Now Trending: The Unimportant

In the top right hand corner of Facebook there is a box called “Trending” and in it are the top three most popular topics of conversation for that moment. The top two this morning: Michael Jackson and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.


What about the woman from Sudan who was freed from prison? What about this dog-eating festival in China that has protesters up in arms? What about missing girls? Or missing planes? Or controversial political decisions?

What about the fact that the Canadian Conservative Government attacked the NDP for spending $5000 on flowers (which were for visiting state officials, politician and/or celebrity funerals, stage decor for TV appearances, and thank-you gifts to party members who had done outstanding at their jobs in that quarter). That’s right, $5000 over three months or so. Compared to some of the costs for flights, hotels, and fancy rental cars that have been pinned on the Conservatives over the years, and compared to the Christmas bonuses the Prime Minister probably received, $5000 is chump change. As a big corporation what it spends on flowers and fruit baskets in the course of wooing clients. I’m betting $5000 is chump change where they’re concerned too.

There are three slots on that box, three trending stories, and they update an average of three times a day. I’ll get the top nine stories of the day. They’ll be about movie stars dying, new movie trailers, which athlete is signing with which team, the latest celebrity marriage/divorce, the latest sports’ score, celebrity drug/alcohol usage (relapse, rehab, etc) – and maybe, just maybe, I’ll get one about an important global political or economic matter.

Let’s face it people. While social media and the internet are great for networking, fact checking, research, and communication, it’s also the largest time waster, the largest source of misinformation, and the largest social/political distraction of our time. TV came under the same fire once upon a time. Instead of doing something about the major issues we’re tweeting about them. We have 24/7 access to what our favourite celebrities (whether they place sports or sing or act) are doing, good or bad, and we care more about that than what our governments are doing. We care more about the dollar value of Kim Kardashian’s latest divorce than how much money the members of parliament spend on their vacations. We care more about which team a ball player is signing with than which party is in power.

Don’t believe me? Check out what’s trending. Check out what’s on the NEWS stands at the grocery store. 99% of what you can buy at the NEWS stand is gossip and rumour. Only 1% is the local paper and even they have a sports section and an entertainment section.

Okay, movies, music, and sports are part of our culture and we need to stay culturally involved. I get that. But people, this is getting out of hand.

I don’t have television. I’m a stay at home mom so I rarely drive (and my car radio is busted so I only get radio on the weekends when I get my husband’s car). I get my news second hand from my husband who reads the paper at work and listens to CBC radio on occasion. Or I get it from my grandparents and dad. Or from (yup, I’m guilty of it) Facebook conversations. If I wanted to be more informed I could follow CNN or CBC News or BBC news. I’m not the guru of news worthy by any stretch. But I worry when 1 out of 9 trending stories in 12 hours has anything to do with the political/economic/social issues of our world.

We have in our hands the greatest tool ever invented for staying informed. And we’re choosing to be informed about the wrong things.

Society has to rank the political/social/economic issues above celebrity gossip and movie trailers. An uninformed public says to the government “Sure, do whatever you want” and that’s dangerous. Every science-fiction novel and movie since the beginning of science fiction that has dealt with this subject agrees. When a government gets too much control it doesn’t turn out so good for the every-man character.

Lets get informed about what really matters. (And that goes for me too. CBC news, here I come.)

How to Save a Life

What do you do when someone you love is threatening or attempting suicide?

In this case it’s my younger cousin. The situation is complicated. My aunt is adopted but had some contact later in life with her biological siblings. Her biological sister has 3 children that we know of. My aunt adopted the first two, the third one had major developmental issues and my aunt just couldn’t keep her. 

So, my cousin, she was born premature, has always had some development issues stemming from severe FASD, and is now on meds. I’m not sure what the meds are for but they’re the type that make you feel good and stable, like you don’t need meds, like you aren’t sick anymore. Once she’s off her meds she has major freak-outs. She doesn’t like taking her meds because they’re making her gain weight. She throws them down the sink or threatens to take all of them. 

She tried that once and ended up in the hospital. This was after cutting for months with the blades from pencil sharpeners. 

Then, because of an argument with her mom, she held two knives to her stomach and threatened to kill herself. She’s now with protective services.

Yes, they have her on a list of psychiatric help. Yes, we are all trying to be positive and supportive. You know what makes it really hard? All these damn depressive memes on the internet. “No one hates me more than I hate myself”. “My friends mean the world to me but I feel like they wouldn’t even notice I was gone”. “I’m only pretending to be all right”. And on and on and on.

I fully support freedom of speech and self-expression. I think it’s great that people are working out their issues. But this stuff is feeding the depressive, self-indulgent, attention-craving attitude of teenagers. They’re all posting this crap so people will pat them on the head and say, “we love you, don’t die”. I fully support suicide intervention, and positive reinforcement, but when this crap is fueling her suicidal thoughts it’s hard to stay unbiased and accepting.

And before you suggest taking her off the internet, take a quick guess what the above mentioned fight was about. Her only friends are on Facebook and Instagram. The only people who care about her and understand her are on the internet. Anyone who takes that away is cruel and mean and heartless. Yeah, it gets that bad.

So, what do you do when someone you love is threatening or attempting suicide?

How do you convince them that you would love them? How do you find all the subversive jerks in their life and make them stop being jerks? How do you build their self-esteem? How do you make their skin thicker? How do you make them see themselves as important people instead of as victims? How do you put value in their lives? How do you make them believe they are valued?

I don’t know.

I’m not a psychologist. I’m not a counselor. I’m not a social worker. I’m not a doctor. I don’t even get to see her that often.

I am her godmother. And her cousin. And my heart is breaking because there is nothing I can do. 

So I’m doing something.

