Monthly Archives: June 2012

Half-Year Report

Progress reports aren’t as interesting as other types of posts, so I haven’t done a “monthly report” since March.   I think I’m going to stick to doing reports less often, since I’m actually writing fewer posts these days.  When I first started this blog I posted twice or thrice weekly, now I post once a week on Fridays with the occasional second post.

For June, I think I’m going to report on all the progress I’ve made since January.   It’s more exciting this way for everyone involved. It also makes me look better. >.>

From January to June, I have, in no particular order -

  1. Finished parts 1, 2, and 3 of my rough draft of Queen of the Eight Banners novella, (part 4 remains to be completed), and I have a few ideas on how to pursue revisions and publication. Novellas are tricky beasts.
  2. A short story of mine got published at a paying market.  I’ve finished one new story since the beginning of the year. I currently have 4 works on submission, and I’ve brought my submissions’ total up to 18.
  3. I’ve alpha-read two novels, Without A Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal and The Realm of Spirits by Joel Miller.
  4. I wrote an explanatory post on alpha-reading, which, thanks to Mary, went viral.
  5. I applied to be a remote reader for Weronika Janczuk, literary agent.
  6. I launched littletranslator.com and got it functioning.
  7. I started and completed MRK’s Month of Letters in February.
  8. I’ve nearly completed my yearly Goodreads Challenge goal to read 45 new books this year.
  9. I finished a round of preliminary monolingual edits on Andromeda and I’ve begun a more thorough round of bilingual edits.
  10. I attended this year’s LTUE and CONduit, and I got to meet two of my heroines – Mary Robinette Kowal and Tamora Pierce.
  11. I managed to find a way to get myself and a friend to this year’s Worldcon in Chicago. That will start the end of August.

Now for the less impressive part, numbers for April, May, June -

Hours spent: 10.5, 7.5, 10

Words writ: 2k, 1k, 5k


Buying Audiofiction

 

I thought I might do a post all about my love of audiofiction and how to buy it, since the culture and world of audiobooks is so very different from the print and electronic ones.

My love of audiofiction all started in 2007 when I received my first mini mp3 player. I was living in France at the time and had a real hardship finding English-language books at my local bookstores.  This was before the e-book, so the only real access I had was through Audible.com.  I bought a Gold membership, and in exchange for a monthly fee of $20 or so, I could download two audiobooks per month no matter their list price.  I soon latched onto the idea of listening to an audiobook while cleaning my apartment, making dinner, or doing other chores.  I lived alone (and had no TV) and so it staved off both boredom and loneliness.

When I returned to The States, I kept up the audiofiction habit, instead listening to audiobooks by downloading them from my library account as well as Audible while I worked my (mindless) data-entry job.

Now, years later, I have the minimal membership, and I use them as bedtime stories to help with my insomnia. For $10 a year, I have access to Audible’s membership prices on its books, and I receive their e-mail newsletter notifying me for any and all sales.  For example, my latest purchase was the epic fantasy Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss which I bought for about $8 (off the list price of $32 ), totaling 40+ hours of entertainment for less than the price of the paperback ($12).

I should mention here that the normal prices for your average-length audiobook are between $10 and $25, and books generally range between 7 and 16 hours in length.

From this, what are some of the advantages to audiofiction?  The main advantage is that you don’t have to be connected to the story in order to have an adventure. Your hands and eyes can be engaged elsewhere.  Audiobooks are great for artists. They’re great for insomniacs like me and people with tedious jobs. They’re great to listen to while you do chores around the house.  They’re amazing for long car drives.

Think you have no time to read? Guess again.

Another advantage is the narrator. As they say, a great narrator can make a mediocre story amazing, and I’ve found this to be absolutely true. A good narrator can bring all the characters to life in ways the actors in your head perhaps couldn’t and really make you laugh out loud at the funny bits.

