Targeting Your HTML

I thought I had blogged on this before but Blogger is being difficult, and I can't find the post. So I'm posting (reposting?) for reference, as there are some bloggers out there that still need to learn this lesson.

For all examples in this explanation, we are going to use [ and ] but when you write the actual code, you should replace them with < and >. Here is how you make a hyperlink in your blog post.

[a href="URL"]Site Name[/a]

Ta-da! Now users can link to a website from your site, and that's super nifty. There's only one problem. When they follow that link, they leave your site. You don't want readers to do that, especially if they're not done reading what you posted. The goal is to keep users at your site while providing them all the entertainment and information they need. You are an Oracle, a font of wisdom, but they'll never learn that if you're sending them elsewhere.

So what do we do? We target the hyperlink. There are various targets that have various applications, but in this situation, we only care about one of them. You want your hyperlinks to open in a new tab/window. (Whether it's a new tab or window is up to their browser settings so you don't worry about that.) How do you make the link open in a new tab/window? Like so:

[a href="URL" target="_blank"]Site Name[/a]

You don't need any punctuation to separate commands, so don't go adding a comma or anything. Write it just like I have it above and the next time someone follows one of your links, it'll open in a new tab, leaving your page still available to them so that when they're done reading what you linked to, they can easily return to your own content and continue to learn from your wisdom.

So let us practice:
[a href="" target="_blank"]Penny Arcade[/a] becomes Penny Arade once we replace the brackets with angle brackets.

Click on that link.

Welcome back! I assume that you read the comic and possibly a number of other archives but eventually you closed that tab and look, we're still here!



And there you go, kiddies. Now go forth and hyperlink correctly.

On Beta Reading

I have finished the second draft of my middle grade fantasy, PRINCE OF CATS. To make sure I'm reaching my target readership appropriately, I have enlisted many of my nieces and nephews (and a few friends who are of the appropriate age) to read the draft and give me feedback. Now, since most of them have never beta read for me (or anyone) before, I decided to write up some instructions and an explanation of what kind of feedback I really needed. While a few points are specific to what I tried to accomplish with the manuscript (specifically any words they might not have understood), I think this advice is good for beta readers of any genre, not just mg. So I thought I'd share it. I've seen some people on twitter going through their first beta and all they post about is "so and so liked it!" While yes, that's exciting, that's not what a beta is for. We always want people to like what we write. Beta review is to take what we've created and make it better. Focus less on what they like and focus more on what they don't like. You'l end up with a better novel in the end.

Begin letter

I want to thank you for being a beta reader for my latest novel, PRINCE OF CATS. This is my first middle grade story (middle grade meaning written specifically for someone of your age). The feedback you give me will go a long way in helping me make this the best story it can be.

So let’s start with, what is a beta reader? You are! :) A beta reader is someone who reads a novel manuscript before it is published. I have written the first draft then edited that into the second draft, the version you are reading now. With your (and others’) feedback, I will revise to a third draft. That is what I’ll use to send to agents and publishers and so on. You get to read this before everyone else! When it’s as famous as Harry Potter, you can say, “Hey, I read that before it was even published. It’s totally awesome because of me.” And you’d be right.

Now, what is not beta reading? Beta reading is reading this story and telling me it was good or that you liked it. Every author wants people to write what he/she writes, but from beta readers, the most important thing is good feedback. Good feedback points out specific things you like. Good feedback points out specific things you DON’T like. It’s okay not to like something. It’s okay not to like any of it. As long as you communicate that in a constructive way, I promise I won’t be upset with you. We’re working together on this now, and partners don’t get mad with each other.

So what makes good feedback? Point out any and all of the following:

• People/events you like
• People/events you don’t like
• Where the story feels like it’s dragging (Are you getting bored? Skipping ahead?)
• Where you stopped reading because you thought something else would be more fun to do
• Where something happens you don’t believe would/should happen
• Where something happens that you don’t understand

You can give me this feedback in one of two ways. You can write it up in a separate document, just like this one here (or even in a spreadsheet if you’re a child prodigy with Microsoft Excel) or you can write it into the document itself using Track Changes (if you don’t know how to turn Track Changes on, ping me on Facebook and I’ll show you how).