I am doing the only thing I’m good at. I’m writing a book. I’m writing a book about a teenage girl who is mildly overweight but not fat, who has a kick-ass punk haircut and a beautiful smile, and is named after my cousin. I am giving that girl friends who use her, and friends who care about her. I am giving her a loving and supportive family. I am going to show her hitting rock bottom because my cousin hit rock bottom, you can’t deny that or turn back the clock. And then I am going to have this girl claw her way out of that hole. She is going to hate it. She is going to kick and scream and try to stay depressed and alone and her friends and family are going to love her until she sees the love around her. This girl will be surrounded by love. Because it is the only way I can think of to show my cousin that she is surrounded by love.

I’m going to give my cousin a copy as a gift.

And then I’m going to sell this book as an e-book (perhaps the only book I’ll ever self-publish) and I’m going to give the proceeds from the first week of sales to Kids Help Phone, the kids and teens crisis hotline center. Because I support suicide intervention. I support organizations that support teens and children. And because I believe they, and other professionals, have the power to change lives for the better. 

And because I want to show my cousin that her story isn’t over. I want to show her that the bottom isn’t the same as the end. I want to show her that people care enough about the issue of teen suicide to read a story that is based on her, to help her and teens like her.

And because it’s the only thing I can do to show her that I love her and that I would miss her. She is beautiful. I wish I could post a picture of her for you to see her beautiful smile. I might just use her photo for the cover of the book. 

Writing is about inspiration. I have found mine. 

*Note* Originally this said all the proceeds would go to Kids Help Phone but has been edited to give the donation period a deadline. I’m not being greedy, I swear. I don’t have time to monitor and constantly send little donations as sales maybe trickle in. So I’ll do one big push and give one big donation. Thank-you for understanding.

BIG Projects in the Works

I have two massive deadlines looming all of a sudden. Two windows of opportunity have opened and I’m going to try a double-jump and get through them both without crashing into the glass.

First, there is a script writing competition that closes on August 8th – OR – when they reach 200 entries. And last night they were almost at 100. So I have to MOVE.

Second, a good agent just opened up to submissions and I have a romance novel she might like – except it’s still a first draft. That means typing the second draft (the first draft is hand written), doing all the edits, and putting the submissions package together by August 31 because she closes her submission window on September 1.

Third, the script writing contest only requires 3-5 sample scenes (along with a summary and a screen treatment) so once the romance novel is done and sent I have to finish the script. The story is DONE already, I just have to transfer it from prose to script. And winners are notified around November 14th so I have to have it done ASAP in September, just in case.

If I get picked as one of the five winners I’ll be spending A LOT of time on rewrites and marketing stuff for that project over the next year. The only other thing I’ll be working on is that romance novel series IN CASE it gets picked up by the agent.

Of course it’s more likely that neither will get a bite and I’ll be back to the drawing board.

In any event, I’ll be absent for a few days as I complete the script package. But, here’s the logline for the script:

As global superpowers unleash hundreds of deadly viruses, a Chicago art teacher backs a revolution to prevent a dystopian future from becoming a dark reality.

Any comments or suggestions? I’m not 100% happy with it yet. But off I go to get it all done.

The Struggle of the Self-Published Author

I’m not a self-published author, but I do have a few books out with a small, digital only press. I have been researching the self-publishing process, and I have been listening to concerns and complaints from the self-published author’s I know. The short version: self-publishing is hard work with little reward.

I discussed a little of what goes into the act of writing in my previous post: A Picture’s Worth 1000 Words – but I’ll discuss it in depth here.

First of all, a novel length project, depending on genre and the preferences of the author, requires at least minimal brainstorming, outline, and character/world development. If this is the only thing the author works on for the 2-4 hours they have each day to dedicate to their craft (between family and work commitments) it can take anywhere from one-to-a hell of a lot of days. Still, let’s say on average about two weeks of consistent time spent to make a cohesive outline, four tops if it requires a full world build. That’s 196-784 HOURS just of writing prep. Some of this will take place before the writing starts, some will take place during the writing process, but it will happen.

Second, the novel needs to be written. If we omit the days when the writer works on other projects, sits in front of the screen suffering from writer’s block, and browses Facebook, it will still take anywhere from 30-365 days, or more, for the piece to be written. And those are just the days when writing occurs. Keeping in mind our 2-4 hour per day schedule that’s 60-1460 HOURS of raw writing time. MINIMUM. And that’s for 30-50k. You want something 80k? Try 2920 HOURS of raw writing time.

Third, there’s the editing that the writer does for themselves. No out of pocket costs, just more time. Say one week total for all the various read-throughs and rewrites. That’s 14-28 hours. Now, add to that the option of buying the services of an editor, at least $50, probably closer to $250.

Fourth, there is the final draft and formatting. This is probably 4-8 hours of setting margins, checking for typos, correcting the header/footer, setting font style and size to industry standards, formatting page size to the self-publish website requirements, etc.

Fifth is the cover. $50-$300 for a semi-professional or professional book cover by an artist. Or 2-20 hours of tinkering with it on your own.

Six is the book blurbs and the promotional blurbs and the summary for your blog and the about the author info. This probably takes another 8-12 hours of fussing and asking for opinions and more fussing.

Seven is sitting for 2 hours and fighting with the various upload systems.

And there you have it, it’s done and online. So what did that cost the writer?

Minimum Time Commitment: 2226 HOURS
Higher Time Commitment: 3354 HOURS
Minimum Cost out of Pocket: 0$
Maximum Cost out of Pocket: $550
Average Cost out of pocket: $100
Minimum Wage (Approximation): $11/hour
Time Costs: $24486-$36894

Cost of the book on Amazon? $1.99
Author Royalties? $0.34
Number of book sales required to break even? 72-110 THOUSAND books sold.

Number of Facebook friends, blog followers, Twitter followers, and offline friends who will find out about the book release (overlap has been taken into account) 100-500 people.
Percentage that will buy books: 50%
Guaranteed sales (sales you can count on before you even finish the book): 50-250 sales.

Yeah, 250 is a lot smaller than 72,000. If every person who bought the book convinced one more person to buy the book it would take 288 successful steps in that chain to reach the 72,000 mark.

