Learn Writing with Uncle Jim, Volume 1

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Editing for authors: because every writer needs a good editor.

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James D. Macdonald

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The nice lady from the radio station had one of the advanced reading copies of Mist and Snow. That had come from the publisher.

At the Book'em event, back in September, we sold a bunch of books (I didn't count), from the freebie author copies that publishers have sent us over the years. Eventually the revenue sharing brought back about thirty bucks.

It was interesting. At Book'em, even though there wasn't any assigned seating at the place (a school gym with tables arranged in a large horseshoe around the walls), the folks separated out naturally into the published authors, the publishers and bookstores, and the self-and-vanity-published authors.

I was amazed at how slick the self-published guys were in their presentations. Balloons with their titles imprinted on 'em, pens, bookmarks, stands, custom printed tablecloths.... I was impressed. Over on our side of the room we were just putting piles of books on the tables and sitting there with the little "Hi, My Name Is" stickers that the event organizers handed out on our shirts.

One of the self-published folks (who had driven there from Virginia -- that was something else: a lot of the self-published folks had come a long way) was handing out full-color flyers for her book, Take the Mystery Out of Promoting Your Book. The flyer tells us that her book is available in bookstores everywhere, and has a tear-off order form at the bottom to buy a copy from the author.

Anyway, that flyer also includes an inventory list for "A Booksigning In A Bag." Here's the list:

Tablecloth
Candies and dish
Flowers
Props
Scissors and tape
Pens -- booksigning and other
Mailing list
Book cover stickers
Business cards
Water/water bottle with screw-on cap
Change for parking meters
Emergency personal supplies/first aid kit
Book marks
Posters/flyers/advertisements
Loudspeaker announcements
Book stands
Blank card stock and marker
Presentation materials (projector, flip chart, etc.)
Lightweight table
Lightweight folding chair
Camera
Thank-you gift for store employee(s)

------------

I feel like such a slacker. Doyle and I had one pen between us at the first signing (until one of the visitors gave us another). We had to borrow new batteries for our camera (Doyle usually carries a camera in her purse). In the past we'd done the dish of candy thing, but forgot this time. I'd intended to build a nice model of a Civil War ship (perhaps USS Kearsarge) as a prop, but never got around to it. We did have change for parking meters (that usually rides in the car) but we didn't need it. My big EMT jump kit was in the car (but we didn't need it either, thankfully).

The bookstores provided the tables, chairs, water, book stands, and books. They had posters and signs (and flyers, too).

I'd taken it on myself to send press releases to the local newspapers a month before the signings, with a cover flat from the book included in each. Might help, couldn't hurt. I don't know if anything was ever printed.

Maybe next time I'll try to do better.
 
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Nangleator

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James D. Macdonald said:
Presentation materials (projector, flip chart, etc.)
!

That brings me back to my experiences at medical trade shows. The device manufacturers would have these cool, new devices for the doctors to play with. Some of these displays were set up as side-by-side games where the doctors would race each other to a kidney stone, to give an example. Very entertaining.

The drug companies, on the other hand, didn't have anything for the doctors to play with, (what can you do with a pill but swallow it and wait for a change?) but they had lots and lots of money to advertise with. You'd see all sorts of hand-waving stuff in their booths like espresso machines (with attractive women serving,) putting greens, D-list celebs signing authographs, magicians, and so on.

Of course, at the medical conferences, the different techniques were simply intrinsic to the realities of the products, and not a reflection on their quality.

Perhaps, UJ, you can affect to chew an ornate pipe and wince off into the distance thinking great thoughts. That would beat the pants off a slick presentation any day.
 

Nangleator

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The interview was good, as those things go.

Typically I get the impression from author interviews that the interviewer and interviewee are speaking different, though similar-sounding languages. I didn't get that this time. She had some pointed follow-up questions. Sure, they took the form of "What do you mean by that?" but asking for clarification seems like an excellent strategy for an interviewer.
 

zenofeller

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James D. Macdonald said:
Eventually the revenue sharing brought back about thirty bucks.
right.
I was amazed at how slick the self-published guys were in their presentations. Balloons with their titles imprinted on 'em, pens, bookmarks, stands, custom printed tablecloths.... I was impressed. Over on our side of the room we were just putting piles of books on the tables and sitting there with the little "Hi, My Name Is" stickers that the event organizers handed out on our shirts.

Anyway, that flyer also includes an inventory list for "A Booksigning In A Bag." Here's the list:

Tablecloth
Candies and dish
Flowers
Props
Scissors and tape
Pens -- booksigning and other
Mailing list
Book cover stickers
Business cards
Water/water bottle with screw-on cap
Change for parking meters
Emergency personal supplies/first aid kit
Book marks
Posters/flyers/advertisements
Loudspeaker announcements
Book stands
Blank card stock and marker
Presentation materials (projector, flip chart, etc.)
Lightweight table
Lightweight folding chair
Camera
Thank-you gift for store employee(s)

so, on one hand, revenue share is 30 bucks. on the other, it's getting harder and harder to tell the difference between a group of writers and a freakshow, and between any individual writer and a snakeoil salesman/ronald mac donald/bozo the clown.

may i be so bold as to propose that the second is the very reason for the first ? maybe if people spent more time writing, and less time coloring baloons not only we'd all have books that are actually readable in the stores, but they'd make more than a mexican trucker ?

there's a good reason books sales are way way behind playstation sales. that reason isn't that books don't come with free complimentary coffee makers, hair driers and haircombs.

