobi files, and even CBZ (comic book) files all in the same database, and have all my metadata stored in one place.

For those new to this concept, "metadata" is all the information about the media. In the case of books, this means author, subject, title, ISBN, cover art, publisher, etc. Once you've indexed all that information, you can do fancy things like searching for author name - and not only get books that person wrote, but books they collaborated on as well. You can search for all titles in your collection from the same publisher, or all books in a series (very helpful when you have a series by multiple authors).

Once all of your books have been added to your Calibre collection, the default library view they present to you is a spreadsheet list. This interface is adequate, but I think some sort of panel view would be a better, more intuitive choice (I'm thinking about the faux bookshelf look in the iBook app).

Many of the fields are what you would expect: Title, Author, Publisher, and Series (so you can easily find all those Harry Potter books). Other fields on this spreadsheet view are just strange. The size of the ebook on disk is useless because many users don't have a clue what this means, and even if they do, Word Count would be a better metric to reflect the novel's length (since page count doesn't apply to most ebooks). Date - is this the publication date or the date I added it to the database? Because it actually appears to be the date of the file on disk (maybe... it might be another date, it's not very clear).

Another odd choice is the "rating" field that all media managers inevitably include. I've seen this in the XBMC / Plex / Boxee world as well, where they pull the average user rating from IMDB. In this case, I assume it's trying to pull the value from some book rating site. I'm as confused about this as I am in my movie collection software (XBMC). I mean, the file is in my collection because I like it. Why should I care if the average rating is a 10 or a 2? I bought it because I like it and I couldn't care less if the rest of the world hates it.

One choice that felt strange at first was "Tags" -- this appears to be where they store the genre information. I think this terminology is something that is growing on me. I never did like having to pigeon-hole things into preset genres. Being able to create and add my own tags to books feels like it will be a much better solution in the long run.

Calibre has a feature that allows you to build your database on one computer and then have that computer act as a server for others. Using this feature supposedly lets you access your ebooks from anywhere in the world. But there's a caveat - the computer with your collection has to be on all the time, and has to have Calibre running. I personally have a few computers that are on all the time anyway, so it's not a big deal for me. But most people don't leave their computers on 24/7, especially when they are going away on a trip.

There are a few other features in this program that I won't use, but that's not to say they are bad. This program supports a lot of e-reader devices and can apparently handle batch conversions to each format they need. So if you downloaded a hundred epub ebooks from Project Gutenberg and needed to convert them to mobi for your Kindle, this program can do it. Having built-in support for syncing books to your device is a very cool feature, and they support quite a few devices. But I don't have an e-reader device, so I can't really review how well this sync works.

Calibre also provides a feature for automatically pulling news from the Internet, compiling an ebook out of the articles, and syncing that to your device of choice.

The Reading Experience

All the library and metadata organizing features in the world won't save an ebook reader with a poor reading interface. The first book I tried to read was an epub file, which is the format everyone is trying to standardize on. This program just does not render them properly. Reading text is impossible when lines overlap each other. Clicking the preferences button on the sidebar results in a crash (but one that thankfully does not kill the whole program). So much for that. I know the file is fine because FBReader displays it without any issues. Mobi (Kindle format) files work fine. Some files (like PDF format) open with external programs, so those all worked as well.

One button click puts you into full screen mode, which is especially nice on smaller screens (like netbooks). Re-opening a book you started to read automatically forwards you to the last place you were. This is a nice feature, but would be even nicer if it worked. The problem is that the program does not remember the size and location of the reader window it opens. So while it does scroll to the place you left off, the actual line placement is wrong because you end up having to move and resize the window.

The Netbook Reading Experience

I'll re-state my caveat: I was using the Linux version.

The actual reading experience on the netbook is similar to the desktop, but smaller. I really don't foresee any problems with reading ebooks on this device. Text is clear and you can adjust the font size as needed (assuming the properties options work when you install it - they worked on my netbook but not on my desktop).

My biggest gripe so far with this program has been with some of the choices in the library screen. And that same library view is the deal-killing problem on the netbook's screen. You have the file list in the center, a sidebar with information about the currently selected file on the right, and another sidebar on the left for showing the tree of sorting options (for doing things like filtering by author or genre tag). And that doesn't leave much room in the center for that file list. In fact, I got so frustrated just trying to see what was there that I didn't have the patience to add any files to my collection on the netbook. I previewed the default "how to use Calibre" ebook that the program ships with and then I quit.

Having a netbook spin of this program that is made for smaller screens would be a very good move. As it is now, every screen has icons that are so huge on the little screen that every button toolbar spills over into a popup section. And because they don't have a traditional text title bar (File, View, etc), this becomes a major issue when trying to navigate the program on a small screen.


My original draft of this article was quite scathing. There were a lot of things about this program that I didn't like and I spent way too much time focused on them. I'll try to discuss those issues here without going into too much depth on them.

I personally don't like how this program copies books I add to the library into another folder on my hard drive. I've already established an organization system for my ebooks and would rather just have a program that links to the files without trying to reorganize them. In addition to that, adding an option to store those links and the metadata in a real SQL server would be a huge plus in my book. Most users won't care about either of these issues though. Not everyone has eight machines to synchronize and share files with.

But one thing every user should care about is that this program is set up to handle multiple formats of each book -- so you can download an epub, convert it for use on your Kindle or Nook, and keep all versions in your library. This is another feature that would be nice if it worked. I have four copies of my brother's book, Purgatory Beckons - PDF, epub, mobi, and Palm PDB format. Instead of grouping them all under one entry, Calibre imported four different entries, one for each format. And there does not appear to be a way to merge them into one entry, even though it did correctly scrape the title and author name for each entry. That means I have to delete all but one and then manually add the other formats to the remaining entry. This is a minor annoyance if it happens once, but anyone who has a huge collection of books in multiple formats should be aware that the import process may generate more work for you.

I had another problem adding files to my library -- Calibre attempts to automatically pull metadata information from the Internet. Normally, this is seen as a great time-saving feature. The problem with pulling metadata information from the Internet is that, regardless of the media you are getting information on, the quality of the metadata is inconsistent. Random people from all over the world build the databases you are pulling info from. So you get all sorts of interesting choices - like Albert Camus' novel "The Stranger" being listed as an "Adventure". Getting info on Bram Stoker's "Dracula" sets the title of the novel to "Dracula by Stoker 345" and the author to "Dracula". In short, the problem is that the metadata servers are being populated with bogus, misformatted information. Don't even get me started on the plot summaries - they often consist of major spoilers sprinkled with sentence structure that requires a decoder ring.

The metadata editor in Calibre is not bad, but it's missing one important feature: it does not display the filename of the book you are updating. This is a huge problem when Calibre grabs the wrong metadata. How are you supposed to know what a file labeled as "Title" by "Unknown" is? How are you supposed to figure out what went wrong and what files are missing from your database? You have to actually open the book to see what it is, which can take a while when you have a lot that are wrong. Just adding one tooltip or the filename somewhere in this dialog would make this experience a lot better.

In Summary

The fact that Calibre is not even at a 1.0 version is promising. As happens with most open source software, this program has faults. But in time most (and hopefully all) of those faults will be fixed. If you don't have a program you already use to manage your ebook collection, download this and try it out. If you have an actual e-reading device, then this program could make managing and syncing your collection a lot easier. This is a program to keep an eye on as it brings new meaning to the term cross-platform -- with support for multiple operating systems as well as multiple ebook readers.