It’s possible. The BIG books out there are selling millions of copies. What’s 72k compared to that? But it’s a big step above 250, which is the most sales most of us will ever see. Sad but true.

The one thing we didn’t discuss yet was marketing. All the time and costs that go into blogging, tweeting, Facebook page updates, ad design, paying for ad space, book mark design, time to distribute book marks, etc. This can take as little as one hour per week, and as much as a person is willing to give.

In my next post I’ll be looking at a free marketing platform that may interest self-published writers.

Read Any Good YA Books Lately?

The internet seems rife with literary debate these days. If we’re not arguing about what our writing and artwork is worth we’re arguing about who is allowed to read which genres. Which is silly if you really think about it. 

Let’s take a break from literature and discuss music for a moment. Here’s a boy, he’s 15 years old, he’s white, he comes from a good home with both parents and a few siblings, hell they even have a dog and a white picket fence. This boy listens to rap music. Can you imagine a society where only black underprivileged teens can listen to rap music? Okay, maybe some people like that idea since they don’t like rap music and don’t want their kids listening to it, but then consider this: if you don’t live in a city center you have to listen to country music only. If you do live in a city center then country music is off limits. You can’t listen to jazz if you’re white. You can’t listen to Latin dance music if you’re white. And all this rock and pop music inspired and flavoured by international sounds? Forbidden! If you’re not from that country you can’t borrow from their musical traditions. Oh, and if you move, you’re musical tastes automatically change.

Right. Does that sound realistic?

Food? Shall we discuss food? How many people here like Chinese cuisine? I love it. My family is descended from various parts of Europe so there’s no Asian in me anywhere. No Italian either so pizza is out the window. No tacos. Hell, no perogies! I love perogies! But I’m from the wrong part of Europe to be eating that.

If we let age, gender, nationality, geography, or hair colour determine what we listen to, or what we eat, or yes, what we read, we’re limiting our experiences, and the experiences of others.

Let’s get back to literature. I am 28 years old. I am female. I am white, of mixed European decent. I have lived in Canada all my life. Am I only allowed to read books about white, female, not yet middle-aged, Canadians? Where do we draw the line, and why?

Why draw the line at 17? Because you’re legally an adult at 18? Does that mean the line in the USA is actually at 21? Is it because you’re graduating from high school and need to leave young life behind you as you step into the read world? And what about the 18-30 year olds? What are we, anyways? We’re adults, sure, but we’re not middle-aged, we’re not old, we’re not seniors? The term New-Adult has been coined to cover that gap. YA fiction is about 14-17 year olds, while NA fiction is about 17-30 year olds. But the line is blurry, and it depends on many things, not just age. 

It depends on a person’s comfortable reading level, it depends on their maturity, and (before you think I’m insulting the maturity of 30-44 year olds who read YA fiction) it depends on why we read.

Let’s go back to the original article, which can be found here should you wish to read it:

Most importantly, these books consistently indulge in the kind of endings that teenagers want to see, but which adult readers ought to reject as far too simple. YA endings are uniformly satisfying, whether that satisfaction comes through weeping or cheering. These endings are emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction—of the real world—is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction. These endings are for readers who prefer things to be wrapped up neatly, our heroes married or dead or happily grasping hands, looking to the future.  

Hey, I like a happy ending as much as the next person. Yes, I want some satisfaction from reading a book. And just because it has a nice, satisfactory ending doesn’t mean I stop thinking about it. Books with neat, happy endings are fun to read, they’re easy to read, they’re the sort of books you read in order to relax and escape for a little while. And they don’t have to be happy all the way through. We want struggle and pain and trials so we can see a character we care about triumph over something. And maybe that triumph includes loss, but it includes growth and conclusion as well.

The joy of these books is that they do make us think and feel, but in such a gentle, subtle way that we don’t even notice it. We get to experience growth and loss and difficult situations and by the end we’ve enjoyed so much more than a good story, and we didn’t have to work too hard at it.

I’ve read Dickens, and several other big name, long dead, authors during my university career and yes, they were wonderfully crafted books. I’ve never had the urge to go back and read them. But genre fiction? YA fiction? NA fiction? I read those over and over again. Stephen King, Anne Bishop, Patricia Briggs, George RR Martin, Spider Robinson, Laurel K Hamilton, to name a few. I read storytellers who tell an engaging and compelling story and I find that some of the classics are too slow, too LITERARY, full of heavy devices that slow the reading down. I will never try to diminish the importance of Dickens and Chaucer and Shakespeare (actually I adore Shakespeare) and the Greek classics. They are important, they should be read and studied. But they aren’t the be all and end all of what’s out there.

Lauren Davis wrote a lovely rant in response to the original article, and you can find it here:

In her words: Certain books seem to be particularly vulnerable to finger-wagging from the so-called literary elite: science fiction, fantasy, romance novels, “chick-lit,” and now young adult fiction. Fiction that has been traditionally aimed at women and young people is particularly vulnerable to the criticisms of not being serious enough, not being mature enough. We don’t typically see the same criticisms of, say, spy thrillers, even though some books in that category tick off the boxes on Graham’s no-no list: Namely, that they tell complete stories with nice, neat endings, and may idealize situations rather than teach us big truths about life.

Now, I myself have fallen into the “genre bashing” game when it comes to romance, and that’s because I found romance novels lacking in a strong story, they were too cliched. Turns out I was reading the wrong romance novels is all. Now I’ve even written a few romance novellas. (See my Books page here on my blog for a list of those novellas – end shameless promotion). I felt the same way about romantic comedies. And you know what, I don’t really have a problem with people who like them, they’re just not for me. So I have stopped bashing and simply voice my opinion as what it is, a single opinion that defines me, but cannot define others. 

So many books these days are breaking down walls between genres. The wall between science fiction and fantasy was probably the first to go. Romance can be thrown into any genre now. As can mystery and thriller. Now books with a touch of horror are labeled “dark” – Dark Fantasy, Dark Romance etc. And YA isn’t even a genre, it’s a targeted audience based on the age of the protagonist. 

