Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Astute Advice from Authors

by Raelene Gorlinsky

At last year’s RomantiCon, we had a session on “So You Want to Be An Author”. EC editors offered lots of good advice for aspiring authors. But of course, the best advice comes from those who’ve been through this. Our EC authors offered up their words of wisdom.

• Don’t do it alone. Get good critique partners
• Rejection isn’t personal. Don’t let it kill your dream.
• Finish what you start. Finish that story!
• Never give up, there are very few overnight successes.
• Have an achievable goal for your writing. How much time can you commit regularly, how much can you really do? Don’t set your expectations of yourself so high that you feel you’ve failed.
• Step away from the book when it’s done. Then come back and edit, edit, edit!
• When you think the manuscript is ready to send to an agent or editor, wait a week or two, then review it again.
• Hook the reader and editor with the first page.
• Take classes, attend conferences and workshops. Enter contests. Connect with other authors.
• Know your craft: read “how to” books, join writer groups, read industry publications. Never stop learning
• Honor your craft: balance the need to meet a deadline versus taking sufficient time to write your best.
• Research! Everything!
• Your editor is a business relationship, not your best friend. It’s not personal.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Amazing Uses for Books

OMG, you have got to check this out. Ways to use print books. Books as art, as architecture, as furniture. Scroll down to the ones where the pages of an open book have been cut and folded and molded to make knights fighting, and a giant octopus and ship! I want one of these! But I'm sure they cost the earth - must have taken hundreds or thousands of hours to create.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

More and Cheaper E-Reader Devices

by Raelene Gorlinsky

It looks like the latest round of competition in the e-wars is bringing down device prices substantially. There are so many new devices being announced, more competition for the "big guys" (Kindle, Sony, Barnes&Noble). And new versions of the most popular devices.

B&N just announced a new wifi-only (not 3G) version of the Nook for $149, and that they are cutting the price of their 3G Nook from $259 to $199. Both come with a software upgrade. Amazon responded by dropping the price of the standard Kindle from $259 to $189. Borders' Kobo e-reader is coming out at $150, and Sony says it has a new Reader on the way.

Pricing under $200 is, I believe, a significant factor in getting more people to try e-readers. Pricing under $100 could put an e-reader device in millions more hands.

New reading devices are coming from everywhere: Aluratek ($199), Plastic Logic Que, Bookeen Opus and Orizon, reissue of the Demy ($199), Hanvon Wise, Entourage Edge (sorry, $499), Pocketbook, Iriver Story ($290). Skiff, Spring Design Alex ($399?), DMC Ocean and Tidal ($199 - $299), Samsung... Shall I go on? Lots more in the works. Although one has to assume that many of these will eventually fade.

My two requirements for an e-reading device are: (1) be able to read multiple formats that I can purchase anywhere, (2) affordable. So Kindle is definitely out for me. I may just be buying a Nook this month.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Linda Howard on Writing Sex

Author Terry Odell recaps (in three parts) a presentation by Linda Howard about portraying sex and sexual intimacy in novels. It is well worth reading. Ms. Howard is a fan of anthropologist Desmond Morris' theories about how our sexual behavior developed to ensure species survival. Not just mating for procreation, but picking a mate, bonding to hold onto that mate, developing a family unit to raise children. Ms. Howard's heroes are built on this mold, and are wildly popular with readers because of it.

Survival: It's All About Sex

It's Still About the Sex:

Men Aren't Women With Chest Hair:

And the well-known 12 Steps to Intimacy from Desmond Morris' "Intimate Behavior: A Zoologist's Classic Study of Human Intimacy":

Some classic Howard comments you have to enjoy:

Sex and guns are powerful—handle both with care.

Babies are bald, toothless and incontinent, but their mothers still love them. Which should be encouraging to the husbands.

Women write detail in sex scenes, while men write detail in action scenes. Her first draft of an action scene might be "He was shot. It hurt. He shot back. The other guy died."

So go check out the articles on Terry's Place!

Friday, June 11, 2010

World Building with Nalini Singh

by Raelene Gorlinsky

Nalini Singh, author of the Psy/Changeling and Guild Hunter series, was kind enough to let me interview her about how she approaches world building for her books. I am a huge fan of the Guild Hunter series, and the world and characters she has created just amaze me, not just with their uniqueness, but with the logic and consistency that are apparent in this urban fantasy setting.