Calibre is free software, so if it sounds interesting you can get a copy at

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Jeb's Lament

This is a piece of flash fiction I wrote a while ago. Hope you enjoy it. :)

Jeb's Lament

Okay, I admit, it's been a while since I've been in a fist fight. I've been in fights, sure, but most people around here use weapons. This was plain, bare-fisted mayhem. Been a few years since someone picked a fight with me. So you can imagine my surprise at being knocked to my knees with the first hit, a quick jab thrown mid-conversation. I don't see myself as a glass jaw fighter but this guy's sucker punch sure as hell made me feel like one. I used to be able to hold my own in a fight. I'm not used to losing arguments. But there I was, kneeling on the wooden planks of the dock, watching the blood from my busted lip pool beneath me.

"C'mon!" said a voice from above me. "I'm not through with you yet."

Ah condescension, that I'm used to. Nobody considers I might be a better fighter than I appear to be. Like this guy, Jeb, at least twice my size and obviously trying to prove he's a tough guy. He stepped forward, moving a little too close. I inhaled, letting saltwater air fill my lungs, invigorating me. I tensed, and in one smooth motion I rose to my feet and drove my fist into his chin. I heard something crack, who knows what - his jaw, my fist, his teeth. Probably all three, considering the throbbing pain in my clenched fist.

One of his drunken friends laughed. "You asked fer that Jeb. Hoo-rah whatta hit!"

Jeb stumbled back and shook his head. "Motherf..." he slurred, then fiddled with his jaw. "Frak."

I edged closer, forcing him to stumble back another step. And there it was, the sun shining in his eyes from above the cliffs behind me. He squinted and I took advantage of the opening. I spun around, building momentum, and drove my foot into his chest with an authoritative thud. Sound of wood shuddering from the impact of his backside ceased his friends' laughter.


Even the ocean seemed to pause for a moment, crystalline waves poised like serpents ready to strike at the sand.

Jeb clutched his chest like he was trying to reorganize his lungs. His friends stared, mouths agape. Every beat of my heart pounded in my chest, sending needles of pain to my lip.

Then the sharp tinny sound of a bell rang out from the ship coming in. I needed the dock cleared.

"So," I said. "You gonna move that boat now?"

Jeb grumbled something incoherent, so what was I supposed to do?

I kicked his head, knocking him out, and turned to his friends. "Move that boat, then get this jerk out of here."

They glanced at each other, then nodded in unison. "Yes ma'am."

Friday, November 26, 2010


I just self-published my first novel this week. I used Amazon's CreateSpace for the print version and Smashwords for the ebook. There's a sample you can read at Smashwords and some teaser text available from my site at

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Writing Fears

Former literary agent Nathan Bransford recently posted a question to writers on his blog: “What is your greatest fear as a writer?”

I’m going to be blunt here. My greatest fear as a writer is never getting published, or more specifically never selling a story or a book.

These can be very different things these days. I could sell the rights of a short story to a magazine or anthology for a decent, professional rate. A book, I’d sell the rights to a publisher for an advance I could live off of for a couple of months. Or I could post the story on my blog and put a tip jar through paypal on it. The book I could sell as an ebook, copy by copy, on Amazon.

I recognize the difference between selling the thing itself and the rights for someone else to publish it. They certainly aren’t the same thing to me.

A few years ago I created a business plan for my writing career and it’s always involved something like: write something, revise it and sell the rights to it. I’ve invested a lot of time and money into writing. That’s how I want my career to go on a regular basis.

It’s not totally about the income. To me, not selling my work means I’ve failed as a writer. Simply having friends and family read a story isn’t enough for me. They are practically in the same sphere of influences I’m in myself. If someone pays to read a story, that means they wanted to and it means something to them. If an agent or editor buys rights to a story it means they know it will mean something to a lot of other people and they are willing to sell it to them for me.

Selling and buying are actions…and actions speak louder than the honey coated words of those close to you. I need to see these actions to know if I've succeeded.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Today in epublishing

We tend to be pretty pro ebook around here. But there are always two sides to things that should be considered.

Here is an interseting interpretation from a publisher on an article from the economist.

This article sheds some light on what I think are the biggest struggles in the ebook world right now.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Ebooks and Me

Advancing technology is spurring on the electronic everything revolution. My office is going paper-lite, we are developing electronic methods for just about all our needs. We have common network folders, desktop sharing software, LCD projectors in every conference room, dual monitor setups at most workstations. I can see anything I need to on my computer. So, I really notice when I go to click on the print button. And every time, I stop to think, do I need this in my hands? There are times when I say yes, like when I need to write on it or proofread it. But how will I make that distinction with novels in the coming future?

A few things come instantly to mind:
• How much do I like the author--is it signed?
• How much shelf space do I have?
• Was there a really good sale?

My first reaction to ebooks, a few years ago, was distaste. I didn’t like them because they aren’t my beloved paper pieces of art. These newfangled things were kinda hard to find. Amazon was just about the only place to get them and barely anyone had their novels produced electronically. And those readers were way too much for me to even think about buying. I was in grad school, by the way. Ebooks were for gadget geeks and technophiles. But, oh, how times change. There are so many more shades of gray in this image now.

My opinion of books has changed though, as I’m sure it has for many people. When I think of books, I think of two separate things. A stack of bound paper that either smells like printer ink or “used book store.” I can put a paperback in my coat pocket, or slip a hardcover in my bag or display the spine on my shelf. And they are also a new industry for text in various file formats with all kinds of metadata. To me e-books aren’t so much “books” as a concept. Yet in the end you get the same thing out of either style of published material. You read the words and react emotionally and intellectually to them. That’s pretty much what we’re reading for to begin with.

So you get the same thing out of both formats…

The prices of ereaders are dropping and Amazon and other companies are making it ever so much easier to get your hands on and read ebooks. You don’t even need an ebook reader anymore; you can read any ebook file between your computer, smart phone or PDA.

And technology isn’t an issue when it comes to jumping on the ebook bandwagon…

I confess, I have not yet read an ebook, but I know it will happen soon. I’ve been tipped off on some good open source software called Calibre. I’ve been playing with it and checking out its features a little in my spare time (I’ll post about it when I feel I’ve put it through its paces). Thanks to Baen’s Free Library and Project Gutenberg, I have a few e-books sitting on my hard drive. So when I’m done with my next few reading commitments I’m going to give the ereader a try.

Will I ever buy another bound book after that?

Books may soon be like antiques--those nice bits of furniture in your parent’s houses. Because in your house, all you have is your stack of electronic devices and self-assembled, particle board furniture from Walmart or Target. Well, I lust after those antique furniture pieces, but I don’t buy them. They are a luxury item. Same goes for books. I’ve always been more of a library-goer than book-buyer. So I don’t do my share to support the production of paper books. But I think that a nice spine on my shelf will always have a special place in my heart--even if I store most of my new $2 or $3 dollar books on my terabyte hard drive.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Today in epublishing

"Nielson BookScan is hoping to track ebook sales by the end of 2010 and that they are working diligently on this goal, though they do not have a confirmed date so this is still speculative information."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

World Building, Part 4: Living Worlds

In part 1 of my World Building series, I talked about constructing a fantasy world from the Top-Down, starting with a million-mile view and zooming down to the continents, the countries, the cultures, economies, and so on.

