June 29, 2015

Typesetting Ate My Life

I had a blog post planned for today, I promise I did. What I didn't have was time to give the topic its due, so next week it is (probably). But here's what I've been working on lately: typesetting

It's not that small a word, but it's a significantly bigger endeavor. Typesetting of course is its own little world, with its own rules and conventions, many of which are debated among members of that community. As fervently as some writers & editors debate the necessity of the Oxford comma (currently required in American English, not required in UK English), typesetters debate things like molding text to a drop cap. 

What I've learned from reading forum posts and typesetting guides, and scouring the many books on my shelves, is that different typesetters have different preferences, and that's all there is to it. So, when you're doing your own typesetting, many decisions fall under personal choice. For instance, I believe it looks better to remove the initial quotation mark when using a drop cap in a chapter starting with a bit of dialogue than to format both the quotation mark and the first letter as a drop cap. I've literally seen both options in traditionally published books, even in books by the same author from the same publisher (but clearly set by a different typesetter). Some typesetters online insist the better choice is to format the initial quotation mark as midway between the sizes of the drop cap and the text, and to take it outside of the text block. 

And let me tell you, each of these many choices is made out to be life-or-death for the visual success of your print book. [Having shown my layout to a few readers, I can tell you none of them commented on any of these elements, so it seems, unsurprisingly, typesetters care much more about the details than readers—assuming there isn't something visually awful to draw the latter's attention.] Since the most important, unbreakable rule of typesetting a novel is that the text block (the part of the book that is the actual text, not the header or footer) be perfectly aligned at the top and bottom of the page, I can also reveal that there is lots of funky spacing happening (among lines, among paragraphs, among words—with especially dedicated typesetters) that somehow none of us readers (or at least very few) pick up on. 
    Although I'm curious, do you have any pet peeves with the typesetting of print books? Share in the comments!

In any case, typesetting is quite a painstaking endeavor that can easily drive someone completely insane. I spent literally an entire workweek's worth of hours last week doing it (and yes, I did have other things I had to do as well), and while I'm almost there, I'm not quite done even still. I have learned a lot, but I can now attest it takes a special type of person to pay the nit-picky kind of attention to details that typesetting requires—especially to turn it into a career.

All of the above is a rambling way to say we're moving closer to publication—I'm even starting to count down the days. In related news, Mortal Musings is now up on Goodreads! Add it to your TBR here.

June 22, 2015

To Print or Not to Print?

A few weeks back, I listed several of the questions facing authors who publish independently. Today, I want to dive a little deeper into one of these. With every book that comes out, someone decides the format(s) in which it will be initially released. And with independent authors, we know exactly on whom that decision falls. 

Nowadays, a digital release isn't even a question. But many authors dream of seeing their books take physical form, and independent publishers don't necessarily have to satisfy a sales quota or compromise on subsidiary rights to make that happen. If you do decide to offer a print copy alongside your digital one, a whole new trickle of questions builds into a flood that can seem to bowl you over. The earlier you start thinking about these questions, of course, the more manageable handling each becomes.

Once you decide to publish in print, you must ask yourself:

June 19, 2015

Flash-free Friday aka Opinions, Please!

Every Friday, I fully intend to participate in the weekly Flash! Friday contest. (Lately, often, I fail, but that's not the point of this post.) Still, each time I share a story, it's nerve-wracking. What if, this time, you realize that I'm no good as a writer? A little bit of anxiety never fails to make its way in, even though ultimately these flash pieces are intended as a low-stress exercise for what some have called the writing "muscle."

What I'm sharing today is much more nerve-wracking, but that's also why I have decided to share it in the relative safety of my blog (and seek your opinion!). Because much as writers rely on the support of other writers, and frequently conform to the opinions of agents & editors, the most important opinion, the final word, is that of readers. And if I can't muster up the courage to share it here, I will certainly never share it elsewhere.

As I've mentioned, I intend to publish my second novel, Mortal Musings, independently. Below is the (current) back cover copy. I hope you'll take a look and let me know what you think. (And meanwhile, anxiety will consume me...) Thank you in advance!

    Muse Alexandra has had it with the arrogant, ungrateful humans she is obligated to inspire. When the internal ranting of her latest charge pushes her past reason, she disregards the rules and forces her own words through his fingers, and is instantly entrapped in mortal form. With no magic, no identity, and no resources, Allie has no alternative but to navigate the mortal realm, depending entirely on her reluctant host while discerning what exactly caused her transformation — and how to reverse it.

    Brett doesn’t have a chance to consider the words that mysteriously showed up on his screen; he’s too distracted by the stunning woman who appeared in his office out of nowhere. Before his brain can catch up, Brett’s uninvited guest becomes enmeshed in his everyday life. Her artless innocence gradually lessens his suspicions. Most importantly, the writer’s block that’s been plaguing him dissolves under the fantasies the naively beguiling Alexandra inspires.

    All too soon, the forced proximity sparks a confounding awareness neither writer nor muse are able to resist.

June 15, 2015

Wake-up Call: Not Everything Succeeds

It sounds harsh, but the reality is that not every project succeeds. In a sense, writers learn this early — with rejected queries, rejections from magazines, criticism from honest writing groups, and more. However, there also seems to be a pervasive mantra throughout the writing community that if we just don't give up on a project, it will succeed. Not only is that untrue, but believing that could also be harmful.

