Your name is…

‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.’ – Shakespeare

And he’s right. You can call something a million different names, and it doesn’t change the object. By names like words carry visual images, interpretations that we can’t always anticipate as the audience struggles to understand that which they have been introduced.

For instance, when I say Mary, you automatically think of a girl.

If I say Jim, you think of a boy.

These names already come with connotations, just like any name you might here, and choosing your own name for your writing is as important as the writing itself. It has driven many authors to either choose something asexual, something ambiguous that may not carry culture connotations. Authors may choose a name that seems more fitting with the genre, which can prompt male writers to choose feminine names when writing romance, because the stereotype is females write better romance than males.

A few questions and arguments borrowed from other sites:

  1. Are you comfortable with your name in publicity? – Writing World
  2. Is your gender/culture met with prejudice? – BBC
  3. What is the stereotypical name/persona in your genre? – Writing World
  4. Do you need to switch genres? Change reputations?- BBC
  5. Is your name memorable? Or too common? – Writing World
  6. Where will your name be shelved? – Writing World

This is a very common topic, and it has been approached on Goodreads. I’ll put some of those top comments here – or at least what I find most interesting.

  • To be shelved next to a popular author
  • To be shelved by their favorite author
  • To be more memorable
  • To hide their family/background
  • To fit their name with their genre/settings – older names for older fictions, newer names for younger fictions
  • To fit the stripper trend of middle name + street name of first home (just to be funny, I think)
  • Change only last name so it’s easier to respond to public outings
  • Avoid hatemail/prejudice from a very touchy subject

My best advice would be look to your common genre first and choose a name to fit that, unless you’re comfortable with your own.

How to handle rejection

I’ve been working on this story for submission, “Cankerous Feline,” and I submitted it a few weeks ago and finally got feedback the other day.

Rejection.

Which in itself, isn’t a bad thing. Rejections, especially those of writing, are based on opinions and are subjective to the editor’s experience, which is why you hear of writers that had to submit a half a million times prior to acceptance.

And not all rejections are bad. This one was quite pleasant to read and entertaining to reflect on.

This literary magazine had an option – and I don’t know how many do this – where it allowed writers to not only submit for possible publication but also for critique from their editor(s). I thought this was great! I’ve never heard of a publication that actually sent you back feedback. That in itself seemed like the best review process – if they were already reading and judging the story and could give a sentence summarizing their thoughts upon the conditional letter of acceptance or rejection, what a great added benefit! (And I can’t praise that enough.)

Anyways, (s)he gave me some good advice on setting the plot earlier on in the story, which makes sense. Setting the scene is an integral part of writing the story. The main character needs to be shown up front, the plot or conflict at least hinted at, with a huge lob at setting – because if you can’t imagine the scene or personality, the reader’s already lost.

So, I fixed that – or am in the process of fixing.

But I also wanted to share an interesting fact. The editor mentioned he wasn’t a cat person prior to giving the feedback for the story, and I just want to say it up front, neither am I.

I’ve never owned a cat. Never been around cats – due to my mother’s severe cat/hay/pretty-much-all-animals-and-plants allergy. And I refuse to be around cats due to a scarring experience where a cat mauled me while I was sleeping. Still have the scars from that.

So if I convinced him/her that I was a cat person, thank you! I appreciate the compliment! Which proves the effects good research can have. Thank you YouTube:

Inter-webular: A Community of Writers

‘Interstellar’ means between stars, which makes inter-webular between the world wide web which for some reason contains less syllables than ‘www’? That’s weird. English is weird. You know what’s not weird?

Me. Nah – I kid. I’m definitely weird.

But, I thought it was interesting how much potential is on the web. You can literally do anything if you have an idea for it. And, I think people have taken this rule and run with it. There’s a website for everything: how to write, why to write, ideas on what to write…You can search a million synonyms for the concept of writing: books, novels, stories, etc. and so much will come up! I’ve compiled a list here, but of course it’s short. The inter-webular is limitless.