In part 2, I talked about constructing a science fiction universe from the Bottom-Up, starting with people and their stories, then hanging a framework on top of that to support the plot.

In part 3, I discussed a hybrid approach that lets me switch from an idea like Martian colonies (Bottom-Up) to planning out the locations and people living there (Top-Down) as needed.

Once you've created a framework for your world, what comes next? Here are a few things to consider to help you get a start on the finer details of your world:

History - This was always a boring subject in school, wasn't it? That's because most teachers focus on memorization of names and dates. When you think about the people who were there and why they were doing what they were doing, history becomes a fascinating look into what motivates people. Whether you are creating a fantasy world, a science fiction universe, or an alternate Earth, you should think about the history of that world and how it affects the stories you are creating.

Language - Maybe you want to start with an ancient race's alphabet and plan out how the discovery of that affects the people in your world. Starting with an interesting language idea and developing a mystery around it could certainly be the seed for a few plot lines.

Politics - Whether it's a fascist faction in the future or a group of fanatic supporters of a deposed king, creating tension in your world can be accomplished with a number of political ideas.

Races - Creating monsters or races that are unique to your world is a great way to separate your creation from others. How those new races interact with the others can be a great source of tension.

Religion - This is another point that works in fantasy as well as science fiction. Create a deity and a religious group that follows it. Before you even finish drafting those ideas, you should have thought of at least one other group that would be in conflict with them.

I'm sure there are lots of other ways to approach world design. One thread weaved throughout all of these ideas is conflict. Most of our history is about conflict - conflict over ideas, territory, religions, people, and property. Think about the people living in your world and what conflicts they would have with each other, and build on that. Even Utopian stories are really about the conflicts going on under the surface of the society. I don't really want to read 400 pages of people being happy and having everything they want handed to them.

There's no way anyone could craft a world as diverse and detailed as our own Earth, and there's no way I could walk you through the entire process of creating a world in four blog posts. But I hope this series gave you some things to think about as you set out on creating your own fantasy or science fiction world.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Agents: An Oblique Angle into Ebook Reality

J. A. Konrath and David Farland have both said you don’t really need an agent--both are wise and experienced authors with many, many books sold and many hard-won connections in the industry. I bet they’d say something like “if I knew then what I know now, I would have done it differently.” Or maybe not, times are very different now than they were when each author sold his first book. Times are much different now than they were a year ago.

In my bio I state that I am currently looking for an agent. This is true. I want an agent for the high fantasy novel I wrote. When I was working toward my MA in writing, I was taught that after you finish your novel, you go and get yourself an agent. It is the agent who sells your book to the publisher. The agent will get you the best deal; negotiate the best advance and royalty rates. Their role doesn’t end there. For a mere 15%, they are with you for the long haul. They will advise you on your career, guide your steady advance from new author to midlist and hopefully to bestseller. They have their finger on the pulse of the publishing industry. They know who’s who and have regular meetings with editors who trust their judgment on which new books to buy.

Yes, agents are a career guide for their clients, but if an author publishes ebooks there is no reason to have an agent. Therefore, the author doesn’t have that advisor. Authors who publish ebooks will have to be business savvy as well as tech savvy, or turn to their fellow authors for guidance.

With traditional publishing agents are necessary. Most publishers won’t accept unsolicited manuscripts--they don’t want the slush. So you send it to an agent who has tons of contacts with publishers. The agent gets the slush. That unmoving pile of manuscripts that may or may not contain the next best seller that will make them rich.

A few years ago I worked at a very small poetry publishing house, Alice James Books. Back then, they ran two poetry competitions a year and had about a thousand manuscripts come in for them. I had the pleasure of opening the submissions and filing them for judging. And I even took a glance at some of it. Some of it was horrid. A very small amount was amazing. There was a lot in the middle. But a thousand manuscripts are not much compared to what some agents and smaller publishers get.

I know that a lot of decent stuff gets passed because the one person who is reading it doesn’t like it, or they are so tired of scanning all the crap that came under their nose that by the end of the day nothing looks good to them. That is how I envision a full-time slush-reader’s day, and from the perspective of someone searching for an agent, it scares me.

However, if publishing goes the way of ebooks, and books are self published by the author, there will be no slush-filtering agents and editors. The Internet will be full of slush-piles-come-ebooks. And readers everywhere will get the pleasure of reading it, or only reading the first page and passing on it, like the agency and publisher slush readers. Word of mouth, via the many social networking options available, will be critical for weeding the good from the bad.

However, people won’t be too upset if they paid $2 for something moderately entertaining, and they might tell their friends about it too. Two bucks is cheap for entertainment (think movie ticket costs here), and you didn’t even have to burn any gas to get there. But even with the low cost, an author won’t make any money if their book is bad.

With e-books, a publisher’s reputation (and bank account) isn’t hanging on the book’s sales, only the author’s. In my opinion, having an ebook out there that doesn’t sell would be worse than getting a rejection letter. I like the way agent Nathan Bransford says it, "the rejection letter of the future will be silence." At least when you get a rejection letter, it’s cut and dried, black or white. You’re in! Or this sucks! Once the ebook is “published” it’s done, that’s it. There’s no opportunity to make it better before the book-buying public sees it.

What worries me the most is that agents and publishers will likely soon establish a standard digital royalty rate. If they have, I haven’t heard about it. Then, even if I publish a book traditionally, I won’t be able to keep my erights for that story. Guess I better get going…

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

NewsFlash: New Epub Platform from B&N

"Barnes & Noble just launched PubIt!, a new platform that lets individuals upload their opuses, sell them as real, honest-to-goodness ebooks in B&N's eBookstore, and keep a decent chunk of the profit."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Newflash: Kids like ebooks, Kindle for the Web

A couple interesting articles. In study, Children Cite Appeal of Digital Reading talks about a study that Scholastic, publisher of the Harry Potter books. It goes on to say that kids seem to embrace the ereader technology, while some parents remain concerned that the devices will be distracting as they play, watch video and send text messages.

In a news release yesterday, Amazon launches the Kindle for the Web, in beta form. Its way to share a sample of a book on your web site, and receive a referral fee if the book is purchased after following the link from your web site.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

World Building, Part 3: Hybrid Design

aka You Did It Your Way, I Did It Sideways

(You can thank Johnny Yune for that quote)

In part 1 of my World Building series, I talked about constructing a fantasy world from the Top-Down, starting with a million-mile view and zooming down to the continents, the countries, the cultures, economies, and so on.

In part 2, I talked about constructing a science fiction universe from the Bottom-Up, starting with people and their stories, then hanging a framework on top of that to support the plot.

Both methods have advantages and drawbacks, and depending on what you are trying to create you may be perfectly fine with one or the other. I created a fantasy world using a purely Top-Down design, but I ran into problems when trying to create a science fiction universe with a purely Bottom-Up design.

What I learned from these two lessons is that, sometimes, the best solution is both solutions.

Such is the case when creating an entire universe for stories to take place in. I often find myself in the Bottom-Up Terran Shift universe employing a Top-Down mentality to design individual worlds.

