National Punctuation Day & Contest

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Each year, September 24 is National Punctuation Day. It was founded in 2004 by Jeff Rubin. It simply promotes the correct usage of punctuation.

 

Reader’s Digest offers Weird Facts About 5 Punctuation Marks You See Everywhere.

mental-floss-logoMental Floss tells us about Little-Known Punctuation Marks We Should Be Using

National Punctuation Day is having a writing contest. Instead of the usual 250-word essay contest, they are going with a David Letterman-type Top 10 Contest: WHAT ARE THE TOP-10 WAYS PUNCTUATION HAS AFFECTED YOUR LIFE? 

Entries will be accepted through October 31 at Jeff@NationalPunctuationDay.com. The page doesn’t indicate what the prize would be, if any.

National Punctuation Day has a Facebook Page. On their website, they list style books and guides, and online resources to help with punctuation and grammar.

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Follow me on Twitter @katcop13

Organization for the Writer’s Mind (and Desk)

GetittogetherOne of my writing buddies organized the “Get It Together” blog hop, which is five, count ’em, five days of authors talking about how they organize their lives, their books, their writing spaces…everything. I think there are about 30 participating authors, and most of them have put things into the huge, massive giveaway of books, gift cards and organizational goodies that you can enter on any of the blog hop posts. My own post is today on my blog, so you can enter there if you like, and get a peek into the crazy world that is my planner obsession!

Short Crime Serials: Back to the Future?

Radio-Serial-Broadcast.comMy Sunday Bouchercon panel was a great one, and I moderated a group of short fiction writers, including John Shepphird, Steve Steinbock, Jay Stringer, Brian Thornton, and Michael Sears (who co-writes as Michael Stanley).

For being in the last timeslot when panels were held, and as most people begin leaving on Sunday, our last-chance saloon was well-attended (!). Our audience had enough short story pros to have overthrown the dais and done a wonderful panel themselves, but they kindly didn’t.

Two of the questions I asked were about serialized short fiction and audio versions of short stories, both interesting forms that I’d think could find some traction in the electronic market. I also specifically asked whether we needed to do audio serials with cliffhangers in the old style, like The Shadow, or whether there was a modern way to approach it that could build that suspense without feeling kitschy or retro–not that I’m against either of those things, oh, not at all. But not every story is best served by that level of overt theatricality.

The panel’s views were mixed as they didn’t all listen to audiobooks, but all knew people who were avid listeners and had heard that audiobooks were growing in popularity. There seemed to be some sense that yes, this venue for short crime could/should work, but had it yet? And what was working? And who could afford to experiment enough to figure it out?

One answer may include Jeffrey Deaver and Audible.com, owned by Amazon. Deaver is no slouch as a short fiction author, and in this recent New York Times article (“An Art Form Rises: Audio Without the Book” by Alexandra Alter), a recent new project is discussed:

… a globe-spanning mystery about a grizzled war crimes investigator, isn’t available in bookstores. It won’t be printed at all. The story was conceived, written and produced as an original audio drama for Audible, the audiobook producer and retailer. If Mr. Deaver’s readers want the story, they’ll have to listen to it.

“The Starling Project,” which came out in mid-November, will test the appetite for an emerging art form that blends the immersive charm of old-time radio drama with digital technology. It’s also the latest sign that audiobooks, which have long been regarded as a quaint backwater of the publishing industry and an appendage to print, are coming into their own as a creative medium.

Below, you can listen to a seven-minute sample of the project, which stars Alfred Molina.

Read the whole article for for interesting new projects on the horizon and the surprising breakout of a true-crime, episodic podcast called “Serial,” which examines the 1999 murder of a girl in Maryland and has been streamed or downloaded more than 5 million times since October–wow!

Hearing about such vibrant and interesting new markets for crime stories is music to my ears, but what do you think?

Leading image from Shadow Cabaret, who has loads of great info and images from old serials!