I feel like such a slacker.

basically, too many people fancy themselves writers, when they would really be better employed handing baloons, making coffee and writing laundry lists. maybe they should change then ?

Maybe next time I'll try to do better.
 
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Ken Schneider

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zenofeller said:
right. snip....too many people fancy themselves writers, when they would really be better employed handing baloons, making coffee and writing laundry lists. maybe they should change then ?


Agreed, most should, but don't. They instead pretend that they can, make up cheesy websites,and do all the things UJ mentioned. All signs of a greenhorn in the book world.

The purchase of all those gimmicks will never repay themselves in book sales. In truth, having a real publisher doesn't require you to buy trinkets for eticement. The publisher will buy the trinkets and gimmicks, and leave the writer to write books.
 

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Actually...

as one who has been to several book signings/meet the author-in-the- bookshop, to be a body for writer friends, that list makes sense.

Certainly some of the bookshops were well organised and had chairs, tables etc. Some publishers had even managed to get everything to the right place before the day, but it doesn't always happen. And in a large empty space, a bleak hall or big and busy bookshop where the author has been given a chair ina corner, having your own table, attractivly set up with a display, flowers/flowering plant and the author calmly reading, writing or signing books does impress.
 

retterson

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James D. Macdonald said:
One of the self-published folks (who had driven there from Virginia -- that was something else: a lot of the self-published folks had come a long way) was handing out full-color flyers for her book, Take the Mystery Out of Promoting Your Book. The flyer tells us that her book is available in bookstores everywhere, and has a tear-off order form at the bottom to buy a copy from the author.

{snipped}

I feel like such a slacker.

Ah! Don't feel like that! (I'm wagging my finger at ya!)

Folks who self-publish have an unquenchable vanity that requires them to call attention to themselves, and the form of the attention doesn't matter.

A skillfully-wielded pen (especially a pointy fountain pen) is mightier than any bunch of custom balloons . . .
 

AnnaWhite

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I haven't posted here for a long time, although I've been lurking. The fact is, I haven't had time to scratch for the past few months. Since attending the Viable Paradise workshop last October (and what a blast that was!) I've started work on a new novel. I've only got as far as the first four chapters, so it's a slow journey...

I have a question that's been bugging me for the past few weeks.

One of the important elements in my plot involves a highly intelligent, part magical creature, that has a large feline body (like an enormous lion or panther) and who attaches herself to one of the main heroes. She does this for a purpose, which will be revealed eventually. She is not unique, but one of a race of like creatures, that live in a land far away from the world of humans.


I've been agonising on how to make this magical creature communicate with the human. Speech could look horribly corny, and anyway I want the communication to happen privately. I'd thought of a sign language, but it would be complicated and could look silly (tail weaving around like a semaphore? retractable fingers doing deaf sign language?). Another option could be to have the creature assume a human body for communication, but that might spark romantic implications with the hero (unless I make the creature male, which I'd rather not, or work it so that there clearly is no romance, or introduce a romantic side plot). The simplest option seems to be telepathy, but would that be considered cliché these days?


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Nangleator

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A variation on telepathy could involve the transmission of visual inputs. This sort of development could evolve with pack hunters, and could be adapted by intelligent creatures to pass theoretical (and not just recently perceived) visual impressions.

It would make your 'conversations' a bit tricky, but if you need lots of ideas transmitted, your magical creature could pass the impressions of printed words, a few at a time.
 

James D. Macdonald

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How about telepathically creating the impression of a human body?

If you can answer the question "why must this character be a feline?" you might find the answer to "how can it communicate?"
 

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James D. Macdonald said:
If you can answer the question "why must this character be a feline?" you might find the answer to "how can it communicate?"

Wow. Sat and thought about that for a moment. Good answer.

Also, thanks for the link to the interview about villains. Made me go back and tweak (ouch!) my guy.

I lurk. Like Anna I'm writing, and selfish of my time. But it never hurts to take a moment to come here and learn something, or to say thanks again.
 

Ken Schneider

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Claws, plus a dirt slate board make a wonderful medium.

Just imagine if your Lion type creature, when you figure out how you are going to communicate, did so in a manner that your MC had to figure out, and the reader was privy to? I.E., find a rosetta stone type item,at some point to understand what was being said.

If the reader knows what danger lurks, and the MC doesn't, it creates lots of tension in the story.

Just a little musing on my part.

Good luck.
 