If you could do one other thing for me, I’m doing something special with this story. Some of the vocabulary is intentionally difficult in a few places. If you could write down any words you don’t understand, that would help me hyperlink them to the dictionary so if you read the story on an ereader, you can click to look up what the word means. (If you don’t want to do this, you don’t have to. But if you want to, it is very much appreciated.)

So with that, accompanying this Word file is a zip file with a few different formats of the story (Word, PDF, epub for your Nook, and mobi for your Kindle). Please keep in mind that this story is only meant for beta readers. This isn’t something to share with your friends. Hopefully they’ll be buying themselves a copy next year. :) While you, of course, will get a free and signed copy because you helped me and were awesome. ...assuming this is published. There’s a chance it may not be, but that’s the life of a writer.

If you have any questions, you are of course always welcome to email me or ping me on Facebook. If you need anything else, just let me know. Thank you again for helping me with my story.


SEO What

It's never too early to start. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. You may see a lot of ads around the internets for SEO companies that will help you game the system. They understand the value of links to and from your content to work your way through Google's algorithm. Once upon a time it was thought of as narcissistic to Google yourself. Now it's a must.

Go do that right now. We'll wait.

If your website or blog did not come up first, you're doing it wrong. Now granted, some of you may have more competition than others. Once upon a time, there was an English rocker of note with my name and I was appearing on page 6. Now I am the entirety of page 1.

Though that's not entirely honest, is it? Google recently changed its algorithm to personalize search results. Googling the exact same term as you will not yield the same top ten results. So I recommend Googling yourself on a friend's computer (or a coworker's who doesn't have an online history talking to you would be best).

Here's what it comes down to, when an agent Googles your name, you want the first option he/she clicks to be you. Your website, your blog, or at least your Twitter account.

But how, Joe? How do we do this? Links, young man/woman. Links will aid you in your effort. The more (valid) locations linking to your website, the more Google's algorithm thinks your important. (Compound this with the frequency in which you are clicked on after a search and up up up you go!) So you know when you're reading a blog and you see a commenter posting his/her website? That's not just to drive content to their site. It's to improve their SEO as well. Live links (not just the text), leading to your site make it important. That's how unethical SEO companies work so quickly. They set up 175 or so false websites and have all of them link back to you, ratcheting you up the list. Google has taken steps to have such results stripped or at least dropped in ranking. They've added a "relevance" variable, which is why attempting this on your own would be a waste.

Participation is the key! And friendship. People who list your website are helping you. When you list their website, you help them. When you participate, you help yourself and if you participate well, you help the community! It's all interconnected, like on Ferngully.

For me personally, one of the biggest challenges to merging my site and my website is that pages that appear in the top ten results are no longer functional. If an agent were to click on "the Inkwell" for example, they would get a page not found and there's unfortunately no way I can fix it. (This also means older sites and interviews I gave when I was wet(ter) behind the ears are starting to show up on the first page. It takes a lot to kill your history on the internet. Always be mindful of echoes from the past.

So go and be popular, boys and girls! I expect you all to start showing up on the first page of Google results by next month. By next year I want yo to be number one! (Unless you are named after someone famous, in which case find a different way to phrase your online presence so that you might be found.)

Still haven't Googled yourself? I'll make it easy for you. Copy and paste this URL

Replace "joseph+l+selby" with your own name (and use + signs instead of spaces).

The Destruction of the Cloud

I have been a long-time Twitter follower of GalleyCat (an arm of Media Bistro that focuses on publishing) until they posted this article on Monday. Now, as GalleyCat expands its number of contributors, I have found the quality has become more circumspect. This is always a risk with expansion. But said article pushed me over the edge. The stupidity of such a premise offends me to such a degree that I cannot stomach to see their name appear in my Twitter feed any more, so I unfollowed.

If you don't feel like subjecting yourself to the article (and I don't blame you if you do), betting that new technological concepts can be easily exploited by a fear-inducing headline, GalleyCat published an article about Apple's announcement about cloud storage. (Not necessarily a shocker given their pre-announcements and that Amazon and Google are doing the same thing.) GallyCat's statement: Keep your novel on hardcopy because an EMP could destroy the cloud.

Now for you non-science fiction readers, an EMP is an electromagnetic pulse. Did you see the first Clooney Oceans Eleven movie? Don Cheedle sets off a device in a van that blacks out Las Vegas? That's an EMP. They have them in the Matrix too. They're concept.