The disadvantages are also tied up in the advantages.  A different part of your brain has to be engaged to receive the story than normal.  For example, if you’re a writer, you can’t “listen to an audiobook while you work” on writing.  Otherwise, you have to actively listen to what’s going on around you, though that part of your brain can be trained, especially if the story is interesting. And like an e-book, it’s hard to flip back a few chapters to “check something real fast”, though you can skip backwards by 30 second intervals and browse by chapter.

There is one more thing that you should be aware of. Anything that makes you uncomfortable, whether it be salacious smooching or gory death sequences will be, well, rather prolonged in an audio version. Your ears can’t skip into the future the way your eyes can across the page. There’s no skimming.  Same goes for pacing. If you hate “reading” descriptions, the narrator is going to present them to you whether you like them or not.  (Though you may find descriptions are not so boring when a talented narrator does it, at least.)

Now that you know a little more about audiobooks, here are the rules you must know to buy one.  These may or may not sound like common sense, but I’ve seen a lot of people new to audiobooks make these mistakes, so I’m going to spell them out here.

There are only two rules to buying audiofiction.

1. Always always “preview” the audiobook. Listen to a sample. Do it. If you don’t, you might regret it forever.

No two narrators are created equal. Some narrators will annoy you to no end, and if you don’t like the narrator, you will not be able to finish listening to the book, no matter how well written it is, no matter if it happens to be your favorite book on the planet.

I am dead serious.

Don’t just listen to a few seconds, either. Listen to a few minutes. See how well they can act the various parts.  Do they sound annoyed when the dialogue tag says they should have sounded clueless?  How well can they voice the opposite gender? What’s their distinction between narrator and character voices?

Every “listener” has different tastes. Decide what you like and what you don’t and then listen for that in the preview or sample recording.  And remember, if you don’t like the narrator but still want to read the book, you have plenty of options. ;)

(Also, be aware that classic fiction–basically any book in the public domain–may have multiple narrators to choose from.  Sample a few and pick your favorite.)

2. Remember that audiobooks can be expensive at list price and you can’t resell them.

Check out what your local library’s website has to offer, take advantage of sales, and remember that otherwise this “book” is nonreturnable and nonrefundable.  There is no “used mp3 store” where you can sell a book if you don’t like it. Purchases on a whim are probably not a good idea in the audio department.  Then again, you can’t return or resell e-books, either.

Good luck!

 


Publishing Types

It was mentioned that not everyone who reads my blog understands all the issues surrounding the different types of publication that are available now, such as those I referred to on my post about my career path and goals.  There has also been a lot of hot debate about whether or not a writer who is in charge of their own book publication should be allowed to call his or herself “indie” (short for “independent”).  I thought I’d tackle both subjects here briefly.

Up until 2009 when e-books started becoming a viable reading option, there was a dichotomy in publishing known as “publishing” and “self-publishing”.  In those prior days, nearly everyone was published through a regular book publisher in NY. In order to be published, you first found an agent to represent you and work out a suitable contract with an editor at one of the publishing houses.  The actual publishing process with one of these publishers even now takes years. First your book is accepted, then you go through a series of revisions, line-edits, copy-edits, proofs, and so on. Often you don’t get to choose your cover artist or cover art.

Self-publishing under this system was frowned upon, mostly because self-published books were rarely professionally edited and therefore were poor in quality. Self-publishers wrote a book and published it themselves through a vanity press, so-called because vanity presses publish whatever you give them if you pay them a lot of money upfront. In those days, self-publishers basically had to hand-sell each of their books. Hardly any self-publishers made anything resembling a profit and few managed to sell to anyone but family and friends.

“Indie publishing” as a term actually meant publishing with a small press.  There wasn’t much difference between indie publishing and regular publishing except the choice of who was doing the publishing process for you, where they were located, how many titles per year they published, and how large their staff was.

Now, however, the world has changed.

To differentiate between publishing paths, a new term was coined for the path that everyone took for granted – “traditional publishing”.   At first, this term was met with hostility by the newly-called traditional publishers, but now most seem resigned to it.

