Please update your links. My new blog is here:
Please update your links. My new blog is here:
If you’re writing short stories or books—and let’s face it, who’s not?—I have a few tools for you, character name generators (contemporary and Seaborn names) and a word pair list generator, all of which I use for my own work. One of the greatest things about fantasy and science fiction as a genre is that so many F&SF readers are also writers. I don't think you'll find that in thrillers, murder mysteries, romance, or anywhere else.
The contemporary name generator lets you create a list of male or
female names. Same goes for the Seaborn Name generators, except that they're all ancient Greek names, male and female.
The word pair list is a way to spark ideas. Sometimes when I'm stuck in a plot I will pull random words out of the dictionary--usually nouns--and play with the ideas, see how the story would change if I introduced poison, or make one of the characters a really good cook, or take a word like "chronograph" and it makes me wonder what would happen to the plot if there was a "ticking clock"--a count-down timer on a bomb, or the bad guys are going to kill someone at a particular time and the protagonist has to do something extraordinary in order to prevent it. The words are there to feed the story with new and unexpected ideas. It's not quite the same, but think of it as something like Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies, except for writing instead of music. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oblique_Strategies. There was a cool "Oblique Strategies for Authors" panel at the last Readercon led by Glenn Grant with panelists Gavin Grant, Eric Van, Jo Walton, and others).
Check it all out here:
I did some sketching in my journal this morning, including this one of a character in an old idea for a story of mine--I was telling my son the story. Scanned this one in tonight and did some shading in Art Rage. I'm 35k words into my current book, the first in a new series. It's a near-future thriller, and I've been saying I don't think I'll write fantasy again. I've moved on--to the future. (I think I said those exact words several times at Boskone). But you know how it is, a good story grabs you and won't let you go, demanding to be written. So, I'd put money on seeing this character in a book in the...near-future.
I’m only here for readers—for the most part. Of course there’s always a part of me that’s writing for myself. (If you’re not in love with your own work—at least a little—then how can you expect others to fall for it? That’s fall for it in a good way). I love to get into stories, love to create characters and worlds, and writing a story is as exciting to me as reading one. But without the ability to share my work—without readers—it suddenly becomes much less exciting. One thing I will not do is write books that collect dust for more than a year or two, or let a published book or short story fade away, especially if I have all the rights back.
Rights and sharing are very important to me. The works I create are mine—the books, the short stories, the paintings and sketches. I created them, and I do sell them—ebooks, limited edition illustrations, and occasionally the rights to art and stories.
I also share quite a bit of the work I create. I have a blog and web site full of it (https://theophrast.us and https://SaltwaterWitch.com ). Years full of it. I have a couple hundred pages of the Saltwater Witch graphic novel live on my site, and have published it online since 2008. I have free mobile apps, art tutorials, writing observations. Some of it I am sharing with all rights reserved, mainly because I want people to come back to my site. Sometimes it’s because I don’t want them to use it without my approval (and that’s usually because I’m not done with it yet. Works in evolution can be like bread dough rising, where the baker hasn’t decided if it’s going to become dinner rolls or sourdough pizza).
When I want to share my writing or art I post it, and when I want readers to share my work I use Creative Commons licensing. I have a variety of work, including art, novels, and short stories licensed under several different Creative Commons licenses.
So much of the copyright world is not clear—by nature, by design, legal erosion, through cultural or technological change, or even ignorance. Licensing is complex, there’s no denying it. I have friends who are lawyers—even copyright attorneys, but I’m not one. Even so Creative Commons allows me to be comfortable managing my own rights. CC allows me to offer my work to the world without fear of contractual misunderstandings. It allows others to re-use my work without wading through legal thickets and murky restrictions. Most importantly Creative Commons allows me to promote my creative work by sharing it with the world. It works for me, and it clearly works for millions of other creators.
The question is why do I think it works? Because it means more books in the hands of readers. This has worked for me and may work for you.
I’ll give you some real numbers in a bit, but I want to take a quick look at my motives for releasing work under one of the Creative Commons licenses. I don’t think there’s anything new here, but I’ll walk through it. As part of the process of writing this article I went back through some of Cory Doctorow’s essays and posts around the web, in Locus, and other mags—on the subject of why, and I saw the recurring idea of using CC to expand reach beyond the channels already supplied by established print publishing, whether big six, indie, or anywhere in between. For example, when Little Brother was released in hardcover by Tor, Cory also released the full text of the book on his web site (https://craphound.com) in several formats (txt, html, pdf) under a Creative Commons license, which allowed his fans and fellow creators to reformat the book, translate it, build on it, create new book covers, make derivative works (e.g. movies) under similar licensing arrangements—attribution, non-commercial, share-alike.
But is this true for the new “indies”, the self-publishers, those DIY authors who are taking on most or all of the roles beyond the actual writing of the book? I think it is. Can today’s authors use Creative Commons licensing as a promotional tool? I think we can. When I say things like I’m only in this for the readers, I’m talking about extending the awareness of me as an author and my books as something science fiction, thriller, and fantasy readers might like to read. Making money off my work is certainly a good thing, and all creators should expect to be paid in some way for their work. How we are paid can depend on circumstance, newness in the market, fanbase, access to sales channels, and many other factors. Recognition is a high value for me. Just getting onto the book shelves, devices, e-libraries of readers is important.
