How Can You Tell If Your Work is Good?

This morning, I ran across what has to be the single most objectively bad book cover I’ve ever seen in my life. Someone I follow retweeted it to help out the author. And even at the ass crack of dawn with an hour and five minutes of sleep (an actual Fitbit reading, not hyperbole) I could tell that this cover was slow down and look at the train wreck bad. It’s not pardon me, your slip is showing. It’s more… Hey, your bikini waxer missed a spot.

The book in question was a BDSM romance in the vein of 50 Shades. The adver-tweet, itself said BDSM romance, and yes, I actually followed the link to more description on Amazon. No, I can’t remember a dang word of what Amazon said.

The models on the cover were the requisite well-built and shirtless man(cropped at the neck), and a blonde woman who was pasted over him at a rather odd angle. You got the impression that some other background had been removed, and the original furniture didn’t really have the same contours as a hard six-pack. The whole thing was very clearly patched together.

She also had an expression on her face that didn’t really suggest a consenting adult. I’m very serious when I say that my first thought was that she’s dead. In the sense of… well, that’s a very life-like makeup job. Literally dead. (This is partially the weird angle she was at, and partially the expression on her face.) Dead. Overdosed. Vapid blow-up doll surprise. Best case scenario, she looked like a vulnerable adult.

And yet… someone not only decided that collage of images was sexy… they chose it to represent their book.

The cover had absoutely nothing to suggest BDSM or any other part of the plot. The only thing that made me notice it at all was just how awful it was. Who the hell is sending me this crap?

Writers are not artists. Most of us don’t have a lot of graphic design background. I get that.

I still found myself looking at this cover and wondering just how it happened. Author designing their own cover to save money? Probably. But still. How objective do you have to be to catch that your female model looks dead or intoxicated? Author not getting or not trusting feedback on the cover picture? Probably that, too.

And of course, to some extent, I’m guilty too. After all, I didn’t pull the author aside and send them a nice note that says… hey, uhm… did you know?

I have a writers’ group on line–an actually fairly large forum–where people can post titles, cover copy, and cover images for feedback. You get to vote as to which thing you like best, and then you get to comment about why. And the longer I’m there, the clearer I am getting about sorting out the objective–this is just wrong–information (Such as The cover model is a blonde Caucasian, but you described the character as a pretty Afro-Caribbean) from the subjective. (I like the blue one.)

So, the question is… how do you find the friends who will say hey, your slip is showing, your breath stinks, and you can’t for the world tell the American spelling from the British one?

How do you know when what you’ve done is actually good, and how do you develop the taste that lets you know the difference?

The Festival of Queries: A Writerly Celebration of Death

I’m finishing up my revision, and that means it’s time to start the weeping an gnashing of teeth Uhm… working on a query letter. So, this is the process by which we take the novel–all 100 thousand words of it–and cram it into a post-it note, or better yet, a postage stamp.

That’s an exaggeration, of course. I actually get about three hundred and fifty words.

It’s not really supposed to be the whole story line. It’s more of a hook with a couple of jaw-dropping, earth-shaking plot points.

In other words, I get to leave almost everything out.

My current word count for the damn thing highly streamlined and professional piece of correspondence. is sixty-nine words. Yup. In other words, I’m pretty well good with the hook part, and now, I’m debating what I should use to flesh it out a little more.

And that’s where I get completely and totally lost. Sixty-nine words is plenty, thank you very much. Now, can I send you a picture of household pets, or possibly one of my grandmother’s cookie recipes?

Apparently not.

So, now I start trying to figure out what’s vitally important information, and what’s not.

Pricing and Podcasting Microphones

blueyeti pro mic w/pricing

I was in a Best Buy the other day. That’s something I don’t do all that often because it tends to make me a little nostalgia-y sad. (They’ve really pared down their components in recent years, and the sad truth is that I usually know more than the staff does. Especially if I’ve been researching a purchase, and have now abandoned my jammies.The staff, of course, has been trained to be as outgoing as possible, so there’s no real chance of reading the box before it’s being read to you.) In general, the prices don’t really lure me in, either.

