Thursday, January 31, 2013

Problem Solving

Today is inspirational-post day! Because I'm feeling inspired. And inspirational. And...and...I have a lot to do, including studying up and preparing myself for an interview tomorrow afternoon. All of you potential-writers / job-seekers out there: it can be done. Just keep working, trying, and building your skill set, as well as your confidence and optimism. Skepticism and cynicism may be good for realism, but past that they do no good whatsoever. Cup half full over cup half empty any day, for me.

Meditate, then, on this quote:
"Happiness is not the absence of problems but the ability to deal with them."~Jack Brown
A brief summary of an article (I was somehow unable to access the full html link error, I believe) really encompasses, I think, just how I'm feeling at the moment. I'm looking at a lot of different job locations and career paths as I search for a means of providing for myself, so the question of will I be happy? really pops up frequently. Happy versus fed. Happy versus not living under a bridge. It can be a delicate balance between finding a place that is meaningful (aka won't drive you utterly insane) and adhering to the idea that beggars can't be choosers. One must understand that one is worth something, and therefore you can afford to be picky. But you also have to be willing to do and try activities and careers outside of your realm of 'perfect job where you sit at home eating Doritos and writing your million-dollar books.
I know. That'd be awesome.
The article states that through a study at Harvard, author Shawn Achor
"found that only 45 percent of workers surveyed were happy at their jobs. From his experience designing a course on happiness, working with Fortune 500 companies across 42 countries, and restarting the world's largest banks after the economic collapse, Achor concludes, 'Most people believe that success leads to happiness, but that formula is backwards. The truth is that happiness is the precursor to success. When you raise your happiness, you raise your success rates and increase productivity.'"
The point is, your success and your happiness do not need to be linked. You don't need to be making six figures in order to be happy. You could be dirt poor-- as many of us I know are --and still be blissfully happy. It's about thankfulness, respect, peace, faith, and never taking for granted the blessings that we have, and there are many of them, many that we don't think about on a daily basis. Being happy can lead to success, instead-- happiness is more pleasant to be around. Happiness can be translated into confidence. Happiness can lead to gratefulness which can lead to contentment.

And contentment can lead to Doritos.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Do Your Research

Charles Dickens once wrote a character named Thomas Gradgrind in his tenth novel "Hard Times". He was a utilitarian, straightforward, pompous, unimaginative chap. His motto very well might have been Fact, Fact, Fact. Never fancy anything. Be absorbed with the facts.

This is an entirely improper mindset for a writer of any kind-- even a writer of nonfiction-- to be obsessed with. You must fancy everything. If you don't fancy anything, then you will never write anything of any interest to anyone.

But research is key. Whether you're writing a historical fiction or a memoir or studying who you should send your novel to, you need to research.

For one, if you're writing a story that takes place in the late 18th century England, as I am, you need to know that electricity wasn't used in common households at that time, not even in a rudimentary way. You need to know that aspen trees are found in the south and southwest of England and can be known as a 'quaking asp'. It would be useful to research the Treaty of Paris, signed in 1783, that concluded the war in the New World. You need to know that English sentiments towards the just-concluded American Revolutionary war was of shock and surprise. The commonwealth at the time had just as highly perched taxes and couldn't imagine why anyone would complain. They were also surprised that they had lost, and merchants were rather ruffled because this meant a loss in profits due to higher taxes on everything.

This research extends beyond the actual writing of the book. I've mentioned before in my post on Agents how important knowing exactly what an agent does and does not accept is. The same is true for publishers. If you are going for the big house straight off the bat, you'd better know what they are looking for. Don't send your adult murder mystery to a children's publisher. Yes. I've seen this happen.

Publishers are beginning to do their research too as new digital and media opportunities make that more accessible. Data is staring to pour out of the eaves as surveys and 'like' buttons on Facebook reveal what readers want and where they think they can get it. Publishers Weekly released an article on this topic last week, entitled "How Publishers Are Taking Advantage of New Opportunities." If publishers are taking advantage of new opportunities, it's up to writers to know what they are and how they will affect us.

