Pray for Haiti

As empathy fatigue sets in and life presents challenges that are geographically closer to each of us, please let’s take a few moments to recall the perhaps hundreds of thousands dead, and even more still suffering.

And please let’s all spend the time and energy it takes to help, in whatever ways we possibly can. Because I do believe that we are charged to be our brother’s keeper, in pretty much any belief system or faith I’ve ever been exposed to.

Slush

A rather silly and  inaccurate article from WSJ proclaiming The Death of the Slush Pile.

An excellent post on agent Janet Reid’s blog, Slush Works.

discussion on the AW forums, that references both essays.

This stuff comes up every now and then. Every week it seems like some new Website goes up, announcing that they’ll revolutionize the publishing industry by collecting writers in one place for agents and editors to browse at their leisure; this is such a common meme that savvy writers simply call these sites YADS: Yet Another Display Site.

A mighty pile of paperEvery week it seems like some newspaper looking to fill column inches runs a scare piece about the death of the slush pile, all the ways publishing is doomed, the “revolution” in “indie” publishing or yet another ridiculous story about submitting a re-keyed manuscript version of Gone With the Wind, and—quelle surprise!—receiving form rejections from agents too canny to verbally engage with some wingnut who’s just submitted a re-keyed manuscript of Gone With the Wind…Then Twitter explodes with links to the original essay, writers despair, bloggers pontificate, and message-board threads proliferate on writer’s fora across the Web.

Read those pieces more closely. Too often,  these articles are thinly-disguised, self-serving press-releases pretending to be articles. Remember a few things. Remember that there are some very key differences between fiction and nonfiction publishing. Remember that book-selling and publishing, while very closely related and interdependent, aren’t the same industry.

Most of all, remember that an article full of speculation full of doom and gloom and looming apocalypse is just more interesting reading than an essay that says, “Yep. Writing is a competitive and challenging aspiration. You’ll have to work your ass off, and you still may not make it. That hasn’t changed one little bit in centuries, so don’t look for it to change anytime soon.”

The best essay I’ve ever read about slush, by the way, is Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s Slushkiller. You should read it, if you haven’t. You should read the comments, too. And if you’ve already read it, you should probably read it again. Every writer I know actually finds it oddly encouraging.

SFWA Panel on Google Book Settlement

Google and the Google Book Settlement might be one of the biggest  concerns of the entire decade for published writers. Ursula K. LeGuin resigned from the Authors Guild, because of their capitulation.

So very much has been written about this wrangle and Google’s rather blatant attempt to completely revise copyright law, and I won’t try to recap it all, here. SFWA is hosting an online panel discussing the Google Book Settlement, and you’re invited.

The text-based panel will be held at 11 a.m. (EST) Jan. 21 and will run for 90 minutes on the SFWA discussion forums. The text will create an instant transcript for writers who cannot make the opening discussion. After the first 30 minutes of discussion, the floor will open for questions from the audience. The online discussion is open to the public, although anyone wishing to ask questions must register at the website. Visit the SFWA discussion forums at http://www.sfwa.org/online-google-settlement-panel/ to watch the panel and to register.

figs want to be free

Here are some links to read, if you’re still feeling in the dark about all this, and how it might concern you and your book:

Wired article about the original proposed settlement

Some criticism of the revised version of the proposed settlement

One take on where things are now, and what objections remain

A petition to be presented to the Court, expressing the opinion of the undersigned authors

I’m generally a fan of Google. But I’m vehemently opposed to their proposed end run around all existing copyright law. They’ve apparently decided that, not only do “figs want to be free” but that they’re big enough to simply set up their own fruit stand with other people’s figs.

Backspace Writers Conference

Pen nibJust a reminder to those of you thinking about attending Backspace Writers Conference in May, you’ll get an early registration discount if you register before February 1.

(In the interests of full disclosure, Backspace does advertise with AbsoluteWrite on occasion, but this is not a paid post, and I’ve personally heard really excellent things about this conference.)

This is a terrific opportunity for agents and writers to find each other. From the Backspace FAQ:

Both the Agent-Author Seminar and the 2010 Backspace Writers Conference offer access to agents so that authors can talk about their project, get a feel for the agents’ personalities and interests, and learn from the agents’ cumulative knowledge and experience. We offer workshops, not pitch sessions, which means that while an author can get their work in front of agents, if the agents feel it’s not yet ready (or if your opus is not quite finished), authors haven’t burned any bridges. The agents know that based on what authors learn at the conference, they might want to take another pass through their manuscript before they submit it. So while ideally, authors will be coming to the seminar with a finished manuscript in hand, they can still connect with agents and learn from their feedback, even if their work is not quite finished.