BJ Bourg: Righting Crime Fiction

BJ Bourg, crime fiction writer and publisher of Mouth Full of Bullets, a webzine that ran from 2006-2008 and published over 120 writers (including this one), has worked in law enforcement for twenty-four years. He recently announced the inception of Righting Crime Fiction, a blog designed to provide crime fiction writers with accurate information regarding aspects of police procedure.

The current issue, the third in a series on guns and ammunition, focuses on spent casings, how they’re deposited at a crime scene and what they reveal to the investigating detective. As you’ll see when you check out the blog, the information is detailed, clearly presented and illustrated with photographs as well as video clips.

In addition, BJ generously invites writers to contact him (rcf@bjbourg.com)  if they need information on a specific topic.

Righting Crime Fiction promises to be a great resource.

Writing by Robot

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I recently read a story by Yahoo Tech Columnist,
Robert Walker, about robots replacing journalists. It detailed the Associated Press’s intention to have most of its corporate earning reports “produced using automation technology.” Or as Walker calls it, the bot-ification of journalism.

While I don’t pretend to understand the technology involved, it did get me to wondering what would happen if that same technology was applied to—shudder—writers of mysteries. Would plots be more mechanical? Would settings be otherworldly? Would characters seem less than well, human? You get the idea.

I tried to find a program that would let me test out using a robot to write a paragraph or two, but there doesn’t seem to be one available for general use.

Walker, however has created a quiz: “Can you tell robot writing from human writing”with 10 questions that ask you to distinguish the passages that were written by journo-bots from those written by humans. Hope you’ll give it a try. The answers may surprise you.

Recycling Online Book Reviews… and leftover Irish Stew

recycling-symbol-photoRecycling’s conscientious!

There was a time I wasn’t as aware of how much reviews matter–and I don’t mean the fancy masthead ones, though if you can get them, awesome! Online book reviews from regular-old readers matter in ways that may not be obvious at first, so I’ll explain my views on why, therefore, I’ve become a promiscuous multi-poster of online reviews.

Which sites matter most? On principle, I think the places you like looking at reviews deserve your freshest content-support, but you don’t have to stop at one. Maybe you have a site you like to buy from, but another you like to browse just for reviews and discussions. Sure, I could post say everywhere, but that’s a little nutsy, right? We’re not going to be nutsy-cuckoo.

Do I have to give 5 stars? No. For example, I rarely, rarely give 5, and consider 4 stars very good–not a bit of stink on that. When you read a lot of reviews, and I do, you tend to brush off the highest, ALL CAPS, vague ones written by an author’s cheering section (thanks, Aunt Margie!) and also disregard the very lowest where people may be griping unreasonably. What I find most informative is that big bell curve of reviews in the middle (from 2 to 4 in a 5-star system).

What should reviews contain? Honesty and Specificity, IMO. Be genuine and detailed if you’d prefer. You don’t have to go out of your way to summarize the plot, unless you feel the book’s description is very misleading (it happens!). However, I’d really like to know what you thought while reading it. What about the pacing, language, characters, etc.?  Were you satisfied (or melancholy/resentful/rage-filled) at the end? Your strongest impressions will help me decide if a book’s a good fit for me.

Is it weird or improper to post the same content multiple places? I say emphatically  that it is FINE and DANDY to post in multiple places, because you’re hoping to share with more people, and some visit one spot and never any others. Multi-posting is, however, another reason to be substantive, because that’s the kind of review sites are always grateful to get. Some sites, despite being well-trafficked, don’t get many reviews. A first review can help break the ice and encourage other people to comment. Discussion is the friend of authors and new books, who suffer most in being ignored.

Besides the obvious, how else can online reviews help? Well, the count of reviews drives various algorithms (like those at a site rhyming with Van-a-pawn),causing more frequently reviewed books to be served up as recommended titles, among other sorts of special treatment. A nice amount of genuine early reviews (like at places that rhyme with VetRally) communicates enthusiasm for a title that may cause booksellers or librarians to take a serious look at getting some copies. Reviews at sites like this one are easily indexed by search engines and can help boost relevant, timely SEO for a title and author.