In reality you create an EMP as part of the effect of a nuclear detonation. I'll write that again: nuclear detonation. In addition to the actual blast and a wave of radiation, there's also a pulse that fries electronic gizmos, power grids, and the like. Blackouts, hard drives wiped, etc. A study shows that an EMP could destroy the cloud!

No shit. An EMP could destroy most anything electronic. That's like saying a nuclear bomb might destroy your house. Telling people to keep a copy of their manuscript on hardcopy because of the risk of EMP is Chicken Littling new technology and not worth my bandwidth. There are two really important facts to keep in mind about this whole premise:

1) Major companies like Apple and Google do not have only one tier of servers and multiple tiers are not kept in the same location. If the servers should fail (a much more likely event than an EMP), back-up servers at a different location take over. So even if someone detonates a nuclear bomb in the atmosphere and EMPs the cloud servers, other cloud servers spin up and you continue doing what you do.

2) A FUCKING NUCLEAR BOMB WAS JUST DETONATED IN THE ATMOSPHERE! I don't know about you, but I have more important things to worry about than my manuscript. Like armageddon.

iFrames coming around

My website/blog merger is now 95% complete. I ended up keeping (but rephrasing and restructuring) the various lists of work because I find those lists help me choose what to work on next. I got rid of the book covers and blurbs and decided to save those for when I have an actual published book to sell.

So, if you are not reading this through an aggregator like Google Reader but are in fact at my blog, you will see a black panel in the top right corner that has the following links:

The Other

Previously and for the past decade and a half, I have called the page I list my writing the Inkwell. Given the length of time since I actually wrote with a pen and the lack of quill imagery that I used to season my sites with, this term seemed dated. It also reminded me of a time when I did not complete or publish my writing, so something new seemed warranted. I actually dropped the page all together because of the space on that black form. One extra page for Inkwell pushed the last link to the bottom margin. And since that black panel is an image and can't be resized without redoing the entire image, I left it off.

Then I finally figured out how to incorporate iframes I have been talking about previously. Rather than incorporating an Inkwell link, I would combine the Inkwell and FAQ pages into a single page, which is what you see now on the Details page.

Now simultaneously but unrelated to the above, I decided the Biography page was boring and it would be cute to call it Backstory. This created a theme. Having a recommendations page (even though I love to share my interests and make recommendations) seemed pretentious. Those things are aspects of my character, so boom there's that title. FAQ is just details and you need details for a story. I wisely scrapped the use of Foreshadowing because that just didn't make sense anywhere. And I kind of shoe-horned in The Other talking about other people's writing. Previously named Bookshelf might have been more appropriate, but it didn't fit the theme! I'll make that square peg fit in the round hole if I have to take a hammer to it!

But anyway, let's get back to the iframes. iframe stands for inline frame. You remember frames from the early '00s right? Top banner, side navigation, and content frames. They moved us out of tables and made sites look more orderly. The problem was, they didn't resize well and pages would look weird on different screens. With the advent of mobile devices, appearance means a lot more than it did before.

An iframe is a content window like before, but rather than being separate from the element it appears in, it is part of it. It is inline. I'm going to show you how I use iframes in my website and then explain how you can use them in yours. So for this demonstration, go to my Details page. Don't try to understand this reading in Google Reader.

On the Details page you'll see an awesome picture of a kid in Seattle looking at some of the smartest graffiti ever made. And beside it, you'll see five menu items. These items are text linked with HTML and separated by non-breaking spaces. Nothing tricky involved there. Then I add a couple blank paragraphs to bush content below the image, and then I add the following code (replacing [ with < and ] with >).

[iframe name="alice" src="" width="100%" height="1500"]
Your browser does not support iframes.[/p]

What this has done is create an inline frame that takes up 100% of the alloted content space (in this case everything to the left of the gutter) that is 1500 pixes down the page. I named this frame "alice" as in Alice through the Looking Glass. The name is relevant for later, so keep that in mind. The src dictates which of the five menu items opens when first arrive on the Details page. In this instance, it is the FAQ content.

Now here's the first catch. iframes require HTML files and Blogger doesn't have a place that allows you to store HTML files. So you'll need some kind of other online host that lets you keep HTML files that you can access using a URL. For my purposes, I am using my old Webs website that I have recently retired. Without applying a personalized domain name, webs offers free hosting, so it's a good place to upload HTML files to reference from Blogger.