Scribophile

This website is basically an online writing community, a digital critique group. You can edit/comment on someone else’s post (either part of or the entire story), and you win these little karma points for your good deed! Once you have enough karma, you can submit your own story for feedback. This has been my favorite site so far!

Wattpad

This one is pretty interesting – I’m not signed up yet – but in theory, this is a website where you can post chunks of stories. And, I’m assuming this is a good place if you just like to write and don’t want to be officially published on a money-making basis, more if you want followers and readers – like a fan base. Pretty cool in theory. Be a good way to start your publicity. Especially since you can update your stories in chapters and readers/followers get messages when you do.

Page 99

I do like this one. This is a website that caters more to your style of writing rather than the big edits that writers/editors will focus on. If you still need to work on your syntax, word choice, dialogue – the entire stylistic approach, this is a good website for you. Submit your 99th page and get feedback from the community!

WordPress

This is just plain good for blogging/websites, publishing anything for any apparent reason, as long as it’s within the general nature of the internet, which is of course, everything. I use this for fun, use it for school, apparently the school/state use this for teacher evaluations…Must be good if companies are using it. But, either way, I like it’s ease of use and customization. You don’t need to know HTML to use it.

Inkitt

From my understanding, this is another community for writers/readers. You publish a story, and people can read them. But while Wattpad offers a strict reader/writer relationship, Inkitt offers a lot of contests, catering more to the writer community. It uses a ‘like’ rating system, similar to Facebook, to let people review stories. I would see this more as a publicity thing, mainly to accrue followers.

Nanowrimo

This is probably the most famous of all the websites. It’s a month-long writing “contest,” where you compete with yourself to finish a goal of 50,000 words in 30 days. It’s supposed to give people the pressure and motivation they need to finish a project. And in return for participating, you get to meet up with other writers in physical groups or online forums. You get the nice writing tips, contests, discounts for finishing…all sorts of good stuff. I would recommend everyone try it once, to push yourself and see how much can you write.

Blogger

Similar to WordPress, except much more rigid in its web design, Blogger is another site you can write to your heart’s content. Mainly for writing. Actually mostly just for writing. If you want to write, post, and already have an account with Google, this is an easy outlet. I used it for a while. Would recommend purely on its ease of use.

Back of the Book

The back of a book is like an expanse of desert, where you (as the reader) don’t have much to expect. Sometimes you can find an oasis amidst the quotes, the bar-codes; sometimes you can’t. It all depends on the book.

For something like All the King’s Men, there is a little summary on the back of the book, but it seems mostly literal, describing the length of the novel with a few sentences, which could be summarized as a book that follows the political career of a country boy, Willie Stark. It’s very dry, focused on the book’s accomplishments like its Pulitzer Prize, won in 1947.

For a book like Beggars in Spain, there’s a lot of world building to preface the description of the book while including the initial setup of the main character – the “beautiful, extraordinarily intelligent…and one of an ever-growing number of human beings who have been genetically modified to never require sleep” (Kress back cover).

And then, there’s Wool, which has experienced such amazing sales, doesn’t need much more than a poetic curiosity of the world and plot:

What would you do
if the world outside was deadly,
and the air you breathed could kill?

And you lived in a place
where every birth required a death
and the choices you made could save lives – or destroy them.

This is Jule’s story. (Howey back cover)

Even though these three book have different back cover summaries, all three have the same expectation for the reader: they expect you to buy it, but each of these books achieve this through different manners.

With the first book, All the King’s Men, because it is a famous novel, it already has a popularity that will continue to push sales throughout the years. This is a book that can be continuously reformatted, reprinted, and people will still buy it.

Same with Beggars in Spain. Even though it has not won a prize, because it is generally accepted as a famous novel, it does not have to try as hard to rope in potential readers, which is why although it gives an interesting, curious description for the novel, it does not try to engage the reader too much. The most thought-provoking line – besides that of the world with characters who don’t have to sleep – is that the protagonist will remain on Earth where she may experience “a devastating conspiracy of freedom…and revenge” (back cover).

