Writing about Writing

Posts tagged “Writing

Getting Out There

I haven’t written a post here since December, and for that I apologize. I did, however, have an absolutely glorious 5 week holiday that included time in Australia, New Zealand and South Korea.

Since coming back though, I’ve been fortunate enough to pull off a few successful promotions for my novel What Dark Passages.

The first was an author signing session at Murchies. For those who aren’t familiar, Murchies is a chain of stores that sells tea and coffee and some locations – the one I was at included – have cafe’s in them as well. I worked out a deal with management where we bundled the book with two small boxes of tea – Library and Editor’s Blend – for the package price of $19.99. I was there for 5 hours on a Saturday, normally a busy time. However the weather decided to be stupendously good and the mall ended up being rather dead. That’s ok, though, because I still managed to sell 8 books. Even though I’m not a social person, I did enjoy talking to people about the book and it made me more than a little happy every time someone bought one.

The second was a bit of a surprise. The Mrs has been sending emails out to various local newspapers and morning shows since November and one finally replied. A reporter for the New Westminster NewsLeader emailed back asking for more information. After exchanging a few emails, we set up a meeting.

In a lot of ways, that meeting was a surreal experience. I thought to myself “There is a reporter here. Interviewing me. For the newspaper. About something I did.  Wow!”. I don’t mean this in an egoist way, because I don’t. I mean it in a sort of ‘holy crap someone is interested in a nobody like me’ kind of way.  Just shock and a whole lot of apprehension at putting even a tiny part of myself into a spotlight for others to see.

The end result was this story.

A few notes about the story/picture.

– Yes, those are socks sticking out from my jeans. I really didn’t think my feet would be in the picture so I didn’t bother putting shoes on. Next time (if there is a next time!), I’ll put shoes on regardless.

– He took a few liberties in the article. For example, I knew I was going to self-publish right from the beginning, and never applied to any publishers. I’m pretty sure the ‘sting of rejection’ was added for dramatic flair. But it isn’t factual.

– I wonder about some of my wording. Like editing a book, I wish I could tweak the dialogue to make sure it’s just right. I don’t think it’s necessarily bad, but I think I could have done better.

Overall I’m really happy with the story and it was super cool to see my face on the cover of our local newspaper! Especially on Wednesday when I sat down on my 5:30am bus, looked over, and saw my face plastered on the page and a guy reading the article about me. One of those moments I’ll remember for a long time.


Getting an ISBN in Canada

Today I thought I would look back at one of the pre-publishing steps – Getting an ISBN.

Getting an ISBN (International Standard Book Number), is one of the final steps before publishing. Without one, it’s basically impossible to sell the book! For example, Kindle Direct Publishing and Createspace will not publish a book without an ISBN (Createspace even gives you an option to get an ISBN directly from them).

Different countries have different processes for getting an ISBN. Being Canadian, I used The Canadian ISBN Service System (CISS), part of Library and Archives Canada.

The first thing I had to do was join CISS. Originally, I thought this would be something akin to creating an account on any website – 5 minutes and Boom, account created. Then I’d have to apply for an ISBN and wait who knows how long for that. But I was wrong.

Instead of just registering as an author, I was registering as a publisher. Then when I was done I received a notification that my account would need 5-10 business days to be validated and approved. Yikes, wasn’t expecting that!

As luck would have it, though, it took approximately 1 business day to validate my account. What? This is a branch of the government we’re talking about? I won’t lie, I thought 5-10 business days was going to be government speak for 1-2 months. So huge props to whoever is running CISS so efficiently! From that point, getting an ISBN was as easy as could be, thanks to some extra help from CISS in the form of a very detailed email.

It turns out the website is going to be overhauled in a few months, drastically streamlining the ISBN application process. This is a really good thing, because that form looked pretty complicated, and I would have had no idea what to put down for half of the questions.

Fortunately, CISS is aware of this, and sent out a helpful email letting me know I could ignore most of the questions and only needed to fill in a select few fields. I must say, I’m really happy they took the extra step to send that info out along with my registration approval because it made the ISBN registration very quick and painless.

