Monthly Archives: March 2007

Unbound: The future of the Book and the Publishing Industry

Google organized Unbound sometime ago (the video is dated 8th March), and I thought I should share it over here – some of the snippets of speeches, especially Cory Doctorow’s and Seth Godin’s were particularly interesting. Oh, and watch for this line:

… where we discovered that the more content we put up on our own website; the more content we gave away the more books we sold.

Top 10 ways to write an Anticlimax

An anticlimax is personally one of my most feared nightmares – it means you have to revise a major part of the novel, or at least put the climax on hold until you can figure out a way to make it bigger, better, more twisted and more shocking than anything you’ve thrown at the reader so far. Here’s my top 10 list of successfully writing an Anticlimax – found mostly through trial and error.

1. Never plan ahead. While writing your novel take care to never plan more than 2 chapters ahead – that way you get to make sure incongruous details pop up at the last minute, and ensure that your pacing is like that of jerky Chevy.

2. Introduce a new plotline at the last minute. There’s nothing more satisfying than knowing you’ve thrown your reader off the buildup to your climax. One of the best ways to do so is to have your protagonist killed, brought back to life, get a new love interest, before finishing off the antagonist/challenge poised. This works well especially if it’s way off course.

3. Have plenty of explosions. Place them strategically all over the novel, at various scenes in the build-up to the climax. Then have the smallest explosion ever at your climax, simply because you’ve run out of fuel. In other words: make sure your build-up is more exciting than your climax.

4. Make sure the final confrontation/culmination is very short. Half a chapter is good. No, wait – 50 words is better. In case of a mystery, use the following paragraph (exactly 50 words):

Detective walks up to killer. “You’re under arrest for the murder of Victim A, B and C. Put your hands in the air.”

Killer: “Gee. You’re one smart guy. Must’ve been all the forensic evidence I left lying around. When do I get out so you can catch me again?”

5. Drag your final confrontation to half the book. The idea here is to make bring the reader to the edge of his seat – and keep him there for as long as it takes to get him bored.

Harry Potter Cover Revealed, Looks Cartoonish

Just a short post – the new covers for Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows has been released:

The children’s edition:
harrypotter.jpg

The adult edition (this sounds wrong):
harrypotteradult.jpg

As usual, the Bloomsbury cover trumps the Scholastic cover (this is me being biased – all my copies are from Bloomsbury) and I must say the web should be in a flurry of excitement soon, as the hype leading up to the very last book usually starts building up after the release of the covers.

I haven’t got the time to zoom in on each of the covers to see the summaries written, but here’s the source if you want to be embroiled in more Pottermania.

Link

[Update on coverage]: BBC apparently asked members of the public about their opinion on the book 7 cover, and a lot of them complained about how ugly it is. Read it here.

Bookmarked! March 28th.

string.jpgI am jumping with excitement as I’m writing this (can’t WordPress slurp up my words any faster?) and I’m attributing it to the discovery of absolutely good stuff that’s got me astounded along with five cups of coffee. Let’s go straight to this edition of Bookmarked! … and I’m going to start with blooks.

Blooks

Richard left me a comment a few days ago, alerting me to the application of the tips I’ve suggested to make reading fiction more accessible online. The blook in question? Undead Flowers. Read it! I was down with flu for the last few days, and I couldn’t go through the story there properly, but once I did … whoah! I was completely addicted to the pacing, the characters, the right amount of intrigue and interest and mystery … Richard has really done outstanding work over there. What’s it about? A storekeeper of a flower shop in a town out of the way. His customers? The undead. I say once again: read it.

The next blook is Mind+Body, which starts on a roll (first episode link here) and never lets up. I think I should be able to finish it – roughly 45 episodes to go, but still in progress. Genre? Young adult. From what I got by some random snooping around, the blook is about Chris Baker, who wakes up one day with his father dead and him half a million richer. His father worked in Quantico, doing research – and then Chris find out that he himself was one experiment. Sounds very cliched, but I’m not going to commit myself to any review at the moment – the writing’s good, the story seems sound. I’m already enjoying myself, even though it’s just the first few chapters.

I’ve saved the biggest for last. The Germaine Truth is not a blook. I can’t even call it a novel in blog form, due to its highly epic nature. What is it, then? I’m not too sure myself. It is a story, but it is spread over a whole plethora of sites, blogs and forums. There’s even a radio for the town, a mock newspaper covering the latest happenings to the characters, and support forums for the fictional products that the fictional companies in the town produce. I’m awed, but am also slightly daunted – I’ve no idea just where to start on such an sprawling work. Go check it out, anyway – it’s a perfect example of the internet allowing fiction to go further than ordinary, paper bound books.