Suppose you have your main character land on a new planet and you have nothing planned in advance for it. The problem is that by moving your mindset to this new world, stretching out from your home base (Earth, in my case), you have essentially just shifted from Bottom-Up (your universe) to Top-Down (looking at the new planet). It's easy to look at a planet like Mars and say "by 2250 we'll have three million colonists living on Mars." But how are they living? Where? What are they doing there and what were their motivations? You could solve this by staying with a Bottom-Up design, shifting your mindset to Mars at the time the first humans walk on its surface, and building the story of the world from there. But that may take quite a while to develop.

In my case, I decided we will expand to bases on Mars, and then I switched to Top-Down mode. I developed the military and civilian social structures on the planet and began planning out the individual bases. I pulled out NASA maps and figured out logical placements for colonies. I read books like Zubrin's The Case For Mars for ideas on how terraforming would be done and what would be needed to make it happen. Once I had enough structure in place for my story ideas, I switched back to Bottom-Up mode and figured out the next plot points to work on.

Such is the way with many things in life - the hybrid of two good systems can often be more powerful and intuitive than either individual system on its own. So far I have found no drawbacks with this hybrid method, and am inclined to believe that switching between these two design methodologies as needed is the best way to create worlds. Your results may vary, but hopefully this series has given you some things to think about and a new way to approach the design of your world.

So you've started building your world or universe... what else is needed?

In part 4 of this series, I'll discuss some ideas for bringing your world to life.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Scribists Now At

Lee created a page for us at to handle scheduling our meetings. We're also hoping it will help us find other budding authors in the greater Portland, Maine area who are interested in joining us. If you are a writer, and live near us, and are interested in joining an active writing and workshopping group, check us out.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Publishing Houses on the Cusp of the Digital Age

Billions of dollars go in and out of the publishing industry each year. Money earned on titles, fees paid to printers, artists and hundreds of employee salaries. John Scalzi recognizes that with every book he publishes, he, and every other author with a current manuscript, gives at least ten people a job that year (or would it be two years as that is how long it can take to get a book to the shelf?).

But we can’t all be John Scalzi. Let’s say Del Rey buys my book. I may not get a marketing agent or a copy editor. But I will have an editor (who may not edit me at all), a cover artist, an interior designer and printer at the least. This all adds up to a large overhead per company, per year--best sellers and all the rest.

Everyone can see that ebooks are quickly becoming more popular, while fewer physical books are selling. Publishers are being forced to make decisions on a new product they are less familiar with. But I can see why the folks running the business may be uncomfortable with change. Publishers have to make decisions now for a book that will hit the shelves in two years. It is impossible to know exactly what is going to happen to the publishing atmosphere ahead of time. So any decision they make now, while uninformed, is risky--that is riskier than usual as they never know if a book will sell well to begin with. With shrinking profits, they have less room to take those risks.

But the question is, do ebooks cost a publisher less to make? And therefore will they make more of a profit off them? I think the answer is yes. Current reading trends are showing that ebooks are certainly worth their time. For a buck or two, people are grabbing them just for the hell of it, like candy in the dollar store.

Dorchester seems to be catching on to this. But perhaps, their decision is a little extreme. They recently announced that they are going electronic. Epublishing advocates everywhere rejoiced, I’m sure. The digital format is finally being recognized! However there is more to it. According to an agent from Nelson, Dorchester has recently had financial troubles. And according to the Publishers Lunch Blog, their staff has been shrinking too. This doesn’t bode well for them, and really makes me wonder about their decision to abandon physical books.

Publishers are losing control over the market. They are hesitating to give authors a reasonable percentage of ebook sales royalties. Apple and Amazon are banking on selling both reading devices and self-published books. Tech savvy authors know that ebooks are worthwhile. They aren’t even selling the e-rights of their books and are making 70% or 80% profits off their work, never including a publisher or an agent. However, their books won’t see print, or grace the shelves of your living room bookcase.

Standing between self-publishing authors of ebooks and physical books is a huge mountain of tradition, but there is a method behind that madness. Physical books require more money and space and shipping to produce. Publishers take on all responsibility for that. I think that the huge overhead makes publishers drive up e-book prices to keep their business as a whole in the black. The aren’t selling the pile of pages with a pretty cover, they are selling the hard work of all involved in addition to the entertainment value of the words.

But the self publishing authors of ebooks who charge a buck or two for their book are seeing plenty of profits. What scares me the most is the worst case scenario: Pysical books disappearing forever, driving all the publishing houses out of business, leaving the world at the mercy of self-published books only. It would be hard to find the stuff you like amid the uncontrolled flooding of stories. I’d rather have over control than none in publishing. Author Catherynne Valente saw a similar dark vision of the future.

So far, I’ve made my observations as a writer looking at the business. However, there are many readers, consumers, who are driving the decisions of publishing houses. In the end, it really is all about the readers. Many put their TRUST in publishers to find the good books, the good names of authors who will give them the satisfaction they are looking for. Some won’t even look at a book that didn’t come from a publisher, as reflected in this blog post. The bookstore customers wouldn’t buy a paperback with a glossy cover because they thought that meant it was a self published book. They didn’t read the cover blurbs or even check out the spine for a publisher’s logo. This stigma is the biggest danger for someone considering self-publication, but fortunately, this stigma is showing signs of fading.

The book has been one of the least-changed products since it emerged in the 15th century. The Gutenberg Bible doesn’t look too much different from any hardcover book on the shelf today. Perhaps that is why some are so eager to change while others are so hesitant. But it comes down to the fact that if you want your book to be on a shelf, and make a living with it, you need a publisher. If you can put your own book into digital format, then go for the profits.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

World Building, Part 2: Bottom-Up Construction

In part 1 of my World Building series, I talked about constructing a fantasy world from the Top-Down, starting with a million-mile view and zooming down to the continents, the countries, the cultures, economies, and so on. But this is only one method for creating a world...

My science fiction universe, Terran Shift, was simply too large to start at the top. The universe, after all, is quite a large place. Even limiting my current work to just our solar system gives me dozens of planetary bodies to design and populate. Expanding into other solar systems increases the workload exponentially. So when designing this universe I felt it was more logical to use a Bottom-Up design method.

I started with a handful of ideas, a few pivotal moments in our near future that give a good indication of where we as a species are going. Next I filled out the near future - a timeline for the next 500 years. Then I plotted how and when we would expand into the solar system and beyond. When designing from the Bottom-Up, you have to begin with your characters and the stories that change their lives, then move out from there to design their surroundings, countries, factions, planets, and so on. You end up molding your universe around the characters you created, essentially creating a network of supporting cultures and people to allow your plot to play out.

This method has some benefits. It's especially good for designing a science fiction universe that has a large scope. Even for a fantasy world, this method allows you to detach your thought process from the world itself and concentrate on the people and their stories. Perhaps you want to construct a fantasy world rich with political intrigue and characters. Designing the landscape of that world is not nearly as important as the people in it -- once you know the people and their motivations, you can tailor the landscape for the needs of the story. This method lets you create any plot you want and then construct the elements it requires to function as you get around to them. If nothing else, that means you can get into the story faster and worry about building the world around it later.

And that is one of the biggest drawbacks. I often find myself making references to things in one story and then contradicting it in another, both in the same universe. I'm talking about big glaring errors as well as subtle ones. For example, I have a story that starts on Mars, and the first draft took place about fifty years too early. The problem was that I didn't have anything definitive planned on Mars at that point -- just a few bullet points on my timeline, nothing more. I had to flesh out the world design for our colonies on Mars in order to see the best way to fix the errors I had made.

