Category Archives: Commentary

Broad Universe Reads at Westercon68

Westercon68
The West Coast Science Fantasy Conference aka Westercon is a regional science fiction and fantasy convention geared toward fans, musicians, writers, and filmmakers of the genre. It is typically a four-day event that is traditionally held during the Independence Day holiday weekend. The location rotates to a new city each year, chosen somewhere in the United States west of the 104th meridian line. The guests of honor are chosen from professionals who live in the Westercon region.

TownCntryResort rosesThis year, Westercon was held in San Diego, CA at the Town and Country Resort in conjunction with two local conventions, Conjecture (a science fiction and fantasy literary convention) and ConChord (a filk singers convention). It is a lovely hotel filled with bright blue swimming pools, blooming roses, and garden settings.

This was my first time at a regional literary convention. The size and scope of it was bigger than I had expected. I was registered as a panelist for the first time and I participated in two events. The first event was a lecture on Author Platform, based on the methods that I use to promote No Wasted Ink. My lecture was well attended and I found the give and take of questions during the lecture to be interesting. I hope that my information was of help to my fellow authors.

Broad Universe Reading at Westercon68 (2015)My second event was a panel that I created to feature the local authors of Broad Universe, a writing guild where I am a member. Broad Universe is an international non-profit writer’s guild that promotes women writers and editors in science fiction, fantasy, horror, and other speculative genres. It began as a panel discussion at WisCon back in 2000 and has grown into a large volunteer-run group that attends various conventions and conferences to promote the member’s books. One of the more popular activities of the group are known as “rapid fire readings” which feature group readings by the authors in convention panels or as a salon reading in the evening. Broad Universe also offers access to Net Gallery, occasionally have tables where member’s can sell their books at science fiction conventions and is a great place for authors to network via their email list, Facebook group or Twitter.

Our panel was given a great time in the convention on Friday afternoon. Our Broad Universe readers were Jude-Marie Green, Barbara Clark, Wendy Van Camp, Elizabeth Watasin, and Shauna Roberts. I was surprised by the turnout of listeners, many were women that sat and knitted as they listened to our stories. Having my own handmade jewelry in the art show at Westercon, I was gratified to see the support from fellow artisans. There were also a scattering of men and women who were typical convention attendees that came out of curiosity to experience new authors.

After our hour-long panel, we proceeded downstairs to the dealer room where a pair of tables were set up for authors to autograph their books. It was not set up for our group alone, but all the authors had a place on the schedule, including the big name authors that attended the convention. All of us sold and autographs books that afternoon.

Westercon68 Autographing (2015) Jude-Marie Green, Barbara Clark, Wendy Van Camp.Westercon68 Autographing 2 (2015) Elizabeth Watasin, Shauna Roberts

Authors Top Photo: Jude-Marie Green, Barbara Clark, Wendy Van Camp
Authors Bottom Photo: Elizabeth Watasin, Shauna Roberts

For the writers and fans of science fiction, literary conventions are a great place to learn more about the genre, meet famous authors in person, network with your fellow fans, authors, filmmakers, or to explore your wild side by costuming.

Primer for Building Your Author Platform

author platformAs a writer, it is hard to know where to start when building your author platform. What to include, what numbers to shoot for in traffic, when to start working on it, and how it all connects can be bewildering. Before I started to build my own platform, I went to several lectures by successful authors and asked what they were doing to promote themselves and their books and what sort of numbers they had when they started to have successful sales.

It Starts With Your Blog

First, the time to start working on your author platform is now. Do not wait until you have a finished novel ready to upload onto Amazon. These venues will make your book available to sell, but they will do little to market your novel except to list it in their catalogs. Allow yourself at least a full year before your first work is complete to start getting your platform onto the internet.