These are completely unlike Wool, which although still pretty famous, tries hard to engage the potential reader in thought-provoking curiosity. This whole poem is phrased from the second perspective, meant to engage you in rhetorical discussion. ‘What would you do?’ It starts off the discourse immediately, asking you how would you respond if the air could kill. Would you choose to save a life or destroy it? And then breaks the discourse with a single line, “This is Jule’s story.” Not you.

Engaging, isn’t it? Maybe this is something self-published authors can take away from these summaries or when writing query letters.

The main success of a back-cover summary is to engage the reader in thought-provoking curiosity, in order for them to buy the book. You can do this through asking the reader questions, using second perspective, but I’m sure there are other methods – this was just one.

Happy reading!

Howey, Hugh. Wool. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2012. Print.

Kress, Nancy. Beggars in Spain. New York, NY: Eos, 2004. Print.

Warren, Robert. All the King’s Men. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 1996. Print.

Baiting the hook

There’s a book I’ve been reading for class, called Brain Rules, and I would highly recommend it. Breaking the scientists-aren’t-good-writers stereotype, John Medina writes about twelve rules to improve your home and school life, things like get enough sleep, stress isn’t good for you, etc. And it all comes with scientific proof!

The chapter I read this week that I would like writers to know about is “Attention.” And this seems more and more important, based on what I’ve heard. People have told me chapters have been shortened so that readers feel like they accomplish more reading in short amounts of time. People have widened the margins so that readers feel like they cover more pages. In all aspects, publishers have made it so readers with short attention spans feel more accomplished when they read a book. And since not everyone will be laying out their own novels or stories, let’s discuss what everyone can do as a writer.

As Medina wrote, our attention is grabbed through a variety of sources, all of which are dependent on the individual. In the case of your memory, “you use your previous experiences to predict where you should pay attention” (107). For writer’s, we can still use this, just as Medina did in the beginning of this chapter.

It was about three o’clock in the morning when I was startled into sudden consciousness by a small spotlight sweeping across the walls of our living room. In the moonlight, I could see the six-foot frame of a young man in a trench coat, clutching a flashlight and examining the contents of our house. (105)

We all learned from an early age that people will have the inclination to rob each other, where, in most cases, they will try to do it when they assume the family isn’t home. This means that seeing someone at 3AM at your house is probably not a good thing. This is something we focus on because of our prior experiences or learning.

Another rule that Medina wrote is that, “If you have an interest in a subject or a person, or something is important to you, you tend to pay more attention to things related to that subject or person.” For authors, this is why it’s important to make a connection between your characters and your readers. If there’s no interest in that character’s life or pursuit, then there will be no press to keep reading.

A good way to keep interest is to charge it with emotion because “emotionally charged events are better remembered – for longer, and with more accuracy-than neutral events” (112). This means that you should be including actions, and reactions within your characters. They should be feeling emotion in order to instigate some reaction within your reader as well. We should be feeling love, hate, at least some emotion for your protagonist!

Medina said it’s common to pay attention to things like a threat, reproduction (sex), and patterns because it’s what our brain has been programmed to focus on, where we mostly have our ancestors to thank (113). To see these rules in action, look at the above example from Medina, and let me continue it.

As my sleepy brain was immediately and violently aroused, it struck me that my home was about to be robbed by someone younger than me, bigger than me, and in possession of a firearm. Heart pounding, knees shaking, I turned on the lights, went to stand guard outside my children’s room, called the police, and prayed. (105)

That should make everyone feel for him. He’s about to be robbed; there’s a guy with a gun; and his children are in danger. This is filled with emotion, weaving in common focuses like threat and reproduction (in this case his children – though you could argue that’s self-interest in his family).

This shows these rules are easily translated to writers. If you want a book to hook your readers, include some form of threat (conflict), some sort of romance (sex), and create patterns within the characters lives. Readers feel brilliant when they notice one between one past and present event, it’s all repeating.

To summarize, the goal of our writing is to capture the reader’s attention, and if we’re not doing that, then we’re technically failing. After all, if they can’t pay attention, they can’t read our story.

Medina, John. Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. Seattle, WA: Pear Press, 2014. Print.