Oh, speaking of which…

Brooklyn Graves by Triss Stein (the 2nd Erica Donato mystery after Brooklyn Bones)

Brooklyn Graves by Triss Stein (the 2nd Erica Donato mystery after Brooklyn Bones)

You might think that a tale revolving around old letters and stained glass windows (in a cemetery, no less) would be peaceful and leisurely. Well, not in Brooklyn. There’s beauty, yes, and some dust, but little peace for Erica Donato, who’s got a dissertation to finish, a part-time job that’s just been complicated by a pompous academic, a teenage daughter (need I say more?), and unpleasant dramas ripping through her neighborhood and personal life. There’s a lot to enjoy here about the evolution of Brooklyn up to the current day, and how this enormous, diverse borough keeps being shaped and remade by the people who decide to make it their home.

I loved the way the issue of grieving was addressed. Sometimes, in soft-boiled mysteries, the deaths of characters seem not to be anything more than plot points, excuses for the story to begin. Erica’s own grief over the loss of her daughter’s father years ago is triggered by the loss of a family friend, another father and husband. The way she negotiates her own memories with her daughter, and tries to reach out to a family whose grief she understands too well is handled very sensitively and realistically, I think, which added depth to the story and a parallel line of contemporary family drama to the ones suspected in the past. Come for the mystery, stay for the history!

Mullti-posting reviews takes a little effort, but it’s free to do, and can have great results, and that’s what we all want for our favorite writers and books. So, I’ve made it my new policy never again to leave just one review. In fact, you can dig up this one of Brooklyn Graves by our own talented Triss Stein in 5 places, including here : )

P.S. Dot says it’s still St. Patrick’s Week, and I believe it. I did a reading of Seamus Scanlon’s poem “The New Ireland” at the 5-2 Crime Poetry Weekly in honor. If you’ve got thirty seconds and a taste for the melancholy isle, please have a sniffle and a listen!

TL;DR — More on Pathways to Publication

TL;DR
If you’re unfamiliar with the acronym TL;DR, it stands for Too Long; Didn’t Read. The other day I posted a relatively short and general thing about why all pathways to publication are worth examining for each work you hope to bring to the public.

Today, I am pulling my business-owner hat and getting down to the nitty-gritty of something most of us don’t like to think about and something that almost no authors talk about: numbers. And because there will be a lot of numbers and analysis, you may find this too long to read. Don’t worry, I won’t be offended if you skip it and watch this dog and pony show instead:

All things being equal…but they usually aren’t.
In my little corner of the world, it’s been nearly impossible to avoid Hugh Howey’s “author earnings report.” No, I won’t link to it for one because I think the conclusions he draws are completely unsupported by the data (as shown more than adequately here, here, and here), but more importantly because I don’t believe that even if the conclusions he drew were correct, they would matter. I knew those conclusions going into my career, and I still didn’t make the choices he insists a person should make: to whit, that self-pub is the only sensible way to go (followed closely by publishing with an Amazon imprint).

Now it is plainly obvious that if you sell 2000+ copies of a book that would be a “midlist ” book (see earlier post for definition of that term), sold at the same price a publisher would sell it for, and you pay no outside help (see more on that later), you will make more money self-pubbing than you would taking a traditional contract. For debut authors, that’s a big if, and getting bigger every day since it becomes harder and harder to get yourself noticed.

However, I want to be clear. I am not saying that everyone should go the traditional route, either. I want everyone to have all the information necessary to make informed decisions. After all, this is your career.

The harsh truth is that many people have their paths chosen for them. They can’t get a traditional contract–not because their writing is bad but because it doesn’t, for example, look commercial enough to the acquiring editor. Or because the publishing house has already filled all their slots when the manuscript arrives. Or they cannot self-publish because they simply don’t have the organizational chops to manage all the stuff that goes into self-pub so they go traditional so they don’t have to think about anything except writing.