The remaining two terms “indie publishing” and “self-publishing” have undergone a revolution as well.  Now small presses, the old “indie publishers”, are feeling resentful that the old “self-publishers” are stealing their title.

Here’s a suggestion on how to differentiate nowadays.

Traditional publishing: Large and small presses that do all behind-the-scenes work in publication except the actual writing.

Indie publishing: Do-it-yourself, entrepreneurial writers who hire seasoned professionals to help them edit, copy-edit, obtain cover art, and so on for their books.  Anyone who does their homework, obtains professional support, but strikes out on an alternative path to the traditional.

Self-publishing: Doing all or most tasks entirely yourself.

I should note that “indie publishing” and “self-publishing” are often used interchangeably, which might be part of the remaining stigma and problem.

Now that I’ve given you a bit of background, hop on over to Kris Rusch’s business post comparing and contrasting traditional and indie publishing.  She also explains why proponents of the two have a hard time understanding each other and getting along.

ETA: I started laughing to myself when I saw her business post this week. (I’d written and queued this post immediately after the tweet that started it all.)  She’s responding to the exact same tweet and blogpost debate as I am, draws many of the same conclusions, but has a lot more experience under her belt. Cue me amused.


E-book Offenders

In light of my annoyance with the recent claims by traditional publishers as regards to quality vs. their repeated eye-offenders in various e-books I’ve encountered produced by them, I posted the following on Twitter and Facebook:

I’m starting a list of publishers who can’t bother to proof-read their e-books. If you want to add to the list, let me know. This includes egregious formatting errors, beyond the normal amount of spelling mistakes, strange word replacements, and so on. Let me know the book and the publisher, so I know not to double up strikes.

I want to state here that I’m not just grousing, I’m pro-active. I’ve already e-mailed publishers to notify them of those e-books on my list, and I am willing to continue to do so to fix the problem.

Please, I’ve talked to many of you and you’ve seen the same trend. If you recall what books they were or if you encounter any more, please tell me. Either here in the comments, via Twitter, G+, Facebook note, or e-mail.

Tell me the title, who it’s by, and a general diagnosis of the problem. I can do the rest.

Here’s to improving the world, one e-book at a time.


Anti-Discouragement Pill

Last year I got really discouraged with my rough-draft writing.  I wanted whatever I was writing to come out exactly the way I wanted it to go on the first try.  In other words, I didn’t want writing to be a process, I wanted it to be the equivalent of spilling a perfect story out onto the page.   Granted, some of my frustration was illness-based.  I have a lot less control over my process now than I used to.

However, one day as I was musing over my frustrations, I realized something that has become quite a useful observation for me.  I realized that any form of art never spills perfectly onto the page on the first go. In fact, the process of drawing, painting, or other art forms is just that–a process.  Why should I expect my writing to be any different?  When I draw, first I do a thumbnail sketch, then a preliminary pencil sketch with various amounts of erasing and redrawing. Then I wait a few days or draw something different so I can have a fresh view.  Then I ink, then I apply markers, and so on.  Nothing skips magically from my head onto the sketchbook page.

Writing is the same.  Whether you’re an “outliner” or a “discovery writer”, no rough draft is ever the final draft. Ever.  There is always something to tweak or make better. Sometimes you have to completely erase and “redraw” a section so that it comes closer to how you want it to go, and so on.

As soon as I realized that writing is a cousin to drawing, I instantly felt better. However, I’ve found some difficulty trying to explain my epiphany to others. So, in April when I was working on a watercolor experiment with the help of a friend, I took progress shots, and now I’m sharing them with you.

Here we go!

Step Zero- Initial Idea.

This is all in your mind. Some of it is vague, some of it is crystal clear and longing to be captured “just so”.   You hope, just like every other time, that what you’re able to put on paper will match what’s in your head.

Step One – Thumbnail sketch.

Thumbnails, because they’re vague in parts, detailed in others, tend to capture your Initial Idea better than the steps following it. This can be a subject of frustration.

Step Two – Pencil sketch.