Do you plan most of your world out in advance, or develop it as you are writing the first story in a series?

I like to just dive in and start writing - however, the world is usually extremely coherent to me when I begin. I see through the eyes of the point of view character, describing what he or she sees and experiences. I think this tends to make for a much more natural flow of information.

How much do you have to change or expand your world rules as you write successive books in a series?

The rules are sancrosant. It's part of the trust between reader and writer - everything that happens must be logical in relation to what has gone before. I also think this makes for stronger writing - I have to be creative within the structure of the world - there are no magical answers.

However, within a series, you don't necessary have to lay out every single piece of information straight away. That would lead to total overload in the first book, overwhelming the story. I always ask if it's necessary. If not, then it doesn't need to be in that book - it could be introduced in a later book. But again, story continuity must be maintained. New rules that contradict previous ones are an absolute no-no.

How do you determine the rules of your world, and when are characters allowed to break those rules (if ever)?

I don't sit down and plot out all the rules so to speak. I write the story, and see what happens. However, once book 1 is written, I do make sure I keep a continuity bible - to ensure that everything flows smoothly from book to book.

As far as breaking the rules - as you can see from my previous answer, I'm a stickler for sticking to the rules of your world. It might be tempting to take the easy way out and break a rule, but all that does is decrease the tension in the story.

For example, if you read my Psy/Changeling series, you'll know that cutting the PsyNet link has some pretty big consequences. The changelings have found a way to circumvent that, but my hero in Bonds of Justice is human. How will that work? That is an important question in the book - because the PsyNet biofeedback rule has stayed a constant throughout the series.

How much research do you do, do you try to keep your alternate reality world close to true reality or do you invent it all from imagination? Any resources you’d recommend?

I tend to build my worlds from the imagination, but I will research real-world information as necessary. For example, for the Guild Hunter series, I did research on wing structure, the placement of feathers, density of wing bones etc - all fine details that make the imagined world so much deeper.

One general tip for research is to use children's books. Not only do they have fantastic illustrations, they condense information down, so you can get an overview fast - if you need more detailed info, you can then go and do a very specific search.

Also if you have a tendency to go overboard with research, and then try and stuff all that research into a book, though it isn't necessary, write the story first, then go back and do the research. Once you know exactly what you need, you'll be less tempted to go off on tangents.

Any tips to help authors maintain continuity from one book to another in a series with complex world-building? Software, spreadsheets, sticky notes?

It really depends on the writer in question. I figured out what worked for me when I started writing book 2 in the Psy/Changeling series and realized I was constantly needing information that had been in book 1. My methods are relatively simple but effective for me - I keep a folder for each series that has maps with story locations marked, pages with major details about each character (physical appearance, age, connections to other people, any other salient facts), timelines and research notes.

One tip relates to the timelines I mentioned above - I keep one throughout each manuscript. Not only does it give you a quick-resource when you're considering the pacing of the story for example, but it helps you spot errors like a day that goes on for twenty-nine hours or the fact that the hero put on a T-shirt and is now taking off a button-down shirt.

I also keep up to date electronic files of each of my books so I can do searches if I'm looking for a particular piece of information - often, I'll know the exact paragraph I'm looking for, and this makes it easier to locate. And I keep copies of my books - so for example, with writing book #10 of the Psy/Changeling series, featuring Hawke, I'll be going through books 1-9 and marking every appearance or mention of him with a post-it.

I know other writers who use software, so that's also an option. I prefer to have a physical folder as I can have it open on my desk while I'm working on the manuscript.

Since you have two different series going, each with its own complex world, do you ever get confused while writing or have trouble keeping straight which world you are in?

No - the two series are so different that there is no cross-over in that regard. It's one of the reasons I enjoy writing them both so much.

Thank you so much.

Thanks for the great questions!

(Okay, totally off-topic question. Can you reveal who the “almost an archangel” is in the Guild Hunter series? The one the Ten—well, eight now—keep mentioning as soon reaching the level of being able to fill one of the open spots. Will that play into the future books at all?)