Designing Covers: Part 2

Yesterday we discussed the different components of covers and how they all have one goal – to attract a reader to buy the book. Hopefully to read it, although we can all admit to letting a book sit too long on our bookshelf. I won’t admit this will be a perfect dissection, but let’s look at an example. I just bought this book, and I really like its cover design.

“Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy” by Jeff VanderMeer

Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer (New York Times, “The Best Book Covers of 2014”)

What drew me initially to this cover?

It was simplistic. It abandoned the normal conventions that defined a book cover – it got rid of the title, the author. Everything but this one image. I had no idea what it meant besides a cross through a feather.

And, this is one thing I admire about covers. If I got to design all of them, I would choose something simple, either metaphorical or definitive – I would still focus on a few simple constructions, nothing as complex as a drawing or a photograph. Because what I would hope is that through cover design, we can ask the reader to think. And, that’s exactly what this cover did.

What did I think?

Well, if I blur my eyes or zoom out, I see an ‘X’. ‘X’ usually is found on a pirate’s map as buried treasure, and it can also be interpreted as a location that is either unknown or off limits. We usually seen these on road signs that say something along the lines of ‘keep out.’

Orange is usually also connotative of hazardous. Brings you back to think of the x in terms of ‘keep out’ instead of buried treasure. (The vibrancy of the orange would have something to do with it. Remember to keep in mind different hues will evoke different memories or feelings, which is why some colors on cars will always be reminiscent of puke.)

Now, where does the feather come in? Is it a feather? Or, does it resemble a fern more? Initially I thought it was a feather, which would make sense since the main character is a biologist. But, if it’s a fern, this would also make sense since Area X is an off limits area that is described as a mish mash of different ecologys, specifically their habitats.

But then why do the feather fall? Why are the leaves falling off a plant? Whenever we see this in nature, it usually means something is dying. But, who’s dying? I know nothing of the characters yet. All I did was pick of the book!

(If you could look at me now, I’d be smiling. I’m already a few pages in, and I can tell you who died. Spoiler alert: me.)

Cover Design

What’s makes a good cover? Scratch that. Before I go there, let’s first look at what makes a cover.

Cover Content: 

  • Title
  • Author
  • Picture/Design
  • Publisher Insignia
  • Back Blurb
  • Barcode
  • Optional: Reviews
  • Optional: Author Bio

Now that we’ve summarized what’s on a book. Let me ask you this. When you are standing in a book store, perusing books, why do you pick one up? Because this is a book cover’s goal – to be picked up. Let me explain.

Title: Summarizes your story

I feel like a lot of times this can be abstract, but they can be literal. I read a book a while back, called The Chronology of Water. It was accurately named because throughout the story, she referred back to how her life was similar to the title, her overarching thematic metaphor. But, not all titles have to be like this. As long as they summarize your story.

Author: Attract your attention

If you’re popular, you have a following. If you’re not, the publishers are trying to start your following. The idea is to associate your name with a type of work, a style of work, a sense of quality. Try looking up ghost writing. A lot of famous authors will use this and don’t actually write as many books as you think. This was disappointing for me to hear, but it explained why they put out so many a year or why quality seemed below average.

Picture/Design: Attract your attention/Emotize the story

There’s no set rule for cover designs, but the ultimate goal is to attract you. It’s supposed to reflect the plot of the book, show its emotion or genre. But, the thing to remember is that they all will want to look pretty. They’re going to appeal to your eyes and there’s numerous tricks on how they can do that.

*Emotize, it’ll become a thing. Definition: Evoke an emotion

Publisher Insignia: Attract your attention

These insignia are similar to a publisher’s icon or logo, usually representing their imprint, and publishing houses usually have multiple, which are simply different names for different genres that they print, each with their own customer base. This means that they believe the readers will come to recognize their imprint with a level of quality and type of books. One example is Pelican Books, an imprint by Penguin that is used to educate the reader.

Back Blurb: Attract your attention

The goal of every blurb is to excite you. It’s basically the equivalent of a fish hook dangling the most tempting bait they can create, but converted into words. If they can’t catch you here, you probably won’t buy the book.