An important note for anyone planning to release a book in both paperback and ebook – you need two ISBN’s – one for each version. This is super easy though, you just fill out a form for each one and the only difference is an ebook is “Electronic Book Text” in the Product Form drop down menu instead of “Book”.

And that’s it!  All done! The ISBN’s were generated immediately because I was already assigned an ISBN prefix when my publisher account was approved. As a result the entire process ended up taking far less time than I anticipated, was totally free, and I was able to publish earlier than I’d planned.

A.A. and Intellectual Property

While writing my book, What Dark Passages, there was a point where I was going to reference a song. It was going to be something just in passing, a character singing the lyrics at work. But right before I started typing, I had a feeling I should check if I was allowed to quote those lyrics.

Turns out, I wasn’t. If I wanted to quote lyrics, I was going to have to get permission. So I cut the reference down to a simple ‘she sang this song, people laughed at her’.

Whew, dodged a bullet there.

Unfortunately, my research skills failed me later.

In the course of the novel, one of my primary point-of-view characters, Richard, goes to Alcoholics Anonymous. I downloaded various freely available pamphlets and information about A.A. and did all sorts of research to make sure I was portraying it as accurately as possible. On the pamphlets and booklets, I didn’t find anything copyright related, so I thought it was ok.

My editor, however, knew better (thankfully!).

Turns out A.A. has an intellectual property policy that states I’m only allowed to freely use their material if I am a member of A.A. writing material specifically for A.A.. Otherwise, I need to get permission from their IP Policy group.

I’ve been in contact with them and, at this point, I’m still hopeful I’ll be able to get this ironed out before my planned release next month. If the approval takes too long, however, (or if they flat out say ‘no’), I’ll be forced to remove the quotes and rewrite those sections. Not something I want to do.

So let this be a lesson to always double, triple, and quadruple check for relevant IP policy anytime you ever want to quote something when writing!

Writing Something Different

A few months ago, some friends and I went to a place called Xcape, which is billed as a ‘real-life escape experience’. Essentially, there are different themed Xcapes where you are locked into a room, or rooms, and have to solve a series of puzzles to escape from the room. If you don’t make it out in time – you lose and get to take a picture holding a sign that says “Failed”. Fortunately, we succeeded!

It was great fun and we all resolved to do it again.

In the meantime, I resolved to attempt writing up something along those lines. Not an escape scenario, instead something more like a murder mystery dinner, except with more moving around and opening locks.

Writing this has been a very different experience from anything I’ve written before. Not only have I never attempted a crime/murder novel, but coming up with something fun and interactive was…interesting. Throughout the entire process, I kept thinking to myself: “How can I turn this story-element into a clue that fits on a lock and goes inside a small box?”

By the time I finished writing out the storyline, I’d come up with 4 ‘locked’ clues, a clue hidden in a room, and a few verbal clues.

The verbal clues are going to be the toughest, I think. See, I was trying to think of alternative ways of giving clues instead of depending on locks and hiding places, and I came up with an interrogation. Basically, the participants are going to interrogate a series of suspects (all played by me) and if they ask the correct question, or say the right thing, I’ll give them a vital clue to move on to the next stage. I thought it would be a neat way to change the system a bit. But I’m also facepalming myself for creating a situation where I have to act like 5 different people. This could be a hilarious disaster, or just a disaster.

In any case, it was fun to tackle a different type of writing. I can’t say yet if I was successful or not (I’ll find out tonight!), but at the very least, it was nice doing something different after all the time spent editing my novel the last few months!

Finding and Selecting an Editor

I’ve reached the stage of my self-publishing saga where I need to find an editor. And, like most things, it’s turned out to be more complex than expected.

I have a few qualities I am looking for in an editor.  First, I want someone who is interested in the genre of book I’ve written.  Getting a children’s book editor to copy-edit a psychological literary fiction isn’t necessarily going to be a good fit.  You would prefer someone with experience in your genre.  So that’s my first qualification.  Second, I would like to find someone that either lives in, or has spent time in, the Vancouver area.  A lot of my scenes are based on real locations in the area and I think it would be useful to have someone familiar with the actual location to give input on my descriptions.

