Thursday, March 31, 2011

Short Distractions...

I like short films. They clock in under 20 minutes, so they make a nice break. Here’s this weeks favorite, BLINKY. I love how the robot’s face doesn’t change but depending on context, it is cute, then sad, then scary:

Also, for something sweeter, here’s Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing if you haven’t seen it. Check out the website (slow loading but worth it):

The Lost Thing - Oscar Awards 2011 for best animated short film from carrotive on Vimeo.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Why Writers Need Indifferent Beta-Readers and Thick Skins

The unfortunate author implosion online that's been circling needs no more linkage, but the situation does prompt me to talk about something ever writer needs, especially self-published ones who don't have a publishing staff: an indifferent beta-reader:

By indifferent, I mean someone who doesn't love or like you personally unless you both can separate your personal feelings from the task at hand: understanding why your work might suck.

A short side story: I had a job where I wrote letters for my boss. I'd print out the letter, hand it to him and ask him to proofread it. Every few months, he would become impatient and snap, "I don't understand why there are typos in this. You're a writer." And I always replied, "That's why I asked you to proofread."

Every writer needs someone to look at their work--whether its one page or an entire book (especially if it's an entire book). The classic reason is that we are too close to our work. We know what we wanted to say. We thought we wrote that. We read what we wanted to say regardless of what's on the page.

There are at least two reasons why this happens: a) we've all seen that chain email that pionts out taht our barins are good at unsrcbmaling mispleled wrods, rihgt? Well, we're even better at doing it to our own words, and b) writers don't read their own work, they remember it. When we read, we don't see the words on the page. We hear the words in our head and assume those words are on the page.

So, at the least, we need proofreaders (It's a real live profession, actually).

The other reason we need indifferent beta-readers---and thick skin--is that we benefit from honest feedback, but we need to take it. It makes our work better. It is hard to hear someone say your work isn't, well, working. A good beta-reader should understand what you're trying to do, understand grammar and syntax, understand paragraph structure and book structure, and understand that they have to convey that information to a delicate ego. One person doesn't have to do all that--you can use one person for story reaction (i.e., someone who you think is in your intended audience) and someone else who knows their way around a red pen. You don't have to do everything a beta-reader says, either, but the feedback will help you justify why you did what you did.

And it's okay to be wrong. You just have to move on from it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Another Electronic Brick in the Wall

The coincidence of Amanda Hocking, the successful ebook author, signing with a print publisher and Barry Eisler, the successful print author, going the full ebook route presents a different angle in the usual ebook arguments. Kate Richardson hits on many of the same points I would make--that the decision of how and with whom authors publish is a business decision, but also an editorial one and, of course, a writerly one.

As someone who finds it hard enough to write without getting distracted, the idea of epublishing on my own gives me anxiety. Despite claims to the contrary (by folks who have, frankly, no idea), it's a lot of work. I do want to try it at some point, but I find myself grappling with catch-22s everywhere I turn. So, it's easy to sit back, let my print publisher handle it and let the dust settle some more. Today. Tomorrow, who knows?

If you look at what Kat, Barry and Amanda actually say---you'll notice an aspect of the ebook discussion that doesn't always get a lot of play. Namely, it's a business decision for writers, which means there are going to be as many reasons to publish one way or another as there are writers. It's not just about new tech or evil gatekeepers or presumed inevitabilities.

Amanda has been successful with ebooks, but she recognizes she can reach more readers with print right now with the added bonus of less non-writing work. Barry sees a financial model that, on paper (!), looks better for him. And Kat sees benefits in working with a print team that she doesn't have to build independently (i.e., editing, marketing and a sales force). They are all making trade-offs in their careers that they hope will benefit those careers. You'll also notice none of them say they will never never change. Barry and Amanda are testing the water with new approaches. Kat (like me) is happy to let the whole mess sort itself out a little more. Whether they succeed or fail is their decision--and they're all the right decisions. For now.

As for me, I'm somewhere between Barry and Kat. I see the magic numbers, but I also like having someone else worry about and help with a lot of stuff. I'll probably dabble with an independent ebook, but right now I have a proposal out with my agent and I'll be more than happy to evaluate offers.

Because at the end of the day, as much as I love doing this writing thing, I also have to manage my time and money. Like everyone else.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


When it comes to writing, I’m a stretch runner. I sit and think and tinker for ages, then have a burst of word count upage. As I approach my delivery deadlines, I usually realize I have the last third of my novel still in my head—written, but in my head—and not a word on screen. Panic sets in, but it’s part of the process for me. Words start going down. Page count goes up. Surprises come up in the transition from brain to document. And then one night, usually around 2 a.m., I lean back in my chair and realize I’m finished. I like it. I like putting the pressure on this way, but the moment I hit that send button on the email to my editor, I’m brain mush.

So, here I sit with my mushy brain. Nap? Surf the internet? Write another book immediately? Look for a corporate job? Uh…uh...nap?

This is that moment where I think about all those articles I’ve read about new life phases. You know---someone gets to a point in his life when he’s conquered his job and realizes all his major life goals are settled and he needs something new so he chucks it all to open a swim-with-the-dolphins school in Costa Rica.

I hate that guy.

That’s something you don’t just do. There’s tons of planning involved and never mind the fact that I’m not a retired stockbroker with lots of cheetos in the bank. And let’s not even get into how hard it must be to find dolphins who speak English in Costa Rica.

So, what to do, what to do. 

Hey! I see a couch!