If you're intimidated by HTML, I promise that I used the most rudimentary tags to make this content, something you can learn through a beginner's tutorial.

In the above iframe code, you'll notice the line "Your browser does not support iframes. We put that there for those old and busted browsers people continue to use despite the awesomeness that is available to them today. If your browser can't read iframes, it will instead say whatever text you list there. It may be more fitting to put "Update to a real browser, jerky" and link to Chrome or Rockmelt or something. But for the time being, we're being polite.

Okay, so the code above along with the faq.html file creates the page you see when you first show up on the Details page. How do we do the rest of the menu items?

For each menu item (Novels, Short Stories, Plays, D&D, and FAQ), we link them to their respective HTML files.

[a href="" target="alice"]Novels[/a]

Now, if you've learned any HTML code, it's probably how to bold, italicize, and underline. But if you've learned anything past that, it's probably how to create links. You may even have learned how to make that link open in a new tab/window by adding target="_blank". Targeting is just what it sounds, stating where you want the link to open. Other options are top, self, etc. In this case, we're targeting alice, which is the name of my iframe. You're opening the listed HTML file within the iframe.

What's even cooler is that target continues to hold true as long as you're on the page with the inline frame. So you can add links in those HTML files that ALSO target alice, which I do on the D&D page.

That's it. That's how simple iframes are. All the content on the Details page appears in iframes. And when I have a book to sell, I can create its own HTML file that can also be linked in the iframe, making everything neat and orderly and awesome.

If you have any questions, feel free to list them in the comments, and I'll see if I can answer them for you.

Relax! (Go to it)

As previously mentioned, I participated in Sara Megibow's Writer's Digest webinar last week. She had a lot of good points and went over various features of her clients that caught her attention during the query process (all her clients except for one came through the slush pile). Not all the things she mentioned had to do with the author's writing. She mentioned repeatedly how impressed she was with Roni Loren's platform. Roni had started her blog before querying and had 50 followers with regular participation (replies counted in double digits, etc).

For aspiring authors who have not yet started establishing a platform or those of us *cough* me *cough* who can count responses on one hand, these kind of comments can cause some extreme anxiety. Half my twitter followers are spam bots! All my comments come from Ted Cross! Woe is me! Woe is ME!!!!


Stop. Breathe. Ask yourself a simple question: What matters most? The answer will ALWAYS be the same.

The writing.

Writing matters, folks. Sure we need to have a platform. Here I am blogging right now. And that's something to build up over time. But as you are working toward querying and then representation and then publishing, remember to keep your writing up front. There are plenty of things to stress about there (holy crap, this is shit! No one is ever going to want to read it!) that you don't need to pile on with worries that not enough people are commenting on your blog.

And if you want empirical proof, head over to Jane Kindred's blog/website. Jane just sold her epic fantasy in a three-book deal. Check out her followers. 14. Bam, I got her by one!

The writing always matters first.

Changes are Afoot

I'm in this rock/hard place situation where is not keeping pace with technology, specifically the improvements to HTML like iframes. I have changes I want to make to my website that I simply cannot do with webs. It's showing its age and my site looks much more amateurish than it did three years ago when I first built it. At the same time, having a bad ass HTML5 with JS/CSS rocking your socks doesn't do me any good without a book to promote, as I'm sure I'll want to change it as soon as I DO have a book to promote.

So I'm going to go against what I usually say and start using this blog as a website. I'm in the process of adding static pages. I have not changed my website domain name to point here yet, not until I get things up and running. The links are no longer visible in the right, though, and some pages are there that weren't there before. Others require more work and will be forthcoming.

Please pardon us during our construction. ...and stuff.


So there's a lot of chatter on Twitter lately about blog designs and website builds and etc etc. If you have not been to my website, this is the minimum level of quality I expect for a user-created website. Blogger and like services are expanding their styles to blend the boundaries between blogs and websites, but for the moment, I continue to contend they serve two different purposes. There are different graphical designs and interfaces that best accomplish those purposes, and as such, the two should be separate entities. I am in the minority on this one. Most new authors and aspiring authors seem to think blogs are enough. Established authors have blogs integrated into their own sites, so either way you get a single-platform delivery, though the latter is an achievement that most of us could not do and most services do not make easy for us (or if it's easy, it's not cheap).