I didn’t take a photo of just the pencils, but you can see them here, lightly drawn, getting the basic shapes of what I want.  Even just this first step took some erasing and redrawing to get the shapes closer to how I wanted them. Already there was some disappointment in how the sketch differed from thumbnail and my Initial Idea, but I kept going.

Thumbnail + Pencil Sketch

Step Three – Basic background.

Sketching with paint, is more like it. Trying to get a feel for how the background should function behind the foreground.

Basic Background

Step Four – More depth.

More Depth

Hesitating, Considering

Step Five – Going All Out & Taking Risks.

I really didn’t know how to go from Step 4 to Step 5. How do you fill in a background with color and shapes so that it will function as a sort of hazy background and not detract from the foreground when it’s a finished piece? Yeah, I didn’t know. I badgered a friend (who knows a lot more than I do) with questions. I hesitated and considered for a long time. Then, gathering all my newly-acquired instructions, I made the plunge with crossed fingers and bated breath. Sometimes, we really don’t know what we’re doing or how to achieve the effects we want. But we try anyway and tell ourselves that if we break it, we can still fix it. The point is not to give up but to keep moving forward–and ask for help.

Fleshed-out Background

Step Six – Color correction.

The background turned out too blue for my liking. I have a huge dislike for blue and pink wildflower fields that certain impressionists have done. So I sought help again and tried a wash of yellow over it. Lines blurred more than I liked, but at least the grass is green again. I also tried my hand at some underpainting on the fairy. I didn’t do it quite right, but there was no harm to my attempt, and now I know better.

A Greener Spring

Step Seven – The Faerie & The Poppy.

More painting, and then I brought out my watercolor pencils  for the foreground, which I enjoy working with.   I ended up spilling orange paint on the wing, however, and was unsuccessful at blotting it all up, so it became an accidental feature of the piece. I freaked out at the time, but besides drifting further away from my Initial Idea, there was no lasting harm or foul, and I adapted the mistake to make it work with the rest of the picture.  (Remember how this can apply to writing?)

The Faerie & The Poppy

Step Eight – Flattening, Inks, Details.

Next, my watercolor paper was curling, so I learned the technique to straighten the paper and did that overnight.  Then I inked the foreground to make it pop more from the background, and added the finer details.  I inked with a migraine at the time, so since I could barely see, my hand strayed many times from where I wanted it to go. Each time I made a mistake, I tried to adapt it so it appeared like something I did on purpose.

Flattening, Inks, Details

Here’s a  close-up:

Close-up

Summary: The whole process took me about a month from start to finish. I worked on it off and on, weighing each step, trying to figure out how to get the piece closer to how I wanted it to go since most of the time I just didn’t know, and seeking help when I needed it.  The process would have gone much faster if I knew more of what I was doing, but the process itself: the thumbnail sketch, sketching and erasing till I had what I wanted, the layering and tweaking of colors, waiting for things to dry before I moved to the next portion, asking for help and a more professional opinion, the final detail work, and adapting to my many mistakes–this doesn’t change.


Medieval Weaponry

I’ve been meaning to write up my notes from last year’s WorldCon medieval weapons demonstration that Eytan Kollin did.  But while I figure out a good way to do that, why don’t you watch an episode of Conquest about “The Bow & Arrow”?  Conquest is an amazing show that ran about ten years ago where each episode focused on a specific type of fighting or weaponry with a very hands-on approach to its history.

If you’re ever going to have anyone shoot a bow and you don’t have the means to try it yourself, watch this.


Career Path

I’ve had a few questions on what I think about traditional publishing vs. indie publishing vs. self-publishing, what I’m planning on doing, what I think is sensible to do in this “new age of publishing” and so on.  Since I’ve had so many conversations about it, I thought I might as well spill it onto my blog.

First off, I want to say I am a huge fan of the hybrid approach to publishing. Instead of dissing one or the other, I prefer to see the pros and cons of each route and pick my path based on the project I have in mind, rather than sticking to just one or the other.

For example,

Short fiction. Route: Magazines, Anthologies, &c.