No, my lips are zipped. :x You may meet the angel later on, depending on how the series develops.

I've been writing as long as I can remember and all of my stories always held a thread of romance (even when I was writing about a prince who could shoot lasers out of his eyes). I love creating unique characters, love giving them happy endings and I even love the voices in my head. There's no other job I would rather be doing. In September 2002, when I got the call that Silhouette Desire wanted to buy my first book, Desert Warrior, it was a dream come true. I hope to continue living the dream until I keel over of old age on my keyboard.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

World Worksheet

by Raelene Gorlinsky

If you are writing a series of any type, or a single book that has a highly complex setting or timeline, it is imperative that you keep track of all the details so that you can maintain consistency. Readers become outraged if characters do things they "shouldn't be able to". Discrepancies in descriptions (people or places) or dates drive some readers insane.

Every author figures out what method works best for them. Do you keep lists, draw charts? Do you enter cross-reference notes in electronic files of your stories? As long as you keep track of things, how you do it should be tailored to your working method--but be sure you do it!

Editors and copy editors catch some amusing or horrifying discrepancies. A continuing character whose name is spelled differently in different books. A woman whose pregnancy lasts over a year (yes, she was a normal human--the author had altered the time of the second book without taking into account how it would affect this secondary character who had become pregnant in the first). People whose eye color or other physical attributes change from book to book.

Here's a sample of a very basic World/Character Worksheet. You could start with this and add to it.
BOOK TITLE, Series name and number

Setting (Describe the "world" as a whole. Record a description of each place where action occurs.)

Timeline (All historical or current events mentioned in the story. Dates of events relevant to characters.)

Language/Special Terms (Any "alien" or made-up words. Also expletives and common exclamations. For example, do you write "Oh god" or "Oh God"?)

Naming Conventions (Are there "rules" for how people or places or things are named?)

~ Name
~ Nicknames, forms of address
~ Appearance, age
~ Relationships to other characters
~ Personal history facts (birthplace, education, jobs, residences)
~ Personality traits, phobias, hobbies, special skills

If your story is a paranormal or fantasy, futuristic or set in an alien world, then you have even more information to keep track of in each of the above categories.

Authors, what are your favorite tricks and tips for keeping your world consistent and coherent?

Monday, June 7, 2010

World Building with Gail Carriger

by Raelene Gorlinsky

If you read my January post about my two favorite books of 2009, you may recall that one of them was Soulless by Gail Carriger. And one of the reasons was because of its unique world and wonderful world building. Well, Gail has agreed to talk a bit about how she created this steampunk series and designed the world. So in Gail's own words--

How did you come up with the idea for this series?

The simple fact is: this was what I wanted to read. I enjoy urban fantasy but am not wild about a modern setting. I like steampunk but it tends to be a little too dark and riddled with technobabble for me. So I thought I might just combine the two, and then shake it up with a jot more romance and a whole lot of comedy. Then I started thinking about what kind of world could accommodate all these different elements. I'm familiar with the Victorian era and I find it a rich source of amusement in and of itself. Those ridiculous fashions and that obsession with etiquette seem the perfect time period to drop in vampires (dictating such things) and werewolves (chaffing against them) not to mention steam technology. It seemed to me that what comedy I couldn't supply with plot and character, an alternate Victorian London could provide just by being itself.

So where did you go from there?

After deciding on a setting, I started idly toying with the idea of how a person would become undead. After all, if vampires and werewolves are bouncing about, what's to keep them from turning everyone? There must be biological procreative controls in place. Taking into account what I knew of Victorian scientific theory, I hypothesized that an excess soul found in only a few people might account for bite-survival rates. This led me to investigate the measuring of the soul – which an American scientist actually tried to do in the late 1800s. This, in turn, led to the idea that if some people had too much soul there should be others who had too little, or none at all. And these people could act as nullifiers to supernatural abilities. Thus Alexia was born.

You have some interesting theories about the Victorian society.