It's all about Data.
"'Data' has been a buzzword in publishing for a while now, and industry experts delved into the opportunities that it can provide. Osprey Group’s CEO Rebecca Smart said that Osprey expanded beyond military history into science fiction because of data that indicated readers of military history and readers of science fiction overlapped. From there, Osprey acquired sci-fi imprint Angry Robot from HarperCollins in 2010, and has further expanded with a YA sci-fi imprint: Strange Chemistry."
What does this tell us? It tells us that the basic genres belonging to a certain publishing house are no longer cut and dry. A publisher that advertises itself solely as military history and nonfiction could now possibly be open to science fiction as well. And a science fiction publisher could expand into young adult. It's dangerous to presume, so be careful-- do your research. Look at the list of home-authors, look at the catalogue, research articles and commentary by the CEO of the publishing house, look at the advertising and website of the publishing house if they have it. Request physical copies of their catalogue if possible, and even read the books on that list. All of these things (and more) can really consume your time so that when you're ready, you can send to the most cohesive list of publishers possible.

Of course, what is the first problem that comes from what I just told you to do? Time. If you spend all of your time researching and none of it writing, your research will be in vain. Likewise, if you spend all of your time writing book after book after book with no thought to doing the work behind the publishing, you will have a pretty hefty hard drive and no real hopes of having it go anywhere. You have to balance your time as you would balance a budget.

Speaking of budgets, this new data also gives writers a new kind of hope and delight in the coming years for publishing.
"Panelists said data can help broader things like midlist titles; Random House’s Nina Von Moltke stated that because data is so much deeper now, it can tell publishers what works and what doesn’t, which allows budgets to be more effectively allocated."
Midlist titles are books that fill in the majority of a publishing house's catalogue but may not be best sellers or a celebrity writer. There is nothing wrong with being a midlister, though we all shoot for New York Times listing. And if there is more money for midlisters, that means more potential money for first time or minor writers. That means more money for more books as publishers narrow in on their strategy and make their budgeting smarter. More money where it needs to go.

In theory, anyway.

What we need to remember, in the end, is that
"When it comes to marketing, it’s easy to get caught up in shiny new technological opportunities, but panelists throughout the day at DBW emphasized that content is, and always will be, king."
Whether in terms of your book, your publishing, your research-- content is king. Do it right and do it well. Write your book with all of your heart, and do the analytical study that comes with. You could have the longest book or the most well-researched pile of potentials, but if you don't concentrate on the content of the whole package, the publishers who are concentrating will send you a nice, uninteresting form letter.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Bookstores and Libraries

Good evening all! Everyone surviving the rain in the Atlanta area? There are rumors of snow on the horizon. All I can think is, why oh why aren't I in bed with a fuzzy blanket and a cup of tea, nestled with my delightful book and nothing to do? Possibly with a yummy snack and the crackle of a fireplace, the lights bright enough to read by but dim enough to give a woozy, comfy feeling.

Yeah. Like that.

So here's a cool website I just stumbled upon: Publishers Weekly, news about the publishing industry and all that revolves around that miniature planet, all in one place. Until recently I've been using my own experiences, ideas, thoughts, conversations, research, subjects sent to me by readers, and the Discover button on my Twitter account to acquire inspiration for the posts I write here, but now I have another resource to add to my list.

And, lo-and-behold, I came across an article of interest. Fancy that.