Articles

Okay, enough on blooks. James Van Pelt writes in his blog about what reading his way through the sluch pile has taught him:

What I learned over and over and over again, through weeks of reading slush, is that professional, readable writing is recognizable in the first paragraph. Getting to the second page without running into a single groaner was such a relief that I’d sometimes read the first page of such a story to anyone who was near just so they could hear competent prose.

He also talks about how reading poetry helps with writing prose:

Writing well at the sentence and paragraph level is what I keep pounding into my students and workshop members. That’s why I think studying poetry can be so helpful: poetry is all about sentence level decisions. At any rate, that’s what I learned. My guess is that if you have a chance to read slush or to read for a contest you might learn something different, but, no matter what, do it. It’s a great, educational, professional move.

That being so, it can be extremely frustrating to read batch after batch of horrible stuff – but I’m feeling up to it. Maybe a pop by Urbis on the way out? It’s the first thing that comes to mind when you feed ‘slush’ and ‘web’ to my brain.

Hope you’ve enjoyed the links … because I’ve certainly enjoyed putting them together.

Why you will never get published (through traditional outlets) today

“Rich people may have finally found the way to heaven: a genetically engineered camel that would fit into the eye of a needle.”

To writers still aspiring to be taken up by one of the traditional publishing houses: our eye to writing heaven has just gotten smaller.

camel.jpgLet’s look at the odds working against authors wanting to publish a first novel:

There are hundreds of competent writing courses out there, which in turn raises the quality for submissions to publishers. Your writing, if beautiful, has to compete with hundreds of others who are more or less as good as, if not better than, yours.

So let’s look at the other factor in getting published: content. Or topic. Or what you write about. If you’re a novelist, the story you present in your first novel must be distinctive, fresh, and easily marketable. It is perhaps this last point that provides us with some worry – more and more marketing campaigns in the publishing industry have huge pictures of good looking authors to use while promoting their fiction – authors are sold next to their books.

Let’s talk about reading habits:

In a survey of 2,000 adults, a third had not bought a new book in the previous 12 months. 34% said they did not read books. (Expanding the Market, Book Marketing Ltd, 2004)

Whether they use the internet or not wasn’t asked, though I believe it should – the internet is primarily a text based medium where reading reigns supreme. Back to the topic at hand: less and less people are reading books, buying books, enjoying literature. There are a myriad of reasons, but let’s just step back and conclude that while book nuts are not shrinking dramatically, they’re not growing exponentially either.

But the number of books, content and writing out there are growing exponentially.

A lot of the above points are discussed and presented poignantly in a Guardian Unlimited article I’ve just finished consuming. The future looks bleak.

Before I became a journalist, I worked as a reader for Jonathan Cape and Chatto & Windus. I learnt that if it is true that everyone has a novel in them, most people would be best advised to keep it there.

Urbis for reviewing – Reviewed

topheadleft.gifRemember FictionPress? The site where authors post up their writing, and other authors get to comment on the various works put up?

I personally don’t like FictionPress. Or FanFiction.net, for that matter. You don’t get to choose the fonts and font sizes your fiction is presented in, nor decide the environment in which a reader interacts with your words. There you just post fiction and pray that others start taking an interest in what you write. No upward climb towards being published, though some may argue it is a good way to improve your writing.

Urbis, which is basically a polished spin on FictionPress’s idea, does seem to do a few things right. It feels like your typical Web 2.0 service – shiny, polished and well presented. And there is a focused approach to writing – a goals section makes sure you work towards something, while making it easy to socialise with those who are working towards the same goal.
urbis_1.JPG
The Be Published goal had 1005 items at the time this post was being written.

Urbis also has a credit system, used as a way to encourage reviews of other people’s work. The underlying concept is easy enough to understand: you earn credits by reviewing other people’s works, and you spend them by revealing reviews other people have written about yours. It’s quite a brilliant move, frankly speaking – it makes sure people don’t hog the duvet and selfishly stick to their own writing.

Writing about hanging myself

hangman.jpgMarlon was looking up at me, gaping mouth wide open.

I ignored the frantic gulping that his lips made. Open close open close. How annoying; swimming about in the distorted glass.

I had spent two days making sure everything was ready. A trip to the bank to make sure all my finances were in order. I wouldn’t want the government to slam down on my money just as I was about to pull off the greatest act in my short life, would I?