Creative Commons licensing as a promotional tool works for me. It’s one tool in the toolbox, along with turning off DRM, going to SF conventions, using Amazon’s KDP Select features, participating in ebook and indie pub forums, posting to my web site, entering art shows, offering my books in as many channels as I can reasonably get into, offering my books in as many formats as I can reasonably manage.
The established sellers are just as valuable. Amazon does a fair amount promotion for KDP authors, unlike the current state of things at Barnes & Noble and Apple’s iBooks store. My impression of Apple is that, being a solid, powerful, latecomer to the ebook party, they are still progressing rapidly, adding features, and already offer pricing aspects (free, timed sales campaigns) and territorial reach beyond anyone else. My impression of Barnes & Noble is that they are trying very hard to do everything they can to push the books coming through PubIt into a second or third class position behind print books and the ebooks from the big six publishers—sort of a literary caste system. “Indie” ebooks aren’t categorized as any old books but are specifically separated out as “pubit”, unlike say The Hunger Games, which B&N appears to grant a higher status. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. For Barnes and the author, it’s the typical balance of the hand that feeds you on one side and looking a gift horse in the mouth on the other. I certainly wouldn’t cut off any channel to readers because they don’t seem to care about a nobody author like me. I just wanted to point out that my experience with B&N and Apple is that you have to do far more in outside promotion if you want to do well there, while Amazon appears to do more for authors without a big pub contract.
What does doing well mean? For me, it means that I’m selling 400 - 500 books per month. I had rights revert on my first novel Seaborn early last year, and toward the end of March I released it along with the other two books in the Seaborn Trilogy, Saltwater Witch and Sea Throne. Over the course of the next nine months of 2011 I released a book per month—either a novel, graphic novel chapter, or short story collection. Some of them had been published before, some of them hadn’t. Sales since April gradually increased and I ended 2011 selling more than 4,200 books, mostly through Amazon.com and Amazon.uk, but I also did quite well at Barnes & Noble and Apple’s iBooks store. So, what does doing well mean? The answer for me is forty-two…hundred.
What does doing well mean in regard to Creative Commons? Here’s my own experience: I released my SF thriller Nanowhere under a Creative Commons license in the spring of 2006, downloadable and sharable from my web site. I had hundreds of downloads, which is all I could have asked for. Cory Doctorow was nice enough to blog about it on BoingBoing, and things really took off. I stopped keeping track after 10,000 downloads.
I was good with hundreds because that’s better than zero. I’m even better with thousands. And what does all of this add up to? People finding my books who may like them and come back for more. Like I said, that’s pretty much why I’m here.
But wait, there’s more…
If you’re ready to choose a Creative Commons license for one of your creative works here’s the CC home, https://creativecommons.org. Click the Choose a License button.
If you’re new to CC I want to point you to the very thorough and helpful Creative Commons FAQ here: https://wiki.creativecommons.org/FAQ --especially the section for licensors (the rightsholder or those authorized to license a creative work).
You really should check out the FAQ, but here are four points I think anyone looking into Creative Commons licensing should understand:
1. You have to own the rights to the work and have the authorization to apply a Creative Commons license to it. You might think those mean the same thing, but some countries have statutory licensing restrictions on works created by their own citizens, while others have voluntary membership in collective licensing which may contain some level of exclusivity. See the point on collecting agencies in the FAQ to see if this applies to you.
2. Creative Commons licenses are non-revocable, which means once you publish a work under a CC license and release it to the world you cannot take the license back from the copies already shared or used. You can certainly remove the links and copies from your web site, but the copies you shared with the world under the CC license you specified will remain with those copies. Again, this may seem obvious. You can’t allow someone to use your creative work—possibly in their own work—and then take it back when you feel like it. I think the main concern here is commercial use. My answer to this is if you’re really worried about someone else profiting off your work, then specify non-commercial use and even share-alike, which means that anyone using your work can only share it under the same licensing terms you’ve placed on your own work.
3. There’s helpful code behind the Creative Commons image. When you generate a license at creativecommons.org you will get a block of HTML with links back to the license terms and other clearly defined rules for use, but you will also get details in that block of HTML—“machine readable” details, which means there are standard codes and definitions that search engines like Google can identify and present to users. This helps everyone find your stuff.
4. And finally you should be explicit about what you mean by the Creative Commons license you apply to your work. Tell your readers, your fans, and the world the rules, and even better let them know what you would like to see—new formats, an audio version, illustrations to go along with your story, anything. It doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, but you should make things clear. It might give someone a good idea.
Here’s an example for my book Nanowhere:
This edition of Nanowhere, including the cover art and illustrations, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike license, which means you can share it, remix it (for example, you can reformat it or translate it), and you can share the works you make from this one, but you cannot make money from the things you do with Nanowhere, and everything you derive from it has to be sharable and usable in a non-commercial way that observes everything that’s allowed or not allowed under this license. Details on this Creative Commons license here: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0
Go create something!