Gabe Habash featured a study made recently on the Influence of Bookstores and Libraries and how that influence for children seems to be wearing away. Apparently,
"there has been a marked decline in bookstore and library influence as a source of recommendation and acquisition, and that many purchases are instead migrating online to vendors like Amazon."
Well, frankly, that's not all that surprising. has become an incredible platform for booklovers to acquire their next novel. You can get books new, used at cheaper prices, you can preorder releases that haven't come out yet, and you can make a wishlist of things you want for other people (parents, grandparents, friends, family) to look at and get ideas on what you may actually want for Christmas this year. I love Amazon, myself, and I rarely buy a book elsewhere. If there's a used bookstore nearby, then I'll go and have some fun browsing and purchasing, if the money is to spare. I'll only buy a new book from a bookstore if I have a time crunch in terms of hours. Other than that, it's strict Amazon, for me, and the studies show that I'm not the only one.

Of course, the study does not seem to have a bad ending-- family and friends have become the top source of knowhow about where to get a book or why a book should be read. Word of mouth and ear to ear is now more influential than wandering the bookstore or library alone. I can't really see how that's bad, and the book homes are clearly not suffering. In fact, the study also reported that
"On the topic of digital, a surprising shift back to print was seen since spring 2012."

Ahah. This is exactly what I thought. Personally, anyone who is a huge book lover is going to always have paper copies of books.  Kristen McLean, CEO of Bookigee,  delivered the results of the same report at the Children's Publishing Goes Digital conference on the 15th of this month, stating that the levelling off of eBooks could be attributed to
"the “shininess” wearing off new devices and, as people become accustomed to what digital can offer, they are making more nuanced decisions regarding reading habits."
Book buyers may also have a Kindle or some such platform to read eBooks with, but they will never stop buying physical books. For one, not every physical book has an 'e' equivalent. And secondly, there is truly no replacement for smelling a book, for feeling the pages, and for putting your own personal mark on a well-read novel, whether you crease the spine or imprint the pages with your fingers or write your name inside the front cover.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Once Upon a Time

Here's something a little different for you-- a review about a television show.

Now wait. This blog is about books. This blog is about publishing. How does TV work into all this?

Well, it's a television show...about a book. Hah, got you there. But in all seriousness, this is something different. And in the realm of fairytales and stories, that's something to pay attention to.

Once Upon a Time is a new television show about a 'fairyland' where every fairytale character in any story exists, all in one world. Snow White, Prince Charming, Rumplestiltskin, The Evil Queen, Maleficent, Hansel and Gretel, Pinnochio, The Blue Fairy, Red Riding Hood, all of them are here in one land. And when the Evil Queen desires her final revenge on Snow White, she send everyone to the modern, human world, in a town called Storybrooke, where there is no magic, and they have no memories of anything or anyone they ever loved; except for the evil queen, who 'rules' triumphant. Time is stopped, nothing ever changes, and no one ever leaves.

Until main character, heroine Emma Swan arrives, brought by her biological son Henry who knows about the curse and the truth and is trying desperately to convince Emma that she is the savior who can rescue the people and break the curse.

You have Rumplestiltskin, who you witness as a real man and as magical entitity, and you see his degeneration into the darker magics reflected in his appearance as he becomes less  man and more monster. Also, his giggle gets a bit more unhinged with every passing spell.

Why is he insane? Partly the magic...partly because he can. Don't be fooled, he can go from cackling to serious without blinking.

 Contrast with Mr. Gold, Rumplestiltskin in the real world-- sort of the village maffia in one. He runs the financial aspects of the town, is generally feared or mistrusted because he never breaks a deal...or lets one run late. He's also the only other person in Storybrooke who has any idea -- and every idea -- what is going on.

Snow White and Prince Charming? They're a school teacher and a coma patient in the modern world, respectively, and they have no idea who the other is, but their past, cursed memories struggle in ways they can't understand to bring them together.

Every single fairy tale links in with the other. I'd tell more, but I don't want to spoil anything for those who haven't seen it. There are some more melodramatic areas, of course; no show is perfect. And I rather find the modern character of the Evil Queen to be shallow and one-trick. She spends almost every line being degrading or threatening someone (usually Emma about staying away from Henry) and that gets old fairly quickly, but what can you say. Someone has to be the foil of the trite, amusing, creepy, powerful Rumplestiltskin. The Evil Queen is indeed powerful, but she's not as tricky as the gold-weaver. And he knows it, at least.