And it’s not as if those are the only two options. Maybe the author goes with “partnership publishing,” which studies on “traditional vs self-publishing” don’t consider since they look at self-pubbed in one group and “someone else pubbed them” in the other. Unless you know the contract terms, you don’t know that, for example, a fairly sizable small press isn’t a “partnership press,” where everything’s split between author and press, nor how that split goes. (I know some who split 50/50, others where author gets 70%, and I am sure there are others.) I abhor the artificial division between “Big 5” and “self-pub” as if those were the only ways to go. There are more ways than EVER to publish, and the amount an author makes per book from each will be different.

And, frankly, no one actually knows what people make self-publishing, either. When I self-pub, I will still be paying someone to do some of the stuff I cannot deal with on an ongoing basis. It’s a decision I made and it’s a decision both of us are comfortable with. But yes, she will get some of my profit and when you look at my book you will not know that someone else is taking part of my profit. You would assume “look at how much she’s making” based on my sales, and you’d be wrong.

But since right here we are talking about the argumentative extremes, let’s get to those numbers.

Here’s how it shakes out for Twisted (rounded to nearest 5  cents) on Amazon. (This book is e-only, which is good, because all this becomes far, far murkier when you start talking print production and distribution.)

Penguin sells the book for $5, of which they get $3.50.
Of that 3.50, I get 80 cents.
Of that 80 cents, I give my agent 10 cents.
So, yeah, I am only making 70 cents per book sold, whereas if I had self-pubbed at the same price and wasn’t paying anyone for anything ongoing I’d be making the full $3.50 (If I’d sold to Penguin without an agent, I’d be making 80 cents. And I’d be a lot crazier. And have made some stupid contract mistakes.)

That’s if and only if I felt I could charge $5 in the current genre market for a self-published book. Which I don’t believe would work for a debut. For that I would probably charge the going price of $3. That means the maximum I could make per book would be $2.10. Still, it’s a lot more than that 80 cents, right?

Well, maybe. If I sell a lot of books. But with a traditional publisher there’s no outlay that you have to consider before publishing. No developmental editor, copy editor, cover designer, formatter for e and/or print. If you are doing any of these things yourself–and I don’t recommend it–you’re not writing, so think of your time and what it’s costing you in man-hours and realize you are paying one way or the other.

And what if your book doesn’t hit it big on Amazon? What if, like the vast majority of self-pub authors, those Howey fully admits his data doesn’t consider, you book sells poorly. What if it sells better than the vast majority of self-pub, but still not really well? At the end of your first year, you’ve sold 1000 copies. (This would mean you are around the 50k “kindle bestsellers” mark at all times–that’s where selling 1-3 books a day will put you.)

There are hundreds and hundreds of thousands of ebooks that don’t sell that well. About a year and a half ago, for example, a friend and I put up a novella to see what self-pub was all about because we didn’t know anything about the field and we wanted to learn. We didn’t push hard, we didn’t spend money, and it’s published under a pen name so it doesn’t benefit from either of our other creds, but we did get it read and reviewed. It’s now sitting at approximately 1.05 million. Not thousand. Million. I say this only because I want you to understand the sheer number of books you are up against.

So, back to our example. Considering the number of books out there, you’re doing fabulously. Selling 1000 copies at $3 (you can’t lower the price to do promotions in this example, because the book has to be at least $2.99 for Amazon to give you 70% royalty instead of the 35% rate), you’ve made $2100 minus expenses. I’ve only made…well…my book hasn’t earned out yet, so what I have in the bank is the $1500 advance my publisher gave me. More than likely, depending on your expenses, at the end of the first year, with one book, we’ve made the same amount of money.