"Licensing Options When You’re Giving Away Books" by Chris Howard is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at theophrast.us. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I just found this link on Guy Kawasaki's G+ stream. Everything you need to know about starting and operating a street food business in NYC, and I was thinking there's no end to the stories that can come out of being a street vendor in the City. Meeting hundreds of people every day, some of them regulars. The protag—the owner of the food truck or pushcart--can be a retired private investigator, an alien, a vampire, an impatient classically trained chef with a love for yakitori. Think what you can do with humor, information gathering, a front for crime or the CIA, horror--a street food vendor on Sept. 11. What if we turn this vampire/undead thing on its head and suddenly every book and magazine publisher is getting dozens of stories centered on the street food business in NYC? That would be worth writing and submitting a couple stories itself.
Who's with me?
Go write something!
With Saltwater Witch (the novel) going live, it's now three books, "The Seaborn Trilogy". New cover art (see below), new book (Saltwater Witch), and an even newer (still in the works) omnibus edition with all three books in one, with transitional stories, journal entries, and other good oceany stuff.
What do you think of the new covers?
I sent off the final manuscript today. I can't tell you the title...because it's a secret. I can tell you this is my sixth novel, it took me a little over three months to write, it's YA contemporary fantasy, set mostly in California--and it's very California. Except for that bit in Nova Scotia.
I finished this book in June, put it away for a couple weeks, and then picked it up again for an edit pass in the middle of July, handing out copies to a few readers, including my daughter Chloe, who is like a reading machine. She reads twice as a fast as I can, with complete comprehension. So, when I give her a book, she'll have it done in one day with feedback the following day. Crazy. I think she should be an editor. Or a lawyer. She's pretty good at arguing her points and suggestions.
1. Idea. We all have story ideas, and they can spring into our heads at any time. I keep a journal so I don't lose them. Story ideas are all around us. Look at this (Mystery trader buys all Europe's cocoa beans) and this (Man detained at airport with 18 monkeys) and you try to convince me the news isn't full of stories. You don't even have to look very hard.
2. Characters. I always--always--draw or paint my main characters at least once (See my painting at the end of this post for a typical character study). I think it's necessary to see what your characters look like. If you don't want to draw them, find people in the world who look like your characters, and use those--cut them out of magazines, do a google images search and print them out. I also interviewed my primary characters in this book, which really helps to nail down personality and motive--which then drive the plot. Here's a tip: if you're stuck on a particular scene, stop writing the story and interview the characters involved in the scene, pretend you're the director of a movie and you've said "cut" to take dinner break. Even better, pretend you're an outsider who's wandered onto the set and doesn't know anything about the story. Write it all down. Ask them questions, and answer in the characters' voices--why do you have blood on your hands, what's with that ridiculous t-shirt--don't you ever wear anything nice?
3. Plotting. I usually write my query at this phase of the process--and I always write a query, at least a paragraph in language that sells the story. Even if you have an agent who will do his or her own pitching, or you're writing this for a proposal that's already signed, it's important to give everyone including yourself the means to briefly tell your story to someone else.
4. Writing. This also includes some plotting because unless you're an outline god who can document every footstep of every character before the first line goes on the paper, there's just no way the concrete of your plot is entirely dry when you start writing. (At least that's the case with me). I always leave some sea room to maneuver in the outline. That said, I started this book with a mostly clear and complete plot, with less room to wiggle than I've ever left before.
5. Put the manuscript away for a little while. Go off and write a short story or two.
6. Do an edit pass. Read your story all the way through, make corrections, cut, move, expand scenes, scratch your head over that paragraph that makes no sense. Every book I've written has at least one of these.
7. Print out some reading copies. Get some feedback on plot, characters, everything. Print out the book because you will see and read your words differently on paper. My standard reading format is two columns per page. I usually do this in Word. I'll format the whole thing into two columns with a .2 inch gutter, Times Roman, italics, no underlining. I guarantee that you will find textual problems that would go right by on the screen.
8. Read aloud. To yourself, or even better to your friends, spouse, kids, complete strangers.
9. Second edit pass.
10. Format the manuscript.
11. Send to your agent, editor, submit query to publisher, all that other good stuff.
12. Go back to step one.
Here's the original sketch and painting I did for this book, with my POV character in the middle:
What the world needs is a smart, fun, interactive "blog, resource, and community dedicated to the art & craft of storytelling" that looks inviting, prompts you to write more, and gives away books every Friday.
Browse LitDrift. If you like what you see, spread the word.
And I thought it was a damn good day already...now it's perfect.
One of several short stories--both fantasy and sf--I have sub'd all over the place, "Lost Dogs and Fireplace Archeology" is going to Fantasy Magazine! So happy about this. I received an official acceptance email this morning, contract to follow, but it's just so cool to see this on Sean Wallace's journal: https://oldcharliebrown.livejournal.com/268587.html
Here's Cat Rambo's post on the same, https://catrambo.livejournal.com/244878.html. 1400 emails to sort? Hundreds of stories to wade through every month? Oh, the life of an editor. I don't think I could handle it.