Mobile Phone = eBook Reader

We’ve been contemplating getting me an ebook reader for a few months. I have joint problems, and honestly, it isn’t a whole lot of fun dislocating a thumb from holding a hardcover book. 😀 Okay, so in all fairness, I dislocate my wrist when I slice bread, so this isn’t all that unusual…

Then the husband recently got himself a new mobile phone – an Omnia – so naturally, I inherit his old one. My old one was already dead, as was the prior old one. Yeah, I’ve got a mobile phone graveyard happening. And an iron graveyard, too, but that’s another story. 😛

The phone I inherited is an HP pocket PC that he got in Dubai a couple of years ago. Initially, I thought the screen would be too small and there would be too much glare, but then I plowed through ten ebooks (fantasy, of course) in about a week and a half…

Sure, an ebook reader would probably be nice, but they cost money, and besides, going by the way I’m going through ebooks, this is working just fine. 🙂

Happiness reigns!

A Potentially Very Cool Site

Is currently in construction. It’s a Tor site. You know Tor – publishers of science fiction and fantasy. You can read more about it on Making Light.

The basic idea behind the new site – as I interpret it – is a community for people who enjoy reading speculative fiction and all sorts of other things. But probably not sourdough. 😉

Anyway, check it out. And, if you sign up at the new Tor site, you get free ebooks. About one a week. Which was enough incentive for me… 🙂 Not that I really needed incentive… 😀

Writing Software

Since my husband, Fahim, is a programmer as well as a writer, he writes software for me. 🙂 I use the following:

PlotCraft – keeps track of all the story ideas you get. Free.

WriteTrack – submission tracking software.  Free.

Amanuensis – word processing with tree view structure for organizing scenes, chapters, notes, etc. Free.

Agents / Publishers List – an online database of agents & publishers.  Searchable, filterable, plus anyone can add agents/publishers and add comments to existing ones to update information.  Free.

Word Counters – progress bar you can put on your blog or website.  You can set the units to words, hours, scenes, chapters, etc.  Free.

Word macro – marks adverbs, frequently used words, passive verbs, clichés, trouble words as you input, and so on.  Free.

As for software the husband didn’t write…

There’s yWriter written by Simon Haynes, Australian programmer and science fiction author.  yWriter is so worth checking out – it’s logical and intuitive and easy to use, as well as also being free.  It’s an excellent piece of software that’s happily used by a lot of writers.  🙂  Free.

I tried out Liquid Story Binder and hated it.  There’s a fairly steep learning curve to it, it’s not at all intuitive, and the various building blocks don’t work together.  It’s kind of like having one Lego piece, one Mechanix piece, a child’s hammer, a Pyrex dish, and a Raggedy Andy doll.  All useful in their own way, but they don’t work together to create anything useful, yet they’re put into one program that claims it can do everything.  From where I sit, it’s a piece of software written by programmers who’ve never actually written anything themselves, other than code, who think they know what the writing process is like, but are actually quite clueless.  But I really really hate it.  🙂 Not free.

I also use Microsoft Word.  With all the scenes/chapters properly labelled with heading 1, heading 2, and so on, with document map turned on, it’s easy to find what I’m looking for.  But more than that, I tag-team edit with my husband, so we use Track Changes so we can see what the other person changed, then accept or reject.  We use Track Changes extensively – we’re also editors for a local geek & gadget magazine – so Track Changes gets a huge workout from us. Not free, of course. 🙂

And if you’re into collaborative writing at all and need to share documents, I’d suggest Microsoft Groove.  Create a workspace, invite participants, and everyone who’s a member of that workspace can access the documents on it.  When one person makes changes to the document, it’s updated in everyone else’s space, too.  We use this extensively and it works beautifully. Also not free.

If you want a full-feature word processing program, go with OpenOffice Writer.  It’s a pretty useable and decent piece of software.  Free.

Then there’s KeyNote which is much more than a word processing program.  It’s really a knowledge management tool with a treeview structure.  Doesn’t have live spell checking, though.  Worth checking out. Free. 