She would receive my greatest manuscript ever, made great not by the quality of prose – (which she insisted was not on par with ‘The Work I Usually Publish’) – but the tragic beauty my final act would give to it. Just as Van Gough’s story was made beautiful by him sawing off his ear, mine would be defined by the selfless acts I do, or am doing now.

I wonder if Oprah will feature me in her book club?

The belt is there, leather gleaming in the afternoon sun. I test it, pulling it down and letting it snap back up towards the ceiling. Strong. Elastic. Would it break my – nevermind, Marlon was swimming to the other end of his bowl and making annoyed swishes at me. No time to think no time to doubt. Out of sight out of mind.

I step up onto the plastic chair, placed my head into the loop of the belt. The buckle felt cool against my neck. Marlon was swimming back towards me. When he stopped, having reached the edge of the fishbowl, I would …

Ack.

[H]e [the aspiring writer] should go out and hang himself because he finds that writing well is impossibly difficult. Then he should be cut down without mercy and forced by his own self to write as well as he can for the rest of his life. At least he will have the story of the hanging to commence with. (The Paris Review, Spring 1958)

-Ernest Hemingway

Yes, I chose to interpret the quote literally and did it as a writing exercise. Thoughts? It was very fun, considering Hemingway made that remark with tongue stuck firmly in cheek, and with a totally different meaning to it. But if I am to be cut down by fierce literary critics then I should at least write about a fictional hanging … just for the heck of it.

Writing should, after all, be fun.

RE: Why All Blooker Prize Winners Are Amateurs

After my counter argument to Ed Infinitum’s Bugger Blooker article, I took the liberty to ask Paul Jones, head of the 2007 Blooker Prize judging panel to give his opinion on the discussion. To which he replied:

So I’m wondering what’s wrong with amateur writers. Julie Powell’s book got the kind of New York Times Book Review space that any writer would be delighted with. Cherie Priest’s book isn’t in the dominant genre — Zombie Gothic has its own set of fans. I can’t say much about this year’s Short List since I just got my first shipment on Monday, but I think that we can say that the Blooker celebrates a breaking of genres and of concepts of what good literature is and will become.

I think I shall sum it all up, before this debate carries on for far too long:

The Blooker prize is new, just as blogging and blooking is new. Paul Jones has had his say, so has Ed and I.

And in the end I look back at Paul’s reply: “Julie Powell’s book got the kind of New York Times Book Review space that any writer would be delighted with” and think to myself: is it not good enough that previously unknown writers get their big break through the Blooker?

That’s food for thought for you. To the rest of the authors shortlisted in the 2007 Blooker Prize: God Bless and Good Luck. Us online writers will be watching, with or without the hype.

‘i’ is a Cardinal Sin

I’ve just received one of the biggest shocks of my (online) life.

Let me clarify a little. I’ve been writing and posting and having exhilarating conversations on the internet for four years. At first it was just forums, discussing writing, theology, and code (I was learning CSS back then). Then I started blogging, writing about things that affected me personally as well as the little gems that make all our lives worth living.

So two days ago I posted a simple 9Rules Note, reading:

I don’t know if you’ve experienced this, but lately i’ve been forcing myself to capitalise my ‘i’s while posting in blogs other than my personal one. Do you write with a big I, or do you write like the ‘i’ like I did in my first sentence, where only the ‘i’ at the start of a sentence is capitalised?

Does it even matter online?

Within half a day there were 39 replies from various 9rules network members. It was frightening.

Gnorb said: Always capitalized. Always. Not seeing it capitalized (unless obviously accidental) almost always ensures that I never return to that site. I understand if grammar is not the writer’s strong suit — (s)he may not be a native English speaker — but not capitalizing the “I” is just plain lazy. Right up there with never capitalizing anything or capitalizing everything, all the time.

Phantomdata said: I enjoy people who believe that when posting online, all writing conventions fly out the window. Truly, I do. It provides for me a way to separate the idiots from those who have something worth saying. If you fail to capitalize or like to convert such simple words as “to” into “2”* then your laziness and recent discovery of the internet tell me to ignore you.

So, please continue failing at capitalization. Once the throngs of idiots learn to write, I will have to find a new way to filter them out.

* Outside of satire, of course. lulz.

Of the 39 replies (now 44, actually), only two supported the use of non-capitalized ‘i’s. Reasons given: “…’s pretty“. However, the vast majority relaxed the ‘Capitalise ‘I’. Always’ rule in informal settings such as in IM conversations, or IRC channel chats.

