Tag Archives: publishing

“What Do You Write?”, or The Genre Prison

I just recently read one of those articles about how the “new wave” of self-publishers “must” act, and it left me rolling my eyes. It said, instead of just writing, editing, and publishing something, and then working on a social media platform/blog, you should do it the other way around: blog first, become popular (literally, that was the whole step–oh, ok!), hope you still have time for the book you originally wanted to write.

I’ve seen that advice before, but today it just made me eyeroll particularly hard (because of course it’s as easy as “get popular.” Gag me). The advice was further to pick what you were going to write about–presumably the same thing that is your future book topic–and then write extensively on that narrow subject.

Now, don’t get me wrong, that totally works for some people. I met a woman at a conference who started her blog about kids’ photography, and it led to a book deal and stuff. Great. But guess what? She didn’t start the blog so she could eventually write a book; she started the blog because she wanted to be a blogger.

Anyway, back to the “write about one topic a lot” thing: most broadly, that means writing about a specific genre. But I think that’s locking yourself into a prison for no good reason: so your first book ends up being a steampunk romance, great, but what if you want to do a sci-fi horror for the second one? Do you have to spin off a totally different blog? Start all over again? Insanity!

Besides, sometimes the genre is stupidly hard to define. That’s one of the biggest problems with Undead Rising. What genre is it? It’s got zombies, so that’s sometimes horror, even though it’s maybe PG-13 level scary. Zombies are also supernatural, so it kinda fits in that arena. But it’s also funny, so does that make it humor? Except it turns out, weirdly, that most humor books are nonfiction, so that isn’t exactly a good fit. It’s a gamebook, which is awesome, except it’s a genre completely dominated by children’s books from the 1970s and that’s not exactly a section most people are familiar with… so what, exactly, would my one-genre blog be about?

I guarantee you if I had to talk exclusively about zombies, this blog would have died a long time ago.

The conventional publishing wisdom is contradictory here, too. Officially, you pick a genre and you just write in that genre until your hands fall off. It used to be if you wanted to write in a different genre, your publisher would frown on that and your new stuff wouldn’t be published; you were only “known” in one arena. Except… if you got famous, then it was back to whatever you wanted, apparently. All my favorite authors right now may be best known for a certain thing, but they cross genres at will, following whatever they are interested in: Neil Gaiman (comics, children’s books, YA, adult novels); Brad Meltzer (historical fiction, superhero comics, children’s picture books); Margaret Atwood (dystopian fiction that she likes to call literary fiction, short stories, fantasy); and Jim Butcher (urban fantasy, role playing games, comic books, steampunk).

So I say….write what you want. Following your passion is far more interesting and more likely to keep you motivated. Who cares what the box is supposed to be? Just go for it. Make the box fit you, not the other way around.

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Wil Wheaton and Working For Free

Wil Wheaton is awesome

This guy knows what’s up.HuffPost has gone and stepped in it, big time: they asked Hollywood star and geek icon Wil Wheaton if they could repost a blog he wrote, with the total payment being zilch, nothing, nada.

And he got mad. And he got mad to his 3 million Twitter followers, plus a bunch of folks who’ve now seen it second-hand. (Here’s the full post.) And now HuffPost has its pants around its ankles.

Here’s some of what Wil said:

“…it’s the principle of the thing. Huffington Post is valued at well over fifty million dollars, and the company can absolutely afford to pay contributors. The fact that it doesn’t, and can get away with it, is distressing to me.”

What’s pathetic is not just that HuffPost thought “extend your reach” was going to sound remotely appealing to someone like Wil Wheaton, which is just laughable, but that the company, as a policy, does not EVER pay its contributors. You know, the people without whom there would be no HuffingtonPost.

This isn’t the first time, by far, artists have been asked to work for free. I bet you could find a request in your city right now on Craigslist to submit work gratis for some “worthy” project or another. And it’s sad; it deeply undervalues creators of all kinds. I tell high school and college students to never do unpaid internships for the same reason: if you’re not being paid, you’re not being appreciated, and you’re not being treated as an equal. It’s just not worth it, most of the time.

That said, there are times when it makes some sense to work for free, or at least to offer free submissions. My article on APracticalWedding (reposted to Refinery29) was something I wrote on my own and submitted as a free article. But I knew from the outset that APracticalWedding.com did not pay for articles (which means Refinery29 did get a bargain, but I was grateful for the boost). I knew that post was free work, but it was something I really wanted to talk about, because I had a genuine interest in helping other people who may be in a similar situation, and because I read APracticalWedding so often that I felt, in a way, that I needed to give back somehow. So I’m completely at peace with that decision.

But the situation with Huffington Post is different. What do you think? Would you write for them for free?

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How to Not Get Sued for Copyright Infringement: 1 Easy Step

You’ve heard you need to have lots of cool, enticing images to lure people over to your blog, to keep attention, to share on social. But… are you opening yourself up to a lawsuit?

dramatic-hamster

It’s okay. No need to panic. But you do need to exercise caution and prepare yourself. Luckily, it’s easy.

You’re more than welcome to use just about any image you find online. What you are not allowed to do is steal any image you find online.