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James D. Macdonald said:
Is there any fan fiction based on my own works? I don't know. I have quite deliberately never looked.

I've seen some based on the character Valerie Sherwood from the "Bad Blood" series, but I couldn't point it to you now, it was years back that I saw it. It wasn't labeled as fan fiction, but rather presented as an original author's work. The first chapter was basically the same as the first chapter of the actual book (who knows, perhaps it was even word for word) and the rest deviated. I read the fanfic before I read the actual book, and I remember thinking that it was some of the best fan fiction that I'd ever seen online, but I was disturbed to see a serious drop in quality and change in writing style after the first chapter, and I didn't read the whole thing. A couple years later, I read the first book in the "Bad Blood" series and I immediately recognized the first chapter, and figured out what had happened.

[edit: minor copyediting]
 
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Sara King

I'm new to AbsoluteWrite.com and this is my first post ever, so I hope there's no hard feelings for barging right in. Anna, I saw your question and I wondered two things. First, does the feline HAVE to communicate with the protag? Maybe that's a source of tension, something she's trying to fix. The second was whether or not maybe she could speak through an intermediary, every once in awhile, like maybe through a forest deity or wood sprite or something. Something finicky and not always available, leaving her incapable of communicating everything she thinks all the time. It could make for a lot of stress on her part, especially if she knows something that the protag doesn't, but can't express herself to him.

I'm really impressed with this site. Lots of good advice here.

-Sara King
 

AnnaWhite

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Thanks heaps all you guys! Great ideas!

I like the one about visual communication; I'm just now reading a book that has a wolf shape-shifter doing just that (Wi'tch by J Clemens). I'd have to tweak it, though, to make it original.

The claw scratching is a neat idea. I hadn't thought of it, have never read a novel with anything like it, and I can see it could open up all sorts of great possibilities.

Having an intermediary could work really well. It could mean another interesting character, and all sorts of new plot possibilities.

I love the idea of telepathically creating the impression of a human body. I can see it, and its eyes changing as it sends me the image of itself in human form...

I'll follow your advice, Jim, and meditate on its feline nature. I do have one practical answer to the question "why must this character be a feline?" It’s because of something it must do, which will be visually beautiful and dramatic if it has a feline body. Any other body would totally lose the effect. I guess that needs to be my starting point, and from there I need to feel into its feline nature.

Maybe I should call it a being rather than a creature.
 
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batgirl

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Hi Sara! Welcome to AW, and what a great way to start, with useful advice.

Lucia, I've been using body-language for my intelligent-animal character, but so far he's mostly transmitting emotions and desires, not hard information (for example, 'I want you to go in this direction right now' but not the reasons). Maybe consider how a cat or dog communicates here?
I have a speech-related question, too. Is there a way to convey slow halting speech that doesn't involve sprinkling ellipses like glitter throughout the dialogue?
-Barbara
 

Dru

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batgirl:

You. Could. Use. Periods.

or mention that that character speaks in slow-halting words the first couple times until the reader associates that type of speech with the character?

Seems like dialect speech, how would you convey that in your piece?

I've always associated ellipses with more drawn-out speech or uncertainty.

Or break up the speech with small actions that illustrate that the person pauses a bunch or is slow to speak (have other people interrupt or talk over them?)
 

retterson

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Batgirl -- em dashes convey -- a kind of -- Kirkian dialect. Better than -- what do you call them -- ellipses.

Of course, you could always use the dreaded adverb.

"You can't do that," she said haltingly/carefully/picking her words with care. (Which would work for people who actually like to -- yanno -- read words. But Stephen King and his acolytes would string you up and dance around you brandishing copies of Strunk and White.)

I suppose (at the end of the day*), it's all about what you're trying to convey. A brief description of how your character talks might work better than trying to replicate its cadence with punctuation.

*I don't care if Stephen King is of the option that I ought to be forced to stand in a corner for using that phrase. I like it. It's far better than "the bottom line is."
 
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Sara King

Slow, halting speech... You could try using grammar inconsistencies, as in someone who doesn't speak English (or whatever language it is) very well. Like, "Dog go up street. No like what find. Find big dog, MUCH big dog. Big dog take bone. Make little dog scare." Speckle some pauses in there, plus an occasional dash, hesitation, body language conveying insecurity and lack of confidence. If the halting speech is a consistent thing, like the character doesn't know the language or has trouble communicating, I think word choice and the way your character holds him or herself while he/she talks (or doesn't talk) is more important than the punctuation. Besides, over-using ellipses or dashes throughout the book will make a reader's eyes glaze over whenever they get to that character's part. Much more interesting to show their flaw through their own insecurities and frustrations, as they try and fail to make themselves understood.

-Sara King
 

AnnaWhite

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Maybe the words could be interspersed with any kind of sound he/she/it makes while pausing? That is, if he/she/it does make a sound. For example, "The h'm dog err he went up the h'm street ha and didn't err like what he found."
 
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