What works for one writer doesn’t work for every other writer, so it really is a case of figuring out what works for the writer in question. Try these and other programs out and see what you think.

Please, let me know of any other writing software you know about. And one of these days, I’ll do a full review of as many of them as I can. Not all on the same day, of course. 🙂

Self-Published Author Signs 7-Figure Book Deal

Auria Cortes mentioned a news story about an author who initially self-published a book and then went on to sign a two book deal for more than $2 million.

In the publishing world, this is not a common sight. While it’s true that some self-published authors later get signed on by publishing houses, it’s rare and it’s pretty much always preceded by the author’s book succeeding on its own merits and/or through publicity campaigns.

In this case, the author, Brunonia Barry, and her husband started their own small publishing company, Flap Jacket Press. They even test-marketed the manuscript, then set up a website, hired a publicist, a jacket designer, and marketed the book using the usual tactics of publishing houses. All told, they spent around $50,000. And that doesn’t include the time the author spent editing and revising her manuscript or running it past an editor and readers to see how it read, and then revising some more.

This also wasn’t the first thing Barry wrote – she’d been writing screenplays for years.

Some will read this as a fairy tale ending for those who self-publish and a reason to not bother trying for publication with a traditional publishing house. It should be noted, however, that most self-published authors don’t have $50,000 laying around to spend on marketing, nor do most self-published authors spend as much time in editing and revising the manuscript as Barry did.

Arts Festival in India

I recently learned about an arts festival taking place in India from the 2nd – 10th February 2008 called the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival. It’s been taking place since 1999 and is named after the area in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) where it’s taking place.

Sadly, I can’t find any current festival information on their site, although prior years are there. Luckily, there is info at the Caferati blog, although that seems mainly limited to the contests – flash fiction, for example, although there are others including poetry, photography, and more. There’s also an open book pitch, complete with talent scouts from publishing houses and a few agents.

Sadly, the URLs that lead to where a person would actually submit their entry are still not there, and information is rather scant. Hopefully that will be corrected soon.

Check it out!

More on the Galle Literary Festival 2008

I found an article online at the Sunday Times site written by Smirti Daniels with more information on the Galle Literary Festival. At the end of the article, Smirti mentions this:

The Festival lasts for less than a week, however, one of our key aims is to use the profile of the festival to act as a springboard for and to publicise a variety of community initiatives with our friends and sponsors of the festival, say the organisers. Here are few of the initiatives you can expect to see at the Festival this year:

  • Workshops in Galle and the Southern Province School with AdoptSriLanka and The British Council.
  • Debating and creative writing competitions with Adopt Sri Lanka.

If those two initiatives actually take place, great! I’d prefer workshops not just in Galle, though, but also in Colombo and other major cities. Still, if they happen, it could be very good for the writing scene in Sri Lanka. If you hear more about this, please pass the information on to me!

The festival appears focused towards the yuppie literary crowd (cooking lessons from a renowned chef, don’t’cha know), not towards those who are seeking publication.

And for the controversy behind the 2007 festival, check this out. It involves the sponsor of the event, AdoptSriLanka, and how donations are being spent.

Disclaimer: mudslinging and partisanship is a sport here, and accusations are frequently flung with little or no proof. I’m not saying that is the case here – it’s just something you should be aware of. Make up your own mind. That applies to newspapers, websites, and, well, everything.

Literary Events in Sri Lanka

Fahim told me about two literary events taking place in Sri Lanka this month – The Galle Literary Festival 2008 and Book Buzz 2008.

The second annual Galle Literary Festival 2008 takes place in Galle, at the south west end of the island from Wednesday the 16th to Sunday the 20th of January. There are lectures, debates, book launches, films, panel discussions, and more. There are some free events, although most have a charge. Details on the website.

Book Buzz 2008 is sponsored by the British Council in Sri Lanka and takes place in Kandy on January 19th and in Colombo on January 22nd. Seating is on a first come first served basis with no indication of cost.

If you know of more literary or related events taking place in Sri Lanka, please let me know. I’d love to add them to the list!