I've long been troubled by certain quirks of history that seem never adequately explained. The most confusing of these is how one tiny island with abysmal taste in food, excellent taste in beverages, and a penchant for poofy dresses suddenly managed to take over most of the known world? How did one tiny island manage to conquer an empire upon which the sun never set? I decided that the only possible answer was that England openly accepted supernatural creatures, and put them to good use, while other countries continued persecution. This led me to postulate that King Henry's breach with the Church was over open acceptance of vampires and werewolves into society (the divorce thing was just a front). This gave Great Britain a leg up dealing with messy little situations like winning major foreign battles or establishing an efficient bureaucracy or convincing the world cricket is a good idea. Suddenly, everything made sense: cravats cover bite marks, the British regimental system is clearly based on werewolf pack dynamics, and pale complexions are in vogue because everyone wants to look like the trend-setting vampires.

And how did the steampunk element fit in?

It seems to me that, if supernatural creatures were running around Victorian London, scientists of the day would be trying to understand them, dissect them, fight them, and avoid them. I didn't want magic in my world, but 19th century science is almost as effective. This, in turn, would lead to new and strange advancements in science and medicine. In the world of the Parasol Protectorate, simply put, urban fantasy tropes have steampunk consequences.

I try to stay as accurate to 1873 England as possible. Changes leak in as either alternate explanations for reality, or alternate inventions to deal with the non-reality I've injected. There are still hansoms roaming London but dirigibles, for example, have risen to prominence as an alternate mode of long distance transport because vampires and werewolves cannot use them. Alternative guns have evolved utilizing silver and wood bullets. And, of course, the supernatural creatures themselves take a keen interest in promoting new technology and have the funds to do so. You could say that my steampunk is the result of the supernatural intrusion into the Victorian world. I think the path to world consistency for me was in letting my Victorians behave like Victorians, and react to my supernatural elements as they probably would have, by coming up with wild theories and tests and gadgets.

And so Alexia, where'd she come from?

Suddenly, I've got steampunk gadgets trying to weigh people's souls, and scientists theorizing that it is through a rare inclination towards excess soul that some survive supernatural metamorphosis. And that, rather long-windedly, is how Alexia was born. For if some people have an over-abundance of soul, there must also exist an antidote, a person with no soul at all.

What made you settle on vampires, werewolves and ghosts?

For one thing, they just fit so well with the premise of the science of the soul. For another, they are all monsters with strong Victorian literature ties. I've read a lot of gothic lit over the years. Those three monsters in particular strike me as quintessentially Victorian. So I decided to twist it around and explore a world where such supernatural creatures were accepted as part of society – what, then, becomes the monster?

New York Times Bestselling author Gail Carriger began writing in order to cope with being raised in obscurity by an expatriate Brit and an incurable curmudgeon. She escaped small town life and inadvertently acquired several degrees in Higher Learning. Ms. Carriger then traveled the historic cities of Europe, subsisting entirely on biscuits secreted in her handbag. She now resides in the Colonies, surrounded by fantastic shoes, where she insists on tea imported directly from London. She is fond of teeny tiny hats and tropical fruit. The Parasol Protectorate books are: Soulless (Oct. 2009), Changeless (March 2010), Blameless (September 2010), Heartless (2011), and Timeless (2012).

Friday, June 4, 2010

Latest Ebook Consumer Survey

Publishers Weekly summarized the third and final report on Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading by the Book Industry Study Group. The survey is of consumers who read ebooks, not of all readers. The survey was conducted in late April 2010; unfortunately, the PW article did not mention how many responses were included in the figures. (The believability and usefulness of the study is heavily dependent on whether we're hearing from 100 or 1000 or 10,000 ebook consumers!)

Most popular device to read ebooks (consumers could select more than one):
40% - Kindle
39% - laptop or desktop computer
11% - iPod Touch
10% - iPhone
9% - Sony Reader
9% - Netbook
8% - nook
7% - iPad (the study was done only three weeks after iPad release)
7% - Blackberry/SmartPhone
7% - other

E-Reader device used most frequently:
37% - laptop or desktop computer
32% - Kindle
6% - Sony reader
5% - iPod Touch
5% - iPhone
4% - other multi-function device
3% - nook
3% - iPad
3% - Blackberry/SmartPhone
2% - netbook
1% - other e-reader
(Yes, I realize that adds up to 101%, but I assume they had to round the figures.)