We were all 17. We can all relate to being a teenager, even if we didn’t all have cellphones and social media in high school. We can’t all relate to being a high priced successful lawyer. We can’t all relate to being a spy. We can’t all relate to being a wizard. But somehow being a teenager (even if the character is a teenage spy, or a teenage wizard) transcends whatever else is going on in the book. The teenage character encapsulates those feelings of awkwardness, of fear and insecurity, of change and growth both physical and emotional, of newness and discovery, of failure, of boundaries and wanting to push past them. Even Ruth Graham admits to these feelings in her original article.

I want teenagers and ambitious pre-teens to have as many wonderful books to read as possible, including books about their own lives. But I remember, when I was a young adult, being desperate to earn my way into the adult stacks; I wouldn’t have wanted to live in a world where all the adults were camped out in mine. 

That’s right, as a teenager she wanted to reach past the boundaries of YA literature and read those unreachable adult books. So why didn’t she? I was reading Stephen King at 12. I was reading Tolkien at 12. I was reading Poe at 12. I was also reading Roald Dahl at 12. And occasionally I picked up my sister’s Bailey School Kids books. My parents didn’t see the boundaries the way the literary world did. If I was mature enough to handle the language and the themes then I could read the book. It didn’t matter the age of the protagonist, or the gender of the protagonist, or when it was written or where it was written. 

We make the boundaries. We can break them down. We can let people enjoy the reading process, and study literature, and read a multitude of books.

Far be it from me to disrupt the “everyone should just read/watch/listen to whatever they like” ethos of our era. There’s room for pleasure, escapism, juicy plots, and satisfying endings on the shelves of the serious reader. And if people are reading Eleanor & Park instead of watching Nashville or reading detective novels, so be it, I suppose. But if they are substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature, then they are missing something.

Why does she assume we’re ONLY reading YA lit? Why do we have to be put into neat little slots? Why can’t I read fantasy this week and “serious” lit next week and science fiction the week after? Why do I have to pick only one favourite? Okay, she says “substituting” so she is making a distinction here. She is pointing the finger at those over 18ers who ONLY read YA fiction. Yeah, they’re missing something. But so is she. There is so much out there that’s new and fresh and deep and thought provoking in every genre, targeted at every age group. 

I read a children’s picture book about a mom dealing with cancer!

Bridge to Terebithia has a child dying! The best friend of the main character dies! 

Writing is supposed to tell a great story and in the process discuss some aspect of life – whether it’s coming-of-age, or dealing with difficulties, or sacrifice, or pain, or loss, or great joy, or true love. Some deal with multiple aspects, some don’t. Some deal with those aspects in settings we find familiar, some don’t. 

To take away from a book’s value because of the target audience is to tell a teenager that their problems and issues, their interests and likes, are not valued. They are not valued because their stories are not valued. 

To take away from a book’s value for any reason is dangerous. Obviously some books are better written than others, and time will separate the classics from the one-hit-wonders, it will separate the good from the bad, and it will do it naturally without genre shaming, without age-shaming. If you don’t like a book, explain why. 

I’m a reader who did not weep, contra every article ever written about the book, when I read The Fault in Our Stars. I thought, Hmm, that’s a nicely written book for 13-year-olds. If I’m being honest, it also left me saying “Oh, brother” out loud more than once. Does this make me heartless? Or does it make me a grown-up? 

That’s right, it’s written for a younger audience, and maybe Ruth Graham didn’t enjoy it, but that doesn’t make it a bad book. I didn’t enjoy Twilight, my sister loved it. We’re only two years apart. And I love paranormal creatures, and I still read YA books. It had nothing to do with genre or target audience or my age at the time (because I loved Shiver, Linger, and Forever which are also YA books with werewolves). There is so much within a genre and especially within the range of genres written for YA readers, that it seems impossible to write a review of it, as Ruth Graham has tried to do. If she had written a review of The Fault in our Stars and stated “That’s a nicely written book for 13-year-olds” I don’t think it would have caused any controversy. I often say, “it’s a good book, I guess, but it’s not a genre I enjoy” OR “it was too easy a read” or whatever complaint I have. Many books I’ve read, or started reading, haven’t been for me. But very few of them have been down right BAD. 

I think it’s time to tear down the boundaries. Yes, marketing agencies are still going to target us by gender and age group, but we need to read what appeals to us, regardless of how it’s labelled, and we need to reach outside our comfort zone every now and then to see what else is out there. 

Give it a chance. You might like it. You might be surprised by what’s out there.


A Picture’s Worth 1000 Words

Today a fellow writer on the NaNoWriMo Facebook page made the following comment:

Paying for artwork… now this has been a hot topic with me before (not sure if it was on here), but I don’t believe any drawing, no matter how good (unless you are friggin Royo) should cost 300 dollars/euro’s/pounds or more. I understand that you want to cash in on your abilities and get paid for the hours you spend drawing, but as a writer, if I calculate an hourly rate of the work I put in it a book would actually be impossible to are willing to trade me a small mansion in the south of France for it. I write because it is my passion, you draw because it is yours. I am not getting vast amounts of cash because your artwork is on my cover (again, unless you are friggin Royo), it’s just something nice to wrap the words in, so be reasonable. A 50 for a drawing is plenty. End rant. Peace.

As you can guess this created quite the debate. For the most part people were advocating that artists get paid a decent amount for their work. The definition of decent varied between 50$ and $300 depending on the size and style of the art, the medium (original painting vs print vs cover art vs digital etc), the talent of the artist, and the preceding fame of the artist. There was also intense argument over how much writers should make, and why the discrepancy between art and writing.

That’s all the recap you’re going to get. The rest of this is my opinion on a hot topic. 