Solving problems like this could be done by switching perspective to Mars and designing that new world with the same Bottom-Up mentality. Or, you can adopt a hybrid approach...

In part 3, I'll discuss a hybrid of the Top-Down and Bottom-Up construction methods.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Experiences Upgrading to Ebooks

I purchased my iPad in hopes of replacing all my technical print books with ebook versions so I could carry them around with me between home and work. I hated leaving a book behind, since I might need it at the other location--which happened just the other day; I needed my Programing Perl book, and there it was on my iPad. I also was tired of having so many books in my bookcase, since I was moving a lot. Twice in one year, both on very hot days. 'Nuff said.

So what have my results been? I'd have to say very good. I have been able to replace 5 of the 8 books I wanted to replace. There were a few others that would have been nice to replace, but since they were so old anyway, it wasn't a big deal. The ones I have replaced are Programming Perl (ePub), Java Swing (PDF), Programming Game AI by Example (Kindle), Open GL Super Bible (Kindle), Cocoa Programming for Mac OS X (Kindle).

I'm really glad O'Reilly is one of my favorite publishers. They have by far the best ebook policy. You won't find their ebooks on Amazon. Instead they offer them for sale on their own site. This is a great thing since I am able to purchase the book and read it as PDF, Kindle or my preferred format, ePub. All formats are DRM free, and not watermarked. They have great prices and great deals. I was able to purchase 6 new ebooks from them for $65 with their buy 3 get 3 free deal (exclusive membership offer for ebooks). They will also sell you upgrades from print versions of books you own for $5. You can't beat that. $65 is only about $10 more then I would pay for a single book, and I got 6 of them! I have found other publishers doing similar, but with mixed results. One publisher only offered PDF watermarked ebooks. Others were only available on Amazon as Kindle ebooks.

While O'Reilly offers Kindle versions, it should be noted that I have not been able to transfer those DRM free Kindle books (like the ones from O'Reilly) onto my iPad. If you had a Kindle device, you could just transfer it via Amazon's paid transfer service, or when you hook it up via usb. It appears that if you want them on your Kindle app, you will have to purchase the ebook from Amazon. So for the iPad, choose ePub or PDF.

For novels, I'll admit only had a couple Stephen King books since I tossed all the others. I had made my mind up to only get ePub novels, but now I am starting to lean towards Kindle. The selection is so much bigger; I recently purchased Dean Koontz Phantoms from Amazon which is not yet available on the iBookstore, while some other Koontz titles are. And with the recent fall in price of the Kindle device, it isn't out of the realm of possibility that I would get one for the wife. So let's see. $140 (cost of a Kindle) is about the price of a nice book case. A bookcase can hold about 100, maybe 200 if you pack them in. A Kindle will hold up to 3,500 books. That means the Kindle will replace 17 bookcases! I'd have to say it is much cheaper in the long run to buy a Kindle. See how that works? With the right mindset, you can justify just about any technical gadget.

After using both the Kindle app and the iBooks app, on both the iPad and iPhone, I prefer the iBooks app. For technical books, I like being able to use more then one-highlight color. For example, I use yellow as my main highlight color to highlight important things I will refer to often. Blue is for minor highlights, like the important parts of a series of steps describing how to modify some source code, or editing a photograph. Finally, pink is used to mark errata, corrections to the book since it was published. I also like that the entire screen is used to show your bookmarks and highlights on the iPad. The Kindle app sticks you with this tiny window at the bottom of the screen. The iPhone Kindle app is a little better in that it uses the entire screen. For novels, while I prefer iBooks, I think I will be switching to Kindle ebooks because of the selection, and since I am thinking of getting a Kindle reader.

When it comes to reading PDF ebooks and documents, I turn to iAnnotate PDF. While it isn't as pretty as using iBooks, it is much more functional. I can highlight text, add bookmarks, add comments, and even draw on the document. It has become my favorite way to mark up other people’s stories. I can email an annotation summary along with the marked up document, or save the document back to Dropbox when I am ready to share the comments I made.

Over all, I prefer using one reader for everything, but I'm okay with switching between them. As time goes on, I hope we will end up with a standard format so I can use just one reader. But until then, I have my 3 favorites.

Monday, August 30, 2010


Random House and Wylie Reach Agreement

From Publisher's Weekly: "The news that Random House had "won" its showdown with The Wylie Agency, over the inclusion of titles by its authors in Wylie's backlist digital publishing business Odyssey Editions, spread through publishing circles quickly on Tuesday, after Random House and Wylie released a joint statement. The statement said that Random House will now be the exclusive e-book publisher of its 13 titles originally part of Odyssey Editions and that, as a result of the agreement, Random House will lift its ban on doing business with the agency."

I had a feeling that Wylie's action was to get the proverbial ball rolling on a decion about this topic. And now it looks like nothing was really resolved. I'm anxiously awaiting financial information about this agreement. In the meantime, Daily Finance has some intersting insight on this.


This morning I stumbled across a blog post by Mark Coker of Smashwords featuring a podcast of author David Robinson talking about ebook publishing. He has a lot of very interesting observations, like this one:'s not so much rejection that bruises the soul of a writer, it's the chronic condition of being ignored.

Check it out here: Author David Robinson Essay on Virtues of Indie Ebook Publishing

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The e-pub Industry-Part 1

If I had to describe how I see the publishing industry right now, I would call it a “seesaw.”

We can see very plainly the fear that people have of change also applies in business. The actions of publishing houses and agents since the e-book are clearly reactions to what they see as a threat to paper publishing. Practically every week I hear about another independent bookstore closing, one less venue to sell paper books. Many people are reacting to things like this simultaneously in different ways--some good, some scary.

In December, Random House decided they would take action by insisting it had the e-pub rights to the books it published. Many agents jumped on this and fought for their clients to maintain their e-pub rights.

In 2001 a federal court ruled that authors did not grant e-book rights to the publisher according to their original contracts. This seems to be holding up to this day. If you want your e-pub rights, and don’t explicitly grant them, you can have them. But this could get harder and harder. On the other side of that argument, I’ve heard that there are authors who don’t want their e-rights because they wouldn’t know what to do with them.

The Wylie Agency has recently started a new publishing line, Odyssey Editions, to e-publish its clients’ backlists--taking the publisher out of e-publishing and maximizing their clients’ profits. The publishers are trying to claim their e-pub rights to these backlist titles. We’ll have to wait and see what happens…

All this activity speaks loudly of big money in e-books. Those directly affected by it, the publishers of paper books, are trying to protect their future interests of staying in business. But we really have to ask if our electronic rights are any of their business. If we can help it, shouldn’t we writers hold onto our very profitable e-rights, as it seems to be in our best interest for making a living?

Traditional publishing houses are not paying the same royalties that an author could get from e-publishing independently. J. A. Konrath and the Authors Guild both break down the numbers.

As an unpublished writer working hard toward a career as a full time writer, the current publishing situation is daunting. I have an unpublished fantasy novel (still in revision) that I’m not quite sure what I will do with. It is impossible for me to make the best career move according to what I see going on, as I don’t know when I will publish it. And my decision will depend on the state of the industry when I do sell it (selling it could mean to a publisher or by myself). I have three different scenarios in my mind.