Collaborative Writing Tools

I did a lot of collaborative writing this past year with my husband, Fahim, including freelance writing work and editing for a magazine, and here are two of the tools we found exceptionally helpful.

Groove

We’ve used it since before Microsoft bought it out, but didn’t use it as extensively until this year. We created a shared workspace and, as a document needed reviewing or editing by the other person, we dumped it in there and the other person received it in their Groove space nearly instantaneously. Groove makes sharing files very very easy.

We also use it for editing the magazine – that shared space also includes magazine owners and layout / graphics guy. And again, it makes sharing files with multiple people very easy.

The only downside is that the computer that holds a file has to be on for the other computers to be able to retrieve it. Not a problem when it’s a small file, but can be problematic if it’s a 20 MB file or a group of files adding up to, say, 160 MB, as was the case of images I dumped in to the space to go along with a gaming article. Synchronizing files that large with the slow internet speeds we have here can take a day or three. But, it’s still better than emailing and clogging up the email servers and all the inherent problems associated with that, and it works with nary a hitch or glitch.

Microsoft Word with Track Changes

Honestly, we’re not Microsoft fanboys / fangirls, but we do recognize good tools that fit their purpose. Microsoft Word with Track Changes works very well for our purposes.

Whether Fahim writes the first draft of a document, and I then do the first editing round, and pass it back to him, and so on, or I start with the first draft and he edits first, track changes is a remarkably useful feature. With it enabled, I can edit his text – whether deleting whole swaths of redundant text, adding necessary commas, or using more clear language – and, when the draft is passed back to him, he can see exactly what I deleted, what I added, and, for that matter, what formatting I changed. I can leave notes asking for clarification or indicate that I didn’t understand something.

Then, he can accept or reject each change I made individually. He can make further revisions, still tracking what changes he made, and he can also leave notes. And so on and so forth.

With more than one person working on a document, this is a fantastic tool to track changes. While we’ve used it mostly for our freelance writing, it’s equally useful for editing rounds in short stories or novels.

Fahim has checked other writing software, and none, thus far, include tools to compare to track changes. With the way we work, this is one tool that we consider absolutely essential.

Placidia the novel – First Draft is DONE!!!!!

I have a novel I’ve been working on and off for the last three or three and a half years, and this morning, I finished my first draft. (Laurie does the snoopy dance.) It was hard work. It was frustrating. I gave up on it three times for six months to a year or so at a time. I was blocked and felt like my story was going no where. Well, I finally became unblocked again last week and finished the damn thing.

For me, this first novel (there will be others following it) was a learning process – the time for me to learn what works for me in writing a novel and what doesn’t. I learned that I was blocked because where I thought the novel was going next didn’t make sense for the characters and culture in my novel. Once I figured out a plot line that was logical for these people, it started to flow again. So that’s a lesson for me. When I’m blocked, I need to rethink the plot. Other times that I’ve been blocked, it’s been because I needed to do more research, or get my characters settled in my head, or . . . Well, you get the idea.

I could also tell you that my novel at present only has about 1/3 to 1/2 the content it will have when it’s done because it’s missing sub plots and a lot of detail & description. That’s okay, too. That can go in on second draft. First draft for me is about getting the damn story down. Fill in the blanks later. My sister insisted on reading my first draft, what I had, last week, and didn’t much like it – missing too many holes, didn’t make sense, she said. Well, of course not. It’s only first draft. It doesn’t matter right now. It has inconsistencies until I figure out exactly where it’s going in the end. Which I’ve just done. So, you see, it doesn’t matter that it sorta sucks now. Of course it does. Who cares? I can fix it later.

And maybe the story really isn’t salvageable. Well, I can always take out a couple of chapters or whatever and fill them in with something better later. Or rethink the direction I want it to go in, or rethink the characters. The important thing right now is to keep writing and learn about my writing process and what works for me and what doesn’t. Don’t worry about the polished piece until much later.

Laurie (who has also never finished anything ever before in her life and is so stinkin’ proud of herself)