Let’s start with artwork, shall we? Artists are talented individuals, some more than others, and each in their own area. I know many artists, some who work with traditional drawing mediums such as pencil, charcoal, and coloured pencils, some who do graphic design, some digital artists, a few photographers, and a couple of painters. These are people trying to make a living in the artistic world (except the two painters, they aren’t “professional” artists per say but that’s off topic), most of them work as graphic designers for local businesses, taking care of web page maintenance and updates and helping with ad campaigns. They work a 9-5 job for a wage doing graphic design related work. I can’t tell you how much they make because I don’t know, but since they’re all less than 10 years out of college I’d say they’re not making the BIG BUCKS yet.

So, when you buy a book cover, or hire a photographer, or buy a print of a picture in any medium, what are you paying for? Just an image? Just a few hours of someone’s time? Or are you also paying off the four year art degree? And the equipment and supply costs? Look at any other commodity. When you buy fruit at the grocery store the cost includes the produce, the cost of shipping it to the store, the wages of the person who put it out on the shelf, the wages of the person who supervises the shelf stocking staff, and a portion of the costs of maintaining the store (electricity, janitor, water, etc). When you pay for a university course you are paying for the professor’s time and knowledge, access to the classroom for one hour, the wages of the person who has to keep that room clean, the electricity for the lights in that room for one hour, the heating of that room for one hour, and the upkeep on the desks/tables/chairs. When you think about it, there are a lot of hidden costs to everything we buy. And artwork is no different. 

My sister is a photographer. For a one hour photo session she spends 30 minutes checking her equipment and loading it for the session, 15-45 minutes driving to the session location, 15 minutes setting up, 15-30 minutes in conference with the client deciding on poses, locations, group configurations, etc., 60-120 minutes actually taking the photos, 15 minutes packing up, 15-45 minutes driving home, 60-120 minutes reviewing and editing the photos to correct lens glare, red eye, over saturation, under saturation, and blurs, 15-45 minutes loading the photos onto a transportable medium, 15-45 minutes driving back to the client, 30-60 minutes reviewing the photos with the client and collecting the money, and 15-45 minutes to get home. Plus wear and tear on the equipment. Plus fuel costs. Plus someone has to watch her daughter while she’s working. Plus she has a student loan to pay off. So for a 1 hour in home photo session she puts in 5-10 hours of time plus additional costs. And most people want to pay her $20 for one hour of taking pictures. 

Do you think she’s getting paid fairly?

Other artists are putting time and supplies into their artwork. Plus the costs of making prints, and paying for a booth somewhere or internet hosting costs. They have to put those costs into the price of the artwork or they’ll lose money.

How many times have you seen someone ask a friend to do their photos for free, to design something for free, because they’ll get “exposure” for it? When my sister was still in university she would do my family photos for free because she was building her portfolio and because there was no travel time or client conference time since we lived together and we could talk over dinner. But now she’s trying to make a living at it so I get her to do my family photos only if we’re going to see each other anyways (she’s coming over for dinner this weekend and bringing her camera) and I pay her for the time, and I get my own prints at my own expense, and I still let her use the photos for advertising herself. They’ll pay $15 for a 6000 word erotic story – no credit to the writer. 

I work an average of 4 hours per day when I’m on a deadline (two hours while my daughter naps and the other two either before the kids are up or after they’re in bed), 6 days a week. It takes me just over a week to write a 6000 word erotic story. It takes me 5 weeks to write and edit a 40,000 word novella. So at 24 hours per day or 144 hours per week, that would work out to 1440$ per 5000-6000 word short story and $7200 per 40k novella – and that price includes all the editing and formatting. But I’m not getting paid that. I’m getting paid 15-75$ for a story and $400 for the novella – with no royalties. 

Besides time, what are you paying for? I have a BA in English Literature so I understand the mechanics of a story, character building, imagery, subtlety, etc. I took courses in grammar and punctuation and I do take on work as a freelance editor. I have a laptop that occasionally needs work. I have to pay for a word processing program. I have to pay for an internet connection so I can communicate with my clients/publishers and deliver my work on time. I have to spend time managing my various networking and job search accounts so I can promote myself and find more work. And I have a naturally creative imaginative mind which I am putting to work for you – in other words, natural talent and ability. Other writers are also paying for editors and cover artists.

If I self published a novella I wouldn’t charge $7200 for it. The difference between art and writing is that art is a one time sale (for the most part, or a limited sale in the case of prints) They rarely get royalties, even for book covers, and they don’t mass produce. But I have 127 friends on Facebook. Considering that some are related to each other and live in the same household even if every one of them bought a copy of my book out of support that would be 110 copies, tops. Add the 10 copies that other NaNo writers might buy in support, and maybe another 10 that my blog followers might buy in support that’s only 130 copies. Add another 15 for friends and family who aren’t on Facebook and that’s 145 copies. And this is thinking BIG. Realistic would be 75 copies. That’s right. Out of 200+ friends, family, and acquaintances I could count on less than half of them to actually buy a copy of the book to show support and of that 75, only 5 will go back and post a review. Anyways, that book is worth $7200, and I would get about 35 CENTS per copy in royalties through Amazon if I self published it. And we said a guaranteed 75 copies sold? $26.25. To get paid a decent wage for that book I’d have to sell 20571 at $1.99. And I have to do all my own marketing. If I pay for any ads or bookmarks or posters that means 100 or 1000 more copies before I see a profit. 

If you have any friends in the Indie publishing biz ask them how many copies of their books they’ve sold. I’m better 90% have sold less than 2000 copies. 

That $7200 was just for the story. It didn’t include the editor (which runs $50-$300 dollars) or the cover art (which runs $50-$300 dollars – and was the start of this whole debate) because as a freelance writer I’m not expected to provide those things. As an self-published author, I am. So now we’re looking at $7800 for all out of pocket expenses, including time, which is 22,285 copies. Or 22,200 copies more than I know I can sell. 