In this particular case, the goal was a highly educational documentary of no particular description, due to the fact that I remember their video section being… well, better.

I cannot go into one of these places without looking at things, though.

So, after a brief stop by internet connected locks, which was interrupted by a salesman (really, they just appear out of no where) I headed over to my current fascination. Podcasting equipment.

They are not selling any of the things that are in my basement, right now, and the next step on my list isn’t there, either.  But I did find the pricing interesting, and worth mentioning. This is a Blue Yeti Pro microphone. It’s priced locally at $179 ish, but is generally priced at about $245. And it’s priced at $245 on the Best Buy website, as well. So, the unadvertised local price is roughly $66 cheaper. And it has been for a couple of months at least.

Don’t take this as a recommendation for the microphone itself. For a podcast, this is actually a lot of overkill, and the microphone I chose is about half of the good price. I would like to own this one… mainly because it has a lot of fiddly knobs for me to play with. But if I’m just reading stories on the internet, it’s too much. But it’s an interesting exercise in pricing.

This is also–I checked–the only microphone in the store that has both a USB and an XLR connector. And that means I’ve gotta remind everybody that it’s a big red flag anytime a store only has one selection of anything. In this case, it means they’ve stocked the really expensive version where you get more than most people will ever need for more than most people should pay. Sometimes, it means you’re getting the bargain basement version. Or the “popular” version. It very rarely means you’re getting the right fit.

Can’t NaNo. Moving Furniture.

Today was a busy little day. I got up early and actually did… some more work on my revision. It’s becoming fairly obvious what my priorities are. I want to finish my revision. I want to finish it on time, and then start querying the hell out of it.

Oh, yes… and I’d like a new project to help me escape the general tension of querying the hell out of anything.

I came up with a newer, shinier idea than the one I’m working on for NaNo. That’s always a good sign that NaNo may be over. For me, at least.

And I moved the furniture. Not all of the furniture, but a serious preponderance of the furniture. I rearranged the living room so that the furniture is now set at an angle to the walls. The general living room-y goodness is mostly intact. Well, let’s be honest. A change is always nice. Right now, it’s also a fabulous excuse for not having done much of anything today.

My new power supply arrived this afternoon, and I got it replaced in record time, so there will be no more dire warnings about the unstable old power supply. I think a moment of silence is in order, since that’s the last remaining part from the original build. I’m so attached to that machine, I’ll probably be swapping out parts when I’m a hundred and ten.

I finished up another scene from my revision–must type–, and wound up with a freebie or two. You know what I mean… pages that I don’t have to revise because the relevant information wound up being included in an earlier part of the manuscript. Not too bad, all said and done.

Extroverts Should Come With A Warning

I got into one of those conversations today.

You know the ones.

Yup. The kind where you’re with one of your extroverted friends, and you have no idea on this earth where the third person came from or why you are talking to them. They’re just sorta there because you’re out walking with (well, what do you get when you cross the cutest baby in the world with a Labrador retriever?)

Oh, yes. That’s right. An infestation of strangers.

This particular conversation started with the number of businesses that are closing (all of them), and the whole “Buy local” thing.

And as an extrovert, new person announced that “our mayor” has been really pushing the buy local thing.

And as you might guess from some of my previous posts, it’s working. We’ve opened three empty store fronts and a new vacant lot in the past couple of months alone.

I told her I was buying groceries on the internet.

She told me she likes to squeeze her fruit.

(Yes. Yes, she did.)

So, let’s talk about those empty store fronts, shall we? The question I keep hearing is how we get people to buy local.

As if that’s a marvelous option. And you know, I do have options. Should I squeeze my fruit at  Empty-store mart, boarded-up world, or Vacant-Express? Don’t get me wrong. There are grocery stores locally, but they’re not locally owned or anything. They’re gateways to non-growth. Work there so you can buy there so you can work there. There’s a larger version, involving more of the town, but that’s it. An endless cycle of stasis.

And when those storefronts were open? Well, it wasn’t the greatest selection. In fact, the best bookstore in town when I was a kid was the remainders bin at Pamida.