Initially, I went to the BC branch of the Editors Association of Canada (EAC) for my search.  They have an online directory of editors where you can input some specific qualities and it spits out a list.  I did this, and picked out 3 editors who looked like they’d be up my alley.  I sent them emails and awaited their replies.  I received responses and, unfortunately, all of them were booked up.  However, one editor was kind enough to direct me to another resource listed on the EAC webpage that I’d managed to overlook – the BC Editors Hotline.

So the gist of it is: I email the hotline my request and key information about my project, the hotline coordinator sends the request out to all of the members, and anyone interested is free to respond to my post.

I didn’t know what to expect with my post, but the response was far greater than expected.  I received 18 emails within a day and a half.  Yay!  People are interested!

So I set about the task of separating out the editors who sounded interesting to me and the ones who did not.  Cutting the list down was easy to begin with.  Three people spelt my name wrong.  My name! How could I ever trust an editor who can’t even spell my name correctly in the email they send asking me to hire them.  It’s not like it wasn’t right there in the hotline post, right above the email address which, by the way, also includes my name.

Boom, down to 15.

Next up was availability.  I posted the date I aim to have the manuscript back by, but a few folks still put their hats in the ring for a later date.  I’m ok with that, and if anything changes they could move up the list, but as is their ranking dropped relative to those who were more likely to complete the editing in the timeframe I need it by.

Next – experience.  Some people directed me to websites, others listed relevant experience in their email.  I tried to pick out the ones who looked like they’d worked on a similar genre.  That relates back to the first quality I posted above.

Then there is attitude – in a tight field of what looks to be really skilled people, I turned to this.  Some emails were very business-like, and that’s ok.  Other’s seemed downright friendly and genuinely interested.  I like kind people, so I gravitated to these emails.

In a related note – I was disappointed with one individual in particular.  I’m not going to name names of course, but I just want to point out that I’m not a fan of overly pushy or rude people.  I’m certainly not going to work with someone who makes me feel uncomfortable just by reading their emails.

Finally – price.  One of the most important and hardest things to talk about is price.  It’s like when you negotiate a salary with a possibly new employer – it’s a little awkward.  At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much I like someone if I can’t afford them.  And the range of quotes I received has been nothing short of surprising.  The lowest quote was $650USD, while the highest was up to $3700CAD.  That’s a huge range!  And the worst thing is, based off what I’d heard at the self-publishing seminar I attended earlier this year, I was expecting to pay around $600CAD.  Basically, I wasn’t ready for how high the quotes would be, and my bank account wasn’t either.

That said, I slowly whittled the list down from 18 to 3.  And last night I made my final decision.  It wasn’t easy, and I’m really dreading contacting the people I didn’t choose to give them the bad news.  I would probably be a terrible manager – I hate giving people bad news.  And I hope they all know I appreciate their time and understanding.

But I’m looking forward to getting this done.  Judging from the samples I received, this editing is going to be huge for helping polish my novel and ensuring it looks as professional as possible.  And that is something that, in the long run, will pay for itself.

Bad Habits

As I go through the editing process on my novel, I’ve noticed I have a number of bad habits in my writing.  This isn’t surprising, everyone has bad habits, both professionals and amateurs.

For example – I’m reading a novel by a favourite author of mine, Steven Erikson.  He’s published over a dozen novels and, in my opinion, they range from great to amazing.  But I noticed something recently that surprised me – he has a habit of writing run-on sentences.  On some pages, I found paragraph long sentences broken up by a half dozen commas!

Now, I don’t want to insinuate he’s a bad writer or I’m better than him in any way, because A. I think he’s amazing, and B. I could only dream of writing like he does.  I just think that, in the grand scheme of things, littering your books with paragraph long sentences probably qualifies as a bad habit.

I have a lot of bad habits.  I managed to pick some up on my own during re-reading, the rest had to be pointed out by my beta-readers.  Here are some of my most common problems:

  • I overuse the word “just”.  I just can’t help myself.  I cut my usage in half during editing.
  • There was over 130 uses of “there was”.  I’ve trimmed it down to less than 20.
  • It seemed to be ok at first, but I also realized I overuse “seemed to”.  I had over 70 instances, and it’s been trimmed down to less than 10.
  • “That” is a generally extraneous word that I kept typing when I didn’t need to.