I love retold fairy tales, and I love when they're told in a new way that brings them together. I spent nearly two days straight watching the episodes of this show, and I couldn't stop. There may be some scripting errors that I could see changed, but there is no flaw in the storyline. I would want this story written into a book, to visit this world where every fairy tale exists in one place. All the big players are here, and some not so big characters that you'll be surprised to notice. Beauty and the Beast, magic beans, Cinderella, the Mad Hatter, Peter and the Wolf, and each one somehow spliced with another, so that however you turn the tale, stand it on its head or turn it inside out, the original story still exists, but a whole new meaning comes from the other end.

Enjoy your stay in Storybrooke.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


Happy New Year everyone!

I hope you all enjoyed your holidays-- I did. Did you miss me during the hiatus? Don't answer that question, it's rhetorical.

I thought I'd start the new year off with a bang, and no, I'm not talking about the heavy mortars that the men in my family launched off rather close to the ground. They were big, they were colorful, they were loud. I was blinking the sparks out of my eyes for at least a minute. I'm pretty sure there were people on the hillside nearby clapping. We took a proud bow.

The "Outlander" series has been around for a while, actually, but it's only  just now come up on my radar as something I should read. I've had countless people tell me about it, and finally, at the urging of my Mema, my cousin, and my aunt, I started making an actual effort at keeping my eyes open. I now have my hands on the first book, thanks to my Mema again, and have read nearly 500 pages in three and a half days. I'll let that speak for itself for a moment.

I'm told that this is only the first out of 7 books-- currently waiting on an eighth-- so you have to go into this understanding you're in for the long haul, as the first book itself is roughly 800 pages. That's a whopper for the beginning of a series, in any genre. However, if the first book is anything to go by, as soon as I get my hands on the other novels, these books will fly. 500 pages-- three days. I don't think this novel will even last me the trip to London that I'm taking in a couple days.

"Outlander" is a historical fiction about a woman from post-WWII England who finds herself somehow thrust back into 18th century Scotland along with all of the Scottish/English strife, time-period struggles, and other delights (both literally and sardonically) that go with. Take this as a clear sign as to the merit of these books: I hate historical fiction. It usually reads to me, as a genre, as if someone were trying to work too hard to make their time period and setting ring with veracity, which just makes everything feel like a text book gone horribly, horribly wrong. The attempt to make an historical fiction sound both historical and fictional just fails with me, on both counts.

This book is the first exception to the rule. Every historical detail is woven seamlessly through the story, almost as if subconsciously, so that in the reading you are never distracted from the story even as you are being loaded with historical, societal, and cultural threads. Because of course, the main character is learning all about the time and the society and the culture, and yet there are no 'lecture' paragraphs where one learns that -insert historical fact here-. I have not skipped over a single paragraph in this book, in all of the 500 pages I have read so far, and I don't think I shall do so.

Of course, I must also put out there that this is a romance novel. I was not quite aware of that at the time I began the book (I don't have anything against romances, just so you know, but if there's a picture of a shirtless man on the front with a half-bared woman in his arms, I tend to pass on by), and while I have not come across anything that I would deem...I suppose ridiculous is the word I would use, or perhaps tacky or in extremely poor taste...hmmm...not your penny-romance-novel, I guess is what I mean...anyway, nothing like that has come across my reading, but this is a book I would rate Mature. Ahem. So choose to read it or not with that in mind.

Well, whether or not that is adequately explained, I can't put this book down, and I really can't wait to see what happens. This is one of those books that I read, wishing I could read faster to find out what happens, and yet wishing it wouldn't stop. I do, however, have six other books awaiting my perusal once I am done and have some means of acquiring them. I certainly can't complain.