I don’t see the need to self-publish any of my short stories unless they’re tie-ins to a series or they happen to be a collection of previously published works.  I write short stories for practice, mostly because I’ve never excelled at them, but also because I want to get accustomed to trying my best, submitting, and getting rejected.  Those first rejections are always the hardest, but afterwards it’s like building up an immunity:  you can pick yourself up more easily and try again, knowing that it’s “just part of the process”.    I write short stories to learn and experiment–but also to toughen myself up so I can survive in a professional world.

(I should mention that I’ve decided not to pursue Writer’s of the Future contest.  Though it’s a great career-builder and it awards a lot of money, the idea of flying by myself to Hollywood and staying for a week-long intensive workshop just doesn’t appeal to me right now.  I’d much rather support healthy people’s attempts at winning the contest because I know they will enjoy it and it will be more beneficial to them.)

Novels. Route: Traditional agent + publisher.

After much thought, research, and consideration, I’ve decided to stick to submitting my first novels to traditional imprints, small and large, and  yes, I’ll also submit to agents.  I say this knowing full well what the consequences and risks are, but for the first four novels that I complete, I’ll be submitting along this route. Why? Well, my main reason is quality.  Though I’ve written extensively in the past twelve years, I have yet to complete and revise a full novel, and I want to be sure that a) it’s publishable, b) there’ll be a good team to help me, and c) I’m not deluding myself about its potential to capture hearts other than my own.  There’s also the issue of the money which I would have to fork out in advance were I to publish everything myself–and time. I’m a slow writer, especially with my illness, so slow publishing schedules aren’t a ball-and-chain for me.

I might as well list what those first four novels will be, since we’re on the topic.  The first two are set in the same world and function as an intertwining duology: The Witch’s Tower and God’s Arrows.  They each could stand alone or be read in any order, but I’d prefer them to be read and published in this order.  Publishers prefer standalone books from unpublished writers, so I took that into account when I designed their plots and overarching structure.  However, I lack confidence about Book One’s marketability. I haven’t seen anything like it on the shelves, ever, so we’ll see what happens.

The next book would be my historical mystery set in 1810 Strasbourg.  If I ever got a master’s in creative writing, this would be my thesis.  I’m currently gathering research for it, but the protagonist begs to be written, so I must answer her call sooner rather than later. Yes, she bumped her book further up the queue.

Then the last book on this path would be to finish Otherside, which starts a trilogy.  If Otherside is rejected by one and all, I would have to reevaluate my goals and decisions and where to go from there.  Until then, I’m going to keep my fingers out of the self-publication pool.  Time and experience gifted by writing these four will help me know what to do, I’m thinking.  But since no one has much success from a single self-published book, there’s really no point in trying anything but the traditional path until I’ve written more.

Literary Translation. Route: Self-publishing/Indie publishing.

Now here’s where I’m going to straddle the line.  Traditional publishers have very little to offer literary translators, especially in The States.  I know there are a few small presses that specialize in translated works, and of course there are university presses, but everything that is produced at these houses is expensive to buy and hard to find.  Thanks to the e-book this has the potential to change, and I don’t mind forking over time, effort, and money to create something that has yet to exist or to change some part of the world that I think is in dire need of a good fix.   I’m also a lot more confident in my ability to produce quality work here, or to put together a team to help me do so.  I don’t expect to make tons of money at it, since changing a culture is an up-hill battle, but I do believe that I can make it so “availability” and “price” are never an issue.  I intend to self-publish versions for e-book readers, offer print editions, and make copies available in various libraries.

My plan is to translate works dating from the 17th century onwards into the 19th Century.  I’d really like to translate fun, then-popular works that my heroine in my 1810 historical can refer to, and I’ll be taking her literary tastes as half of my guide on what to translate.   I already have a few things on my radar of what to translate next, including Persinette, the French version of Rapunzel.

- – -

(When my body decides to recover from its chronic illness, I’ll have to add a regular day-job to my career path, but I won’t go into those thoughts here.)


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