The base of your platform is your blog. It is the first item in your platform that you should finish. Consider it your home base on the internet, the one place that you wish to funnel all the other aspects of your marketing to. Your website should contain the following elements: a biography with a photo of yourself, a list of clips that you’ve published or links to where your work can be purchased and finally, articles, story samples and other posts of interest. Whenever possible, give a hotlink to your published work so that potential readers can get an idea of your style of writing.

Through the blog, the readers get to know you as a writer and person, creating a better connection between you. On my blog, I write articles about the craft of writing, book reviews of science fiction, fantasy and classic novels that have inspired me as a writer and do short essays about subjects I enjoy commentating upon. Since I’m a science fiction, fantasy and historical fiction writer, I interview other authors in these genre. By coming to read about an author with similar work to mine, it gets my blog in their mind, and it tends to interest the readers to stick around for other posts. Hopefully, that interest will extend toward purchasing one of my stories on Amazon.

This is the base. This is the one basic thing that every writer should have. Not a static author page. Not a simple online portfolio, but a WordPress blog where you can interact with your readership and showcase your work. I recommend WordPress over other blog platforms because it is free to use and free to host when you first start. The only option you should pay for is your domain name and attach it to your blog. Later on, when you are more established, you can move your WordPress blog to a hosted account and acquire more bells and whistles for you platform, but when you are in the first year, your traffic will be low enough that it will not warrant the expenditure.

Reach Out and Touch Your Readers

Once your blog is in place, you need to reach out and market it. To do so, you need the following: A Facebook page devoted to you as a writer, a twitter account, and a google+ account. All of these accounts should be focused on you as a writer. You are building your name as your brand, attempting to make it recognizable, not selling a single book or story.

First open up your Facebook page. Mine is called No Wasted Ink on Facebook, the same as my website. WordPress can be set to automatically post a link to any blog post I create to this page, so promoting my blog on Facebook is no additional work on my part. However, do not use your Facebook page as a place for your links alone, you need to make it interesting for your potential book customers to learn more about you as an author. I like to make small posts about what I am doing as a writer on mine. I write about the writing gatherings I attend, seminars that I go to or simply quotes from famous people that I like. I keep the subject focused on writing. I recommend using a Facebook page to make your reader contacts over having them as Facebook friends. You are limited to 5000 friends on your personal Facebook account, but you can have unlimited numbers of followers on a page.

Second, open up a twitter account that you will devote to your writing career. It should not be an account to make personal comments on. Keep all interactions on this account about writing, either answering tweets from followers or passing on tweets about writing that you find interesting. If you write in a specific genre, tweets related to that genre are also appropriate. Link your Facebook page so that all your Facebook posts are tweeted to your twitter account. It is also possible to set your WordPress blog to tweet each of your posts directly to twitter. Set up a chain so that both services are tweeted automatically.

Third, join Google+. This network is growing larger every day and the more people that are in your circles the better. WordPress will automatically post a link to your blog posts there and I recommend you take advantage of this feature. Just as you did on your Facebook page, leave comments about writing, related genre commentary and other posts related to your writing.

What Numbers Should I Have Before My First Novel Goes On Sale?

You should have the following base numbers in each area before you consider putting your first book on sale:

Facebook Page: 500 followers
Twitter: 10,000 followers
Wordpress: 500 followers
Google+: 500 followers

As you see, building your author platform takes a great deal of work. Writing and maintaining your blog is a part-time job. You will be marketing your work almost every day. Try to not let it overwhelm you. I check my blog, Facebook, google+ and twitter twice a day. Once in the morning and once in the evening.

Is all the work worth it?

I feel that putting your name as an author out is important, even if you do not have a book to offer yet. The readers will see your writing samples on your blog and get to know you. When your first book comes out, you might not be swamped with readers wanting to buy your book, but I suspect you will have far more than had you done nothing.

When I launched my first ebook The Curate’s Brother: A Jane Austen Variation of Persuasion, I did not have a marketing plan in place for my first ebook. I published a blog post announcing its launch and asked a few of my writing friends if they would be kind enough to interview me on their blogs. I also asked if I could join in a live reading series in my area and was accepted. I was astonished by the number of sales I had in the first three months after my book launch. It was not a blockbuster, but it was far more of a return than if I had published the story in an anthology or magazine. I credit these sales to my budding author platform and consistent blogging.