I was … perplexed, to say the least. Why was there such a big storm of opinion about something so seemingly insignificant? Perhaps my background in online writing (forums in the beginning, remember?) and treating my personal blog as an informal medium for my thoughts led to this habit of mine to miss hitting the shift key. On paper I write just the way I was taught: with capitalised ‘I’s and complete, whole words.

The impression I got of ‘Capitalise your ‘I’s, because this is English’ made me think twice. To me reading a non-capitalised ‘i’ online wasn’t as bad a mistake as mixing up ‘affect’ with ‘effect’, or typing ‘thought’ as ‘tot’. Those words make an otherwise professional-sounding article seem amateurish, since readers have to replace the abbreviations mentally while reading and this interrupts the flow of ideas.

Bookmarked! March 21st

There has been a explosion of all things marked with the word ‘blook’ right after the wake of the 2007 Blooker Prize shortlist announcement. My inbox is being flooded, and I’m picking through the debris to find links of some value, which i would not have otherwise found. Let’s take a look:

The first is an article called Narrative Expectations from a blog called Tales From The Reading Room. Alright, it may have nothing to do with blooks or writing on the web, but the examples given are so enjoyable it took me a good 3 seconds to stop chuckling.

The next is what John Baker calls essential reading for anyone who seriously wants to write fiction. It’s the full text of an essay by Susan Sontag about our responsibilities as a writer, the nuances of the job, and the place of the novel (and the novelist) in a world of ‘spurious cultural geography’.

On the one hand, we have, through translation and through recycling in the media, the possibility of a greater and greater diffusion of our work. On the other hand, the ideology behind these unprecedented opportunities for diffusion, for translation – the ideology now dominant in what passes for culture in modern societies – is designed to render obsolete the novelist’s prophetic and critical, even subversive, task, and that is to deepen and sometimes, as needed, to oppose the common understandings of our fate.

Long live the novelist’s task.

Read it here.

Blooks

I’ve discovered 3 blooks this week – the problem is that most of the time they’re not called blooks, but rather ‘blogged novels’ or ‘novel in blog form’. Perhaps this is partly due to the fact that there is general antithesis to the word ‘blook’? Hmm. Anyway, here they are:

Death Sucks, a blook completed October last year (mistake corrected, thanks Ray), about a vampire kitty cat. The fonts are too small for comfortable on screen reading, but what got me started was the author’s commentary and excerpt at his blog Flogging The Quill: where he writes that blooking is not for the faint of plot .

Another fantasy novel in blog form: The Legacy of Tsazcuth, nevermind the weird name. Very readable fonts, and the first episode grips you from the get go. I’m planning on finishing it and then posting a review here – the entire blog seems to be receiving good feedback. And I’m eager to see why.

The third blook for this week is Stonyfields, a book Gloria Hildebrandt completed offline but couldn’t get published. She left me a comment alerting me to the possibility of blooking as a way to get completed novels that aren’t being read out there. In return, I’ll read her novel. It’s the least I can do.

I’ll close with an article from Kateblogs. It’s called It’s a Long and Winding Road, and she writes about how blooking isn’t a shortcut to getting published.

Lets face it, rejection hurts. Whether it is personal or professional. No one wants to be turned away, and while initially it may be easy enough to shrug off any feelings of hurt or disappointment, in time it can become frustrating, and disheartening.

A writer and blogger I read regularly is in this very situation. Despite being talented and determined he remains unpublished. I can fully understand why he feels dejected. Not only is he unable to earn a living doing something he loves, there is also the personal aspect. Writing comes from within, we leave part of ourselves on the page intermingled with the words. When those words are rejected, it can feel personal. Added to which is that fact that talent is not necessarily enough. Luck plays a big part, and sadly, so does knowing the right people.

… don’t worry about rejection generally, collect your rejection letters with pride. I know it’s hard to do that, but treat them as a joke, and think that you are one step nearer the day when a letter comes through the door saying YES!

Quite an optimistic look on writing, a shot of which is something we all can do with.

Crossfire: All Blooker Prize Winners Are Amateurs

I came across a post two days ago in the blogosphere (specifically, posted in Vox and found here), and it started me thinking as well drafting a response in this blog.

Ed-infinitum’s post is an answer to the question: Do you think that ‘blooker’ prize winners would have won the ‘Booker’ prize? If not, why?

His post is a remarkably well thought out affair, with references to the articles that may or may not have sparked off his reasoning. It took me two days before I started writing this reply, because, well, it requires some thinking.