Writers generally have to do a lot of self-educating about both writing craft and the publishing industry. Conferences like Backspace Writers Conference can offer an excellent set of resources for a writer’s continuing education and professional network.

A Quick Note

Just wanted to let you guys know I’m down with the flu, right now. On the mend, but still not anything like functional.

In the meantime, just in case you didnÆt realize these resources are out there, let me direct your attention to these two writing-related and markets-listing sites that can save you hours of chasing around on the Web:

Duotrope’s Digest

Duotrope is a subscription-based service for writers and artists that offers an extensive, searchable database of current fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and visual art markets, a calendar of upcoming deadlines, a personal submissions tracker, and useful statistics compiled from the millions of data points we’ve gathered on the publishers and agents we list.

Ralan.com

“provides up-to-date listings of markets in the speculative genres only. It started in 1996 as a way to find markets, organize writing links, and share this information with other writers. Soon those other writers started helping back, pointing out new markets and noting changes in listed ones. This two-way interaction continues. Today there other sites that provide literary markets and links, but thanks to all of us, Ralan.com is still, to many, the most up-to-date in its field.”

Resources like this are often found through word of mouth, and it’s a privilege to get to point new writers in helpful directions. I’ve used both of these sites, especially for fiction and poetry markets, and found valuable, up-to-date information. When I can, I support the tremendous amount of work they do, via paypal.

Hopefully, you’ll find them as helpful and worthwhile, in pursuit of your own markets.

Tor Books Internship

Internships are a standard part of how people learn the publishing business. When you work at a major publisher, you’re gaining experience, insight, and making contacts that can eventually serve you for your entire career as a writer, editor, or even as an agent.

If you’re interested in working in publishing, and you’re in the NYC area or willing to relocate, Tor/Forge is currently seeking two editorial interns:

Tor Books is seeking two editorial interns for the spring 2010 semester. The interns in this position will gain insight into the process of publishing a book at every stage, from acquisition and contracts through production and, finally, the finished product. They will learn about acquisitions, editorial review, scheduling, rights and territories, catalogue, and sales. There will also be opportunities to read and evaluate unsolicited manuscripts. While this is an editorial internship, the position will involve interaction with other departments including Production, Marketing, Ad Promo, and Publicity. Our interns have the opportunity to work with a wide variety of genre fiction, including science fiction, fantasy, horror, thriller, mystery, and romance.

This has been a friendly-neighborhood boost-the-signal announcement.

Spam for Breakfast!

We talked about SEO and keywords, last time. I’ve got a post I’ve been working on about agents blogging, but in the meantime I’ve been deleting a fair amount of spam from the comments threads since we went live with comments here. (Thank you to HistorySleuth for the heads-up on this morning’s fresh batch.) So I’m looking at turning on more of the anti-spam tools. If you guys get comments hung up in moderation, please feel free to drop me a note and I’ll take a look. Real comments make me grin the rest of the day, so I don’t want to miss any.A smiling George Burns and Gracie Allen from an old SPAM canned meat advertisement.

But I’ll confess to being already a bit grumpy about spam in general, so I got just plain mad when I got to the AW forums to discover that an agent (and a legitimate agent at that) is apparently running a contest on her blog, and one of the rules for entry is to post a link to the contest site on your own blog or site, and two other venues. That means that a half-dozen comment-spam links had been posted all over the forums, already.

So I wrote the agent in question with my objections, and she blew me off with a cheerful but dismissive statement that this is just how it’s done, and “Obviously, I didn’t send them directly to you nor do I have control over where they choose to post.”

No, actually — requiring that people invade other sites with comment spam is NOT how it’s done. It’s a fairly astonishing breach of netiquette, in fact. There’s a good article about comment spam, what it is, and how to deal with it, here.

Requiring that people spam message boards and other people’s blogs? That’s a far cry from asking people to tweet a link, retweet the link, or post on their own blogs/sites. Dealing with spam takes up an awful lot of everyone’s time. Most bloggers, community members, and board moderators are actively hostile — and with good reason.

Why don’t we just ignore spam? Because it interrupts the conversation. When you have to scroll past post after post of links that have nothing to do with what people are actually talking about, it’s disruptive and distracting. It’s also a cheesy attempt to try and cash in on other people’s hard work maintaining a community.