This is the main purpose of a cover: to attract your attention. There’s no simpler way to put it. Every book is a pretty, nicely written piece of paper whose goal is for you to purchase it. Every publisher and every author would celebrate with the spirit hands, spirit fingers, however, if you simply spent money on their book.

Keep this in mind when looking at books. Why did it attract you? Who does that type of cover attract? They’re all targeting different audiences, and if you don’t believe me, go to the young adult aisle and count how many books have pretty faces on their covers. It’s almost as bad as looking at magazines.

Traditional Vs. Self-Publishing

Let me say this first. This is not a how to for either of these. This is the pros and cons of each. And, each of these criteria will have different weights of importance for each of you.

Content

Traditional Self-Publishing
  • If you have an agent, they will give you feedback to edit your book, usually before they will advertise it
  • If you’re published, you will have an in-house editor that will give feedback to improve your book
  • Because the publishing house pays you and the team for personal feedback, they usually have the last say on what goes on in your book
  • Since you published it, you get the final say on what goes on in your book.
  • If you hire outside editing, you will have to pay for it, but you don’t have to use it.
  • If you use outside editing, such as friends, you don’t have to pay, but it may (not) be as professional.

Effort

Traditional Self-Publishing
  • After finishing your book, you will have to write a query letter and possibly chapter summaries.
  • You will not get accepted on the first try, you will have to send it to multiple agents, multiple publishing houses. This will require some initial shipping fees (though there are discounts for writers).
  • Upon acceptance, you will have a publishing team that will do most everything for you: an editor to give you feedback, designers for covers, outside printers, marketers, distributors.
  • Publishing houses will receive sales data on your books and will determine when to print or pull it off the shelves, based on these numbers.
  • The tendency is that with your own publishing team, usually works produced are higher quality.
  • Most of the time, editing will rely on you. You will have to do a lot of passes to get it to a high standard.
  • If you want outside editing, designing, you will have to research it, find it, and pay for it. But, the nice part is it’s voluntary, you don’t have to use it if you don’t want to. (Emphasis on research.)
  • You have no printers, so you will have to find and pay for routes to publish, meaning either choosing digital distributors like Amazon or printers like Lulu.
  • Because you’re on your own, you will have to market your own book. You will have to find and organize advertisements, commercials, events, publicity stunts, etc.
  • Depending on your popularity, you will have to find your own distributors (like bookstores), and not everyone accepts self-published authors on their shelves.
  • Because your sales are mostly through you, you may not sell all the books you paid to print. It will take more effort to get them out of your closet.

Time

Traditional Self-Publishing
  • If you send copies to an agent, it will take time for it to go through review and acceptance (or rejection). This could be a few months to more than a few years for someone to take this on as a cause.
  • Agents are like hiring an employee. You should spend time reviewing their background and making sure they have a positive reputation with their customers and publishers.
  • Even if you send it to a publishing house, it can take over six months for your book copy to make it to someone’s desk for them to read. Not to mention the time it takes to find someone to accept it.
  • Once accepted, the whole publishing process can take from one to three years. This includes editing, designing, printing, etc.
  • Editing can take multiple months since there are a variety of people reviewing and giving feedback to your book. Don’t forget how long it takes for someone to read and write those corrections.
  • Depending on your contract, different publishing houses can keep your rights for different lengths of time. Make sure you review these criteria!
  • The time you spend on the publishing process is ultimately up to you. If you want to edit for a day, then you can. If you’ve already made several passes and determine it’s done, then it’s done.
  • Depending on your level of experience, different parts of the process can take longer or shorter amounts of time, depending on if you do them yourself.
  • If you bring in outside help, the length of this process is dependent on them. Take this into consideration if you have your own personal deadlines.
  • Printing can take a few weeks to a few months, depending on your format (paperback vs. hardcover) and depending on your vendor.
  • If you choose digital, you can publish your book within a day.
  • You put in as much time to market and distribute as you want.
  • You keep all rights over your book. You never have to worry about your contract!
  • (If you’re worried about copyrights, make sure to send it to the US Copyright Office – I’m not aware how long this takes.)