These steps are only the beginning in creating your author platform. However, before you publish your first ebook, this is enough to get started and to become comfortable with promoting yourself as a writer. Once you publish, there are more things that you can do to get the word out about your writing, but as they say, that is story for another time.

Editing Software Tools For Writers

Editing For WritersThere are many tools to help people with writing such as word processors, apps, pen and paper and more. Never has it been easier to record the written word into a manuscript. However, what do you do with your draft once it is complete? Until recently, you paid a high price for an editor to go over it for grammar, spelling, and content errors. Today, there are software tools to help bring down the cost of hiring an editor. I use some of these tools myself, going over my manuscript in layers, each program helping me locate certain issues that I want to address before I pack it up and send it to my human editor. By doing so, I save money since the final corrections that the editor makes are minimal.

All of the programs I review below have not contacted me to review them. I selected them because they are ones that I know about and use myself.

Hemingway
Price: $6.99

This is my new favorite editing software program. I use it on all my stories for editing after I’ve run them through Word’s spelling and grammar check. Hemingway is designed to help you write more like the famous author. Hemingway was known for writing short, concise sentences that got to the heart of the meaning like a razor. To use Hemingway the program, you either open your Word file in the program or cut and paste a passage into it. In a moment, Hemingway will show you a color coded version of your text. It will not change anything. You do that manually. Blue shows you adverbs, green highlights passive voice and prompts how to fix it, yellow is a slightly complex sentence, red is a jumbled sentence, and purple are words that you may wish to simplify.

Hemingway can be used as a writing tool. It will open a new document and save it like any word processor. It also supports Markdown. The program is available for both Apple and Windows.

Do I perform all the corrections that Hemingway prompts? The answer is no. However, seeing my words in a clear manner where all the adverbs and passive voice in the manuscript are highlighted is helpful. I’ve been referring this program to all the writers in my critique groups and everyone simply loves it.

Unsuck-it
Price: Free

As a writer, we all get in a rut and start to use terms that may be useful to only our particular field or genre of writing. These terms often are hard to parse out and state in simple words as you are writing. Unsuck-it is an aid that gives you alternate words to use in plain English. This is not just another online thesaurus. It is geared toward finding alternate words that would work best in a conservative business environment. When you are stuck….unsuck-it!

Creativity Portal’s Imagination Prompt
Price: Free

Writing prompts are always welcome, for writing blog posts, journal entries or using as story starters. This one is free. Just click the button and a new prompt will be shown to you. Keep clicking until you find one that works for you. What is more, the prompt portal is part of a writing community that could be fun to join if you are so inclined. It is worth checking out if you like using prompts.

The Readability Test Tool
Price: Free

Knowing the level of readability for what you are writing can be an invaluable tool. If you are writing YA, you don’t want the reading level of your work to go further than the age group you are aiming your book for. It is also a good test to run on your essays and short stories to find out their readiblity score. If your story reads for college level, it could be that you need to simplify your story. With the exception if it is an essay for a doctorate thesis or literary magazine. You will need to have your work online in order to input the URL for the engine to find it.

Portent’s Content Idea Generator
Price: Free

I have plenty of fun with this generator site. It develops titles for blog posts based on the ideas you feed into it. You only can do one at a time, but if you have a few minutes to spare, it is worth it to see what oddball titles it will come up with.

Wordcounter
Price: Free

This free website offers to find and rank the most frequently used words in your text. You use this to see which words you overuse and to find keywords in your document. It does have a few fillers to remove conjunctions and other words you wouldn’t want in the report. Since it is free, it is worth looking at to add to your editing process. I don’t use this one any longer because I have this feature in Smart-Edit, a more robust program that I purchased last year. However, if you prefer a free tool, Wordcounter gets the job done.