Now, a little aside about “earning out.” Remember my publisher? Well, they got the $2.70 for each book that didn’t come to me. So they’ve made $2700, minus my advance, which leaves $1200. They are buying in bulk for ISBNs and stock photography, paying better prices for cover art than I can because their artists are in house, getting their editing done at a better rate than I pay out of pocket. I am betting that at the end of that 1000 books sold, they feel the book has broken even. The next thousand or so I have to sell to “earn out” my advance keeps their lights on, etc. In other words, I don’t have to “earn out” for them to keep me around.

So, yeah, all things being equal–price is the same and we sell the same number of copies, with that number being a pretty good number, you’re going to start making a whole lot more money than I am because you’re going to recoup all your startup fees.

And here’s where it all goes sideways.

All things are not equal. Ever.

You are not the same person I am. Neither of us is the same person as Carolyn Jewel, who says of Howey’s study:

The point is that if you define author as “someone who has at least one book on sale” AND it is true that the author writes well enough that a traditional publisher would pay them to write for their house,…the conclusion is that such an author has compelling reasons to choose self-publishing over traditional publishing.

I think Carolyn makes some excellent points in her analysis, and I know and like her as a person. And I agree that people should look at self-publishing. I am self-pubbing a book. But I disagree that the money you make per book is the only, or even the best, thing to consider when choosing a publication path for your first book. This is vital–your decisions can change, and should, depending where you are in your career. Which is another thing none of those studies actually take into account.

So, back to the extremes that are always argued, Big Five, vs Self-Pub doing it all yourself.

I knew when I saw the contract I was offered that I would have to sell approximately five times as many copies than I would have if I had published it myself. I didn’t need Hugh Howey’s “report” to show me that. I’d have been a freaking IDIOT not to know that.

But I spend a lot of my “day job” time thinking about return on investment (ROI) and I know there are very, very, very few things you can do that will predictably give you a positive ROI. I may not make back all the money I give up publishing with Penguin by virtue of the things they can do for me that I cannot do for myself, but I will make back some of it. And no one–not me, not my editor, not my agent, not Hugh Howey or anyone–knows just how much.

I am a debut author. At the moment, no one knows me. And I am betting that if I don’t sell five times as many books with Penguin as I would by myself, I sell at least twice as many.

I also know that I don’t want to spend most of my time worrying about things like finding cover designers who can work when I need them, finding appropriate editors, working my schedule, my editors’ schedules, and my designer’s schedule around when I want to release my books for maximum exposure, fiddling with prices, mucking about with the different platforms, reformatting my books when a new one comes out so that there can be new links in the back… And I totally would do all that. People who know me well know how mired down I could become in all of that. Heck, just look at this post!

That is why, as always, I say I LOVE MY PUBLISHER. You know how you can tell I love them? I submitted a proposal for two more books to them just last week. I don’t feel “gypped,” or as if I am being treated like some kind of indentured servant. I believe our relationship is truly symbiotic, though I am well aware that people will say I am crazy to feel that way. Unlike people who say they got no input into their covers, that hasn’t been my experience. People say they felt as if no one cared about their work at the publishing house–that hasn’t been my experience, either. Is my relationship with them perfect? No. But my relationship with myself isn’t perfect, either, so imagine what a bitch I’ll be publishing my own work! (Get away now, while it’s safe!)

I can manage it for a book. Or two. Or three. Yes, absolutely. I will be doing it this summer and part of me cannot wait. But, as I said, even then I will be paying someone else a percentage to handle stuff like BookBub ads, reformatting, etc. But what I really want to do is write, and if I my income from writing is lower per book because someone else is doing all that other stuff, well, that’s a trade I am willing to make. Because chances are, I will also be able to write more books.

It may, on the other hand, be a trade you are not willing to make. And that is absolutely okay. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not. But don’t fall into the trap of assuming that just because an author makes more money per book sold with one publishing path, it’s the only viable path.