I just don’t see the good ol’ days looking backward.

Here’s the thing. I have access to more because of the internet. Not just more choices (although the fact that I can order a case of random weird delivered to my door doesn’t exactly make me sad.) but more people. More potential customers. A business in my small town–thank you, sweet baby Tim Berners-Lee– has access to millions of potential customers, and not just the handful that are here, and the opportunity to sell to niche audiences that simply weren’t unified enough to have purchasing power until recently.

I don’t have to buy the remainders bin books, if what I really want is a book in Spanish or French, or Classical Assyrian.

And I don’t have to figure out what will sell to a geographically limited market of a few thousand people.

Indie publishing runs on that principle. There are enough people who read Sasquatch porn that if you just figure out how to reach them, you can earn a living. Or… you know… whatever your niche is.

Small, independent art galleries… I don’t have to take the art to New York. I bring New York to the art. Or… I bring the internet connected world to the art.

I can stream videos directly to my home that my local Blockbuster wouldn’t have dreamed of stocking. Wanna binge watch Korean romances with me? No problem. They come to my living room these days.

Wanna have a writers’ group that specializes in people who are actually writing novels? Yeah. That’s on the internet, too.

And frankly, I don’t see it as being a contradiction. Small towns are worth revitalizing. They’re good places to live, and they’re worth saving.

But the question isn’t how you get people to “buy local.”

It’s how do you help local businesses to sell global.

Revise or Rewrite?

Lately, the question with basically everything I’m working on for my revision seems to be do I revise what I already have, or do I rewrite it from scratch. I think I’m doing pretty well with rewriting. It seems like the answers are just coming to me, right now. Or, maybe it’s the step back I’ve taken to focus on Nano for a while. I’m not sure what the revision will look like after I finish the current rewrite. I have a happy feeling it may actually wind up being shorter than I thought it would be.

I had an enormous plate of nachos today. They were all covered in carne assada and by the way, the chips were fried fresh in the store. And just in case you were wondering… it was a half order. It was still bigger than my head, and it made me happy. Pretty sure there was enough food there for me and two of my closest friends.

So, anyway… the revision is progressing.

The nano project? Well, this is the second day I haven’t added all that many words to it. (Zero would be not many, right?)

I’m not sure whether there’s something wrong between me and the nanoproject, or something wrong with the project as a whole, or if I’m just more interested in the revision at this point.

But the core set of characters are people who have been sloshing through my brain for a while, now. And maybe I should still be able to turn them into something beyond the… uhm… fifty pages or so that I have.

And no, I’m still not sure what they’re supposed to run into out in the middle of space like that.

I probably should throw in a bunch of kids so they can whine about are we there yet? (No, not for another three generations, but you’ll really love the place, when you’re eighty.) And then, the parents can throw them out an airlock when they get really annoying. (Oh, look! conflict!)

Right now, I have one child. Well, uhm… slightly less than that. I have… **gets out calculator** about 17% of a child.

Oh, shut up.

You already knew I write science fiction.

Chiseling Away and Building Up

My nano notebook gained an index, today. Nothing major, just a couple of index cards (one for each of the major projects I’m working on, right now) that have the name of the project at the top, and a list of dates and scenes that I was working on. They live in the pocket at the back of my notebook, and in theory, I should be able to track down scenes from that, after I’ve misplaced them.

I did some math, and one notebook = right around 50 k. (If I’m allowed to count notes, and plotting, and if I hit 250 words per page… well, that’s pretty close. I also realize that if I’m trying to stay on track, the idea of fill this notebook pulls all the goals from all the different projects together.

Today was a rewrite day. I’m pulling a scene from my revision apart and putting it back together, using entirely new parts. As it turns out, the wrong person got beat up in the first draft, and in the revision, I’m fixing that. I would rather not beat up the new person, but there you go.

More heart-stopping assault and battery.

The new words are going in the nano notebook. Hence, the index cards.

I’m hitting a little patch of backstory, and I’m debating how much of it to keep. Some of it may be the solution to my pacing problem. More than that, and it may become a whole ‘nother pacing problem.