What about traditional publishing? At least then I’ll get a four figure advance and some chance at royalties. But even at a $2000 advance and $2/book there’s this clause that says the advance is against future royalties, I need to sell more than 1000 copies before I see any extra money. Still, at $2 per printed book, that’s 3600 copies to make back that $7200 figure we’ve been using as an example. But of course you have to pay taxes on that like everyone else, and EI, and CPP (I’m Canadian), and you pay your agent out of that so you’re only getting $1.50 per book before deductions (now we’re looking at 4800 copies). But you don’t pay for the cover and you get the book into physical stores. Still, that’s 4725 more copies than I know I can sell. Which is why it’s so hard to break into traditional publishing.

And it all comes down to the fact that people don’t want to spend 2$ on an ebook by an author they’ve never heard of because if the book sucks they’re out 2$. People don’t want to chance it on a $20 book because if they don’t like it they’re stuck with the book cluttering up the house and they’re out the money. At least with artwork you can preview the piece in its entirety before buying. Same thing with music. It doesn’t help that writers and artists aren’t supporting each other – advertising for each other, providing word-of-mouth recommendations for writers they like, liking pages and blogs, sharing links and release news, BUYING from each other. It doesn’t help that so many non-creatively engaged people are surrounded by so many “starving artists” and “starving writers” that they can’t support all of them. It doesn’t help that we’re under-pricing ourselves in the market place. It doesn’t help that our culture no longer values books and art. 

I suggest we work to change things. Charge what you’re worth. Advertise for each other. Let’s put some value into art and literature again.


Unbreakable, Bendable, Breakable – Rules for Writers

Yes, I said rules. Not guidelines or suggestions. Rules. Why? Because there are some rules that are completely unbreakable. The rest really are more like guidelines and suggestions but I’m sticking with the term rules.

1) Spelling – get it right. Between the computer spell checker, your own knowledge of your primary language, and your ability to utilize dictionaries and proofreaders, there is no excuse for spelling errors. If big name authors can put out 900 page novels with less than two spelling typos in the finished, published product, you can too. Alien languages, ancient spells etc. are exempt of course, but keep your spelling consistent.
2) Grammar – get it right. While there are more grey zones in grammar than in spelling, and the rules are more complicated, you should put the effort in and get it sorted out. Getting the words of your sentences in the right order is critical for reader understanding.
3) Punctuation – there’s wiggle room with some punctuation marks, and you may need to use some marks in weird ways if you are conveying alien languages or ancient rituals but there are rules to follow. Learn them and use them properly.
4) Sentence Structure – part of this is grammar, part of this is punctuation, part of this is identifying sentence fragments and run on sentences, part of this is identifying places where the sentence is confusing. If the story is not readable people won’t read it. Craft each sentence carefully so its meaning isn’t lost.
5) Consistency of Facts – yes, people lie. Yes your characters will lie. Yes you can use that to build suspense within a story. But a fact is a fact is a fact. Don’t let characters change names or identifying features without explanation. Keep geographical features consistent. If there’s a lie involved that needs to be explained, either at the time of the lie or when the truth comes out. If you lack this consistency you’ll confuse the reader to the point where they put down your book and never pick it up again.
6) Consistency of Tense – if you’re writing in past tense, stick to it. Same if you choose present tense. Yes, there are a few, rare, situations when you need to switch tense, most of them dealing with flashbacks or occur within dialogue. But overall you’ll need to pick past or present and stick with it for the entire piece.

Why are these bendable? Because while it’s a good idea to follow them, most of the time, there are more occasions when you’ll want to soften them, or forget them completely.
1) Consistency of Point of View – there are multiple POVs to choose from: first person (I did, I thought), third person singular limited (image a parrot sitting on single character’s shoulder, whatever that parrot sees or hears can be related to the reader), third person singular omnipotent (like the parrot example, but you can hear that character’s thoughts), third person multiple limited (or fly on the wall, your fly can follow anyone anywhere so lots of events can be related to the reader), third person multiple omnipotent (like fly on the wall but you can hear anybody’s thoughts when needed), second person (you saw, you did – VERY hard to write) – some are easier and more common than others and each serves a different purpose. MOSTLY you’ll pick one POV and keep it for the entire piece. Sometimes you’ll change POV, alternating between two first person narrators for example. This is allowed but the change needs to be clearly marked.
2) Dialogue Tags – this is the part that comes before or after the dialogue that identifies who’s speaking. MOSTLY you’ll use very simple words like ‘said’, ‘shouted’, ‘asked’, ‘replied’ or ‘whispered’ – and of those ‘said’ is used most often. For the most part we do just speak to each other. Sometimes you’ll need to put some force behind some dialogue, or some emotion, or some action, and that’s okay. “Get the hell off my property!” he bellowed – is very different from – “Get the hell off my property,” he said through gritted teeth, his hands tightening on the shotgun. OR “Kiss me,” he whispered VS “Kiss me,” he demanded. Those descriptive words exist so use them, but rely mostly on ‘said’ and other things like actions and separate descriptive sentences to get emotions across to the reader. Variety is the spice of life after all.
3) Adverb and Adjective use – some very strict writing instructors will tell you not to use them at all. It’s impossible. However, you can make your writing heavy and slow if you overuse adverbs and adjectives. Space them out, use them sparingly to brighten up your writing, and avoid cliches. Golden hair is so overused – why not sun-kissed blonde, or ‘like a wheat field’ or glowing blonde? Try to find interesting new combinations of descriptions, one unique descriptive phrase is worth 10 cliches.
4) Character Names – Yes, you need to name them, or at least give them a title to refer to them by. As a suggestion, make the names most of the way pronounceable. Avoid randomly changing the spelling of a common name (writers often replace the letter ‘i’ with the letter ‘y’) unless you have a reason. Same for “hippy” names or culturally uncommon names – they should have a reason for being there. For a true life example – a woman I knew lived in Vietnam and had two children, she and her husband and those first two children had traditional Vietnamese names. Then they moved to Canada and she worked for my grandmother for many years. Here she had a third child and she wanted to give him a good Canadian name (she chose Patrick and no one had the heart to tell her it was Irish). If your character isn’t Asian (or if you’re not in a future setting where Asian culture has dominated the world) then don’t give your character an Asian name. Alien and fantasy settings do have their own “rules” for naming characters but give each race or cultural group a style of names. One other point, I always try for variety in the first letter or overall sound of the name. Having an Aewyn, Aelwyn, and Aelfhaven in the same book (a prince, a goddess, and a place respectively) would be too confusing (so Aewyn got his name changed because the other two were culturally based and had to stay). I’ve honestly put down a book because I kept confusing the first two characters because the names were too similar. Now, I do have a Jonathan, son of Johann and a Ronan, a Richard, and a Robert in the same family. In some cultures that’s the way naming within generations worked (There’s a Robert, a Robb, and a Robin in Game of Thrones after all). The best thing to keep in mind is that you want to keep things fairly easy and straightforward for your reader.
5) Scene Order – it makes sense to write from point A to point B to point C and on to the end. But sometimes we need flashbacks or memories, and sometimes we want to write completely out of order, placing a nearly last scene first (Megamind) or even more scrambled (The Time Traveler’s Wife). Always keep scenes clearly marked if they are not in chronological order! If there’s no good plot or presentation reason to mess with the natural order of time then leave it, just for simplicity’s sake. But there’s nothing saying you can’t play with your timeline as long as the story remains interesting and understandable.
6) Format – who said a novel had to be prose anyways? You can write it as a series of letters, like CS Lewis, “The Screwtape Letters” or as poetry like Ellen Hopkins “Crank”, “Glass” and “Fall Out”. Remember, when someone picks up a novel they are expecting something familiar. If you’re going to step outside of the traditional here you need to grab people, and keep the clarity of storytelling.