Cost

* As a note, I would like to define an advance. An advance is how much of the royalty you will be paid ahead of time. This means that if you receive $10,000, the publisher has paid $10,000 of your royalties ahead of schedule. You will have to wait to pass this mark before you begin to receive royalty checks.

Traditional Self-Publishing
  • There’s an initial fee to mail your book out to companies/agents, but make sure you ask for the media charge. I believe it’s usually cheaper.
  • Good agents should not charge you fees, but they will take a commission upon your publication, usually around 15 percent.
  • If the house takes it, they buy rights and pay you with an advance and future royalties, either based on “cover price” or “amount received by publishers,” which will vary with the company. Maybe, maybe the royalty will be between 6 and 18 percent.
  • Keep in mind different companies, and their variety of sizes, will pay you different ranges. Usually authors get a few thousand to tens of thousands from a book deal. It is rare to get offered hundreds of thousands.
  • Because your publishing house is a company, they already have editors, designers, marketers, distributors. They will be paying for all of this.
  • You will pay for outside developmental editors, copy editors, cover designers, production editors…Keep in mind each of these will cost a few hundred. Each.
  • You will pay for printing, and depending on the format, it will vary.
  • Don’t forget that the cost of shipping will be included! Take this into consideration when choosing your vendors.
  • If you go digital, there’s no more printing or shipping to pay for!
  • A lot of people don’t think about this, but once you distribute books, bookstores may charge you for returns if they don’t make a sale. This is all based on the cost to stock.
  • You may not sell all the books you paid to have printed, so they may take up room in your closet for a while.
  • The nice part is you get to keep most of what you make. You’re your own publisher.

Control

Traditional Self-Publishing
  • This sounds silly, but only reach out to agents or houses that you believe in. Only accept offers that you like. It’s going to be hard to follow the advice of someone if you don’t like them.
  • Also silly, but you do not have control who will accept it and who will reject it. Not unless you’ve suddenly gained some form of hypnosis or telepathy.
  • If a house publishes your book, keep in mind they bought your rights, and will get the last say on your content. You have have some say, but in the hierarchy of control, you’re below them.
  • Since the house also pays for designing, printing, marketing, and distributing, they usually also get the say of what your book looks like, how it’s printed, how it’s marketed, etc.
  • You have no control on how fast your book will move through the publishing process. Keep this in mind if you’re an impatient person.
  • A lot of the times, publishers figure out your payment based on algorithms: what’s popular, what format, how many are going to be printed. They have control over your paycheck.
  • Be careful with your contract because some publishers will have you sign over the rights for audio books, movies, TV, foreign languages, etc. Watch out for this.
  • Publishers will know when to take it out of print, based on their sales data.
  • Less than 1% of authors are traditionally published.
  • Because you publish your book, you have all the control over the piece, over the process. You can decide which feedback you’ll use or keep. You can decide the timeline of your project. At the end of the of day, you’re the boss.
  • Since you pay for all the outside help you want, you get control over who to hire and whether you’ll accept their work or not.
  • Again, you get to choose your printer, and as friends have showed me, this means you get to choose the quality of your book. The kind of paper, the kind of cover or binding. Feel free to experiment! Bind them yourselves! It’s up to you.
  • Unfortunately once you go digital, you will give up some of your control to your digital publisher. Unless you want to send your PDF out by hand. Haven’t heard of that yet. You could just publish it online through blog though.
  • Even though you have to pay for a lot of services here, you get to choose what you’re willing to pay for and by how much. You write the checks.
  • At this point, you get to choose your audience and market. If you decide you want certain customers, you can customize it for them.
  • You get to keep all rights over your book!
  • You get to see how your efforts affect sales, ex: you can see how blog posts can affect sales.
  • You control your appearance and performance, so put your best foot forward and do your best!

Please keep in mind there are stereotypes and stigmas of each route of publishing. Because we are individuals, we each follow a route for our own different reasons, and although each route may come with a different negative/positive stigma, these only reflect your own experiences and opinions. Feel free to express them but be receptive of others as well.