Sharing and Storage on the Cloud for Writers

Castles in the Clouds

Using the Cloud for storing or accessing files has become second nature to most people these days. We use it to back up our files, share photos and text with family, co-workers and friends, or even do our work there, using our devices as mere input hardware.

When it comes to using the cloud for writing, my first thought is Dropbox. It seamlessly integrates with a large assortment of programs on my android table and iPod Touch and can be quite useful when I’m on the go. One my main uses of Dropbox is to store manuscripts as a backup in case I have a hard drive crash. My Scrivener program is set to automatically create a backup on Dropbox at the end of each day. I also like the use the other popular document storage cloud storage, Google Drive. I use this to store manuscripts that I wish to have critiqued privately by a small group of people. Placing it online with a password makes the work easier on everyone.

However, there are more sharing and storage apps available on the internet and I thought that I’d review a few that I’ve tried over the past year. It could be that one of these services might work better for you than Dropbox or Google Drive and could be a great addition to your app arsenal.

Dropbox
Free basic account 5GB storage
This is the one that started it all. I have used Dropbox for many years as a place to store manuscripts and backups of work in progress. It works with Scrivener, my writing program of choice, and it can be accessed from all my devices. It is not quite as flexible as some of the newer services, but it is stable and recognizable.

Crate
The first month is free and then it is $10 per year.
This is a file sharing tool. If you need to move large files via email, for instance novel manuscripts or large book covers, this service will handle it for you. All you do is type in the email you want to send the file to, upload it to their server and they will take care of the rest for you.

Box
10GB available storage for free
This service is similar to Dropbox, but with more free storage. You store your content online and access, share and manage it from all your devices. It integrates with Google Apps. A great way to share manuscripts with an editor or beta readers or book covers with contributing artists.

Cubby
Free Basic Account with 5GB storage
Cubby is another service similar to Dropbox, but its share folders are more flexible. You can have a “cubby” folder in the cloud, or can set any folder in your computer to become a cubby shared folder. If you upgrade to the first level of pro, you can even transfer your manuscripts directly to your various computers without going into the cloud at all. It supports access via all devices just like Google Drive or Dropbox.

Google Drive
5 GB of free storage
I confess that I don’t use this service as much as I should, but most of my writer friends love it. I’ve seen Excel forms set up to track contests, sharing of manuscripts with beta readers privately or in a small group or using the text editor to work on a Nanowrimo project on the fly. You should consider setting up an account here if you don’t have one yet.

SugarSync
Basic Free Account with 2GB storage
SugarSync allows you to instantly save your photos on the cloud, transfer files of any size via email or shared folders and it allows you to set any folder on your computer into a shared SugarSync folder. You can use this service to backup your computer to the cloud and it works with a large number of third party apps such as Evernote, Gmail and Salesforce.

I’m sure that there are many more similar services out there. Is there one I didn’t cover that is a favorite? Let me know in the comments.

Journals: Tapping into the Creative Process

My Moleskine Pocket Notebook and Cross Beverly Fountain PenHandwriting is a skill that tends to be overlooked in our day and age. We spend much of our time typing on keyboards or poking at screens with fingers. The art of putting a pen to paper seems old-fashioned. Many people have given up on this quaint practice of putting pen to paper. Yet, many studies have shown that the human brain is more apt to remember details that are written on paper than on a computer screen and when we write by hand, the parts of the brain more connected with creativity are stimulated than by the act of keyboarding.

There is a real advantage for those who continue to use paper bound journals in their writing process. One of the first benefits is you will be practicing your handwriting skills. If you know cursive, use it! When I first moved to using paper bound journals, I noticed that within a month my handwriting became legible after years of only printing. My cursive is readable again.

Whatever you write with a pen stays in your memory longer. When I take notes at seminars or write down information in my pocket notebook on the fly, I remember where the information is stored and can find it easily based on knowing its place in my notebook. This is not true with programs such as Evernote or Onenote. When I take notes electronically, I must use the search functions because the information moves on the “page” to different locations.