If I sold it in the next month or so, I would hold onto my e-pub rights and put in the time to launch it in electronic format myself, while, theoretically reaping the benefits of an advance and having copies on shelves in bookstores. I would get the most profit from my work. But, who knows for how much longer that will be possible. The scales could tip tomorrow for all we know.

If I market my book around but don’t sell it for another two years, none of this might actually matter. I could sell it and enter into a currently nonexistent standardized paper and e-book agreement where I won’t get a choice in the matter. However, this might not be the best scenario. What if paper books go completely “out of fashion” and no one buys the hard copies and the publisher still gets to keep most of the profit from the e-book sales? This type of agreement would lead to a growing independent book sales industry.

I could e-pub my book, no advance, and do the hard work of self promotion and make full proceeds off sales. But, working full time, would I have enough time and resources to do that much self promotion? I once heard about a new author, I cannot remember his name, who got an advance in the six-figure range. He immediately quit his day job and planned a massive self-promotion campaign. His explanation was that if he ever wanted to earn back his advance and see royalties he needed to sell a ton of books. I’m thinking I don’t have that kind of time or money. So this is not for me right now.

I’ll have to keep a close eye on the industry to make sure I get the best agreements I can for my work. I can see actively publishing authors having vastly different contracts from title to title depending on the current conditions. Maybe this is prime time for multiple book deals? Either way, the change won’t be over until the legal departments of publishers and agencies, and maybe even federal courts establish new standards. But who knows how long their deliberation will take and how it will affect e-publishing rights, traditional publishing houses, the role of the agent and most importantly the author. In the meantime, books are being sold every day under different circumstances.

Monday, August 23, 2010


eBook Advertisements

Here's an interesting read. This is one thing I haven't ever imagined I'd see in a book. So I never even thought of it regarding e-books. Advertisers think of everything.

"Growing e-book sales and the opportunity for targeted advertising mean space in e-books is ripe for corporate messages. Add rapidly falling e-reader prices and the planned Google e-book store and the pressure is on for publishers and retailers to increase revenue from digital books."

If that is the future of e-books I can't imagine reading too many of them. After all, I'm the kind of person who stopped watching TV because I was sick of the commercials.

Amazon's e-book Sales...and some Considerations

"Amazon has told Pocket-lint that it expects Kindle e-book sales to eclipse paperback sales by the end of 2011, and to eclipse combined hardback and paperback sales shortly after that in the US."

But here is an article with a more conservative point of view about what Amazon is saying.

All in all the e-book is winning the price war over the paper book, maybe just not quite as fast as Amazon would like to think.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

NewsFlash: Google Counts World's Books

Google Books has counted all books existent in the world as of Thursday August 5th. And the number is 129,864,880.

Read more about what they counted and why? Think about it... how many different editions of Hamlet did you have to read in high school? They were each counted separately.

NewsFlash: Future of the Book

An article was posted yesterday on NPR called Books Have Many Futures, which talks about the current state of ebooks as well as where print books could be heading. Very interesting read.

The MIT futurist Nicholas Negroponte told the Techonomy Conference in early August that the physical, paper-based book is dying rapidly and will soon be replaced as the dominant form. "It’s happening," Negroponte said. "It's not happening in 10 years. It's happening in five years."

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

NewsFlash: A Journalist/Author's take on self pub

Self-publishing is hot trend in book world reports evidence that self published authors are starting to shake the stigma.

World Building, Part 1: Top-Down Construction

Any author working in a science fiction or fantasy world has to confront the topic of world building at some point. I'm sure many authors don't even think about the process and just dive into it. But there are authors, like Tolkien, who will spend years crafting elaborate, breathing worlds with expansive histories and peoples. Some of these visionaries go on to create incredibly fine details. You could actually study the Elvish language from Middle Earth, for instance. Or the Klingon language from Star Trek.

But where do you even start developing a world that rich?

Building worlds is a daunting task for anyone to undertake. I am a writer and I have a passion for creating video games. Creating worlds is a subject I've spent more than two decades exploring. The process started for mostly financial reasons. I played Dungeons and Dragons a lot and couldn't afford to purchase the manuals for every TSR world that interested me. So I created my own world.

I will begin this discussion with a look at a Top-Down design.

I started my fantasy world, Palamar, with a friend when I was about ten years old. I drew a map for the solar system to explain how the planets and moons were set up. Then I created the world map, drawing each continent in turn, marking cities and forests as I got to them. What I was doing was creating an entire fantasy universe from a million-mile view down to the people living in it. Once I had a good idea of the layout of the land and the people who lived in it, then I was able to create my characters and the stories and adventures they would live through.

This method has some benefits. You never have to wonder what's over the next horizon. You've already created the map and defined the boundaries of the civilizations that live there. Once you have boundaries and cultures, it's pretty easy to see where tensions between them could erupt. Place a big open field between two civilizations and you've just created a place for a battlefield (ancient, future, or modern, take your pick). The history often ends up being obvious once you've created the landscape.

There are drawbacks to this method. Every time I have an interesting idea for something I want to add to my world, I have to make changes to the world map to accommodate those ideas. Before I started using computers on a daily basis, that meant re-drawing the world map by hand. This method is also finite - it's really not practical for designing more than a single world. But for a fantasy realm, this method works nicely.

But this is only one method for creating a world...
I will discuss a Bottom-Up method in part 2.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

NewsFlash: Dorchester drops mmpb for e-book/POD

Huge news last week in publishing! Dorchester Drops Mass Market Publishing for E-Book/POD Model. I'm going to have to hit the net and do some reading up on this. But my friend wrote up and interesting post about it and related thoughts at the Phylactery of Nightmares and Dreams.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What time is our torture session?

Let's have a little fun from the not too distant past. This is a flash fiction story that I worked on for a little competition I had with a writer friend. Maybe she will post her original entry some time. What I found interesting about flash fiction wasn't that the stories where short, but that it let us write, edit, and critique several stories in a short time. It was a great workshopping tool. Want to focus on dialog? Make a flash story that consisted of mostly talk. Want to work on fight scenes? Make a flash that consisted mostly of action. I think one mistake I made was focusing on scenes. I started writing scenes instead of a story consisting of a beginning, middle and end.

So please, enjoy my very first ever flash fiction story.


I know what evil lurks in the minds of ... no no. That just sounds like the start of a corny old radio show. How then shall I start this, "Once upon a time?" Somehow I don’t think so. That would, after all, suggest an ending like, "They lived happily ever after." Don’t make me sick.

I want to tell you a story about real evil. Evil so tangible that you could reach out and touch it, like a mist that envelopes you and seeps into your mind.

Let me then, tell a story about a close friend. The queen of her realm. Her subjects pander to her every whim. But imagine if you will, those subjects decide to rise up and wield a mighty mechanical weapon, built for the sole purpose of rending chunks from your person.

First they feed her tasty treats, oh yes, very tasty indeed. Her senses dull and she finds herself in a wonderful euphoric state where her mind drifts atop fluffy clouds and she flitters around with little bunnies.

Then a buzzing sound, distant at first.

The bunnies. No longer carelessly frolicking are all looking at her. The once innocent pink-rimmed eyes turned cloudy and red. Fangs bared.

The first bite she doesn’t feel, a clean slice through her fur. Then the chewing begins. Again and again teeth bite into her and rip clump after clump of fur out.