37% of e-reader owners said they'd bought an e-reader device within the last six months.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Cost vs. Convenience in EBooks

by Raelene Gorlinsky

Seems like a lot of people jump without thought or research onto the bandwagon to chant "readers will only buy ebooks if they are cheap". And yes, various surveys reflect that amongst the many reasons readers say they may choose digital over print, the most common reason is that digital is less expensive. (Certainly less expensive than hardcovers or trade-size books.)

But reality isn't that simple. Actual sales figures show huge numbers of readers buying ebooks that cost as much or more than a mass market paperback. And those surveys reflect that readers take other things in addition to price into consideration when making a purchase format decision.

Based on frequent reader questions and comments to Ellora's Cave, convenience is high on the list of criteria in selecting a specific ebook format. This includes both time ("I'm too busy to spend an extra minute") and ease ("I'm not a techie, I just want to download by pressing a button").

We sell our ebooks direct from our website, plus through several third-party e-tailers (Amazon, Sony, Barnes & Noble, AllRomance eBooks, etc.). Prices vary between the e-tailers, but our own website price is almost always the cheapest. However, some readers choose to pay a buck or two more for that ebook on another site if they find it more convenient.

For example, readers email us and say "I've got a Kindle, can I buy books from your website?" We explain to them that we can't sell the Kindle-specific format, but they can indeed buy other formats from us to use on a Kindle. You can buy PRC, download it to your computer, and transfer it to your Kindle. (I have the Kindle app on my laptop for reading prc format books.) You can also buy other formats, email the file to your Kindle account at Amazon, and for 10 cents Amazon will convert the book to Kindle format and wirelessly send it to your Kindle reader. And why would a customer want to do this? Well, that short story we sell on the EC site for $2.49 costs $3.35 to $3.98 at Amazon Kindle. Same with other book lengths/prices. So it is better, price-wise, to buy direct from us.

However, an amazing number of customers decide that the few minutes of time and the couple extra steps are not worth it to them. They would rather pay more for the convenience (small savings of time and effort) of that direct Kindle download. The same thing applies with the B&N Nook and Sony e-Reader.

Now, not all customers feel this way. Especially if they buy a lot of ebooks, it is worth it to them to put a little more effort into the process and save money on each book. But this clearly shows that price is not the only determining factor for e-book customers. Consumer decisions are complex and varied.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Perfect Plot Pointers

by Raelene Gorlinsky

One of the members of the critique group in which I participate joked that he'd bring the first page of his work in progress, and we could all help him outline the whole book (not a romance). So I offered him my best advice on how to make his book the mega-seller it can be. Everyone in the group found this hysterical, we've seen these flaws so often.

Plot must have:

No action or excitement until at least Chapter Seven.

Long, pointless reminiscing on main character’s babyhood, childhood, and teen years.

Agonizingly lengthy descriptions of scenery and weather.

Lots of irrelevant details to derail story momentum.

Scenes repeated twice or more, from different characters’ perspectives.

Dream sequences that don’t relate to story.

Surprise ending with no lead-up or foreshadowing.

Characters must be:

Characters fall into two categories: flawless and fatally flawed. The flawless must continue that way throughout the story, or even become more perfect (wealthier, happier, prettier). Flawed characters must unravel and devolve into absolute monsters who are destroyed in the final chapter.

Main characters must have some admirable and politically correct habit or attribute: be a vegan and belong to PETA, or teach medieval French literature for free at the local inner-city (slum) school.

The fatally flawed must have some physical scar or disability that makes them unpleasant to look upon. But this can never be used as a justification or explanation for why they have become misogynistic or evil.

Lots of secondary characters who are boring, unpleasant and unbelievable—or needlessly eccentric and distractingly wacky. They must all be average and unremarkable in appearance: medium height, average weight, brown hair, eyes of no noticeable color.

At least one secondary character must exist solely to feed backstory to the reader and provide admiration for the protagonist.

There must be such a sufficiency of minor characters, including cabbies and homeless street people, that the reader must keep a written list of them. These characters should be developed using basic racial/sexual/religious stereotypes and generalities, and be described with cliches.

The villain must be eeeeevil, purely because he loves to be evil. Much text must be devoted to the villain’s recitations of his misdeeds and crimes and general evilness.

There must be a cat named after a famous composer or poet, and a dog named after a brand of liquor or beer.