Thanks for listening to my rant. Here’s another dog and pony show…well, dog and colt show, anyway…for your enjoyment:

501-Word Writing Contest

stacks_image_286Digital Americana, an independent and interactive journal of fiction, poetry, nonfiction, art, and criticism, was among the first magazines made for tablet devices — and the first literary magazine made explicitly for the iPad. Digital Americana seeks to publish writers and artists that have showcased a unique American sensibility, experience, or theme in their work. Issues, also available in print, are released seasonally.

Digital Americana is on Twitter @digitalamerican and on Facebook. An app is available for iPhone.

stacks_image_50Digital Americana offers two contests: The Digital Americana Prize for Storytelling (information regarding the 2014 Prize will be announced in December) and the 501-Word Writing Contest, with a fast-approaching deadline of December 1, 2013. An entry fee of $12.00 is required.

The top five finalists will be published in an upcoming issue of Digital Americana. The winning story receives publication as well as the production of a short literary film (inspired by their own winning 501-word story) by the Digital Americana creative team (Check out the previous contest winner’s video).

The guest judge this year is director and author, Adam Cushman of Red14Films (which is a jpg_2786-Directors-Chairleading film production company that specializes in book trailers and other literary to film adaptations). Follow Adam Cushman on Twitter @Cushmanovich.

Submission Guidelines: All entries must be unpublished, original creative flash fiction that is up to 501 words in length. There are no other restrictions, including genre.

Follow me on Twitter @katcop13.

Why this scatter-brained multi-tasker can’t live without Scrivener!

Scrivener-bannerConfession: I do a million things and forget a million more while I’m editing and writing across a variety of formats and genres. But that’s why I love the Scrivener writing software (must mention it’s available at LiteratureandLatte.com). For a seriously nominal investment, it does things which I can no longer live without, and that’s why I was singing its praises to Molly Greene on Twitter.

However, I can’t possibly describe (okay, maybe even grasp) all its powerful capabilities. I’ll say here and again later that the hour or so I spent with the interactive tutorial that comes built into the demo version was invaluable and pointed out what I knew I’d personally use and other features (like the many for screenwriting and the amazing Scrivenings) that I wouldn’t need as much. That said, I’m going to give you a glimpse under the hood by sharing 3 particular areas where, for the way I work, Scrivener kills the world with its greatness and might be of use to you, too:

CREATING: I can COLLECT and maintain EVERYTHING to do with my projects in a single PROJECT BINDER.
FORMATTING: I can COMBINE text in various files and types, OVERRIDE and REDEFINE their formatting globally.
E-PUBLISHING: I can OUTPUT E-BOOK FILES that work perfectly, as many times as I want!

Of course, I did give our own Laura K. Curtis credit for introducing me to the program. (She blogged about it here on WoM last year.) But if you’re interested in the points above, you can read the rest of my guest post for Molly’s blog (with illustrative screen caps from the software ) at Scrivener: An Indispensable Author’s Tool

BookStubs: E-book Marketing Tool

bookstubs-sample-1I just learned about an interesting marketing tool for authors of e-books, a service called BookStubs.

From their web site:

Love getting gift cards from your favorite store? It turns out readers love getting them too. We’ve created BookStubs, which are similar in size and material to a gift card, to give you a direct and personal way to promote your e-book. They feature your e-book cover on one side and a code to unlock a free copy of your e-book on the other. A BookStub is a tangible gift that will have a big impact on readers, local media, and influential people.

Check out their brief YouTube video that explains the concept behind BookStubs. BookTango, an indie e-book publisher from Author Solutions, is the company behind BookStubs. Follow @BookTango on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. For more information about BookStubs, click here.

As with any company doing business, there is a cost. It’s certainly up to the individual author to decide if this is a cost and marketing tool he/she wishes to pursue. The idea of these cards are out there, and I’m sure that several alternatives to creating your own cards exist. E-book publishing and marketing is a brave new world, one that is evolving every day.

Just an idea to consider when it comes to marketing your e-book!

Have you tried a marketing tool similar to BookStubs, by either creating one yourself, or via a company? If you wish to share your experience, please do!

Come follow me on Twitter @katcop13.