These are rules that shouldn’t even be rules. They’re more like conventions.
1) POV choice – you can choose anyone to “tell” your story. 1st person, 3rd person, I read a story that was told by the house plant of all things. It was very good actually. Some are more common than others. Some are easier for short pieces while others are better suited to long pieces. There really is no rule here except clarity and consistency. And we already know consistency can bend as long as clarity is maintained.
2) Tense choices – immediate past tense and present tense are the most common choices. You can choice either of these or play with others (like far past tense which is used for extended flash back stories, or future tense). Present is hard to maintain in longer pieces. There is no rule for which to choose, only preference and how which works better for your story. (Oh, and scripts are in present tense).
3) Language Choice – I don’t mean English vs. French. I mean using technical jargon, profession specific words, and fancy language. Don’t go to the thesaurus just to spice up your writing, but if there’s a little used word that is perfect for your work, use it. If we all use the same dreary words over and over again we’ll lose all creativity!

This is way longer than I intended, and I’m sure I’ve missed rules. If I get enough comments on things I didn’t cover I’ll do a part 2.

Sending it Out

The story is finished and edited. Congratulations. You’ve made it farther than a lot of writers. But you’re not home free yet. There’s a lot to do before the public will ever see your work. The first thing you need to do is make a very important decision: self-publishing or traditional publishing? There are pros and cons to each, and that’s the subject for another post. But I’d like to present a short to-do list for each option.

1) choose a platform, be it Amazon, Good Reads, Lulu, Kobo …. there are lots out there. Remember, you should not have to pay to be published. Self publishing platforms and print on demand platforms tend to take a small share of the sale price from each unit sold or copy downloaded. If they want you to pay to have copies printed, up front, out of your pocket (and you’re not placing an order for them) they are a vanity press. You don’t need a vanity press when there are so many other options.

2) choose a format – digital or paper or both. Digital is so cheap and easy to do you’d be crazy not to. Most platforms are digital only with a few print on demand sites to mix it up. With the technology available, digital really is the future for the publishing world (another controversy for yet another blog post)

3) get your (generally) free membership to your platform, download the formatting guides, and study the upload system and the pricing rules. Yeah, there’s research involved. You can still change your mind if you find you don’t like something about this platform.

4) format your work according to the guidelines, get a cover.

5) upload the document and the cover, set the price, and you’re off to the races

6) self-promote and start writing the next book

While there are still a handful of publishers that will accept unagented manuscripts your best bet for a first book is to get an agent. I don’t have an agent yet so I can’t tell you how to get one, only the process.
1) Research – find literary agents accepting submissions in your genre for your intended reading audience (age group).

2) Follow the query instructions (which will include writing a cover letter or query letter, a summary or synopsis, a log line, and/or an author bio) and send them out

3) WAIT.

Repeat steps 1-3 until an agent gets back to you WHILE working on the next book. If you finish the next book before you get a response to the first book start sending out the next book (provided they aren’t a series) If an agent contacts you give them exactly what they ask to see in a timely fashion.

The agent will take care of sending the manuscript to publishers for you, they will help you with the contract negotiations, and they can answer some questions for you, as well as give you a little guidance about the market so you can plan your next book.

Sending straight to a publisher who accepts unagented submissions is basically the same process. Research, prepare, send, wait, repeat.

Query letters, synopsis, summaries, bios – I’ve never had to write them so I can’t give you concrete advice. I can tell you to research them extensively and as for help from your readers. There are also things like in-person pitches to agents at writing conventions, I live in a small city, we don’t have this where I live so I can’t help you. This is definitely a tedious, soul-wrenching stage that can take YEARS if you go the traditional route. If you’ve gotten this far I wish you the best of luck, and please, if you get an agent or a book deal, please share your advice with the rest of us!

Bringing it All Home

Actually this post is a little misleading. You’ll be repeating this step in between every edit and every reading done by a friend/family member/editor because you’ll have new changes to make. Let’s take a look at the types of edits and how to apply them to the original document.

Now, one good method of backing up your work is to save a copy of the finished, unedited manuscript on an external drive or your preferred back up location. Having a print copy that never sees a red pen is a good thing too, if you can spare the paper and ink. This is so you have a copy without edits to go back to in case you don’t like a major change, or you want to compare an edited passage to the original. Save a second copy on the computer, with a new name (like TITLEDRAFT2) and do your edits on there.