The good news is the above problems are easily fixed.  Whoever came up with the ‘Find’ command deserves a giant hug.  Seriously.

There were other problems, of course.  I had a few sections where I was telling instead of showing, so I ended up writing in entirely new scenes to compensate.  Those kinds of problems take a lot more time and effort to tackle, but they’re worth fixing.

What about my readers?  Do any of you have bad habits in your writing?

The Power of Experience

There is a movie I love to watch named Shadows in the Sun, it stars Harvey Keitel as a struggling author, and Joshua Jackson as an editor/wannabe author.  It is, of course, a romance.  But it isn’t just a romance about people , it is also a romance about writing, hence why I enjoy it so much.

There is a scene in the movie where Weldon (Keitel) is talking to Jeremy (Jackson) about experience.  How do you write a scene, when you have never experienced what you are describing?  As an example, he asks Jeremy if he has ever been punched in the stomach.  Jeremy responds, ‘No’, prompting Weldon to punch him in the gut.  He then points out the various descriptive elements of being sucker-punched while Jeremy clutches his stomach in pain.  “That’s experience,” Weldon says.

This is such a great scene because, aside from being amusing, it also illustrates the way writers should look at their experiences.  Life isn’t just something that happens to a writer, it’s a way to learn and understand different scenes and emotional states, for the purpose of recreating them later.  This is important because these experiences go in a sort of ‘toolkit’ a writer dips into whenever he or she is writing a scene.  And of course, the bigger and more varied the toolkit, the more realistic and powerful the scenes will be.

I’ve thought about this many times, as I tend to consider myself as having had a very bizarre life, filled with great highs and terrible lows.  Perhaps this is reflected in the depressed, often pessimistic characters I have a tendency to create.

However, I started to think about it again when something happened to me recently.  I was at the vet with the Mrs and our kitten, Bieksa, when my body decided to completely check out.  And by check out, I mean I passed out.

Passing out isn’t a completely new experience to me.  I can recall about half a dozen occasions from my younger days when my body said ‘Nope’, and I woke up on the ground.  This time, however, I was determined to absorb everything I could about the experience.

So what do I recall?

Pre-passing out:

– Became dizzy

– Hearing a consistent, high pitch noise

– Extremities began to tingle

– Had a vague sense that maybe if I moved around, that would help

– Lost ability to focus on what was happening around me

After regaining consciousness:

– Blackness at first, just a sense that my mouth was opening and closing rapidly.  Felt like a fish.

– Couldn’t stop my mouth from moving.  Frustration.

– Very cold.

– Eyes open. World seems fuzzy and too bright.  Eyes refuse to focus on any one thing.

– Head hurts, a lot.  Pounding like someone is hitting the floor with a mallet.

– Confusion.  What happened?  Where am I? Why am I on the ground?  Why does everyone look so worried?

– Mouth still won’t stop moving.  How irritating is that?

– Dizzy, ears ringing, still can’t move.  Eyes catch a darkness on the floor at the top of my head.  What’s that? Blood?

– Slowly regaining motor functions.  Able to stop mouth from moving.

– Thought to myself, (Seriously, not a lie!) this is an interesting experience, I need to write it one day.

– When I can finally speak, my first word is ‘Head?’.  Turns out the blackness I saw was my hat.  Totally forgot I’d been wearing it.

– Finally able to move around a bit.  Can’t stand up yet, but able to sit up.  Like coming out of a really, really deep sleep in slow motion.

That about sums of the incident.  Neat, right?  If I was writing a scene like this before, I probably would have gotten pretty close, but now I think I could do much better.  For example, the whole thing with the mouth opening and closing on its own was a complete surprise.  Before now, I wouldn’t have thought to include an uncontrolled reaction like that.

Call me crazy, but when all was said and done, I wasn’t particularly concerned about myself.  I was mostly pleased that I’d been able to experience an interesting moment so vividly, because I think that is important.  Take the good moments and the bad, and experience them as vividly and honestly as possible.  The writing will be better for it.