Titles Matter

When you create a title for something you wrote, how careful are you to choose the right words?

Here’s one example of a not-so-effective title:

Tests confirm chocolates contaminated – CAA

And here’s the very brief news article the title is for:

The Consumer Affairs Authority(CAA) told the Colombo Magistrate Court today that test results from Singapore confirmed that the milk powder imported by Edna chocolates contained Melamine.

Hmm. Somehow, I think it would have been more effective had they said something like:

Tests confirm milk contaminated – CAA

What do you think?

Useful Websites For Speculative Fiction Writers!

Today, I’ve got a couple useful websites for you. The first…

SF Editors Wiki – it’s a wiki for keeping track of the works that science fiction editors have worked on. It includes editors with Ace Books, DAW Books, Baen Books, and Tor Books, just to name a few.

The Fantasy Novelist’s Exam. How cliched is your novel? Is it derivative crap or fresh and interesting? While answering the questions in this exam won’t necessarily give you an accurate answer to those questions, it can still be loads of fun. ๐Ÿ™‚ And if you want to write a cliche-ridden derivative piece of crap, this would be a great checklist to make sure you got ’em all. ๐Ÿ™‚ Or at least a lot of ’em. ๐Ÿ˜€

TV Tropes Wiki. Not for speculative fiction only, and not for television series only. It just started with television before expanding into other forms of fiction. For the uninitiated, tropes are story elements that help convey a purpose. Clear as mud? ๐Ÿ˜› Go there and get started reading. It’s not just educational but also highly entertaining. ๐Ÿ™‚

An interview with three speculative fiction editors and what they do – and don’t – want to see in their slush piles. Like no Isabelles nicknames Izzy. No exploding spacecraft in opening paragraphs. No unheard of virus that alters humanity completely except for one (un)lucky bastid who’s immune. Poor guy. ๐Ÿ™ ๐Ÿ˜‰

The Query Project. With links to published authors who post the query letters that worked for them. Even Simon Haynes‘ query letter is included, as rambling as it is. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Speculative Fiction Comics

I’m not much of a comics person – with the exception of Asterix & Obelix, thanks to my oldest brother, Tony – but I’ve recently been introduced to a few comics that are right up my alley. Speculative fiction comics. Can you say, “Cool!”?

We have Freefall, which starts with a wrecked spaceship, duct tape, and a robot. I think. Hey, cut me some slack – I’ve just started reading it! ๐Ÿ˜‰ And I’m liking the humour. ๐Ÿ˜€

Then there’s Skin Horse, which starts here. Genetically augmented lions, a sniper, and some kind of talking dog. The lion talks as well, of course. I mean, where would we be without a genetically mutated talking lion?

Gunnerkrig Court reminds me, initially, of the Adams Family. Except Gunnerkrig Court is a school and Antimony, who somehow acquired a second shadow, is our main character. Complete with schoolgirl uniform. And the shadow wants Antimony’s help to escape. And it goes on from there with a minotaur named Basil…

And then there’s Dicebox. Starts here. With a spacesport and spaceships, Jaffa freighters (how did the Jaffa get in here?), and two down-in-their-luck people.

And of course, Girl Genius – Adventure, Romance, and Mad Science (starts here). “Now, this isn’t a Heterodyne story like your mama tells you…”

Do you read speculative fiction comics? Other kinds of comics? Which are your favourites and why?

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. ๐Ÿ˜€ 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. ๐Ÿ˜›

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. ๐Ÿ™‚

Happiness reigns!

Sentinel and Short Stories

Fahim had a dream that led to a story that we started developing.

You know, this is a fairly standard thing with us. I have ideas, I bounce them off him. He has ideas, he bounces them off me, then gives them to me. ๐Ÿ˜€ So, really, it should come as no surprise that he gave me another idea. An intriguing one, too.

Not that it’s entirely his, despite his illusions…

Without going into what the story is about – it’s still in development phase, plus I don’t want to reveal too much at this point other than it’s science fiction set in the current time- I will say that one point has me somewhat frustrated.

I was looking for short story ideas.

I’ve been wanting to try my hand at short stories. I’d love to work on developing some of my story-telling skills, honing them, analyzing them, improving them, working on them, in short story mode. Character development, dialogue, description. Things that are universal to all stories, regardless of length.

But this is another one that’s turned into a novel. There’s too much stuff there to be a short story, and honestly, I don’t – any longer – see a way to make it a short story. It’s just no longer possible from the way I’m looking at it.