The question is… whose backstory do I include? It’s all the same event as seen by multiple characters. I have it written in several different forms, and I’m not sure whose version is the most important or the most relevant.

I have two main options, and I think the choice is probably already made in the back of my mind somewhere. I’ll see if I’m thinking the same way in the morning.

Nano-procrastination and nicknames

I’m getting to a point where I’m drifting away from my nanostory. I don’t know what comes next. I like the characters and the setting, but the plot… Well, if you’re doing Nano, you know about the plot. And my revision is a nifty excuse for not working on it.

Or, maybe we could say that my revision is the priority.

But then… Really? A bigger priority than space-faring cannibal engineers? What am I thinking?

I’m thinking about nicknames, today, and whether there’s a gender-based difference in how we use them. Maybe it’s something cultural. But it hit me, today that there are those of us who use (randomly selected, unsanctioned) nicknames to mean that either you are friends, or you would like to be friends, and then, there are those of us who mean I don’t know you, and it’s not worth the effort to get to know you. Yes, I had an encounter. The guy in question is both male and straight-up American. Maybe it’s a situational difference.

So, keep your ears open for me, and give me your thoughts on how you hear people using nicknames over the next few weeks.

In general, I despise them. With a hierarchy of course. Some nicknames/pet names are more of an abomination than others. But I’m fairly sure that most people are actually capable of learning my real name. Or, you know… “hey you” works in a pinch. This was someone I don’t know substituting a term of endearment for the name he doesn’t know. I’m wandering off on a tangent.

So, anyway… the revision is moving, although I do need to look at some pacing issues, now that I’ve done some jumping around.

NaNoWriMo Day 12: Dreams and So Forth

Ever have one of those dreams where a beloved children’s book author takes pity on you and takes you out for Chinese with the rest of his family? I’m not sure exactly where we went afterward, but I’m pretty sure you get the general idea. One standard belonging and camaraderie dream coming up. Nothing says you belong quite like having to suffer through family with someone. (Or, uhm… well, it was actually a very nice imaginary family.)

So, look at me. Apparently, I do get REM sleep from time to time.

And, apparently, I have mad desire to belong issues going on. So, will everybody still love me, if I decide to write children’s books about space bunnies?

I got up early today, and worked on my revision. More revision at lunch, and additional revision, after I got home.

And yes, that makes this the first day I’ve missed writing anything for NaNoWriMo, unless I settle down and come up with some kind of plot twist in the next hour or so.

I really must run. I’d like to put in at least five or six words before I conk out for the night.

Nanowrimo Day 11: Something Goes Here

One of the benefits of writing by hand is that it slows me down and makes me think about the words I’m putting on the page. And one of the downsides of writing by hand is that it slows me down.

I don’t know what it is about 1,667 handwritten words that seems so much longer than 1,667 typewritten words, but there it is. I am not getting all of the handwritten cannibal-space cadet words that my nano challenge requires. There is also the added typing, which is a few days behind.

I also find myself running into a very limited number of conflicts that you can have on a spaceship, and even fewer if you limit yourself to the five people who are on board that spaceship. (Plus or minus a few characters… uhm… yeah. Don’t look behind the curtain.

And then, there’s the Scrivener thing. Which goes with they typing thing. And I still don’t particularly like Scrivener. I’m still looking for the spark that everybody else seems to get with it. It’s not as intuitive as YWriter, and while it may be customizable at some point, I’m having trouble imagining what the customizations would be for me. Then again, I’m not really the kind of person who has a big old bundle of research notes on the computer.

And, in the trend of electronics dying around me… my fitbit lost it’s one button, today. No. I don’t know how. And there’s a break that’s a little hard to even describe, but I think it’s probably going to be fatal.

And coming soon…

Karen replaces the power supply for her pet computer. I’m not sure, but I think that may officially mark the very last of the original pieces I built the thing with in the first place. It’s had a good run. I don’t know if anybody’s interested in pictures of the process, but if you have a preference, let me know.