So how does anyone get the word out about a promotion (or a contest) without making site-owners and bloggers actively hostile? That’s dead simple. You build a reputation with your participation, then you spend that reputation carefully. Participation. Real conversation. Posting good links in relevant places will actually enhance your credibility, in fact.

Message boards and blogs are usually equipped to let people link back to their own sites in their signatures and/or profiles. Often, there’s even an appropriate place to post a direct link if you have an announcement or are promoting something. If you’re participating in real conversations, saying interesting things, interacting and engaging with an online community, then people are going to be a good deal more attentive and curious about what you’re doing elsewhere, as well.

Content Isn’t King, Your Reader Is

I’ve been hearing a lot of writers talking about starting blogs, or buying domains and building Web sites, to try and increase their online presence and build a platform for their nonfiction, or to try to establish a Web presence for their fiction. I’ll tell you guys the same thing I tell everyone who asks me: Good content is about real conversation with real people.

Good content is about real conversation with real people. Remember that. We’ll be coming back to it.

Spiders and Bots
Write for people not spiders

I’ve been hearing a lot of writers talking about starting blogs, or buying domains and building Web sites, to try and increase their online presence and build a platform for their nonfiction, or to try to establish a Web presence for their fiction. I’ll tell you guys the same thing I tell everyone who asks me: Good content is about real conversation with real people.

If you’re thinking about starting a blog or Web site, or you’ve already been noodling around with Web content for a while, there’s a saying you’ve probably heard: Content is king. Now, that doesn’t mean that you just churn out as many words as you can, as fast as you can. It also doesn’t mean that you need to use just the right words, arranged in just the right order, to form some sort of keyword Web-traffic voodoo. That’s a common myth that some content sites persist in repeating like a mantra.

It should go without saying that if you’ve got a paying gig writing Web content, and the guy that’s writing the checks wants you to use his talismanic keywords, you use ’em, and cash the check. That’s what freelancing is about, sometimes. However, if you’re writing for your own blog or Web site, then what you really need to be thinking about is who your audience is, and how to be interesting to them. You want them to come back, right? And you want them to link to you, and send their friends to read, too.

If you’ve spent any time at all considering online writing, you’ll already have heard all sorts of bloggers, writers, and wannabes tossing around the acronym SEO with utter certainty. Even people who really ought to know better by now will assure you, quite earnestly, that ultimately keywords will win the internets.

If you’ve got a Twitter account, you’ll probably have already noticed that you can’t tweet anything that includes SEO—even something like “what the SEO weenies aren’t telling you…”—without having about a dozen new followers. Those new followers will all have things like “online marketing!” and “SEO specialist!” in their profiles.

Fuggedaboutit.

Look, all SEO stands for is Search Engine Optimization. People use keywords to try to game Google and the other search engines into increasing page rank, because they’ve included specific words and phrases. Often, they’ve included those so-called keywords over and over and over again. That doesn’t make for entertaining writing. It also doesn’t make for return visitors, because readers can tell when they’re being used.

Pick out a couple of common keywords to do a search, and see what pops up on the front page of your search engine. You’ll get a couple of pretty good links. More than likely, though, your search is also going to bring up a lists of sites that describe themselves using the keyword search terms over and over again, and a fair handful of those links are going to take you to spam sites. If you go visit those sites, they’ll have entire pages consisting of nothing but keywords. Search engine designers are pretty regularly refining their algorithms to try and work around people who try to game the system this way.

Here’s an example. I run AbsoluteWrite. My audience is writers, people who want to be writers, and people working in various facets of publishing. So it’s only natural that I’m going to talk about writing, here—but whether or not anyone reads what I have to say depends entirely on whether or not I’m talking about that chosen topic intelligibly, articulately, and hopefully in reasonably entertaining fashion.

If I decided to maximize writing-related keywords in this post, it could read something like this: Writers writing blog posts or writing Web content must write targeted prose to maximize the visibility of their writing to anyone searching for writers to write for a website, or anyone writing or searching for writing that’s about whatever the chosen focus—in this case, writers and writing—of a site’s writing content might be.

That’s borderline gibberish.

If I choose to write a whole post that way, it’s going to discourage return visitors. It’s also going to discourage incoming links, because people want to link to people, not keywords, and not spam. Ultimately, the best lists of keywords in the world aren’t going to win the Internet. They can’t. Because keywords alone don’t actually say anything that anyone wants to read.

Good content is about real conversation with real people.