TECHNICAL – this can be tough when you’re editing, but actually applying the changes is easy. Many times you’ll be reading on screen and you can make these edits as you read. Or you’ll be running the computer spell checker. If you have comments on a word document, or scribbles on a page, it’s as easy as retyping a misspelled word or adding a comma. There are a few places where you’ll need to completely rewrite a sentence but often I’ll have done that by hand on the editing copy so I just need to copy in the changes. Sometimes, however, I’ll simply make a note (like “choppy” or “smooth this out”) and then I’m stuck sitting there tinkering away with it.

CONSISTENCY – name changes are easy, use the Find/Replace tool. If there are timeline consistency issues you may have to make multiple changes across multiple scenes, especially if you have a work with extensive travel or season changes. For example, if it actually takes four weeks, not three, to travel from point A to point B you need to change every reference to that trip so it matches. You may have to change setting details, like the weather, because a week’s difference in early spring is huge in some places. You may also have to change references to fixed events, such as birthdays and holy days. Having a timeline or calendar can help keep that mess straight and tidy. While it’s tedious, it’s mostly checking facts, not creating new scenes.

CONTINUITY – you may to rearrange scenes to correct timeline issues. This requires the same tedious fact checking I just mentioned. It also includes editing the transitions between scenes – the entrance and exit of characters, the introduction of setting, removing a setting or character intro because of redundancy, etc. After a major continuity edit have someone read it for redundancy and confusion issues. This is time consuming because you will have to recreate parts of scenes, move pieces about, and fact check.

AUTHOR SPECIFIC – if you had a specific issue, like the new casts that were worrying me in my short story, hopefully you’ll have feedback directed to that issue. The note I got was “this sounds to personal. try listening to some news on CNN or CBC to get a feel for how the people talk” then I sat down with my dad and discussed his feedback, he gave me specific lines in the story that needed changing. With his suggestions in mind I went back and rewrote those segments.

DIALOGUE – if your dialogue is cliched find a way to spice it up. If a conversation is confusing start by adding more dialogue tags. If a conversation is bland add more emotions and reactions to the dialogue tags. Break up dialogue with little notes on character description and settings and character emotions. Or use dialogue, even thought dialogue, to break up long pieces of description.

CHARACTER COMMENTS – what if you get that dreaded comment “the characters feel flat”? Well, step one is to get more details. Where in the story did the character fall flat? Is it their dialogue, their personality, their actions, their appearance? Do you have too many background characters with no real purpose? Your readers may even have suggestions for spicy things up.

Step two is to do some character brainstorming. Because my fantasy novel has a large cast and I didn’t want the characters becoming so similar to one another that you mistake one for another I made a list of their goals and motives. Why do they act the way they do? Why does my fantasy princess want to fight with a sword? Why does she hate dresses? How do I stop her from becoming a cliche? I did this for the two leading ladies and the main cast. With the background characters I looked at each and asked “Why are they in the story? What plot lines are they involved in? What purpose do they serve?” Each named character had to have a purpose, they had to propel a main character into or through a situation. They had to provide a problem, or the closure to a problem. They had to do more than walking in, say a line, and walk out.

Doing the background work may be the easiest part of that edit. Applying that to the story is difficult. Go into scenes where main characters interact and, armed with your new knowledge of goals and motives, see if you can spice up their reactions, or their expressions. Add a few snippets of back story or memories or flashbacks. Keep your eyes peeled for cliched phrases, facial expressions, settings, and situations. You don’t have to delete them, just give them a new spin. Hopefully your readers have picked a few of these out for you. After a major character edit get another read through. If it’s just a few scenes that needed work send just those scenes back to the reader. If it was a whole piece edit send the whole piece for another review.

SETTING COMMENTS – sometimes people will note that your setting is cliched, too vague, boring, non-existent … setting is crucial to plot and can be set up in a few words, “a hole in the wall cafe” for example, or over a few pages with short descriptive paragraphs and little notes and dialogue. Setting tells the reader where they are, the time of day/month/year/season, the weather and so much more. Setting can set the mood or the pace of a scene. You don’t want to overwhelm the reader with details all in one large clump but if your landscape is too sparse you’ll lose the reader (geographically, not as in “I put the book down”). This is a little easier to edit because you can go through and add details to transition scenes and dialogue tags (He shivered as the cold autumn rain trickled down the back of his coat. “Why are we still out here?”).

GENERAL OPINIONS – Character and setting will generally come mixed in with the rest of the general opinions. You may also get notes on overall readability, the acceptability of the level of graphic/explicit content, and if the plot was believable. Readability is addressed mostly in technical (smooth sentences, well ordered paragraphs, enough dialogue tags) and partly in continuity and consistency. Believable is partly setting, partly plot, partly character. This can be a bugger to edit and may result in MAJOR reworkings. The acceptable level of graphic and explicit content changes depending on intended audience, genre, and who’s reading it. Take these comments seriously and examine the questionable scenes. If you can achieve the same emotional reactions with less gore/sex etc. then go with less. Subtlety is an art form of its own. If you’re writing slasher horror, maybe your reader is just squeamish. If everyone says it’s too much, tone it down. If all but one person says it was fine don’t worry about it, or just tone down a little.

After all the readers are done with it, and they’re all saying “it’s looking really good” you have to let it sit. This isn’t always possible with short stories since we’re often writing them for specific open calls with deadlines. But if possible ignore the piece for a few days or a few months. Stephen King’s rule (and I’m paraphrasing again): the longer you work on it the longer it will take you to gain that unbiased professionalism needed to really see the work for what it is.

After that wait time give it an honest read through. The edit process this time should be fairly short, just some little tinkers. Then stick a fork in it baby ’cause it’s done. All that’s left is the logline, synopsis, summary, cover letter, and back of book blurb. But those are issues for another post.