Ed-infinitum’s post is in essence saying: no, Blooker prize winners cannot win the Booker prize, simply because blooks are part of the Blogosphere – an ‘amateur medium‘. So what the Blooker prize does is to award the best of the amateurs, and creates a category of what he calls ‘professional amateurs’ who do not aspire to be ‘intellectuals’.

“Blooks are the new books, a hybrid literary form at the cutting edge of both literature and technology,” said Bob Young, founder of self-publishing site Lulu which organised and sponsored the prize.

What Bob Young actually means is that ‘blooks’ are ‘a hybrid literary form at the cutting edge of’ non-upper (intellectual) class literature. How, pray tell, can the ‘intimate diary of a prostitute’, or a ‘guide to ’s best greasy spoon cafes’, or ‘misadventures in the kitchen’ be considered to be located on the ‘cutting-edge of literature’? How do they compare with, for instance, Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf, Ngugi wa thiong’o, Rousseau, Marx, J.S. Mill, Marcuse, and so on?

He sums up by saying that the best kind of awards spurs nominees along a ‘vertical development path’, to make them be the best they can possibly be, and to break past the barrier that separates amateurs and professionals.

Now, what he proposes may be elitist in its stance, but I can’t discount the fact that he is right, and he’s not the only one who has made such an observation. In a ZDnet article entitiled Reflections On The First Decade Of Blogging Dan Farber quotes Andrew Keen’s new book The Cult of the Amateur:

…instead of creating masterpieces, these millions and millions of exuberant monkeys [Internet users]–many with no more talent in the creative arts than our primate cousins–are creating an endless digital forest of mediocrity.

Yes, it may sound offending, especially to you and me, mere mortals on the internet.

But there lies my counter argument against Ed-Infinitum’s post. The blogosphere is new, it is raw, and it can be described as The Madding Crowd. Using it as a medium to publish books (blooks) is still very much experimental.

But who is to say that the next Hemingway or the next Faulkner would not have online origins? The internet is ‘social’ and is getting more and more ingrained into our daily lives. I’ll be willing to bet that in a few years most of us will feel like we’ve had a lobotomy the instant we go offline, and that means the most of the next wave of ‘professionals’, no matter how elitist that sounds, will have an online presence of some kind.

Why You Will Never Read Fiction Online

Cory Doctorow has posted an interesting article at Locus Magazine about why reading ‘long-form works’ off the screen will never succeed – not that there’s anything wrong with reading off the screen – just that novels aren’t written or made to be read in a digital environment.

His article goes on to say the various problems facing reading novels online: the multitude of distractions available with a click of the mouse (oh wow – i need to clear up my spam folder!), and the fact that pleasure reading on a computer is in a splintered, scattered form.

The novel is an invention, one that was engendered by technological changes in information display, reproduction, and distribution. The cognitive style of the novel is different from the cognitive style of the legend. The cognitive style of the computer is different from the cognitive style of the novel.

His observations are true, for someone who has published 3 books and then released the entirety of all 3 books on his blog. In unbroken text, under a Creative Commons License, no less. So let’s ask ourselves, is it possible to release fiction online and attract a sizeable audience doing so?

I believe it is possible, but very difficult. Writing a novel in blog form to me has always been just another way of writing a book. There may be readers, and then there may not be readers. But putting your novel in a digital format allows for a lot more flexibility (and a certain degree of interactivity) that writing in, say, a spiral bound notebook.

So what works for online reading at the moment?

1. Really Short Stories (RSS?) – Millions of people read blogs everyday, and if there are people reading personal blogs like Dooce and An Unreliable Witness then it is only safe to assume that people will read fictional accounts of the lives of fictional characters. So while we can have fiction on the web, the stories presented cannot be as long as Lord Of The Rings, or even War and Peace.

2. Sharp Writing – We deal with words on the web. There is no escaping that, even with the proliferation of broadband and the rise of streaming (music and video). People still communicate with each other through words, and it is in our best interests to devour sharp, witty, high quality writing that comes in bite-sized pieces. Which brings us to our next point:

3. Bite Sized Pieces – There has to be a system for delivering your story in acceptable portions (not too often, yet not too spaced out) and each portion must be of an acceptable lenght. How can this be accomplished? Blogs may have RSS feeds, but there is the inherent problem of the reverse chronological order that its posts are presented in. Cory Doctorow’s Someone Comes To Town, Someone Leaves Town has a service that delivers chapters (from chapter 1 to chapter 2 and so on) to your favourite RSS feed reader every few days. And I’m very interested with an experimental online book form that can be found at the Institute for the Future of The Book (link).