An eternity. Then the buzzing stops, her bonds released, and one of her subjects say, “Okay kitty, you can go now. All your mats out!” She gets scratched behind her ear and offered another kitty treat.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What a Workshop is all About

Now that we’ve launched the site and have our legs under us we will be running full steam ahead working on the content of the e-book we will be publishing next summer. This means a lot of writing for us…writing and more importantly workshopping--because we know there’s room for improvement in our story-telling craft.

I’ve been workshopping stories, poetry and non-fiction in and outside of school for almost ten years. All I have to say about my experiences with them is that they are great, in so many ways--even the bad ones. Now let me explain why…

On the simplest level, a workshop occurs when a group of people get together to read your work and give you feedback on it or you read another writer’s work and give them feedback--sometimes both at the same time. A serious writer’s workshop is not a social hour, a word-play date, or bitch session. It is time to work on craft, on words--something that you love.

There are different kinds of workshops: professionally run retreat workshops such as Viable Paradise, Taos, Clarion and Odyssey, one-shot Con workshops, online workshops, class workshops offered through schools, and many others. Each have their own strengths. But I’m going to focus on the regularly meeting group style as that is what we scribists will be doing.

Let’s say you’ve written a story and you just want to send it out. You want it to get into some editor’s hands so they will instantly send you an email asking to buy the story’s first publication rights. You think it’s that good.

Then why, a few days later, did you get a form rejection?

Because you are blind to what your work really looks like word for word--yes even if you put it aside for a week, or a month to forget about it. No matter what, you won’t be able to find all your grammar and spelling mistakes, or all your confusing sentences that you with all your idiosyncrasies will not notice as abnormal expression of English, or whatever language you write in.

You might have a great story, but the first time it comes out, it might not take the same shape that you see in your head. A good workshop can point out your foibles to you much quicker than you can find them.

So, confident you wrote the best story you could, and unable to find anything else in there to fix (you’re not letting your workshop fellows do work for you that you know you need to do first), you bring your awesome story to a workshop.

Now you are in the box, the silent state of the writer being workshopped, ready to write down everything you can because you are open to their constructive criticism.

Each group member quickly runs through their points about your story, maybe elaborating on one or two so as not to take all the time for themselves. You hear lauds on the parts of the story that showcase your strengths, but then… Wait…What are they talking about? That’s not what I wrote. They didn’t read it right. But you keep silent. You might find this difficult but it is important for the writer of the work in question to not pollute the critiquing atmosphere. They read it as they saw it. As a wise professor of mine once said, “You are in the box in workshop because you can’t sit behind every reader and say, ‘No, this is what that means.’” And so you listen carefully and write down what they said; ideally it was constructive criticism about the various parts of a story: plot, characters, style, pace etc. They are critiquing your work, not you. They probably know very little about you and can only know about the story. So don’t take anything personally.

Everyone’s said their bit, and now it’s your turn to talk. First, say thank you, because someone took the time out of their busy week to read your story. Then ask for any clarification on comments you didn’t understand. If no one commented on something you were wondering about, ask what they think--someone will be happy to tell you.

The reason for all this? They want the same help from you. They are in the same position you are, they want to improve their work to professional standards and beyond--this will take more than workshopping, but it’s a great place to start.

The best part about receiving criticism is that you get to make the final call on which pieces of advice you take. Of course, even if you disagree with a comment, you must give it due consideration. In the end, you are the only one with the vision of the story in your head and you can decide what’s best for it.

Perhaps the most important part of going to a workshop, at least in my opinion, is the motivation that comes from it. Language comes to life in workshop sessions. People are discussing words and phrases and paragraphs and their right to be on the page. Then someone brings home feedback and thinks about edits and plot snags and character depth. Beyond that though, they have someone else’s story in hand to critique for next time. The cycle never stops, it keeps you going and it keeps you improving your own work.

Now we aren’t always so lucky to find a great workshop where the other writers are generous or constructive in criticism. There are always those workshops where you won’t mesh well with the other participants. That’s fine, you’ll always have readers who will react that way, and it can be good to hear things you don’t like. But if the group really isn’t working for you (no one is trying to publish, anyone can show up whenever etc…), get packing and find a new one, or put a new one together yourself.

Reading other people’s work will help you realize what your own strengths and weaknesses are. Listening to other people critique the same work you critiqued will help you sharpen your own reading skills. As Donne said in the early days of the Renaissance, “No man is an island.” Writers need readers and writers need other writers--so get workshopping!

Friday, July 30, 2010

NewsFlash: iPad Kindle app now has search

After much wait, Version 2.2 of the Kindle app for iPad is available. Search, my favorite, is now available in the iPad version. It's been in the iPhone version a while now. Also included in the update is a dictionary with over 250,000 words. Simply highlight a word, and the definition appears at the bottom of the screen. You are then able to see the full definition of the word or look up the word in google or wikipedia. I found it annoying however that once I returned to the Kindle app after using google to lookup a highlighted word, it didn't return me to the correct location in the book.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

NewsFlash: Third generation Kindle available for pre-order

Amazon announced their third generation kindles at a price point even I am taking notice of. They have the 6" 3G Wireless at $189 and Wi-Fi only at $139. Features include 15% ligher, one month battery life, E-Eink screen has 50% better contrast, double the storage.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

6 Reasons to E-Publish

I've been extolling the virtues of self-published e-books since at least 2007, but the process has only recently gained widespread notice. I wrote my first novel in 2004 and was originally thinking of going the traditional route of finding an agent and hoping a big publisher would pick me up. I wouldn't say no to that route even today, but there are just some aspects of the business that are not very attractive to me. As near as I can tell, all of those aspects are resolved by self-publishing.

Self-publishing still holds some stigma. I am frequently treated to rolling eyes when I mention it to other authors. The truth is that people self-publish their novels all the time. The list of famous self-publishers includes writers like James Redfield, Christopher Paolino, and L. Ron Hubbard (I'm told John Grisham's first novel was initially self-published, but couldn't find a credible source to confirm that).

The following is a short list of the virtues of e-publishing, compiled from all the research I've done and people I've talked to inside and outside of the writing industry.

1. No Slush Pile

If you submit your novel to an agent or publisher without their consent, your work goes on a slush pile. The company or agency will eventually sift through that pile and (hopefully) find your book and like it. The problem is that there's no telling who will read your work, and many times you will not get the editor or agent who should be reading it. One published author told me about the slush pile at a major publishing house being reviewed by college students. Not editors. Not experienced professionals. College students. Not that there's anything wrong with college students, but the general procedure with this particular slush pile was that if they weren't hooked on the story on page one, they'd throw it out. Slush piles like theirs are simply too big and I don't want my book to disappear in one. Self-publishing an e-book has no slush pile. When it's done, you publish it.

2. Time Frame

Let's assume a publisher loves your work and wants to purchase the rights. Great! Now, when does it get into the hands of the readers? Next week? Try years. Possibly as many as three years, depending on the publisher's backlog. The Writer's Market handbook I flipped through had only a handful of publishers who could publish new authors faster than two years. Granted, I'm sure that figure changes often based on several factors, but still... I want readers to have access to my book when it's done, not years later.