How do you know if you’re stealing? Well–did you tell anyone where you found the image? If you didn’t, it’s possible it’s stolen, and you could possibly, maybe get sued.

The likelihood of a lawsuit depends on what you’re doing with the image, what the image is, and how much the image owner cares. For example, if you’ve taken an image of Mickey Mouse and are selling your book by putting Mickey Mouse on it, you can fully, 100% expect to have Disney come pound on your door. If you make an adult-themed novel with Mickey Mouse on the cover and are giving it away, expect Disney to get you a lawsuit forthwith. But if you’re just putting an animated logo from Disney on your blog, you’re okay!

Disney logo

What’s the difference? A) You’re not making money off of it, B) it’s very clear you aren’t claiming you own any part of the logo, and C) the nature of blogs is transient and you’re unlikely to get a lot of attention or be a worthy target.

If you’re not sure if something is okay to post, there are two things you can do:

  1. Ask someone for permission first. This is particularly important with anything physical and permanent that you hope you make any kind of money on. That includes any images, portions of a song or poem, lines from a famous story, etc. It’s possible a short amount of text will be covered under the “Fair Use” doctrine, but it’s vague and a little hard to define and you probably just would be better not dealing with a lawsuit. Ask for permission first.
  2. Cite your sources. Come on, I know you know how to do this. Everyone had to write some kind of formal paper in school at some point or another. But when the internet came along and we had this endless list of images right at our fingertips, it got easier and easier to just copy something you found randomly.

That’s my main point. If you want to use an image or a paragraph or two from something you liked in your blog (something you give away for free and that is transient by nature), cite your sources. The prime way is to just…link back to the original. A link, in terms of Search Engine Optimization (or SEO), is one of the top ways a site develops a positive reputation in the search engines. When you link to a source for something cool, you’re signaling to Google & co that that place has good material. That helps them and you won’t get in trouble for stealing content.

See? It’s easy.

A little extra advice: really common things, like viral memes (like my dramatic gopher up there) probably have the original source buried in time. They just get picked up and run with. You’re okay on that. For similar reasons, you’re probably also okay on any TV or movie gifs or images you use on a blog. Just don’t try to sell them or you will be in trouble. If you find a cool image, photo, or illustration from something more niche, definitely cite your sources. Try to avoid finding images at “free” stock image places that look disreputable or from a forum–odds are good that they were stolen from somewhere else, and you’re the one who could be caught holding the bag. If you’re really worried about it, just take your own photos or sign up for a stock image site for your image needs. It’s better than a DMCA notice or a cease and desist letter, for sure.

 

 

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Thanks to ‘Sad Puppies,’ Hugo Awards Were a Mess

This year’s prestigious Hugo Awards were far more dramatic than usual, and not for any good reason. In case you haven’t been following the hoopla, the long and the short of it is that a group of (white, male) writers who felt that white, male authors’ stories about space marines weren’t getting enough attention through a hissy fit and manipulated the awards to try to get awards for people and stories they deemed more acceptable.

And, it didn’t work: None of the people the self-named “Sad Puppies” put forward won.

Wired has an outstanding article about it: Who Won Science Fiction’s Hugo Awards, And Why It Matters. You should go read it right now.

Some particularly salient quotes:

“Would sci-fi focus, as it has for much of its history, largely on brave white male engineers with ray guns fighting either a) hideous aliens or b) hideous governments who don’t want them to mine asteroids in space? Or would it continue its embrace of a broader sci-fi: stories about non-traditionally gendered explorers and post-singularity, post-ethnic characters who are sometimes not men and often even have feelings?”

It’s crazy that it’s even an argument.

“Not a single Puppy-endorsed candidate took home a rocket. In the five categories that had only Puppy-provided nominees on the ballot—Best Novella, Best Short Story, Best Related Work, and Best Editor for Short and for Long Form—voters instead preferred ‘No Award.'”

Honestly, as glad as I am that the rigged votes didn’t result in wins, I feel terrible for those authors. In fact for all the authors on this years’ ballot. It’s hard to know the exact effect of the Sad Puppies’ campaign, and therefore hard to tell which authors had a groundswell of deserved support and how many were picked just because someone didn’t like the other guy (or gal). How terrible that such an incredible award should be tainted. And how sad that so many categories resulted in a “No Award” this year, when I’m sure there are many deserving authors who got either locked out by the manipulated ballot or tainted by the Puppies’ touch.

I sincerely hope the Hugo folks manage to figure out a way to improve the voting process to make this better next year and going forward, but I feel certain that this culture shift (and resulting puppy-pooping) is not going to go away overnight.

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5 Secrets About Literary Agents

One of the best things about attending a writers’ conference is it is a great way to meet literary agents…and demystify them a bit. Here are the top 5 secrets I learned about them:

1. They tend to work odd hours. The number one takeaway I got from the conference was to write a query letter as if the reader is half-asleep…because they very well may be. The agents I met were workaholics, ad several admitted to reading queries late into the night, before bed. That makes it a little trickier to grab their attention, so keep it simple!