Many studies have shown that when you write with a pen and paper, you tap more deeply into the creative places of your brain. This makes paper journals perfect for brainstorming ideas or even writing the first draft of your book. Writing by hand is slower than typing. It allows you to engage your thoughts into your writing more fully than if you are flying away on a keyboard.

There are many different ways to use a journal. Each type serves a different purpose, but all of them will help to preserve and improve your handwriting skills, offer a writer insight into their creative process or create unique archival opportunities. Below I will list a few of the different types of journaling you might consider.

Travel

When you travel it is always a good idea to keep your tickets, hotel information, travel documents and itinerary in one place. This is the first purpose of assembling a travel journal. Before you go, you can research all the fun things to do in the location and plan when you can experience all the region has to offer. There is a second function to a travel journal, keeping a record of what you did on the trip. Many people like to write down details of their day, take photos or sketch images of where they are, gather small tokens or papers along the way and store them all in the journal. Even if you don’t have time to write while on the trip, if you take a few notes, you can put together a beautiful presentation of the trip afterward with all the materials that you collected. It can become an instant art journal of your experience.

Dream

As a writer, your dreams are often fodder for future stories. There we develop places and characters that spring to life from our unconscious. Keeping a dream journal is a great aid for capturing this information. It helps to keep a journal at your bedside and to write down your dreams the moment you awaken. Don’t be surprised when a glorious plot you spent the night with evaporates with the dawn, but a dream journal is a way to capture that glory before it fades.

Daily

A daily diary is often the first form of journal that people think of when they consider journaling. It is the act of writing down what you did, felt and saw on a given day. Sometimes such journals are filled with emotions and angst, but when used correctly, a daily journal can provide much insight into your past and can evoke memories. When I write in my daily journal, I tend to be more factual. I try and record what I see and where I was. What thoughts and feelings the events provoked in me and who I spoke to, where I went and what sort of media I was engaged with. I make a point to write down descriptions of people and places in order to recall them more clearly at a later time. If I am trying to recall an event of the past, I can look back and see what thoughts were important to me at the time and sometimes this helps me remember more clearly.

Gratitude

Have you ever lost perspective on all the blessings in your life? That is an issue that a Gratitude journal addresses. The concept is to write down three good things that happened to you each and every day. Later on, when you look back at the positive things in your life, it can be uplifting to your spirit. This is a good type of journal to use a dated planner with.

Commonplace

The commonplace journal used to be a very typical journal style. It would be a book where the author would write down what they had learned and their opinions on the information. For instance, if the author was reading a book, they might write down passages in the book that they found interesting and then write their opinions along side the passage. This gave two benefits. First, they were copying work from the “masters” and getting these words into their minds via the process of copying by hand. Then they added the element of their own dissertation to add more meaning to the work. Jack London was known to use this type of journal style to improve his writing without the benefit of schooling. By exposing yourself to literature and copying it, you tend to pick up those writing styles into your own writing. These commonplace journals were great aids in the education of people for many centuries.

Morning Pages

The concept of Morning Pages was developed by artist Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way. The concept is to write three pages of writing in the first hour when you wake up in the morning. This is not to be confused with a dream journal. Your morning pages can be about any subject you choose, the writing doesn’t need to be proofed in anyway and in fact, writing in a stream of conscious manner is the idea. According to Cameron, the morning pages allow you to warm up your writing for the day and lets you dispel negative feelings or thoughts that might be accumulating within you. So it has therapeutic value as well as limbering you up to write your prose for the day.

These are only a few ways that a paper bound journal can be used to aid in the creative process. You can do any of these types of journals on the computer screen if you wish, but you will be missing out on the tactile sensation of handwriting, seeing your script improve, and losing the benefit of slowly down and giving yourself time to think more clearly about what you are writing.

Do you already use a paper journal? What sort of journaling do you do and what is your notebook of choice?