3. Creative Control

This is the biggest point with me. I want full creative control. I'm absolutely petrified of some agent or publisher saying "this is great but you should add 20,000 words", or "remove 20,000 words", or "you should replace the main character with a giant inflatable badger". Arbitrary changes like that just make me cringe. It's not that I don't want feedback. That's what workshops and writing groups are for. What I write is not perfect, but I don't want anyone to be able to force me to make changes. Self-publishing, whether it's an e-book or a vanity press, lets me keep full control over the worlds and characters I create. Maybe I'm a control freak. I don't really care what's selling now. I want to tell the story I want to tell without having it tainted by changes to make my writing more popular or mainstream. I'd rather make trends than follow them.

4. Marketing

I've read many stories from authors about the publishing industry. The general consensus is that you get very little help with marketing your first book. Once it becomes a best-seller or gets a good review from someone influential, then you get the publisher behind you, helping out as much as they can. Otherwise, new authors can very easily disappear without that marketing support network. The bottom line is that you have to do most of the legwork yourself. So, if you have to do it all yourself, why not... do it all yourself? Is it possible to succeed this way? Ask James Redfield, author of The Celestine Prophecy, who self-published and sold 100,000 copies from the trunk of his car before being picked up by Warner Books.

5. Cost vs POD

If you get picked up by a big publisher, they pay you an advance and royalties based on sales. If you try to self-publish, it usually costs quite a bit. I've done research on Print-On-Demand (POD) services like Amazon's CreateSpace, Lulu, Booklocker, and iUniverse. As much as I like the idea of holding a copy of my book, it's just too expensive. Most of those services charge you to publish and then leave you with a book that has a retail price of $18 or more. Who's going to pay that much for a paperback from a new, unknown author (well, besides me)? Even with services that have no up-front cost, you can easily end up with a novel that would cost a reader $12 to $14. Going the e-book route, the cost is cut to almost nothing. Services like Lulu and Apple's iBookstore take a cut of the sale price, usually around 15% to 30%. Selling an e-book for as little as $1.99 per copy becomes a cost-effective option.

6. E-Readers

I expect the influx of devices like the Nook, Kindle, and iPad to continue accelerating, and the inevitable price wars between them will make reading e-books an even more common practice. People can read e-books on their computers as well. I've been doing that ever since I discovered Project Gutenberg in 2002 or so.

I originally started writing that last reason as the article summary and spent some time arguing with myself over whether it was a summary or not. Electronic delivery of virtual media is the future. As much as I like holding a book in my hands, I expect them to become rare in my lifetime. Amazon recently announced that their e-book sales finally surpassed physical copies. I don't think there's anything that could prove my point more.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

NewsFlash: Replace my comic book?

I found an interesting article at that talks about digital comic books. I have to admit that the Marvel comic book app is very impressive. I thought the iPad looked better then a printed comic book. I was reading the New Avengers #2 if you care to look for yourself. But it might make it hard to trade or sell for a premium price a few years down the road.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Ebooks, readers and Readercon 21

Readercon 21 was pretty cool. I went to a lot more readings this year, which made it much more interesting. I even went to a panel about carnivorous plants. Hopefully they will make it into a story of mine soon!

The most interesting panel I went to was about ebooks. Cecilia Tan of Circlet Press was the speaker. She was very energetic and knowledgeable about the printed and ebook formats. The impression she gave me, which confirms what I think, was that while ebooks are on the rise, they will not be a replacement for the traditional printed book any time soon. This is not surprising since many people still like the feel of the printed book; you can go into a used book store and pick up an old favorite (something you will not likely ever be able to do with an ebook).

I discovered that many writers seem to dislike the Amazon agreement. Perhaps loathe would be a better word to use. Then there is uploading and formatting that they didn't like. They were more excited, but hardly as excited as I would have thought, about the epub format. There are several gotcha's when trying to use epub. That sounds like good fodder for another blog entry.

I love ebooks; So much so I have stopped buying printed books for a couple reasons. The main reason is that I like having my bookcase in a portable format. I want to be able to study a C++ programming reference book at home, make notes in it, and then bring it to work with me the next day. I also want to be able to bring in my physics book and my AI book. What I don't want is to have to bring a backpack laden with all these books. Hey, I'm not a school boy anymore. I am also tired of moving all my reference books when I move to a new apartment.

Now, let me balance that with why I don't like ebooks. Cost. They are too expensive compared to the printed format. The price is better these days, most notably for technical books. You can usually save between $5 - $10, plus what you save on shipping. Not to mention the time you wait for the book to arrive. If you are like me, you don't like waiting for anything. I like retail stores because I can shop, compare, decide and walk out of the store with my new purchase, all at the same time. There's no wait and no fuss. With an ebook, it is much the same. I can shop, compare, decide and have the book delivered to my reader in seconds.

The predominant ereader at Readercon was by far the iPad. In fact, it was the ONLY reader I saw people carrying around. Even when people were just hanging out, I saw books, laptops and iPads. I wasn't able to ask how much they use the device for reading vs other stuff, like note taking while in the panels.

So what's it going to take to make ebooks more mainstream? I think a shift to a common ebook file format. Like what mp3 did for the music industry. The same magic needs to happen to ebooks. Since its introduction, the iPad has forced changes to the ebook business. It has changed the price model for ebooks and has driven the prices of the Kindle down. Perhaps epub is the next mp3. Perhaps it's something Adobe is offering. Where ever it comes from, if we have a common format, we will all win in the end.

All in all, I think ebooks have their place, and I also think printed books also have there place. My hope is that more books become available in ebook format so my ebook shelf can continue growing.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Book lovers mourn the demise of hardcover books has been selling hardcover books for 15 years, and Kindle books for the last 33 months. On Monday Amazon said that for the last three months, Kindle books have outnumbered sales of hardcover books at a ratio of 143 Kindle books for every 100 hardcover books, including books that have no Kindle edition. Kindle sales are picking up speed too, in the last four weeks sales rose to 180 Kindle books for every 100 hardcover copies. It is said that the $189 price tag is the tipping point for growth.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Greetings and thanks for stopping by to check out our inaugural post.

GPS is a group of speculative fiction writers in the greater Portland, Maine area. They were drawn together by their interest in improving their writing. Now they are expanding to reach out to the writing and reading community at large. Over the next year they will be working on producing an ebook.

We welcome you to regularly check out our content and progress. Progress, that is, on our special project. We are embarking on an e-book venture with an expected pub date of summer 2011.

Why are we experimenting with such new-fangled and debated practices? The industry is changing and we don’t want to be left behind, or shackled by limiting ourselves to the old ways. We view e-publication as an alternative to printed books, not as something that will fully take over any time soon. E-publishing allows the writer to go straight to the reader and gives the author full creative control. It also costs a fraction of the amount to produce and doesn’t take up any room on your bookshelf or in warehouses. With all the new devices and e-readers emerging the world is transitioning to electronic format. So why not us too?

To not be left in the dust of the new book-industry paradigms we aim to start early and get some experience with the technologies that will bring e-books to the world.

As new and unpublished authors--hoping that that changes soon ;)--we are also experimenting with this low-cost, high-yield mode of self publication. We are the street performers of the internet. Creating an e-book and passing around the bucket (or pay-pal link) in hopes that those who see our work will wish to reward us.

Please check back soon for our weekly posts on our discoveries of the technological, legal or writerly sort, or at least maybe for a bit of a story.

We hope you will enjoy reading as our project develops.