I saw a really nice website today and my first thought was, "How pretty. Too bad it's crap."

What what? Why is it crap if it's pretty. Well, obviously, something could focus on its esthetic without accomplishing its purpose as a platform to introduce users to you and your work. In this case, its splash page was covered with Flash animation. Now, me being of a certain age, I was on computers when the internet first became available to the public at large, so things like Flash animation still dazzle. I didn't just build personal pages in Geocities. I used Angelfire too. These are the old build-your-own page and fill it with animated gifs and blinking fonts sites. Flash? Super awesome compared to the way things were.

Unfortunately, Flash has not evolved fast enough. While you may not be thinking about it now, you need to start thinking about mobile delivery. View your site on an Android and/or iOS phone and see the difference. For me, unfortunately, the template service I used to build my site does not offer fill scripting functionality, so I have to (*shudder*) use tables to format the page to look the way I want it. Tables no worky on mobile platforms, which is why I'm formulating a redesign in my brain. The thing is, Flash no worky either. Sure OSes like Android and WebOS claim to have Flash functionality, and to a degree this is true. But it's not full Flash. It's a mobile Flash and Air support and both are reportedly buggy.

When you do all those snazzy things on your site with Flash like have your name come swooping in front the side? Unless your site is specifically coded to adapt to users that don't have Flash functionality, your name is missing from the page. Or worse, you get a big ass question mark because your phone lacks the necessary plug-in to run the animation. You want your website looking in tip-top shape in any format a user may view it in.

So when next you contemplate a redesign to your site and perhaps think on splurging a little for some professional work, here are some things to think on:

  • No Flash
  • NO tables. None.
  • No frames except for iFrames. Old-style frames are like tables except scroll bars appear at the edge of them, meaning you may have a scroll bar in the middle of your page, which looks dumb.
  • iframes are okay. iframes aren't like old-style frames. They're a little pop-up window that pops up within the page. It looks like a Flash animation but is actually JavaScript
  • If the producer is capable, make the build HTML5 compliant. Capable or not, they should be working with JavaScript (js) and cascading style sheets (css)
  • No files necessary for your site to function (such as .js files) should be hosted on the produces server. Get that thing for yourself and host it with the rest of your site. You are fully autonomous. If they flake out and delete all their content they ever worked on, this should not affect you in the slightest.
  • No audio/video auto-play. Only emo teenagers auto-play music.


Taken from Roni Loren's website this has to be the wittiest comic panel I've seen in awhile.

Roni is redesigning her site and like so many authors is not a web designer. I am not either. I work in media, but I am a project manager. I hire people to design content for me. This means I have more coding skill than the average mope, but I don't build from scratch1. I can modify html, xml, css, php, etc, but to varying degrees. This is why my website is hosted by They're templates and design package worked for me when I first built my website.

Now Lori and a number of other people I know simply use a blog as their website. This is doable. I've seen it done well. More often than not, it looks like a blog and I think authors should have genuine websites that are designed with a web presence mindset and not a journaling mindset. You are selling yourself and you need to provide information beyond your daily posting and a brief "about" paragraph. This is possible in blogs like Blogspot that allows multiple pages, but all those pages are built in a blog design style as well and I'm just not a fan. That is why I have this blog but also my website. Once I have actual books to sell, the Inkwell page will not just be a collection of everything I've written but an actual splash of commercial awesome.

The problem with webs is that it is not keeping pace with the evolution of media. Its HTML features and abilities are limited and the pages are constrained to custom formatting only if I use tables2 which makes mobile viewing look like crap.

I've thought about moving, but that means revising my website and taking valuable time away from writing while not having anything new to offer. It also means paying someone else. The sites I'm seeing that offer me more what I want to create have a higher monthly cost. I'm frustrated that I can't use iframes3 on my page, but not so frustrated that I'll double my monthly hosting page.

What about you? Do you have a website or just your blog? What made you choose one or the other and where you decided to host it?

I did a "how to build your website" post a long time back. Maybe I'll bring it back as a redux. Incidentally, if you don't own [your name].com, go do that right now. Sure you may not need it for awhile, but the last thing you want is to need it and someone else has already taken it. Grab it for a year, save up, and then renew for nine. A domain name is different than hosting. It is much cheaper. Consider it on the same level of investment for your career as a computer.