2. There are bad times to solicit them. Of course, this doesn’t just mean when they’re in the bathroom (but don’t do that!). Certain times of year tend to be trickier to get their attention: in the summer months, they’re taking vacations (along with everyone else!) and many are also out of the office in December. Don’t send your manuscript on January 1! Wait until mid-month, when the flow of queries from authors who didn’t get this advice will have tapered off.

3. Some really like self-publishing. We sometimes imagine that self-publishing and getting a literary agent are entirely opposing ideas, but the agents at the conference really didn’t think so! While not all of them would accept a self-published author, they all admitted that there are some genres, stories, and situations where self-publishing is a better route, and many said they would take on self-published clients.

4. They work really hard. These folks…wow. They are a devoted bunch. They all really seemed to genuinely want to see more books published (and not just because it means a revenue stream for them, too). They are people who like books, at heart. (One woman I met was a member of three different book clubs!) Which is good, because they have to read a lot of books, and queries, and manuscripts to do their jobs right. Sometimes (angry) authors can push the idea that agents are evil, book-hating gatekeepers who just want to keep an author down, but that definitely didn’t seem true.

5. They are all different. Shocking, I know, but there isn’t exactly a literary agent hive mind. There are similarities, because they are all doing the same job, but what appeals to Agent A just may not resonate with agents B, C, and D, and vice versa. That can make our job as writers seeking to court them tricky, but it also means that all those rejections may not at all be personal. So keep trying.

What “secrets” have you learned about literary agents? 

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Your Amazon Author Central Page

Amazon is an excellent tool for selling your book, but it isn’t necessarily intuitive. There are completely different sites for print books (createspace.com) and ebooks (kdp.amazon.com), and then there is a different site to craft your author tools. It took me six months to realize I wasn’t using their author tools! I figured I’d write it up to save y’all the same embarrassment.

Amazon Author page interface

Amazon Author page interface

First, find the site. I had to Google it. You can also click through one of your favorite books, and click on the author name, then scroll down to find the “are you an author?” link. You’re looking for https://authorcentral.amazon.com.

If you are already selling your books through an Amazon platform, it should be easy to connect your name to your book. It’s an easy-to-follow interface, and won’t take very long.

You’ll fill in a short biography, and it’s a good idea to add your author photo. Bonus points if you have other photos or videos that will help readers connect with you as a person, but you have to work within your comfort zone. Connect your blog and Twitter* feed, and it’ll give readers just one more chance to follow you. You may need to look up exactly how to find your blog’s RSS feed, but once again Google is your friend there.

This is what it will look like when you’re done (and it’s been approved by Amazon).

amazon author page

As we know, connection with readers is critical! The author page is a fantastic, free way to connect the dots. Don’t make the same mistake I did!

There are a lot of other tools back in there, including a sales chart, your sales rank against all other books in Amazon’s stock, your current author rank, and an easy snapshot of all the Amazon customer reviews of your books. I mean, seriously, how did I miss the memo on these? They’re great to have access to, finally!

Do you use Amazon’s author page tools? What’s your favorite feature?

*Note: Amazon’s having some kind of dispute with their tweet provider, so tweets aren’t currently uploading, but it’ll resolve sooner than later.

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Charlaine Harris on Success

Image from Wikipedia

Image from Wikipedia

The keynote speaker at this year’s DFW Writers’ Convention was Charlaine Harris, the New York Times bestselling author most known for her Sookie Stackhouse novels (which subsequently became the True Blood TV phenomenon).

She just absolutely adorable.
Ms. Harris seems like everything I’d like in the sweet neighbor next door: a grandma who bakes cookies on the regular but also is more than willing to slip you a bottle of booze after a hard day. She was sharp and funny and seemed so lovely; I wish I’d gotten to speak to her personally. At the very least, I’ve bought the first novel in her series as a tribute!
Ms. Harris gave a short speech about her life’s work before opening the floor to questions. She talked about how difficult it was to write as a parent (“I wanted to have kids, but I just had to write. You make it work.”), about where her ideas come from (“I don’t know. They’re just there!”), and on the tenacity it takes to be a writer.
But the part that stuck with me most were her comments on her success. She said, “I still haven’t read On Writing or any other writing book, because I’m too afraid I’ll find out I’ve been doing it wrong all this time.”
Wow.
This woman has published a passel of books, literally just laughed when asked if an agent ever said she couldn’t do something, and yet still has that crippling fear of “doing it wrong.” It’s comforting to know that insecurity doesn’t have to be a barrier; it’s just something you work with and through.
She also said there’s an award she’d like to win…but fully expects never to be able to. She’s so accomplished in many ways—she’s the writer dream achieved!—but she still has goals she feels are unattainable.
And finally, she talked about failure, about how you just have to take it and barrel on anyway. She said she’s been dropped by publishers before…but you just can’t let that stop you. Having kids while writing was hard…but you can’t let that stop you. Your book may not sell…but you can’t let that stop you.
It was very powerful to me to “meet” this unassuming, very inspiring, dogged determined, funny lady who happens to be a literary powerhouse. I hope to have her tenacity and humor.
 
Which authors inspire you? How do you get through the insecurity and the bad days?

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