For one thing, sometimes a project needs to be shelved. Sometimes, no matter how much you work at it, a story just won't come together. (Occasionally, it won't work for now, but could be reworked many years later, though you still first have to set it aside.) That's a part of reality more experienced writers understand and accept, though somehow it's still almost never discussed. We're so busy being encouraging, we ignore the fact that sometimes the best thing you can do for a project is realize your current one isn't right, so you can start the next one.

The scarier part of failure, however, is after your project has already made it out into the world. We as a community constantly discuss success — the writer who just signed with an agent, or received a multi-book deal, or debuted with a bestseller — but ignore the part where many books, indie or traditionally published, never recoup their expenses. 

I think part of the reason we're so afraid to acknowledge this reality is that we somehow equate a project failing with the person being a failure. And there is a monumental difference. While it's important to have benchmarks for success for both our projects and ourselves as individuals, those benchmarks should be distinct. 

June 8, 2015

What Drives Us to Create?

I spent six hours at the opera yesterday, seeing one single opera (though most are only ~2-3 hours long) that is almost never staged. The music is absolutely beautiful, and the storyline is compelling and moving, with moments of drama, comedy, love, war, despair and more all wonderfully interwoven. And yet, this opera is rarely performed and is usually chopped into pieces even when it is, because it is quite frankly too grandiose, intimidating, and expensive a venture.

I'm talking about The Trojans, an undeniable masterpiece by Berlioz. For years, he hesitated to write this work at all, despite having been inspired by the Aeneid as a young child. In addition to the demands of the process itself, of the need to do these characters justice, Berlioz feared the failure of this opera. And the heartbreaking thing is, he was right. According to the program notes, The Trojans wasn't even once performed in its entirety during his lifetime. Occasionally, selected slices were pieced together, misrepresenting the work and leading to both critical and popular disdain. Of course, it didn't help that the style Berlioz chose blatantly contradicted what was popular at the time.

So what are we, as creators, to do? Do we avoid the intimidating ideas and pushing boundaries of what the public has come to expect? Or do we resign ourselves to the almost inevitable failure of visionary work — within our lifetimes, that is. 

I have never written something that falls into that category, and I don't claim to have that level of talent. But I do have an idea that has been (not so) patiently waiting for me to have the guts to sit down and write it. Waiting mostly until I felt ready to do the characters justice. And though this idea is undeniably a romance, it will at the very least push against the standards of the romance genre.  So do I write it and shelve it? Never write it at all, leaving these characters and their story safe in my mind? Or do I brave the demands of this story and send it out into the world regardless? 

Berlioz obviously did the last of these. Countless other creative people have done the same, destined to be under-appreciated in their own time but then venerated for centuries to come after their death. Countless more likely never tried, or failed to such an extent that their work never did reach the audience whose lives it might have changed.

If we wrote for the sake of the work itself, we would be content with the option of slaving away, reaching a level that is personally satisfying, and then (metaphorically at this point) shelving the manuscript. There's a reason we strive to put our work out there, to be experienced by others — a reason Berlioz did so despite his spot-on misgivings — and a reason we're heartbroken when the work we pour our souls into doesn't seem to take root among the public.

Difficult as it is to write any story well, it is significantly easier to follow the beaten path, giving our audience what both they and we know they want. So what does it take to convince us to forge an unconventional path, and risk getting lost? And why do creative people continue to do so despite the history of related heartache?

If you have an answer, I hope you will be generous enough to share it in the comments.

June 5, 2015

Flash! Friday: Prompt #3-26

It's another month and another Friday. May didn't go so well for me, when it comes to regularly contributing to Flash! Friday, but one of the nice things about their new "ring of fire" badges is that each month feels like a clean slate. 

This week's challenge requires incorporating this character:

in a 200-word story (+/-10) based on this photo: 

Ready? Submit your own contest entry on the Flash! Friday site!

June 1, 2015

7 Decisions Facing the Indie Publisher

Independent (or self) publishers are responsible for absolutely every decision surrounding their books. In essence, they are their own business. So suddenly, if you decide to self publish, you are faced with a myriad of choices that have nothing to do with what your characters say or do in the text. These decisions happen in the real world, and can't be changed as easily as a scene that isn't quite working.

Having chosen to self publish, you've started down a path with many forks, each one demanding you make a decision. These include:
  1. Choosing an editor
    • Notice I didn't say whether to hire an editor. Editing and proofreading aren't optional if you want to produce a quality product.
    • Once your text has gone through your own revisions, and possibly been vetted by beta readers or a critique group, it's time to bring in a professional. Editing and writing (or revising) are different skills. A good editor will help you fix your story on every level, from big-picture plot and character development issues, to that awkward scene with stilted dialogue. 
    • Many freelance editors exist, and many more people exist who call themselves editors but who aren't in fact good at editing. This latter group usually charges less than qualified editors, but remember, you get what you pay for. And you need to respect the work and time of qualified editors. Skimping on the cost means sabotaging your project.
    • If you're looking for a fantastic editor, check out the awesome ladies at Touchstone Editing!