1 Trick of the trade, designers rarely build from scratch either. They have templates or previous builds that they repurpose to save themselves time.

2 Mobile is the future and tables are the past. If you're using tables, your website is akin to something you would have seen nearly a decade ago. It certainly doesn't display well on a smart phone. It's time to consider mobile when you're making your web building decisions.

3 An iframe is the window you see in web pages when something is embedded, like a youtube video. It used to be an object tag < object >, but that had a lot of additional code required. iframes are quick, easy, and clean, so you can imagine my disappointment that I can't use them in my website.

Sweet, Sweet Crazy

I don't hop on the bandwagon too often, but this was just too much fun not to share. I've seen it a couple places, but Pat at Pat's Fantasy Hotlist convinced me to click and read the comments.

It's best if you read the review (which I think is incredibly fair), but then you have to read the comments. My favorite is the 8th comment. That is the epitome of professionalism. Epitome.

(And if Jacqueline Howett should find my blog, your sentence structure is atrocious.)

Realigning the Thought Tracks

There is some common wisdom shared among authors that has gotten twisted by the internets, like playing a game of operator/telephone (depending on where in the country you grew up--basically a message is relayed through a number of people and it warps with each passing). The very wise advice was, "Don't quit your day job and think to support yourself with a writing career."

Fewer and fewer authors are able to write full time, especially those that don't have spousal revenue/benefits to take advantage on. Certainly it's challenging to make a living when you don't have a backlist to generate revenue on top of your new advances. George RR Martin once said that an author should not quit his day job until his backlist royalties equal his advances that total sum can support his lifestyle. I think this is a good and simple rule of thumb to follow.

Unfortunately, the advice has been warped to say "Don't get into publishing to make money."

Bull. Shit.

There is no better reason for you to get into publishing. It is the best reason to get into publishing.

You want to write a book because you love to write? Fine, write it. You don't need to publish it to satisfy that goal. You wrote it. Goal accomplished. What are you trying to get it published for? The one is completely independent of the other.

You want to be published so more people read your story? Self-publish on Amazon and set the price for as low as it can go. If you just want people to read it, nothing gets your work out there like a free book on a major distribution platform. The numbers say a first-time midlist author can expect to sell only 2000 books. You can pass that total if you're just giving it away, can't you?

So why are you publishing? You just want to hold the book in your hand. Go to Lulu or Ingrams or hell even Publish America will get you a paperback for you to hold onto. Certainly they don't have the thousand hoops you have to jump through to get published by a major house.

Why are you publishing? To be a professional. And professionals get paid, kiddies. Don't think that getting paid for your writing makes you any less noble. Don't think it besmirches your art. If you're going to publish, you do it for the money. Know how royalties work. Know quarterly statements and quarterly taxes. No rights and revenues and plan strategically.

If you are querying agents and pursuing publishing, you are announcing to all parties that you expect to get paid. Don't shy away from that fact and for the love of god don't tell people not to get into publishing for the money. Just tell them not to quit their day job.

Which reminds me of a second thing I've been hearing lately. Actually, I've been hearing it for awhile but it seems to connect with this post very well. There are some agents out there who have VERY helpful blogs that really get into the challenges that agents/authors face in terms of boilerplate negotiations and rights disputes, royalty statements, etc etc. Someone will inevitably comment to the post saying, "See, this is why I want an agent. So I don't have to worry about this stuff."

Bull. Shit.

You will learn the business of publishing, my friends. You know what they call people who let other people manage their business? Suckers. You want an agent because they know people in the industry. They know the workings of the publishing contract. They know likes, disklikes, preferences, and dirty tricks. They're your consigliere. But you're still the motherfucking godfather. All those numbers and percentages and conditions and timed changes may seem intimidating, but you will learn them all. Because in the end, the only person that's really looking out for you is you. There's no guarantee you'll end up with a top shelf agent. There's no guarantee you'll end up with a top shelf editor. You are your business and you need to protect yourself from the failings of others.

Having an agent and an editor are good things, in my opinion. They are powerful tools for publishing. Their DeWalts not piddly Black & Deckers. But you need to read the instruction manual and make sure you don't put a screw right through your thumb.

You're not alone in this great endeavor, but you are the captain of your ship. Know how to sail.