If you write short stories and novels both, how do you do it? How do you get just enough meat for a short story before it turns into something much longer?

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. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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… ๐Ÿ™‚ Not that I really needed incentive… ๐Ÿ˜€

Writing Software

Since my husband, Fahim, is a programmer as well as a writer, he writes software for me. ๐Ÿ™‚ I use the following:

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

WriteTrack – submission tracking software. ย Free.

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

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

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

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

As for software the husband didn’t write…

There’s yWriter written by Simon Haynes, Australian programmer and science fiction author.ย  yWriter is so worth checking out – it’s logical and intuitive and easy to use, as well as also being free.ย  It’s an excellent piece of software that’s happily used by a lot of writers.ย  ๐Ÿ™‚ ย Free.

I tried out Liquid Story Binder and hated it.ย  There’s a fairly steep learning curve to it, it’s not at all intuitive, and the various building blocks don’t work together.ย  It’s kind of like having one Lego piece, one Mechanix piece, a child’s hammer, a Pyrex dish, and a Raggedy Andy doll.ย  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.ย  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.ย  But I really really hate it.ย  ๐Ÿ™‚ Not free.

I also use Microsoft Word.ย  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.ย  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.ย  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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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

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

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

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. ๐Ÿ™‚

My First 500 Words

I posted the first 500 words of Basement of the Universe as I submitted them to Nathan Bransford’s contest in this entry. Happily, I’ve received some comments there, critiquing my piece. Thank you, critiquers. ๐Ÿ™‚ I also submitted my piece to two other people who offered to do critiques in Nathan’s comments.

JJ DeBenedictis has critiqued mine on her blog. Here’s what she has to say:

434. Basement of the Universe – The nifty mystery of people simply disappearing is your story’s hook, and I do like how you dramatize Peter forcing himself to accept the truth he doesn’t want to acknowledge; you get us into his emotions well. In fact, given that you dramatize it well in the second scene, I think the first scene should be deleted–you’re just “telling” what you’re about to “show”. I did think the piece could be improved by getting the fact that there have been other disappearances into the narrative sooner. Also, the piece is slightly overwritten in places; for example, you don’t need to say “he repeated” when it’s clear to the reader that Peter just repeated himself. Perhaps try to streamline the prose so that you have nothing except what’s absolutely necessary?

Chro hasn’t done mine yet – as soon as it’s posted, I’ll add that here, too, provided Chro doesn’t mind.

What have I learned from all of this?

To start with, let me add a simpering explanation and whinge. I found out about the contest less than 12 hours before it was scheduled to end. Considering the last eight hours of that time was when I normally sleep, that really only gave me four hours. Discount the time needed for getting dinner, eating, and, um, I don’t know what else (was that American Idol night?), I really only had an hour or two to work with my existing first couple of pages.

And I immediately disliked what I had for the opening. So I ditched it. I’ll probably add at least portions of it back in somewhere else, perhaps in flashbacks. But that gave me one or two hours to edit the first 500 words. And that gave me no time to let it sit and let me change my mind later before I entered it.

And I can now see a whole bunch of stuff that I’d rather change about the first 500 words that I entered. As in, the entire first paragraph would be deleted in its entirety. Gone. The rest, I would get rid of the repetitive stuff and work in more ways to show his emotions, specifically about how he feels about his now-missing wife. Perhaps find a way to work in more nuances of the world they’re in – this is not contemporary Earth, after all, and I don’t think there’s anything to even hint at that.

The bottom line is that this contest, reading through other entries, reading through many of the excellent comments, some by Nathan himself, others by other readers of his blog, and reading through the critiques of my entry, has taught me a lot about how to compose the first five hundred words.

The next question is, is it enough for me to improve my first 500 words to land me an agent and publisher? Ah, time will tell. ๐Ÿ™‚

If you haven’t already read through Nathan Bransford’s blog and the contest entries, do. It’s quite educational. And I’m also including the comments in there. While you’re at it, there are several conversations about all of this over at the Absolute Write forums, too, and are also worth checking out and reading.

The First 500 Words – Finalist List is Up.

If you haven’t checked it out already, read through the six finalist entries in Nathan Bransford’s The Surprisingly Essential First 500 Words contest and vote on your favourite.

While you’re doing that, read Nathan and Holly’s comments – they can be quite educational, especially if you want to learn how to improve your own first 500 words. Because, let’s be honest, many, if not most, agents and publishers, won’t bother reading past your first 500 words if they don’t immediately grab their attention. And I don’t mean that in a searing-flesh kind of way. ๐Ÿ™‚

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.