Keeping Up Appearances

Having moved around a lot, I have a lot of friends online. And really, I was a quick adopter of the internet back in the '90s and have a tendency to express myself online much the same as I do in real life. Especially when it comes to blowing off steam. Since I work with computers all day, a quick tweet or status update resolves the need to rant without requiring that I leave my desk to go find someone to talk to (especially since the people that know me best live half-way across the country).

This has led to a number of awkward situations in the past, as you can imagine.

It's even more difficult now while I pursue publication. The people I have to blow off steam about the most are at work and I work in publishing! I can rant about how dumb editors are, and those who aren't paying attention might think I'm speaking as an author rather than a production worker at a publishing company. In order, the three most frustrating people to deal with are editors, marketers, and salespeople. Each comes chock full of excuses to get their way instead, all of which I have become quite versed in over the years. Knowing they're using a drab and overdone excuse not because it has any bearing on the product your making but only because they don't know what they're doing and they need things to go their way to maintain an appearance of competence can be--as you would imagine--extremely frustrating.

Now all these people actually do know things. ...well, most of them do. But publishing doesn't offer a lot of interdepartmental training and the production-side of publishing is generally ignored both internally and externally by any that don't have to deal with it directly. You'll never see an author acknowledge the hard work of his book's project manager even though it was that person who had the thing typeset and sent to press in 1/4 the time (s)he should have received after everyone else missed their deadlines.

You know how they say shit rolls downhill? Yeah, our cubes are at the bottom of the hill.

This time of year is busiest for the department I'm in right now and tensions are running high. While it might be best if I said nothing at all, if I did that, I'd hurt myself from hitting my head against my desk so hard. So, anything you see me saying, please keep in mind it's not reflective of any editors I might be working with as an author--and in fact, has nothing to do with trade publishing at all since I work on the education side.

Just tooting my whistle before the built up steam causes it to burst.

The Known Unknowns

Between my own experiences in the industry and the years I've spent participating in various industry blogs (pubrants, the Bransford, etc.), I am not too worried about what will come after I get an agent and sell a book. Or at least, I feel like I have a pretty solid understanding of most aspects.

Except one. The next book. Sure agents talk about the challenges of a sophomore offering and the effort people put into it and the mistakes people make because of the pressure and blah blah blah. All fine and good. I can't speak to pressure until I'm feeling it and I can't feel the pressure of a sophomore book until I've published the freshman one.

What I don't know about the next book is the next book to the agent. I've heard so many conflict things and agents seem to rarely speak on that part of the process. I've heard proposal used as the nonfiction alternative to a query, but then I've also heard it as what a represented author sends his/her agent for new story ideas. And pardon me, but a proposal sounds like a query and by god, I never want to query again once I get an agent.

I've also seen some authors that send the agent an outline. An outline? I don't outline. I never outline. I took half a page of notes yesterday and that's HUGE. I'm a pantser. I write by the seat of my pants. I write by the seat of my pants so much that there are holes in the seat of my pants from all the writing I do there. I can tell you the beginning (though it might change) and the ending (though it might change) and maybe a few ideas of the middle (though they might change). How the hell do you expect me to write an outline? That will destroy my process?!?!?!

So yeah, this is a known unknown. I get representation for, let's say, THE TRIAD SOCIETY. I already have two other novels that did not attract an agent. Given some blog posts, I think he or she might read them just as a matter of form and tell me if they can be revised to publishable quality or just need to be permanently shelved. But I'm also finishing a new wip right now and will have another one in a few months. What do I do with those?

And I even read once that an author would pitch a book to the agent before it's written and if the agent said no, the author might not even write the thing. I don't think I've ever written a book that was so much like my original proposal as it was when it was finished. Not writing it at all seems like a horrible presumption. And even if that's a good method, I write two novels a year. Can't I just write one of whatever I want and one that gets a thumbs up? I mean, some people take five years to write a book, so I can see why it might be important to figure out its saleability beforehand. I wrote THE TRIAD SOCIETY in three months (to the day1). I'll write ten novels in the time that other guy writes one, so can't I write the quirky thing that I love even if no one else will?

Some of this is probably exaggeration, but this really is the one topic I've never seen covered on any of the blogs I follow.

1 Actual writing time was less, as I started on May 25th and I took off most of June because I was working my ass off at my really real job. I finished the first draft on August 25th, though, and I think that's pretty awesome.